Daily Smart Fact

Your daily dose of smart. So you don't feel so dumb.

Daily Smart Fact #23: The Mongolian Spot is Most Prevalent in Native American Babies

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Key Takeaway: If you have never heard of or seen a “Mongolian spot” you are probably not Asian, Native American, or Latino.  The Mongolian spot is a dark bruise-like pigmentation that occurs usually above the buttocks of babies with darker pigment.  Sometimes these spots are mistaken for bruises.

My 3 year old nephew who is 3/4 Korean and 1/4 Japanese has the cutest little butt with a perfectly blue dot right above his crack.  I know, lovely picture, but as a biased Auntie I find it absolutely adorable.  Anywho, as  Korean, I figured the Mongolian spot was common knowledge for people; Asian babies have a blue dot above their butt.

What I didn’t realize was that the Mongolian spot, also known as the “blue spot”, isn’t prevalent only in East Asian babies.  In fact, over 90% of Native American babies have the spot, followed by East Asian babies (80%) and Latino babies (70%). [Source: Dr. Greene]

“The Mongolian spot is a congenital developmental condition exclusively involving the skin. The blue colour is caused by melanocytes,melanin-containing cells, that are deep under the skin. The spots are completely harmless.”

These spots usually go away by the age of 2 years old and completely go away by the age of 5 years old.  Because the spot can sometimes look like bruises, there have been stories where babies have actually been removed from their homes because of mistaken child abuse.

The interesting thing is that my other nephew and niece, who’s 1/2 Korean and 1/2 White, DON’T have the Mongolian spot.  We joke that they truly aren’t Korean but perhaps their skin is too fair for the Mongolian spot.   Although the irony is that they speak more Korean than the rest of our family!

Anyway, for those of you who had never heard of the Mongolian spot, I hope this post was enlightening.  For those of you who thought Mongolian spots were only for East Asian babies, I hope you learned something new.

Written by Bea

June 10, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Biology

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Daily Smart Fact #22: Real Zombies roam the earth via brain-eating fungi

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Key Takeaway:  The fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, invades its host ant’s brains and forces the ant to do its bidding.  The fungus uses the ant as a walking food source and damages the muscle and ant’s central nervous system, resulting in a “zombie walking.”

I was having a conversation about my blog with my sister and brother-in-law, and he excited exclaimed that I should write about the brain-eating fungi from Planet Earth because those suckers are probably one of the creepiest things known to man.  I concurred. They’re creepy and unbelievably real.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, here’s a video:

Once the fungus reaches the ant’s brain, it causes the ant to climb up and up and up, and then causes the insect to “clamp-down on the underside of a leaf which locks in place as its jaw becomes dislocated — subjecting the ant to a painful, self-inflicted death.”

According to News.com,

The fungus attacks the ants on two fronts. Firstly by using the ant as a walking food source, and secondly by damaging muscle and the ant’s central nervous system, resulting in zombie walking and the death bite, which place the ant in the cool damp understorey.

Together these provide the perfect environment for fungal growth and reproduction.

Begin the theme from the Twilight Zone….freaky deaky!

Written by Bea

June 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Biology

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Daily Smart Fact #21: The Brothers Grimm fairy tales included rape, cutting of limbs, and death by shoes

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Key Takeaway: The Brothers Grimm original versions of now-famous fairy tales were much darker and freaky than their current Disney counterparts. Exhibit A: Sleeping Beauty was actually raped and had a pair of twins while still in her coma.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German brothers in the early 1800s who published various books of fairy tales that were dark and violent.  The only reason I even started digging into this was because a friend of ours, at a recent barbecue, mentioned that the original Sleeping Beauty was raped multiple times while she was “asleep” and only woke up because she gave birth to twins and one of them sucked out the poisonous thorn!  After some digging around, lo and behold, this indeed was true.  Here’s some other interesting tidbits I found about the Grimm fairy tales:

  • Cinderella – The step-sisters, in desperation to fool the prince that their humongo feet are tiny and dainty like Cinderella’s, cut off parts of their feet. Straight up lops them off. What alerts the prince to their trickery?  Pigeons. Pigeons and the sisters’ bloody feet.  Oh yeah, and if that weren’t enough punishment, the pigeons peck out the sisters’ eyes. They end up spending the rest of their lives as blind beggars. Revenge is a bitch. (from National Geographic)
  • Snow White – In the original tale, the Queen actually asks for Snow White’s liver, heart, lungs, and (in some versions, intestines) because she wants to EAT them for dinner.  Probably with a side of fava beans and Chianti (tongue/mouth making noise Hannibal style).  Also, Snow White is supposed to be super young, like 10 years old.  So unless the prince was also 10 years old…he was one six-pack short of meeting Chris Hansen.  Also in the original, Snow White wakes up when she is jostled by the prince’s horse as he carries her back to his castle – not from a magical kiss. And in the Grimm version, the tale ends with the Queen being forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes!
  • Rumpelstiltskin – In the version we’re familiar with, the queen guesses his name and he’s angry but honors his word and gives back the baby.  Turns out in the original version, he’s not just angry but freaking pissed to the point he stamps his feet to the ground, gets stuck, and then RIPS HIMSELF IN HALF.  Fun times.
To end on a happy note, here’s a cute sloth flying to R. Kelly’s “I believe I can fly”:

Written by Bea

June 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Posted in History

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Daily Smart Fact #20: Kim Jong Il is a crazy man, in case you didn’t know

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Key Takeaway:  Kim Jong Il is one crazy mofo and has known to do some wild and outrageous things, including claims that he is the world’s greatest golfer and that on the day of his birth, thunderstorms broke out and a brilliant double rainbow displayed across the sky.

Kim Jong Il is a crazy guy, which I’m sure is not a big surprise to you.  However, did you know how crazy?

  • He is said to wear nearly 5-inch platform shoes to increase his height, which is normally about 5′ 3″.
  • He has told his people that he invented the hamburger
  • According to “state-sponsored statements,” Kim’s birth on Mount Paektu was accompanied by “flashes of light and thunder, the iceberg in the pond of Mount Paektu emitted a mysterious sound as it broke, and bright double rainbows rose up.”
  • He is known to have recruited “young girls of junior high school age to take part in ‘Joy Brigades'” to help him and his officials relax.
  • Kim is the greatest golfer in the history of existence. He routinely finishes 38 under par, and he averages four or five holes-in-ones per game.
  • According to a book written by one of Kim Jong Il’s ex-staff members, he was once injured by falling off his horse when it slipped on loose rocks. He was afraid of becoming addicted to the painkillers that his doctors prescribed him, so he had members of his administrative staff injected daily with the same dosages he had to take.
  • In preparation for the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989, Kim Jong Il had disabled residents removed from Pyongyang. The government also distributed pamphlets advertising a wonder drug that would increase the height of short people. Those who responded to the pamphlets were sent away to different uninhabited islands along with the disabled in an attempt to rid the next generation of their supposedly substandard genes.
Whew! Puts my bouts of craziness into context. 🙂

Sources: Time, listverse, World Tribune

Written by Bea

June 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Posted in History

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Daily Smart Fact #19: Fish can feel pain, you murdering murderer

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Key Takeaway: UK scientists have found “conclusive evidence” that fish do feel pain.  But what does this mean?  And does anyone care?

I don’t go out looking for information about fish (like I do birds), nor do I find fish articles to be that particularly interesting – however, I never really put thought into the question “do fish feel pain?” but it looks like a lot of other people have.

In 2003, some British scientists did some studies on trout and determined that fish DO feel pain.  (BBC source) They injected bee venom in the lips of trout (haha, trout lips) and regular saline solution in the control group’s lips.  The trouts who had bee venom exhibited signs of stress and more importantly, kept rubbing their lips on the gravel floor – a response that was not a “reflexive response.”  Also, it took them 3 times longer to resume feeding than the control group.

It is important to note that although this study may show that fish can “feel” pain, the question still remains “what does it mean to feel pain?”  In order to feel pain, do you need the brain capacity to register pain as a psychological experience or is a physiological response to pain enough?

Whatever the answer might be, what does this mean for us fish eaters?  It may not mean much unless you were eating fish only because you thought they didn’t feel pain.  In that case, congratulations to you.

But more importantly, what implications does this have on sports fishing.  If its now shown that fish do feel pain, are you damaging and ultimately causing pain to fish for your own enjoyment?  I’m honestly not very passionate about this subject but I find these scientific findings and their implications quite intriguing.

What do you think?

Written by Bea

June 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Biology

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Daily Smart Fact #18: Build Your Own Memory Palace

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Key Takeaway: Its a lot easier to remember places and experiences than lists, numbers, or names. Use your own memory palace to improve your memory by visualizing and associating the things you need to remember with the outrageous and absurd.

I was listening to NPR the other day and the guest was Joshua Foer and they were talking about the USA Memory Championship. That’s right, there’s a national competition for memory.  In order to be a “grand master of memory” you must be able to do the following:

  1. Memorize 1,000 digits in less than 60 minutes
  2. Memorize the order of 10 shuffled decks in less than 60 minutes
  3. Memorize the order of 1 shuffled deck in less than 2 minutes

As of 2005, there were only 36 grand masters in the world.  These people aren’t photographic memory freaks or people who have an IQ of a gazillion.  They’re ordinary folks like you and me.  So how do they do this?  Well one technique is called the Memory Palace.  According to this interview on NPR, Joshua describes origins of the Memory Palace from Ancient Greek times.  There’s a story about Simonides of Ceos walking out of a banquet hall right before the entire building collapsed, killing every single person inside.  In all of the tragedy, no one knew who was who in the hall, how to properly bury the dead, which families should claim which bodies, etc.  Simonides realized though that if he closed his eyes, he could remember every single person in the hall by where they were located. This is how the Memory Palace came to be.

When you visit someone’s house for the first time can you still remember it the next day? the next week?  Where was the TV and the couch?  Where was the kitchen in relation to the front door?  Its so much easier to remember than say, someone’s phone number or address.

The Memory Palace is a technique that allows you to visualize the things you need to remember based on an actual physical place you know.  Here’s how to build your own memory palace (for greater details, read this article):

  1. Visualize a physical place you know really well (most likely your own home)
  2. List all the distinctive features of this place (e.g., the front door, the main foyer, the big painting of the bull fight you bough in Madrid, the steps leading up to your bedroom, the bedroom door, etc.)
  3. Imprint the palace into your mind – know every single detail of your actual physical palace; you’re going to need to remember this
  4. Associate the things you need to remember to your palace – A key thing to note is that you need to make whatever you remember “crazy, unusual, offensive, extraordinary…” if its boring, its unmemorable.  I like the example given here about remembering a grocery list.  If you had to remember bacon, start at your front door.  According to the article, it says you might want to remember streams of bacon coming up from under the door, like zombie hands trying to get at you.  Then when you walk in and the first thing you see is a picture of your mother-in-law with your wife, and you have to remember eggs….and so on.
  5. Visit your palace and see all the things you can remember!

Good luck!  Let me know in the comments how you’ve fared with your Memory Palace.  How many things did you remember?

Some things to try out this week:

  1. Forego a grocery list (ok, maybe keep a backup list in your back pocket)
  2. Memorize at least 2 of your family members’ phone numbers that is in your cell phone address book
  3. The next new place you need to go, try to remember the address using your Memory Palace

Written by Bea

June 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Biology

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Daily Smart Fact #17: The Mimic Octopus is the first known species to take on the characteristics of multiple species.

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Key Takeaway: The Indonesian Mimic Octopus can imitate up to 15 different species by look and behavior and decides which “predator” to mimic based on the sea animal that confronts it.  Awesome-o!

I stumbled on this awesome video and I’m blown away by this octopus.  I always knew that octopus were known to be very smart.  I remember from a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium that an octopus can change colors by its mood and that they’re known to open up jars and walk across rooms to “sneak food.”

Some other cool facts about the Mimic Octopus (courtesy of Marine Bio):

  • The mimic octopus is the first octopus species ever observed to impersonate other animals
  • “This animal is so intelligent that it is able to discern which dangerous sea creature to impersonate that will present the greatest threat to its current possible predator. For example, scientists observed that when the octopus was attacked by territorial damselfishes, it mimicked the banded sea snake, a known predator of damselfishes.”
  • They’re known to mimic: sea snakes, lion fish, sole fish, sting rays, mantis shrimp and even jelly fish.

Written by Bea

June 1, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Daily Smart Fact #16: Unlike mammals, birds are not affected by spiciness

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Key takeaway: Spicy peppers use bird droppings to disperse their seeds because birds have iron stomachs and buttholes.

I was reading this awesome infograph about insanely hot peppers and was intrigued to find out that birds are impervious to spice!  In fact, crazy hot peppers need birds to disperse their seeds because birds, unlike mammals, don’t have molars and therefore keep the seeds intact (instead of grinding them down to powder).

Here’s some info:

  • Capsaicin is what makes chili peppers hot and is also an irritant for mammals [according to wikipedia, man’s best friend]
  • Birds are the predominant disperser of capsaicin seeds because they don’t have receptors that capsaicin binds to and therefore unsusceptible to capsaicin as an irritant
  • Since mammals destroy capsaicin with their molars, the “spiciness” factor is probably an evolutionary defense to irritate the crap out of us mammals

Written by Bea

May 31, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Posted in Birds

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Funny Post of the Day: Clips from The Simpsons (1991 – 1993) Made a Coherent McBain Movie

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Its Memorial Day weekend and I’m taking the weekend off to chill out and keep my brain happy with movies (Hangover 2 anyone?) and non-useful stuffs.

But I did stumble upon this interesting tidbit today that I thought I’d share.

Turns out, someone stitched all the McBain clips that showed in The Simpsons from 1991 to 1993 and it actually makes a coherent movie.  Check it out below:

See you after the weekend!


Written by Bea

May 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Posted in Funny

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Daily Smart Fact #15: Too tired for the hanky panky, ladies? Just start crying to dampen the mood.

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Key Takeaway: A new study indicates that the smell of women’s tears considerably dampens men’s sexual desires.

I stumbled upon this little ditty because I was scouring the interwebs for some interesting articles and found an article titled “Can a Virgin Give Birth” and I was like “wha?” which led to a related article about how women may have physically evolved to avoid rape (I may write on this topic some other time) which eventually led to this article from Businessweek: “Women’s Tears Tell Men to Back Off“.

Anyway, I was fascinated by all articles, although I did find some areas that I don’t agree with…but that’s for another time.

A team of scientists from Israel ran a series of experiments that led them to to conclude that the smell of women’s tears greatly dampen’s a man’s sexual arousal.

  • Women are less sexually attractive – in the first experiment, 24 male participants smelled women’s tears as well as odorless saline solution. After smelling the women’s tears, they found pictures of women’s faces less sexually appealing after sniffing the tears than after sniffing the saline solution.
  • Lower brain activity in regions that typically show arousal – in the last experiment, “MRI brain images of 16 men shown sexually arousing pictures and movies indicated that those who sniffed tears beforehand had lower activity in brain regions that typically show activity during arousal.”
Similar studies have not been done with men or children’s tears. I speculate that children’s tears heighten women’s nurturing region of the brain while the smell of men’s tears probably has the same effect in dampening sexual desires.  But who knows? Maybe the smell of men’s tears signal to women that the man is sensitive and caring, therefore a great potential lifemate?
Any scientists out there game to study that one?

Written by Bea

May 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm