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Weird Science Wednesday: Bottom of the Barrel Edition

September 22, 2010

I haven’t come across many interesting science stories this week, so I’m gonna keep this short. Let me know how “geeky” you are about science because I read things that aren’t always interesting unless you really like this kind of thing and I’m unsure whether I should share them.

In the “are you freakin’ kidding me” department, apparently the people in this study would rather get a colonoscopy, change a diaper or wait in line at the DMV than perform some routine maintenance on their computer. Really?

“The results may seem ridiculous, but they are actually not that surprising,” Erich Andren, optimization manager of PC Tools, told TechNewsDaily. “Americans don’t want to do mundane, complicated technical processes to keep their systems running well. It’s a pain for people to do such tasks and it involves a bit of technical know-how.”

Ok, I don’t really perform maintenance tasks like backing up to prevent data loss or anything like that, but if someone asked me I’m not going to say I’d rather go to the dentist than do it, or get a colonoscopy? At least while I’m sitting at the computer no one’s sticking cameras up my ass. That I can feel.

Really, people are extremely lazy.

Okay, I am really into cosmology and physics and astronomy and all that, although I possess rudimentary math skills AT BEST. I don’t even remember how to add fractions and when I say something needs to be multiplied I say “times it by ___” i.e., “So you times 8 by 2…”. That said, I love hearing about theories in physics that are totally bananas, especially black holes because I’m really hoping they turn out to be passageways to other dimensions and not just seething, swirling monsters that would rip your body apart if you fell in. But now there’s something new and even weirder for me to speculate about–black strings!

These hypothetical objects might form if our universe has hidden extra dimensions beyond the three of space and one of time that we can see, scientists say.

[…]

While the idea of extra dimensions may sound wacky, physical theories suggest it’s a distinct possibility. Just how many hidden dimensions exist depends on the theory, but some versions of the popular string theory, for example, postulate we live in a 10- or 11-dimensional universe.

I was just reading about string theory! Seriously, the kind of fanciful scenarios theoretical physicists come up with for how the Universe was created rival the magical ideas religious folks believe, but of course they aim to prove it. Still it amazes me what you can guess about things that happened before the Universe even existed. Check out The Official String Theory website to figure out what I’m talking about.

I leave you with a real life “Lost World”: paleontologists discovered some new dinosaurs in a place near Utah that was once surrounded by a shallow sea. See the above picture for what they think they looked like. They look kind of goofy to me, but I guess the dinosaurs were used to seeing each other looking stupid. I see you, T. rex, with your tiny ass arms. Evolution was wrong for that one.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2010 2:38 am

    I find science endlessly fascinating and the theories offered are better than many science fiction stories, or will at least lead to another wave of S/F novels or SyFy teevee series. But I’m right with you when it comes to actually figuring out any of it.

    I can’t believe that people said they didn’t want to debug their computers and would rather have a colonoscopy. That seems like the responders were just doing an episode of “Punk’d” on the survey team. Now, if they actually forced it to happen, let’s see the youtube video of their reactions!

    And forget the creature that was the step between primates and humans… Dinosaurs are really a true missing link for me. Think about it. There’s no way humans would have survived on a planet populated with dinosaurs. They would have killed us all (prior to building proper weapons to protect ourselves)! So they had to go away first. And I’m just wondering about the gap between the two and when humans arrived. Of course, dinos are still kinda killing us: they’re now the oil that everyone is fighting for, or trying to use, reprice or scoop out of the Gulf of Mexico. Bottom of the Barrel, indeed!

  2. evmaroon permalink
    September 23, 2010 8:56 am

    Of course, dinos are still kinda killing us: they’re now the oil that everyone is fighting for, or trying to use, reprice or scoop out of the Gulf of Mexico. Bottom of the Barrel, indeed!

    *snort!* That was awesome, Penpusher.

    This dinosaur stuff kills me. There’s no more brontosaurus—I found this out from a 6-year-old—because scientists determined they just put the bones together in the wrong freaking order. There goes that theory about the “butt brain.” I loved butt brain! I’m sorry to hear it never existed.

    So why should I buy that there was some new dinosaur in Utah? I’m going to put my foot down and say you scientist people need to figure your shit out! Stop playing with how many kinds of dinosaurs there were! And I know, yes, that there are probably loads more species to be found. I just miss my little bronty.

    Meanwhile, I love string theory, seriously. Even as I can barely wrap my mind around it. Most days, I only work on three dimensions and 8% of my brain power.

  3. September 23, 2010 9:05 am

    Ev, there’s still “butt brain” — turns out our digestion system is nearly as complicated as our nervous system, it’s the second banana that can turn big boss when things happen like starvation.

    Tasha, I’m so glad you mentioned the new dinosaurs, because I was considering a paleontology career all the way up to the age of 18. I just wish the new names weren’t so tacky: Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops.

  4. September 23, 2010 9:28 am

    …that bottom dinosaur has Mark Harmon’s NCIS haircut!

    Seriously, Tasha, I’m one of those people that kinda runs away from having to learn about science, but I’m fascinated by it. Does that make sense? So throw whatever into these posts that you want; I’ll be reading!

    Ev, I agree: just leave the dinos alone! And the planets. I will always call Pluto a planet, no matter what scientists and snotty 10 year olds tell me. I just throw out the “Back in my day” card; looks like I’m gonna be doing that for the Brontosaurus, too.

    String theory totally confuses me, but black strings? I envision them as, like, little evil snake things floating around in space, waiting to destroy astronauts.

  5. evmaroon permalink
    September 23, 2010 9:43 am

    I admit I’m a member of the “When I was your age, Pluto was a planet” group on Facebook. ‘nough said.

    @Raymond: I’m glad we have gut brains, if not the bronty butt brain. I can take some solace in that.

  6. September 23, 2010 9:59 am

    One of the most disturbing sciency things I’ve heard lately is that there may not have been a Triceratops… that it may just have been a younger Torosaurus, which, I’m sorry, sounds more like something that belongs in my kid’s Pokemon collection than the Museum of Natural History.

    That little plastic grey Triceratops was my favorite dinosaur toy, he always defeated the big bad green Tyrannosaur in battle. Science may be important but it shouldn’t be retconning my childhood memories!

  7. September 23, 2010 10:04 am

    @redlami: Nooooooooooooooooooo. Damn. Well, I’m glad I saw the Walking with Dinosaurs show when I did this summer, because they for sure had a damn triceratops.

  8. Lani permalink
    September 23, 2010 10:15 am

    @redlami & raymondj: I can comment on that because I am, actually, a paleontologist. 😀

    The Triceratops/Torosaurus thing doesn’t actually mean there was never a Triceratops. The way the International Committee of Zoological Nomenclature (yes, that organization actually exists) lays it out is that when two things formerly thought to be different are shown to maybe be the same (such as Triceratops and Torosaurus), the older name gets precedence. In this case it means that if the idea that Torosaurus and Triceratops are adult and juvenile forms of same species does come to be accepted by the paleontological community at large, the name Triceratops will stick, and Torosaurus will be the one left by the wayside. Torosaurus would just be a grown-up Triceratops.

    Ms. Fierce, I love your Weird Science Wednesdays!

  9. September 23, 2010 10:16 am

    Man, eff these dinosaur revisionists!

  10. September 23, 2010 10:21 am

    @Lani, thank you! I love that you’re a paleontologist!! can I put your e-mail in my rolodex for when I have questions??

    @Tasha: I’m also have suspicions of that first story about what people “prefer”. I want to read the actual study itself — what I learned from being a science major and writing my thesis on comparing study results with newspaper synopsis is that I don’t trust the majority of science reporters to correctly translate data. So for example, I would believe that people’s actions are such that they GO to the dentist or to get a colonoscopy more often then they back up and check spyware their computer, but does that mean they actually prefer it? Sometime our behavior is built on habits and culture, but that doesn’t mean it originates in our preferences necessarily.

  11. Lani permalink
    September 23, 2010 10:36 am

    @raymondj Sure you can ask me questions if you like! Even if I don’t know anything on the subject off the top of my head I can put the database of the museum where I work to use and look it up for you.

  12. September 23, 2010 10:41 am

    @Lani: of course now I can’t think of any juicy questions, but I know they will come! What museum to you work for?

  13. Lani permalink
    September 23, 2010 11:09 am

    @raymondj I’m a grad student at the University of Oklahoma; the museum that I work at is the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, which is affiliated with the university but also sort of independent. It’s a relatively small museum but it has some truly fantastic paleo specimens–we’re a bit of a hidden gem in my (admittedly biased) opinion.

  14. September 23, 2010 11:59 am

    @Lani, thank you! My inner dinosaur-loving child is greatly relieved.

    As for the computer maintenance… I think I get that. Most people don’t really know what goes on inside computers, and so are loath to have anything to do with it. We take our bodies and cars to experts where we hope they have the expertise to know what they’re doing and take care of problems they find. Most of us don’t do our own oil changes. Or colonoscopies.

  15. September 23, 2010 11:59 am

    I have questions for Lani. Do you wear a brown fedora and crack a whip? Ever get chased by a big boulder? And hey! The Sooner, the Butter!

  16. evmaroon permalink
    September 23, 2010 12:49 pm

    Opinion studies rarely actually measure the thing they say they’re measuring because of all kinds of biases and measurement error. The questions may be ambiguous or otherwise poorly written, they may have been read wrong to respondents, the population of people responding may not have been sampled well for the survey, and a whole host of other things can lead to some strange conclusions. So I don’t usually pay attention to opinion surveys unless I see the same results from several different surveys conducted by different organizations.
    <—NOT a paleontologist but definitely experienced in survey methodology

  17. September 23, 2010 12:50 pm

    Lani, when I roadtrip through Oklahoma (which I hope to do on my way to the southwest someday), I will stop by and request a personalized tour!! then buy you dinner, of course.

  18. September 23, 2010 1:54 pm

    Oh Migawd! Lani is our own personal Sara Harding (Lost World Jurassic Park). This is why fry butt is the place to be.

  19. September 23, 2010 2:36 pm

    @Lani Wow, a real scientist likes my little science column? I’m touched.

    I really hope y’all are right that they misinterpreted that data about preferring colonoscopies because that is just too foolish for me to handle.

  20. September 23, 2010 2:38 pm

    And there’s no Brontosaurus any more? Is there still a brachiosaurus?

  21. evmaroon permalink
    September 23, 2010 2:47 pm

    I love that we have a paleontologist in our midst! I’d had one as a character in my WIP, but changed him because I couldn’t find a scientist to help me do research. If only I’d known!

  22. Lani permalink
    September 24, 2010 8:39 am

    @NYCPenpusher, sadly I do not have a whip to crack. I do have a fedora, though it is blue-gray, and it was purchased in none other than NYC itself!

    @Tasha Fierce, I really do like this column. NGL, when you debuted it I was pretty excited! And not to worry, there is indeed still a Brachiosaurus. The story of Brontosaurus is kind of interesting–that particular dino never did really exist because as the story goes the original Brontosaurus, put together at the Yale Peabody Museum in the early 1900s, was actually an Apatosaurus skeleton with a Camarasaurus skull. (Composite dino!) The mistake was reproduced at other museums for decades before someone realized what had happened. There’s still some debate as to whether the paleontologist who put “Brontosaurus” together (O.C. Marsh) made an honest mistake or whether he was trying to pad his resume by inventing a new species. Getting to name a new species is considered a kind of currency in paleo, and it’s not unheard of for people to do some fairly unethical things in order to be able to add to the list of stuff they’ve named. So…depends on how well you want to think of Marsh’s character, I guess!

    Thanks everybody for the excitement–I’m glad I could contribute a bit to the blog! I really love FryButt, and I’m a bit of a lurker, but I do read it every day! I love the style and enthusiasm here, you all do a fantastic job.

  23. September 24, 2010 9:05 am

    We’re thrilled to have you, Lani!!!

  24. September 24, 2010 9:07 am

    Also, every time I read this comment thread I laff at eieioj’s comment.

  25. IrishUp permalink
    September 24, 2010 9:40 am

    I am soo full of geek-squee I can barely organize some thoughts. Awesome post!

    I have to wonder how many of the survey respondents had ever had a colonoscopy? After seeing the before and after effects of my partner’s baseline ‘scope, I’m willing to bet THOSE people picked the computer. I agree with Evmaroon, the linked article reads like the survey was designed and administered in such a way as to come up with sensational results.

    Yay for triceratops, I’m glad it’s still there, as it is also a general favorite. WeeUp adores the one @ American M of Natural History (AKA the Bones Museum) in NYC that ‘s mechanized so you can see its head and jaw moving. Then again, AMNH was one of those that had the poorly constructed T-Rex (among others) and early hominids on display. IIRC, those miscontructions were more due to willfully misinterpreting the physical evidence of the bones in order to make them fit the cultural representations of the time regarding dinosaurs and human ancestors. Their prejudgments influenced how they thought the bones must go together, rather than looking at the joints and muscle striations and what not to see how they would fit. Wee also corrects the Flintstones that those are Apatosauruses, not Brontosauruses.

    Great link to the string theory website. Love to read about that stuff!

  26. September 24, 2010 10:14 am

    I am so in love with this series. My current favourite weird science feature is the ongoing NCBI ROFL series over at Discover, where the bloggers ferret out completely bizarre studies from PubMed and mock them. Like this study on beer pong. Conducted in an ‘alcohol-free laboratory.’

    What they don’t tell you about colonoscopies: Long before they stick a camera up your ass, you take the mother of all laxatives. That stuff makes you shit like you wouldn’t believe. Yeah, I’ll take a server backup over that any day.

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