Monthly Archives: July 2011
Last Wednesday, I went to see Great Big Sea play*. Since then I’ve listened to pretty much nothing but, and I listen to music in the background for quite a lot of my daily routine.
Yet somehow, as I’ve sat here in my quiet apartment trying to think of what to write here, my brain has had “I’ve been waking up your neighbors barking up your tree” on infinite loop repeat. It’s roughly five seconds of an almost four-minute song, and I haven’t listened to Bon Jovi in weeks**. The worst part is that I actually know the rest of the song, but it just won’t play the whole thing.
I have an earworm.
The name earworm is a literal translation of the German ohrwurm***. James Kellaris, at the University of Cincinnati, characterized the earworm as a cognitive itch that our brain wants to scratch. Apparently women, musicians, and the anxious are most prone to earworms.
The music that is earworm-inducing tends to be repetitive, simple, and have what Kellaris calls an “incongruity,” something that sticks out, like a shifting time signature.
A 2005 study at Dartmouth found that the auditory cortex in your brain is responsible. If a song is played to you, the auditory cortex activates as you listen. If you’re familiar with the song, and the song is turned off, the auditory cortex will just keep going. The fake song-hearing appears to be your brain following the reverse of path of the what it would do were the song actually playing, though exactly why you catch the earworm no one knows.
According to a study by British researchers Philip Beaman and Tim Williams, the best way to make an earworm go away is to ignore it. I usually go with ‘sing other songs.’
*it was the greatest 2 hours and 49 minutes of my life.
***and is not related to the actual insect corn earworm… I hope.
[note: this post originally appeared on March 23, 2010 at Original Blog (see here for details)]
St Patrick is supposed to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland. Note ‘supposed’: it’s generally considered that the snakes were a metaphor for non-Christian religion, not actual snakes.
Because Ireland has never had actual snakes on it.
As the National Zoo points out, the first snakes evolved around the same time as T Rex did, about 100 million years ago, which means the globe looked something like this. Or this, for the all-at-once map view.
Really ancient snakes did not live in Ireland because Ireland was underwater.
All right. If we fast-forward a bit to around 14 million years ago, Ireland is now above the sea and the world looks pretty much as you’d expect. But, there are still no snakes in Ireland, because Ireland… is an island. And snakes aren’t great at swimming**.
Snakes are cold-blooded, which means they don’t regulate their own body temperature; they use their surroundings instead***. This is not an ideal setup on a glacier; if there were any snakes on pre-glacial Ireland, they became snakesicles.
Afterward, Ireland was still separated from the island of Great Britain by the Irish Sea. Snakes aren’t any better at swimming, so Ireland remained snake-free, saintly intervention not required****.
*Yours or someone else’s. Authenticity optional. 34.5 million Americans claim some Irish ancestry, according to the US Census Bureau. Not to mention the many people blessed with the name ‘Erin,’ especially in the ’80s (you can look at the Social Security Administration’s baby names site for further details).
[note: this post originally appeared on March 16, 2010 at Original Blog (see here for details)]
…as the dinosaurs knew it, anyway.
Background: in 1980, Luis Alvarez, Walter Alvarez (his son), Frank Asaro, and Helen V Michel published a paper in Science claiming that the dinosaurs went extinct when an asteroid hit the Earth*. The impact (the crater was eventually found in Chixculub, Mexico) would throw up a huge dust cloud** that would literally darken the skies. Without sunlight, plants start to die off, so plant-eating dinosaurs die off, so the meat-eating dinosaurs that ate the plant-eating dinosaurs die off.
Part of their evidence was the worldwide layer of iridium*** laid down at about the same time the dinosaurs died off. Iridium is rare on Earth, but not in asteroids; if an asteroid hit, and iridium-laden asteroid dust was dispersed all over the world, that could explain the iridium layer.
Now Disney can at last add an asteroid hit at the appropriate part of Fantasia!****
*Walter also wrote a book about it called T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, which is an awesome title. The book’s not bad either.
**other exciting, but extinction-free, dust clouds: Krakatoa.
***the iridium satellite network is named because iridium (from iris, Latin for ‘rainbow’) is atomic number 77, and there were originally supposed to be 77 iridium satellites in orbit. As it turned out, there are only 66, but atomic number 66 is dysprosium (from dysprositos, Greek for ‘hard to get at’). You can see why they made that naming choice.
****right after they resolve their confusion about the appropriate number of claws for a T rex to have (2) and whether stegosaurus and T rex were contemporaries (no).
[note: this post originally appeared on March 9, 2010 at Original Blog (see here for details)]
OK, so I am taking this blog in a new direction.
Some history: I had a blog for my multimedia storytelling class. Original Blog was focused on “science,” which is pretty vague, but I often wound up talking about everyday science-type things: I want to form a habit, does it really take 21 days? It’s St Patrick’s Day, what’s the real reason Ireland doesn’t have any snakes? This park has a warning sign about wild parsnip, what exactly does it do to you?
Then I made this blog, for a different class. This class had an agricultural theme, which is how this blog ended up being called Astronaut Ice Cream and being about food in space.
I’m keeping the name, but dumping the theme, and going with the everyday science thing.
To start that up, I’ll have a couple weeks’ worth of my favorite posts from Original Blog appearing on Mondays and Thursdays before picking up with some brand-new content on August 15! Original Blog posts will be tagged “revamp rerun” for your convenience.