News for Nerds - April 27, 2012

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 4/27/2012 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - April 27, 2012

Welcome back to another edition of News for Nerds! This week we'll help you learn to draw, we'll give you another reason to eat your vegetables, and we'll blast off for new worlds with some very rich people. But first: with summer fast approaching, a public service announcement.

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Anyone who's eaten their ice cream too fast knows about the perils of brain freeze. But up until recently, no one really understood what caused it.

Enter a cardiovascular electronics researcher named Jorge Serrador.

Dr. Serrador and his team conducted studies that show the cause of dreaded brain freeze to be a 'dramatic and sudden increase in blood flow through the brain's anterior cerebral artery.' When the artery constricts, either on its own or with the help of warm water, the pain wears off.

If this seems like just another pointless academic study, hold on a minute. Not necessarily. You see, the lessons learned here might translate to a wide range of benefits for people who suffer from migraines and other types of chronic headaches, such as those caused by traumatic brain injuries.

In that sense, ice cream really is the gift that keeps on giving.

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And now, on to some very serious science: let's get to the bottom of why eating asparagus makes your pee smell funny.

Our friends over at Discovery have the lowdown. They note that this is not a modern mystery. There are recorded studies dating back to the late 1800s that deal with the issue. Back then, it was believed that a metabolite called methanethiol was responsible.

Over time, other possible culprits have been identified, although methanethiol is still a popular consensus. The most interesting thing, however, is that while asparagus makes everyone's urine smell funny, not everyone can smell it. The fault, it seems, lies in your nostrils, not in your urinary tract.

So if you eat a bunch of asparagus and don't notice a difference in the odor of your pee, fear not: someone else walking by would probably notice for you.

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If you've followed News for Nerds or my blog for any amount of time, you've probably noticed that I have a deep interest in commercial space flight. I really believe that it's an up-and-coming industry that will shape our world in ways we can't even imagine.

This week there were two stories of note dealing with the topic of commercial space travel.

The first has to do with the upcoming liftoff (on May 7) of the first-ever private spaceship headed to the International Space Station. The spaceship is the brainchild of SpaceX, a fascinating company founded by the enigmatic Elon Musk. The unmanned Dragon capsule will hitch a ride aboard a Falcon 9 rocket to ISS, where astronauts will grab hold of it with a robotic arm. If all goes well with this maiden voyage, expect to see the space tourism industry ramp up in a big hurry.

The other story has to do with four billionaires who got together and decided to start mining near-Earth asteroids for water and precious metals. Among the group backing Planetary Resources, Inc., are Larry Page and Eric Schmidt from Google, Ross Perot Jr., and Charles Simonyi. James Cameron, worth a lousy $700 million, is an advisor to the project. If they are successful in mining asteroids for valuable resources, we could see a huge impact in the future of business, economics, politics and more.

Follow the links above for more information on both stories. They are fascinating enough to be science fiction, but they are actually very much science fact.

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And finally, I bring you an answer to the question: why are some people better at drawing than others?

Ongoing research says that there are three factors behind that terrible self-portrait from summer camp that you never showed anyone. Scientists tell us that realistic drawing ability hinges on how a person perceives reality, how well he/she remembers visual information from one moment to the next, and which elements of an object he/she selects to draw.

The good news is that while not everyone is destined to be a Picasso, some of these skills can be learned.

For instance, psychologists recommend that you focus on scaling a drawing to fit the size of paper; that you anchor an object by showing how it fits in space; that you focus on the size and shape of so-called 'negative space' between objects; and that you think of 'lines' as boundaries between light and dark areas.

And if all else fails, you can always buy some watercolors instead and get to work on some happy trees.

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That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!

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