Eczema all about infection

Researchers say they’ve found that people with atopic dermatitis, a.k.a. eczema, are susceptible to bacterial infections in their skin because their bodies don’t produce enough of two antimicrobial peptides. The findings show that while an allergic reaction can cause a rash, true eczema is all about infection. And medicines containing or inducing the peptides could be used to fight the disorder, which affects millions worldwide.

In case you were wondering

The Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services has published a four-point guide to hand washing. This is not a comment on the brain capacity of those in the “Forward” state, but rather a reminder of the single best way to fend off illness.

The steps are:
1. Wet your hands, ideally with very warm water.
2. Add soap, then rub your hands together to make a soapy lather. Vigorously scrub the front and back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, for no less than 10 seconds before you …
3. Rinse the lather off your hands, letting the water run into the sink, not down your arms.
4. In public restrooms, use a paper towel to turn off the water so you don’t touch a potentially-dirty handle, then …
5. Dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel.

All right, it’s a five-point plan. Math never was Wisconsin’s strong suit. But, ummm, the cheese….

Hold on, my landfill’s ringing

By 2005, 130 million cell phones will be thrown out each year, according to a new study funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Counting the phones, batteries and chargers, that comes to 65,000 tons a year, most of which will end up in landfills or being incinerated. And that has environmentalists freaked. “This is becoming a very serious problem, because the amount of cell phone waste is growing tremendously,” said Eric Most, a director at Inform, the group which issued the report. “These chemicals accumulate and persist in the environment. They get in the plants, soil, water, and then move up the stream to humans.” One approach to countering the increase that seems to have general support is a “take-back” program, in which phone manufacturers must agree to take-back old phones when consumers upgrade. Another plan sure to be DOA: Limiting waste by standardizing design elements so consumers have fewer reasons to buy new phones. “If we had had a government standard in the beginning,” one industry rep told the New York Times, “we’d still all be speaking on analog phones. And that means no e-mail, no text messaging, no Caller ID. Competition equals innovation in this case.”

Discovery of Big Space Object Renews Debate About Pluto’s Status

The identifying of a massive, 745-mile-diameter object at the far reaches of our solar system has reopened a debate regarding the planetary status of that ninth pile from the sun, Pluto.
National Geographic reports that the newly-noticed space item is named Quaoar (pronounced “KWAH-o-ar”) and is located in the Kuiper belt, a celestial district 4 billion miles from Earth and relatively close to Pluto. Like the Disney dog-named sphere, Quaoar is composed of rock and ice. Also, its orbit is similar to Pluto’s but differs from the eight other planets. “Pluto is the largest known Kuiper belt object,” a University of Hawaii astronomer says. “Some people think of it as a planet as well. That’s fine, of course, but the reasons for doing so are historical, or sociological at best.”

Vlad the Impaler defeats Fritz the Ditz

Maybe Deep Fritz should be called On the Fritz. The German-built, chess-playing computer lost another game to 27-year-old Russian champ Vladimir Kramnik in a match billed as the “Brains of Bahrain.” The competition’s third day of play ended when Kramnik, well, kicked Fritz’ butt in 57 moves that showed DNA can still best silicon at some things. As reported by Reuters, Sunday’s game wasn’t completely one-sided. “Fritz, after early errors, fought back and startled Kramnik with some typical computer tactics. ‘I never imagined (the 27th move) and the tactics that followed. Only a computer would find and play something like that,’ Kramnik said later. ‘I was completely shocked.’ The Fritz team was more than a little embarrassed, however, when their brainchild in move 12 returned its bishop to its original square. This bizarre move was something even the lowliest human player would never consider.”

Bioengineers Develop Method To Grow 3-D Bone Matrix

FROM THE TRENCHES: A new study by Rice University suggests bioengineers may be able to create the mechanical stimulation needed to grow bone outside the body. The trick appears to be stressing the sample out — literally. In the absence of mechanical stress, lab grown bone is brittle and thin. But when created under proper conditions, it emerges thick and well-developed.

Do you see the key?

If a code is really good, it doesn’t matter much if the enemy (you know, them) gets ahold of one of your encrypted messages. What is risky, is letting your code key fall into the wrong hands. And their delivery is often the weak link in a communications network. “At the moment, highly secure encryption keys are typically sent by a man on a motorbike or a guy with a diplomatic bag,” notes one wonk. But researchers have devised a way to deliver keys using a beam of light, attaching data to individual photons as they stream from sender to receiver. The neat thing about that is if the light beam is intercepted and read, the state of the photons changes, alerting the recipient that the key has been compromised. Thursday British researchers said they’d reached a new milestone in the distance they can send encryption keys this way: 14 miles. It doesn’t sound like much, but it sure beats the few feet the technique could muster just a couple years ago. Expect earth-to-satellite distances soon.

Space Is The Place

The late, great jazz bandleader — and self-proclaimed cosmic refugee from Saturn — Sun Ra would be awfully proud. Tomorrow marks the beginning of World Space Week. Brought to you by those black-helicopter-flying folks over at the United Nations General Assembly, the seven-day stretch commemorates the October 4, 1957 launch of Sputnik I and the October 10, 1967 signing of the noble but unwieldy titled document, “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” In related news, from October 4-6, M.I.T. holds a three-day MarsWeek 2002.

His Blue Period

No red, no white, but plenty of blue. That’s the strange ? make that straight-up freaky ? but true story of a sexagenarian Montana Congressional candidate who managed to permanently turn his own skin the color of the sea. The Associated Press reports that back in 1999, Stan Jones, a business consultant and part-time college instructor currently running for U.S. Senate under the Libertarian Party banner, began brewing and drinking a homemade colloidal silver potion. He did this, the wire service notes, because he feared a Y2K-related shortage of antibiotics. He apparently did not anticipate one side effect: his epidermis becoming a primary color….ScienceBlog bonus historical precedent: the famous Blue People of Kentucky.

Research that matters

New Scientist reports on a year-long study to find the world’s funniest joke. The Internet-based project was coordinated by psychologist Richard Wiseman and colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire, U.K. and involved more than 2 million votes on 40,000 submissions. The goal was to identify universal aspects to humor, which could one day allow computers to devise truly funny jokes. Before we get to the winner, an interesting aside is that the team found in the process the world’s funniest animal: the duck. “If you’re going to tell a joke involving an animal, make it a duck,” Wiseman says. Now to the ultimate rib-tickler, which folks from Asia to Africa, the States to Siberia all seemed to enjoy. A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice, says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?” Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.