Sunday, August 22, 2010

Saving Snot Otters

The hellbender is North America's largest salamander, and I'll argue, has one of the most badass names in all of nature. I've heard it called a "mud devil" and a "ground puppy," but it is also called a "devil dog" and, my funny favorite, a "snot otter." Individuals of this species can grow as long as 29 inches but average around 15 inches. In general, they are nocturnal, crawling along a silty, rocky riverbed to hunt small fish, tadpoles, toads, crayfish, and even other hellbenders and water snakes! During the day you can find adults defending their home rock and territory. They have lungs but don't really come out onto land much, preferring the water and taking in oxygen through their skin.

There are some populations that remain healthy, but the hellbender is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN (that's the International Union for Conservation of Nature) and is close to qualifying for Vulnerable status. Like many other species, the decline of the hellbender is due to habitat loss and degradation - runoff contaminated with pesticides and pollutants are not good for salamanders. The Ozark Hellbender, in particular, has seen drastic population declines and is listed as Endangered in Missouri and may soon be listed as Endangered federally.

According to this short but interesting article a friend of mine posted, scientists are now cryopreserving the spiral-shaped hellbender sperm. Since this species can live up to 30 years (by the!) there are mostly older individuals left in the wild. Some of these individuals are being collected, "milked," and their little swimmers cryopreserved.

Source article:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Bite of the Terror Bird

Figure 1. Skull of Andalgalornis steulleti (FMNH P1435).
So you're flipping through various websites and journal table of contents. You come across an article about the feeding behavior of the ancient "terror bird." I think it's pretty clear that you must stop and read it.

Andalgalornis steulleti is a member of an extinct group of large, flightless birds known as phorusrhacids. This group were predominatly a South American radiation of gruiform birds from the middle to lower Paleocene and are most closely related to extant seriemas. Phorusrhacids are called "terror birds" due to their gigantic body sizes, large skulls, and carnivorous lifestyles. The members of this group were ground predators or scavengers that were likely apex predators that dominated their environment in the absence of large carnivorous mammals. A. steulleti lived approximately 6 million years ago in Argentina, it weighed about 40kg, stood 1.4m high, and had a skull length of 370mm. This large, rigid skull was capped with a hawk-like hooked, yet curiously hollow, beak. The feeding behavior of these birds has only been speculated at up till now. This new study performed a biomechanical analysis of the skull using comparative anatomy and engineering (Finite Element Analysis [FEA]) to predict the behavior of the skull. Basically, they looked at the skull itself, compared it to other skulls, and ran it though a CT scanner for analysis.

Figure 2. Stress (Von Mises) distribution of FE models.
Now, if you look at most birds you'll notice that their skulls allow for a lot of mobility between their bones. This gives them light but strong skulls. A steulleti, on the other hand, showed rigid beams in these normally mobile areas. This gave the bird a very strong skull, particularly in the fore-aft direction. The FEA analysis worked with the 3D models created by the CT scans to simulate and compare the biomechanics of biting straight down, pulling back with the neck, and shaking the skull side to side. These are all attack and dismembering motions (lovely). One of the neat things about FEA analysis is that it gives you color images that show areas of low stress as cool-blue and high stress as white-hot (image left). The results from this analysis show that the terror bird was well adapted for driving its beak in and the pulling back. Its marks weren't so high in the shaking side to side motion. Some more comparative anatomy came in when the researchers tested bite force. They had an eagle bite down on a bite meter - bet that was fun to try to do - and they used that information to compare it to the bite of A. steulleti. Pretty close, as they are both large birds with big, hooked beaks. The results showed that the terror bird had a lower than expected bite force that was weaker than the bite of similarly sized carnivorous mammals. This weaker bite force was likely supplimented by the driving down and pulling back motion that they found with the previous test. Overall, behaviorally speaking, the bird probably located prey, stabbed it with its beak and then implimented a repeated attack-and-retreat strategy, puncturing its prey until it was eatable.

Here's the article:
Degrange, Federico J., Claudia P. Tambussi, Karen Moreno, Lawrence M. Witmer, and Stephen Wroe. (2010) Mechanical Analysis of Feeding Behavior in the Extinct 'Terror Bird' Andalgalornis steulleti (Gruiformes: Phorusrhacidae). PLoS ONE: 5(8), e11856. (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011856)


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Humans Represent

It seems that everyone, their students, and their best friends are remaking Katy Perry's Californial Girls. I was downloading data and listening to NPR's Science Friday (that may possibly be the dorkiest way to open a sentence ever) and they were talking about the SETI program. The segment included some pretty big names including Frank Drake, Seth Shostak, and Jill Tartar. Besides being a good segment they mentioned a video put together by Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) students called SETI Girls. Here's me passing on the geek-love.

p.s. The guy in the NASA sweatshirt cracks me up. Is that a t-shirt over a sweatshirt? Awesome.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ferro Fluid

Here are a couple of neat and educational videos that have gotten some recent traction on YouTube. They are all about ferrofluid.

First is how to make your own:

Second is neat stuff to do with it:

Butchering Lucy

The Dikika Research Project, composed of an international team of scientists, publishing in this week's Nature magazine, have discovered evidence that human ancestors were using stone tools and consuming meat from large animals earlier than previously thought. The researchers were using a new method to collect every piece of bone from large mammals in order to reconstruct the ancient environment, and that's when they found it. Two V-shaped marks and other cuts on the bones of two antelope (one cow-sized, the other goat-sized) unearthed in the Afar Depression of Ethiopia show that hominids, specifically Australopithecus afarensis (you may be familiar with Lucy?) were using sharp stone tools to butcher meat as far back as 3.4 million years ago. Until now the oldest evidence of butchering with stone tools came from 2.5 million year old bone cuts in Bouri, Ethiopia, and the oldest known tools from Gona, Ethiopia. This newer, much older find suggests that ancestral humans were already using sharp stones to cut meat when their brains and bodies were barely bigger than a chimpanzee's. This find further illuminates the link between tool use and carnivory in the roots of human ancestry.

update: Look through the article below but I also strongly recommend listening to Friday's episode (8/13/10) of NPR's Science Friday. Ira Flatow plays referee between two scientists (Zeresenay Alemseged and David DeGusta) fervently debating the origin of the marks on these bones. Hominid or crocodile? You can stream and download it here: or free through iTunes.
Check out the article:
McPherron, Shannon P., et al. (2010) Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature: 466 (7308), 857 (DOI: 10.1038/nature09248)

and some stories:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Warning: Bad Science

This one is funny and the subject is sadly true. Its about science journalism, or rather the lack of proper, verified, good science journalism, and someone who decided to make readers aware of it. Introducing Journalism Warning Labels. Stickable warning labels created by Tom Scott to warn unsuspecting readers about what kind of material they are reading. Here are a few of my favorites, you can find more over at .

Thanks to Tom Scott for the great idea and Rick for posting the story.

Learning Green

Its that time of year again: back to school. Whether you are in school, have kids in school, work/teach at a school, or just feel like being a little greener in your home or office you can find some great green deals on the Internet.

If you are truly interested in buying recycled supplies you should first look into what the word recycled really means. It can be kinda like going to the grocery store and trying to figure out the difference between 'reduced fat' and 'less fat.' But, basically, most recycled paper products are made of wood chips and mill scraps, not what's called post-consumer waste paper (PCW). This PCW is the stuff that we throw away and using it is what keeps it out of the landfills and saves trees. The EPA requires a minimum of 30% PCW to constitute recycled paper. So its better to buy a product with a higher PCW percentage rather than the chlorine-bleached, virgin-fiber paper sold at mega office supply stores.

Think of this as kind of a link-a-polooza. I've tried to break things down by subject, including in-text links in addition to my typical link-list at the end. Hopefully that will keep things straight with so many hyperlinks running around. If the link is broken for some reason then just type the company name and/or product into your favorite search engine and you should find it. The link-list at the end includes sites/companies that have a whole range of products and I recommend clicking around on their websites to see what they have to offer.

Backpacks and Lunchboxes:

Bookbags are tough as most of them are made of synthetic fibers, specifically PVC (polyvinyl chloride). If you are looking for the lesser of evils then try to find polyester or nylon rather than PVC. Its best to try to find a natural fiber backpack if you can. One option is hemp backpacks which can be found at Nextag, Rawganique, and EcoChoices. The Ultimate Green Store has some nice and pretty good looking backpacks to chose from as well. Yet another option is bookbags from Dante Beatrix. What if you want to go high tech? Take a look at this backpack from Voltaic Systems. Its solar!

Lunchboxes, like backpacks, often contain a lot of PVC, so metal is a better choice. Take a look at the Shiva lunch box or recycled Bazura Bags (they're even insulated!) over at Reuseable Bags. And at Reusit they have some nice and very affordable lunch bags, too.

Binders, Notebooks, and Paper:

Nakedbinder sells binders that are 100% recycled. They come in several types and are very aesthetically pleasing. Another good place for binders is Jorgel, who makes their binders from cardboard. For your composition book needs take a look at the Greenline Paper Company, they are also good for notebook paper and index cards. Tactile Creations even has a notebook made from recycled sugarcane! A company called Ecopaper has a good (if somewhat hippie looking) selection of journals, sketchpads, and papers. And over at Ecojot you can find notebooks, sketchbooks, calendars, and notecards all made out of 100% recycled paper. How about something a little strange that will intrigue kids especially? Take a look at this: paper made from elephant dung!

Pencils and Utensils:

A company called TreeSmart makes some very neat, pretty cool pencils made from recycled newspapers. Forest Choice makes pencils from unfinished, smoothly sanded, incense cedar wood which has the added benefit of a great smell. And Green Earth Office Supply recycles blue jeans for their pencils! They also have the Wheely pen, a flexible ball point pen made from 50% post-consumer rubber tires and 10% pre-consumer recycled plastic, and they are refillable and imprintable. Over at Pilot Pen: Begreen you can find gel ink, rolling ball, and ball point pens as well as mechanical pencils, permanent markers, and whiteboard markers. All of these products are made from at least 70% recycled material. When it comes to art supplies go over to Clementine Art to find natural paint, modeling dough, and markers.


A staple-free stapler can be found at the CB2 website. It is finger safe, never needs refilling, and is environmentally friendly. It works by cutting out tiny strips of paper and 'stitching' them together. A similar model is the EcoStapler. Greenline Paper Company sells paper clips made from 100% recycled steel. Need a ruler? Check out the rulers over on the GreenRaising site, they are made from bills (yep, money) retired from circulation and plastic. You can even get recycled pushpins over at Green Earth Office Supply.

Here are some good stories about buying green school/office supplies:

Also check out these websites:

A good, but sometimes overlooked, website for school supplies is, they have some great choices on pencils made from recycled materials.

(image is of recycled newpaper pencils from TreeSmart)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Earth's Baby Tooth

Its northern Canada, its cold, its remote, its where a pristine undisturbed rock has been found from the time when Earth was just a molten baby planet. The ancient rock was found in a pocket of 60 million year old lava rock on Baffin Island. The pocket is approximately 4.5 billion years old and has managed to survive plate tectonics, a process which 'recycles' rocks and is why we don't see very old rocks today. The new find is composed of a mixture of helium, lead, and neodymium isotopes, specifically, a large amount of the isotopes helium-3 relative to helium-4 and a very old lead-isotope signature which suggest the mantle rock beneath the crust that yielded them is of the Earth's original material. Some researchers suggest that as much as 10% of the early mantle may yet exist, but this is still a remarkable find.

Read more here:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chase the Squirrel

I was listening to NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me episode in the lab yesterday, and their Bluff the Listener game had a story that made me say "wow, I gotta find that one." The story itself was reported on Live Science and includes a video of Japanese macaques going after a flying squirrel. Basically, the study is about monkeys being annoyed by squirrels. Awesome. They start making threat calls, climb a tree, force the squirrel to glide to the ground, and then chase it once it gets there. The male macaques are thought to be impressing the females in their troop, being tough guys. "It is possible that adult or sub-adult male monkeys may be 'showing off' their fitness" as potential mates, said Kenji Onishi, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Osaka University and lead author of the paper being published in the current issue of the journal Primate Research.

Read the rest of the story and watch the video here:

Collecting Debt

Have I said "yay for islands!" lately? Well, yay for islands!

This paper, published in the journal Ecography, looks at "extinction debt." So when we look at extinction we see that a majority of the documented extinctions of species are of those that occurred on oceanic islands. Typically these extinctions are a result of habitat destruction and fragmentation associated with human colonization, invasive species, etc. But extinction isn't an instantaneous event. A species can be reduced to a small population but it can take several generations for extinctions to take full effect. The time lag represents an "extinction debt," a 'future ecological cost.' I posted a story called A Little Patch of Home which goes over some of the theory of island biogeography, including the species-area relationship. The methods commonly used for estimating future extinctions are extrapolated from this.

This study takes place in the Azores, a system that has lost >95% of its original native forest during the last 6 centuries in addition to being very isolated and having a significant number of endemic species. The authors used the well-documented historical sequence of deforestation to calculate realistic and ecologically-adjusted species-area relationships. The results showed drastic levels of extinction debt. Over half of the arthropod (insects, spiders, etc.) species might eventually go extinct due to habitat loss. The severity of the deforestation has reduced the opportunities for forest-dependent species to cope with environmental change. The analysis shows that the taxa Araneae (spiders) and Coleoptera (beetles) are at greater risk of extinction than the third studied taxa, Hemiptera (true bugs). This could be because spiders and beetles have more species that are isolated to single islands rather than being found on multiple islands, although this is probably not the only cause. The results suggest the need for caution when thinking about conservation. Generalizing across species based on data for ecologically different taxa is inadvisable. For this reason the authors state that "large-scale conservation efforts need to be implemented if the high extinction debt we have identified is to be deferred or avoided" and that "the conservation of the Azorean natural heritage...will largely depend on establishing an integrated large-scale strategy to manage both indigenous and non-indigenous species while simultaneously protecting the remnants of native habitat and...increasing their extent."

Read more here:
Triantis, Kostas A., et al. (2010) Extinction debt on oceanic islands. Ecography: 33, 285-294. (DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.06203.x)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Howl at the Moon

Here's a story that was reported on by the journal Science, but has been picked up by various news sources (links at the end of the story). It concerns the return of the Gray Wolf to the Endangered Species List. Read all about the judicial ruling:

"Hunted last year in Montana and Idaho, the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf (Canis lupus) is once again on the federal endangered species list. Yesterday, a federal judge in Helena overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS's) decision last year to remove the wolves from the list in those two states but leave them on it in Wyoming.

Conservationists applauded U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's decision, but state wildlife officials in Montana and Idaho argue that the wolves' rebounding population needs to be better managed, including being hunted.

FWS did not remove protections from Wyoming's wolves because under that state's laws, wolves are considered "vermin" and would likely fare poorly. But conservation organizations challenged the split decision last June, arguing that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) applies to a species' entire population. Molloy concurred, writing that federal protections for the same population cannot be different in each state. The service's split decision, "even if ... pragmatic, or even practical, ... is at its heart a political solution that does not comply with the ESA," Molloy wrote in his ruling. Molloy indicated in a separate case last September that this suit would probably prevail.

Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1974, following a successful federal program to eradicate them in the lower continental states. Wolves from Canada later reentered Montana on their own, and others were released in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park by FWS. With close to 2000 wolves in the three states today, the reintroduction is widely regarded as a great success, although many local ranchers and farmers disagree because wolves attack and kill livestock and elk.

Last year, following FWS's delisting of the wolves, wildlife authorities in Idaho and Montana approved wolf hunts, which reduced the recovering population to 1650 animals. Four wolves that were part of the Yellowstone National Park's wolf-research project were killed in the hunt, leading scientists to worry about the future of this unique, long-term study. Hunts planned this year in Montana and Idaho have been scrapped.

Molloy's decision is good news for all endangered species, says Doug Honnold, an attorney with Earthjustice in Bozeman, Montana, who argued the plaintiff's case. "It means you can't carve up a single listed species and say some parts of its population have recovered and others have not." "


The New York Times:

The Wall Street Journal:

BBC News:

The Salt Lake Tribune:

Sun Tsunamis

The Sun's recent increase in activity has made some news lately. On August 1st the entire Earth-facing side of the Sun erupted with activity. Picture this: multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection (CME), and more! The solar storm is causing some interesting effects on Earth, including some spectacular aurorae. Check out these videos of the Sun's activity and some of the aurorae captured on video on August 4th in Latvia.

Keep tabs on the Sun's activity, including some fantastic pictures and videos, at NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) website:

Get up-to-date space weather info at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, the page refreshes every 5 minutes:

And get even more info about the Earth-Sun environment at:

Video links from:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Can You Fold It?

I've known about the Foldit protein folding game for a while now, but a new Nature paper, and a bunch of associated press releases, have recently brought it to light in a big way.

Briefly: proteins. Proteins are the workhorses of the body and every living cell in it. No matter the cell type, proteins allow cells to do what they do, whether it be breaking down food, sending nervous signals, or whatever. They come in thousands of varieties but are all made up of the same stuff: Amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids; they are small molecules composed of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and hydrogen. To build a protein, amino acids are joined together into an unbranched chain. Each amino acid has a small group of atoms called a sidechain that sticks off of the mainchain, or backbone. But an unbranched, straight-line formation is not an ideal formation. Proteins fold up, keeping some amino acids towards the center and others to the outside, some amino acids close together and some far apart. Each kind of protein folds up, usually on their own, into a very specific shape, the same shape every time. This folding is very unique to the protein, allowing it to exist in its most stable state, a state and shape that also specifies the function of the protein.

Perhaps now you see the where the name Foldit comes from. Because there are so many different ways a protein could possibly fold, figuring out which structure is the best one is one of the hardest problems in biology. Foldit is a game that allows users to predict the structure of a protein using their puzzle-solving intuitions and competitive natures. The game algorithm creates some potential starting protein structures, and then gives users a set of controls (like "shake," "wiggle," and "rebuild") and lets them manipulate the protein's structure in three dimensions as the game gives them feedback on the energy of a configuration. The designers of Foldit are smart in that they used the same conventions as other computer games and borrowed from aspects from online gaming communities such as leaderboards, team and individual challenges, user forums, etc.

Taking a look at the users of the game, even those with no significant background in biology or biochemistry were better at folding proteins than the game's algorithm. In a series of ten challenges, they beat the algorithms on five and drew even on another three. The authors of the study looked at how human pattern recognition gave them an edge over the computer. One example in many is that humans were able to detect hydrophobic ('water-hating') amino acid sidechains and rearrange them so that they were tucked inside the protein structure rather than outside. The best players, though, tended to have different strengths. Some were good at big adjustments while others were better at fine-scale optimization. And that's where the team-play function really shined; different team members handled tasks they were most adept at. That isn't to say that humans did better than the computer in every way. The algorithm was shown to be superior in generating the original unbranching sequence, before folding.

In the past few years scientists have become very interested in harnessing the power of the masses, and the masses' interest in science. In addition to Foldit take a look at Galaxy Zoo.

In case the in-text links didn't work, here's the Foldit and Galaxy Zoo sites:

This is the new Nature paper:
Cooper, Seth, et al. (2010) Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game. Nature: 466, 756–760. (DOI: 10.1038/nature09304)

And some story links:

Grrr, Baby, Very Grrr

This is a good one. I picked it up in a few places and it concerns the shopping habits of ovulating women. A new study out of the University of Minnesota, to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that ovulating women unconsciously buy sexier clothes in order to outdo attractive, rival women.

The study asked ovulating women to view a series of photographs. The women looked at 1) attractive women who lived locally, 2) unattractive women who lived locally, and 3) attractive women who lived over 1,000 miles away. Then the women were asked to chose clothing and accessory items to purchase for themselves. This resulted in a majority of the women unconsciously choosing sexier products after looking at photographs of locals than non-locals.

I suppose, like most things, when you boil it down, its all about sex. In this case, its fertility. Women during ovulation are at a time of peak fertility and so chose products to enhance their appearance and beat their competition. Competition, in this case, is local women. After all, women 1,000 miles away are less likely to go after the same guy. Hopefully.

Now we get to the why-does-it-matter part of the story. Well, choosing, consumerly speaking, means buying. Buying means money. And if you are a marketer you want to know what influences women's consumer behavior. You've got millions of women, each ovulating for 5 to 6 days a month, all wanting to enhance their physical appearance. We're talking clothes, shoes, accessories, cosmetics, health supplements, fitness products, medical procedures, etc. That's a lotta cash.

I guess this explains my recent purchase of a slinky red dress.

The paper and author info can be found at

and here are some story links:

Saving Some Green

As someone who works many hours in the forests of North Carolina, forests that have been at a humid 100+ degrees these past few weeks, I feel that I am more qualified than some to enjoy the cool wonderfulness that is air conditioning. Also, as someone who loves her job and as such is willing to accept the pay of a research technician, I feel that I am just as qualified as most to look for ways to reduce my electric bill (which has doubled with the mega-hotness) without sacrificing my comfortable coolness.

Taking that into mind, here is an article from The Daily Green called "13 Ways to Save Money on Air Conditioning." And ok, admittedly some of these are common sense, or should be, but it is always nice to be reminded. Also, many apply to you home-owners rather than us apartment-renters, but you'll get the idea.

Here's the countdown:

This applies to appliances like ovens and refrigerators, sure, but also consider an Energy Star central air conditioner. Did you know you could even qualify for a tax credit worth 30 % of the cost? That's up to $1,500! An Energy Star central air conditioner saves 86% energy and a room air conditioner 90% of the energy compared to a non-Energy Star product. Its nice to save some green in your wallet as well as on your planet.

Cooling one room requires less energy than cooling an entire house. So, if you have the option, pick a room or two to cool, ones you spend lots of time in hopefully, and do that instead.

Think shade, my friends, shade is your friend. Like trees or shrubs, awnings shade your abode from the sun's rays.

Attic fans are good, and if you have one and aren't running it then perhaps you should. But they don't do all the work. If you insulate your attic then you keep all that bought-cool air from escaping out through the top of your house. Got central air? You need to seal those ducts too. Did you know you can get a tax credit for this too? Yep, covering up to 30% the cost of the insulation. That's another $1,500! Are we keeping a tally? Cuz that's $3,000 so far (not counting the decrease in your energy bill).

This kinda feeds back on the awnings one. Its all about the shade again. In this case, plant deciduous trees (that's broadleaved or hardwood trees to those of you out of the science-jargon loop) on the east and west sides of your home. Why this type of tree and not a nice ole pine or cedar? Well, in the summer it blocks the sun, but when all of the leaves fall off in the winter the sun can reach and warm your house. And they are a landscaping bonus as they are an aesthetically pleasing addition to your yard and attract wildlife like birds. Also, its not a bad idea to plant them next to driveways and walkways as these materials absorb lots-o-heat. Ever walk barefoot down your driveway in the summer? Ouch!

Good for the body, good for the air conditioner. Get a professional to come out and take a look at your system. Stop problems before they become problems. Sure you gotta pay for the pro but odds are that bill will be much less than buying an entirely new system.

Its amazing what a little cool water can do. It reduces your body's core temperature, and once you get out the water evaporates and cools you further. Don't feel like upping your water bill? Use some ice cubes on your pulse points (wrists, neck, etc) to cool you down.

Funny how often people forget this one, but a dirty air filter reduces air flow through the system and costs you money. A change every three months is probably good, especially if, like me, you own a pet that sheds more than its body weight in fur. Filters are really cheap and super easy to change.

Light bulbs, even the modern compact fluorescent and LEDs, produce a lot of heat. And although buying Energy Star rated bulbs can reduce the emitted heat by up to 75%, it is still to your benefit to just shut off the lights. Now I'm not saying you should sit in the dark (unless you like that sort of thing), but just turn off lights in rooms you aren't using and when you leave the house. That goes for electronics too!

The article recommends drinking a "nice cool cocktail," and I can't say I disagree (ahem, make sure you're of age there kiddies). But any kind of cooling food or drink - fruits, salads, iced beverages - all cool your core body temperature. Kinda like that cool swim/bath from earlier. Also, using the microwave or grill instead of the oven helps keep your casa cool.

One day I'll live somewhere with a programmable thermostat. *sigh* But until that day comes I either adjust the one I have to stay at a higher, but still comfortable, temperature or adjust the temperature for when I'm home versus when I'm not. If you are lucky enough to have a programmable thermostat then set it for warmer when you are away or at work, cooler for when you are awake and at home, and slightly warmer for when you sleep.

It is one of my favorite sayings when I'm out doing field work that sweat doesn't work unless there is air to move across it. Evaporation is your friend. And ok, none of us really wants to sit at home, where we are supposed to be comfortable, and sweat, fan or no. But even if you aren't sweating, just a fan pointed in your direction will cool you off. Still too warm? Simulate sweat by moistening the skin on your face and wrists and allowing the fan to blow across them. Also, as you might have already figured out, fans move air. So find a cool source of air and set your fan in front of it. Get that cool air moving through your house. Have an older house? Its layout may be such as to maximize air flow for the weather conditions in your region. After all, there wasn't always the bliss that is air conditioning.

Oh all right, so I added the "frickin'." Opening your windows can make your house warmer not cooler. I see this on a daily basis as my downstairs neighbor constantly has her windows open regardless of the outside temperature. As a result, her cats are always on the porch looking for a little reprieve. If you need to open your windows then do so at night, preferably with a fan. But only do that if the air outside is cooler than the air inside. Also, anything you can do to shade your windows is key. Yep, back to shade again. Close blinds, add curtains, or even just put some houseplants in front of windows to help block the sun.

As I currently am an apartment dweller and a member of the I-can't-afford-it club, oh yeah and a scientist, I am constantly looking for additional ways, besides these, to save some green. One thing that I've looked into, heard great things about, but have not yet tried is window films. These are completely clear, removable films that you put on your window that block UV rays and help you save energy. They cost about $30 a roll (depending on the size of your windows you can use a roll for more than one window) and I'm very interested in giving them a try. If you, or someone you know, has tried them I would love to hear any comments.

Overall, I would say that regardless of your political beliefs or whether or not you even think climate change is real or whatever, everyone likes to save money. And saving energy saves money. Think about it.

Here's the article:
(image from
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