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Could Pets Be a Key to the Obesity Crisis?

More and more people are being classified as obese, now about 1.9 billion around the world. Our pets are also becoming more obese. Much of that is easy to understand, as people often overfeed pets and don't give them enough exercise. But obesity is rising in dogs and cats even when they don't overeat or under-exercise. What's going on? Research on pet obesity is uncovering several potential answers, like genetic links, the quality of our food, and even the use of antibiotics.

The good news is that animals could help us disentangle those environmental factors, too. Factory farm animals are traditionally fattened with antibiotics that transform their gut so they need less food to gain weight. New regulations have pushed antibiotic use in UK food-producing animals to their lowest level since data were first published and the EU has banned antibiotics as growth promoters in feed.

If antibiotics fatten animals, could they be doing the same to humans?

The answer to that question lies in your gut. The microbiome describes the genomes of the vast colonies of micro-organisms – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses, all 100 trillion of them – living in your digestive system. This community influences your weight: germ-free mice that receive gut microbes from an obese (human) twin gain more weight and body fat than mice that receive microbes from the lean twin. An imbalance in the microbiome possibly leads to not only obesity, but irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Read about other research findings on obesity in people and their pets at BBC Future.

(Image credit: Tripp)


An Honest Trailer for Halloween (2018)

Last fall, there was another Halloween sequel. Or was it a remake? It had the same characters, the same name, and virtually the same plot as the 1978 movie, but set 40 years afterward. Halloween is the 11th movie in the series, but it was designed to be the "real" sole sequel to the 1978 original. Confused? You'll be even more confused after watching this Honest Trailer for Halloween from Screen Junkies.


B-Movie Heaven!

One of my favorite websites is, a site dedicated to the discussion and mockery of b-movies. Reviews of these films, complete with clips, stills, sounds, and hilarious commentary are to be found therein, along with a lot of other germane film information. Try it and you'll be hooked even as I was.

Per Wikipedia we find:

A B movie is a low-budget commercial movie. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicized bottom half of a double feature (akin to B-sides for recorded music). Although the U.S. production of movies intended as second features largely ceased by the end of the 1950s, the term B movie continues to be used in its broader sense to this day.

Most B movies represent a particular genre—the Western was a Golden Age B movie staple, while low-budget science-fiction and horror films became more popular in the 1950s. Early B movies were often part of series in which the star repeatedly played the same character. Almost always shorter than the top-billed films they were paired with, many had running times of 70 minutes or less. The term connoted a general perception that B movies were inferior to the more lavishly budgeted headliners.

And so here we are. The owner of the site referenced is a film enthusiast, a very patient man, and possessed of a keen wit. His commentary is priceless, as seen in the following example, this concerning 1957's Attack of the Crab Monsters, a B-movie if ever there was one (and available on YouTube):

I've spent hours looking through this site, just to see what has been said about old films with which I am familiar, and I am impressed. Give it a look to see if your old favorites are covered. Note that it isn't static and entries continue to accrue, supplemented by guest commentaries. There's quite a bit to explore, so get going.


A 4-Year-Old Trapped in a Teenager’s Body

We brought you the story of the Linder family, who is trying to stop a genetic disease from passing to another generation. Patrick Burleigh also suffered from a genetic disease, one which meant he began puberty as a baby, just as his father and grandfather did.

Having a mutant LHCGR gene leads to what doctors now call familial male-limited precocious puberty, an extremely rare disease that affects only men because you have to have testicles, which is why it’s also called testotoxicosis. The condition tricks the testicles into thinking the body is ready to go through puberty — so wham, the floodgates open and the body is saturated with testosterone. The result is premature everything: bone growth, muscle development, body hair, the full menu of dramatic physical changes that accompany puberty. Only instead of being 13, you’re 2.

Testotoxicosis affects fewer than one in a million men, and a leading expert estimates that we may only number in the hundreds. Being an anomaly for having pubes when you’re still breastfeeding isn’t typically something one brags about, which is why, like my forefathers, I spent the majority of my life hiding it, lying about it, repressing it, and avoiding it. This feeling of freakishness, of being strange and different, persisted well into adulthood, such that I refused to talk about it with anyone other than close friends and family.

Unlike his ancestors, Burleigh was studied and treated for the condition starting when he was three years old. Eventually, he married and he and his wife began the process of becoming parents through in-vitro fertilization. That's when Burleigh was confronted with the possibility of testing embryos for the mutant LHCGR gene. Would he want to eliminate any embryos that carried it? Unlike the Linders, his condition isn't fatal. To make the decision, he retraced his life dealing with testotoxicosis, and the lives of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather (who was the youngest soldier to serve in World War I). That gives us a fascinating story that you can read at The Cut. -via Digg

(Image courtesy of Patrick Burleigh)  


Big Bird Box

Don't look! Don't look! Okay, now look. Nerdist brings us a parody of the Netflix movie Bird Box with the monster revealed! This monster is from Sesame Street, though, so it's not all that terrifying. But it might induce you to ...giggle. -via Geeks Are Sexy 


The Ohlone: Pre-Internet Advanced Society of Silicon Valley

Though we might be enjoying the fruits of technology and development of new devices and methods, several societies lived just as comfortably as we do now, given their social, cultural, and economic contexts. They had what they need and much more, so we can say that they aren't as undeveloped in relation to their contemporaries.

One such society is the Ohlone peoples which populated the San Francisco Bay Area centuries ago.

Five hundred years ago, this swath of northern California was populated by the Ohlone peoples, about 10,000 of whom lived in the stretch of land that we call the San Francisco Bay Area. So rich in plant and animal life was this region that the Ohlone were able to survive without farming or animal domestication; indeed, western explorers, when they eventually arrived, were amazed at the quantity of wild animal life.

Of course, everything changed once the colonizers, Spanish missionaries, arrived in America and began forcibly trying to convert the people. What followed is a struggle between the Western concept of civilization and the existing system of the peoples they occupied.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


It's Raining Spiders, Hallelujah!

Spiders like to lurk in dark corners and shadowy places but if you're out in the open during broad daylight, surely you're safe from the creepy crawlies. Right?

Wrong, said Mother Nature, who proceeded to rain spiders from the skies:

Summer in south-east Brazil has brought soaring temperatures and some disconcerting eight-legged visitors.
Residents in a rural area of southern Minas Gerais state have reported skies “raining spiders”, a phenomenon which experts say is typical in the region during hot, humid weather.

While the spiders in the sky may seem scary, they are not venomous. Moreover, instead of raining they are clinging on to a giant web that is unnoticeable to the human eye. Find out more over at The Guardian.

Photo: Image capture from footage of Brazil's "spider rain" (TV45000)


Maria Clara Eimmart: The Astronomer-Artist of 17th Century

Before Charles Bittinger, there was Maria Clara Eimmart who had made illustrations of the planets in the solar system as well as other celestial objects.

Born in Germany in an era when no woman could obtain a formal education in science anywhere in the world, Maria Clara Eimmart (May 27, 1676–October 29, 1707) predated Caroline Herschel — the world’s first professional woman astronomer — by a century.
She went on to become an artist, engraver, and astronomer who produced some of the most striking astronomical art since the invention of the telescope, in a time when humanity had no idea that the universe contained galaxies other than our own.
Like Margaret Fuller, Eimmart benefitted from the love and intellectual generosity of a father who equipped her with a rigorous foundation of French, Latin, mathematics, and art.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Rare Gemstone Found in an Ancient Tooth Leads to Rethinking of the History of Book Production

Historians used to believe that only men wrote manuscripts in the medieval times, but evidence has proved them wrong. Scientists have identified traces of a rare gemstone called lapis lazuli in an ancient female tooth. This is direct evidence that shows that the lady was a paintbrush-licking painter. The ultramarine gemstone was reserved for only the most exceptional of scribes to use.

Who would have thought that medieval women participated in the production of religious manuscripts too?

Because female names are especially scarce among the surviving texts from this period, historians have long assumed that male monks were the primary producers of these intricately illustrated manuscripts.
Only recently has this belief been re-examined. Along with a growing body of research, a new discovery adds even more evidence that female monastics were not only literate, but were also prolific producers and consumers of books during the Middle Ages.
Hidden within the dental plaque of a middle-aged woman buried at an all-female

monastery in Germany sometime around 1000-1200 CE, researchers have now found a clue that speaks volumes: a hint of ultramarine ink.

Read more about how the rare gemstone was found.

(Image: Christina Warinner/Max Planck Institute)


Before There Was Mulder and Scully, There Was....

Although the 1960's saw the advent of many a great television series, the 1970's was just as competitive and one of the best of the TV programs of the 70's was Kolchak: the Night Stalker, which has a cult following even today.

In this TV series, the late and great Darren McGavin portrayed Carl Kolchak, a rumpled, misanthropic reporter who has often been fired due to his abrasive attitude and insubordination. As such, he can't be any too choosy when it comes to assignments, and he thus gets assigned to cover weird events that no one else wants to cover. Strangely enough, these all invariably seemed to be supernatural events.

It all began in 1972 with a TV movie, The Night Stalker, which, as per the IMDb, concerned an abrasive Las Vegas newspaper reporter investigating a series of murders purportedly committed by a vampire. Response was positive enough that a second TV film was made in 1973, The Night Strangler, which concerned Kolchak hunting down a 144-year old alchemist who is killing women for their blood. It too was a tremendous success and so the stage was set for the launch of the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker in 1974.

The early episodes were tremendous and often genuinely frightening. One of these is embedded below and is probably the scariest thing I have ever seen on commercial television. The scene where a trembling Kolchak attempts to nullify a zombie, which reanimates during the process, will make you jump out of your seat. At least it did me in 1974.

Although the two TV movies were great successes, and the early TV episodes were excellent, the TV series itself soon flopped due to formulaic repetition and it lasted just the one season for only 20 episodes. I think it was all my fault, since so many TV series that I have liked in the past were doomed to a short life. The second video below contains a fan's comments on what made the show so great. I have to concur.

Darren McGavin went on to other things, among which was his portrayal of the foul-mouthed father (The Old Man Parker) in the 1983 film A Christmas Story. Just as he made the role of The Old Man his own, so did he make the role of Carl Kolchak. A subsequent attempt at rebooting the TV series years later was unsuccessful, mainly because the actor portraying Carl Kolchak was really not up to the task. Ironically, near the end of his career, Darren McGavin appeared on The X-Files in a couple of episodes as Agent Arthur Dales. I have to wonder if Mulder knew who he was dealing with.

Happily, and surprisingly, the two TV films and all 20 TV episodes are available in full-format on YouTube. I can recommend them unreservedly. If you have never seen these, give them a try; they're well worth the watching.

Continue reading


Office Cats

If you have one of those jobs where you sit at a desk (or even worse, in a cubicle) and do things that are hard to describe to people outside the business, then you need something to cheer you up. Prince Michael works in an office full of cats. Bored cats. So bored that they resort to making music with office supplies.  -via Tastefully Offensive


Herding Ducks

Working dogs Roy, Lass, and Celt show off their teamwork in getting their ducks in a row. Or, rather, getting their ducks to go exactly where the dogs want -and you might be surprised where they take those ducks. The little girl's acrobatics are pretty good, too! This happened in Livingston, Tennessee. Those are good dogs. -Thanks, xoxoxoBruce!


Massive Ice Disc Forms in River

We've seen ice carousels, spinning disks of ice that were cut with chainsaws and set in motion with rotary tools or outboard motors. This is different. A giant spinning disc of ice appeared on its own in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine. Is it an artifact of an alien landing? No, just a rare phenomenon that's been seen before.

Curiosity about giant, rotating ice disks dates to at least the late 1800s. Research on prior instances of the phenomenon, published in Physical Review E in 2016, found that as melting ice sinks off disks it “goes downwards and also rotates horizontally, so that a vertical vortex is generated under the ice disk.” Speaking with the the Press Herald, Bowdoin College in Brunswick associate physics professor Mark Battle suggested the Westbrook ice disk’s rotation could also be the result of thick ice moving with the river current, getting trapped, and grinding against the shoreline.

However, this disc is particularly large, estimated at 100 yards across. So far, the only ones brave enough to ride on it are some ducks. Read more about the disc and see a video at Earther.

(Image credit: Tina Radel/City of Westbrook)


Blood Lore and the Origins of Life

Our blood is the most important part in our body that gives us life. Without it, our body will not receive the nutrients it needs to function properly. The importance of blood in our lives cannot be overstated and in her new book, Nine Pints, Rose George examines the history of blood and its connections to the origins of the earth and of life itself.

“The iron in our blood comes from the death of supernovas, like all iron on our planet,” she writes. “This bright red liquid ... contains salt and water, like the sea we possibly came from.” George charts the distance that our blood (as her title suggests, we contain, on average, between nine and eleven pints of it) travels in the body every day: some twelve thousand miles, “three times the distance from my front door to Novosibirsk.” Our network of veins, arteries, and capillaries is about sixty thousand miles long—“twice the circumference of the earth and more.”
Ancient peoples knew none of this biology, but they were certain of blood’s importance and fascinated by its mystery. For them, blood was something hidden—visible only when flowing from a wound, or during childbirth, miscarriage, and menstruation—so it became a symbol both of life and of death.

(Image credit: Max Guther/The New Yorker)


A Tale of Three Giants: The Unlikely WWII Alliance

Churchill. Roosevelt. Stalin. Three names etched in the history books and some of the most famous names that came out of the WWII era. They were the leaders of three nations under the Allied Powers yet their relationship as allies is more suspect than anything.

National Geographic gets an inside scoop with Winston Groom who studied and wrote about the history between these three unlikely allies in his new book, The Allies.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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