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Spacesuits Go Spandex, Harry Potter Goes Green and Checkers Gets Solved!

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Who'll Stop the Rain?

beijing-2008-logo.gifCountries go to great lengths of make sure the Olympics are perfect- Athens officials took unconventional steps to clear away stray dogs and prostitutes. But Beijing's preparations may take the cake- they've designed a rocket to blast away rain clouds and guarantee sun. History shows that there's a 50 percent chance of rain during the opening and closing ceremonies, but Chinese scientists have created a method to disperse precipitation clouds and prevent rain over the city. The rocket is still being tested and while some meteorologists say it won't work, Chinese officials expect nothing but sunny days ahead.

NASA gets sexy
Current spacesuits have layers upon layers of fabric and pressurized gas to keep a safe amount of air pressure on the body. But they're so bulky and unflattering. Luckily, astronauts can now show off their svelte figures with the spacesuit1.jpgnew BioSuit, a spandex-like alternative in space fashion. This new suit provides pressure by tightly wrapping the fabric around the body, but also allows for flexible movement. The redesign wasn't just done for vanity- the current suits weigh almost 300 pounds and make movement difficult when astronauts aren't floating in space; the new suits will make those football games on the moon a little less awkward.
Harry Potter and the Environmental Conscience
061021_HarryPotter_Vl.widec.jpgAdmit it, the only thought you had when you were reading the new Harry Potter book wasn't "˜Will Harry defeat Voldemort?' or "˜I wonder who's going to die.' No, you were too busy thinking "˜This behemoth of a book probably single-handedly destroyed an acre of the Amazon and now the Earth is going to die because I wanted to know what happened to Snape.' Well, worry no longer; Deathly Hallows was actually the greenest book in publishing history. Scholastic got 65 percent of their paper from forests maintained in an environmentally- and socially-responsible way and also contained 30 percent post-consumer waste fiber. The printing is expected to inspire other publishers to use environmentally responsible methods for choosing their paper.

Liquid TV, Why You'll Never Be Able to Beat Your Computer in Checkers (if it's really playing) and Bee Deaths Solved all after the jump!

The Chameleon Liquid
Scientists say a new liquid that changes color with exposure to magnetic fields could do for LCD monitors what ethanol is doing to oil. The liquid, which contains oxide particles covered in plastic, is cheaper and easier to make and control. Besides replacing LCD technology, the liquids could also revolutionize paper; The ability to make the liquid as thin and flexible as necessary means that scientists could use it to make rewritable paper. As far as I'm concerned, if they can make a TV that makes Planet Earth look even better for less money, I'm on board.

No Words, Just Emotions
Chinese researchers have created a video player that doesn't just measure volume or time, but also the emotions of the video. The EmoPlayer will eventually be adapted to use emotion-detecting technology, but for now it just lets users edit the emotional timeline. Experiments show that people found it easier to navigate the videos. It'll probably be a while before the EmoPlayer gets fully integrated onto YouTube, so for now here's a quick tip: kittens, puppies and babies always signal happy.

King me!
If neither player makes a mistake, checkers will always end in a draw. That's the result of a study at University of Alberta, Canada, which used computer simulations and plenty of complex math to "solve" checkers. This shows how a computer was able to defeat checkers champ Marion Tinsley in the 1990's and why you'll never be able to beat your computer at work.

Bee Deaths: Case Closed
Weeks I ago I wrote about a condition that was killing the world's bees. Now a Spanish scientist says an Asian parasite called nosema ceranae is to blame. After studying the deaths for several years and testing various theories, he settled on the parasite as the culprit. Asian bees aren't as susceptible to it, but it kills Western honeybees in a matter of days. Among the other ideas that were tested were drought and some odd theory about the electromagnetic waves from cell phones throwing off bee navigation.

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Live Smarter
Researchers Say You’re Exercising More Than You Think
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They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. If the thought of a thousand-mile journey makes you tired, we've got some great news for you: You've probably already completed one.* A new study published in the journal Health Psychology [PDF] finds that people underestimate the amount of exercise they're getting—and that this underestimation could be harmful.

Psychologists at Stanford University pulled data on 61,141 American adults from two huge studies conducted in the 1990s and the early 2000s: the National Health Interview Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants answered questionnaires about their lifestyles, health, and exercise habits, and some wore accelerometers to track their movement. Everybody was asked one key question: "Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?"

The researchers then tapped into the National Death Index through 2011 to find out which of the participants were still alive 10 to 20 years later.

Combining these three studies yielded two interesting facts. First, that many participants believed themselves to be less active than they actually were. Second, and more surprisingly, they found that people who rated themselves as "less active" were more likely to die—even when their actual activity rates told a different story. The reverse was also true: People who overestimated their exercise had lower mortality rates.

There are many reasons this could be the case. Depression and other mental illnesses can certainly influence both our self-perception and our overall health. The researchers attempted to control for this variable by checking participants' stress levels and asking if they'd seen a mental health professional in the last year. But not everybody who needs help can get it, and many people could have slipped through the cracks.

Paper authors Octavia Zahrt and Alia Crum have a different hypothesis. They say our beliefs about exercise could actually affect our risk of death. "Placebo effects are very robust in medicine," Crum said in a statement. "It is only logical to expect that they would play a role in shaping the benefits of behavioral health as well."

The data suggest that our ideas about exercise and exercise itself are two very different things. If all your friends are marathoners and mountain climbers, you might feel like a sloth—even if you regularly spend your lunch hour in yoga class.

Crum and Zahrt say we could all benefit from relaxing our definition of "exercise."

"Many people think that the only healthy physical activity is vigorous exercise in a gym or on a track," Zahrt told Mental Floss in an email. "They underestimate the importance of just walking to the store, taking the stairs, cleaning the house, or carrying the kids."
 
*The average American takes about 5000 steps per day, or roughly 2.5 miles. At that pace, it would take just a little over a year to walk 1000 miles.

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Medicine
Scientists Are Working on a Way to Treat Eye Floaters With Lasers
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Even people with 20/20 eyesight should be familiar with this scenario: You're enjoying a clear view when a faint doodle shape drifts into your peripheral vision like an organism under a microscope. Floaters affect almost everyone, but there's currently no medically accepted, non-invasive way to treat them. Two doctors with Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston are working to change that. As IFLScience reports, the team believes that lasers may be the solution to bothersome eye squiggles.

As Chirag Shah and Jeffrey Heier write in their study in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, lasers can be used to safely combat the underlying causes of floaters. Also known as muscae volitantes, Latin for “hovering flies,” the condition comes from physical debris leaking into your eyeball. The front of your eyes is filled with a liquid called vitreous humor, and when drops of that gelatinous substance break off from the whole, the bits cast shadows on your retinas that look like gray blobs. Because floaters literally float inside your eyes, trying to focus on one is almost impossible.

These spots aren't typically a problem for young people, but as you get older your vitreous humor becomes more watery, which increases the chance of it slipping out and clouding your vision. Retinal detachment and retinal tears are also rare but serious causes of symptomatic floaters.

Shah and Heier tested a new method of pinpointing and eliminating floaters with a YAG laser (a type of laser often used in cataract surgery) on 36 patients. An additional 16 test subjects were treated with a sham laser as a placebo. They found that 54 percent of the treated participants saw their floaters decrease over six months, compared to just 9 percent of the control group. So far, the procedure appears be safe and free of side effects, but researchers noted that more follow-up time is needed to determine if those results are long-term.

At the moment, people with symptomatic floaters can choose between surgery or living with the ailment for the rest of their lives. YAG laser treatment may one day offer a safe and easy alternative, but the researchers say they will need to expand the size of future studies before the treatment is ready to go public.

[h/t IFLScience]

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