Archive for 'Boys Will Be Boys'

A news dump, about taking a dump: The Stool Stool

Friday, November 30th, 2018

Alex Blasdel, writing in The Guardian, waxes eloquent about methods old and new: “Bowel movement: the push to change the way you poo— Are you sitting comfortably? Many people are not – and they insist that the way we’ve been going to the toilet is all wrong.” Blasdel describes in depth the commercial rise of a simple product:

The Squatty Potty is a wildly popular seven-inch-high plastic stool, designed by a devout Mormon and her son, which curves around the base of your loo. By propping your feet on it while you crap, you raise your knees above your hips. From this semi-squat position, the centuries-old seated toilet is transformed into something more primordial, like a hole in the ground.

The Blonsky centrifugal birthing device

The family that makes the Squatty Potty says this posture unfurls your colon and gives your faecal matter a clear run from your gut to the bowl, reducing bloating, constipation and the straining that causes haemorrhoids.

The logic behind this invention—the inventor named it the “Squatty Potty”, but let’s call it “the Stool Stool”—is reminiscent of the logic that led to the Blonsky centrifugal birthing device. The idea, in each case, is that:

  1. ancient people learned a biologically-best way; but, but, butt…
  2. civilized, modern people have forgotten what works optimally, and now do things unnaturally.

Blasdel’s essay celebrates not only the stool stool, but especially the video ad that popularized the product:

BONUS (only tangentially related): The power of a name: Dr. Shit Fun Chew. Related to this is what may be the quintessential Twitter tweet.

BONUS (not even tangentially related): The four-legged Periodic Table Table


Two tales of headphone jacks gone awry

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

Two reports about headphone jacks, appearing in the same year, raise possibilities. Here are portions of the two reports, side by side:

Mark Wilson writes, in Fast Company magazine:

I still miss my headphone jack, and I want it back
Two years after Apple removed the iPhone’s headphone jack, life without it still sucks….

The Asian Journal of Urology reports:

Listening to his inner voice? An unusual urethral foreign body: A review of literature and few learning points,” Abheesh Varma Hegde, Suryakanth Choubey, Revanna Siddappa Kanagali, Gotam Pipara, A. Nagaraja Rao, and A. Mohan, Asian Journal of Urology, vol. 5, no. 2, April 2018, pp. 131-132. (Thanks to Richard Wassersug for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at St. Johns Medical College Hospital, Bangalore, India, report:

“A 26-year-old man presented to the Emergency Department with dysuria and urinary retention. There were no other urinary symptoms. History revealed he had self-inserted the jack of an ear phone into his penis 2 h prior, for autoerotic stimulation. There were three prior instances of such insertions after which he would remove the ear phones himself. He had also tried to catheterize himself in the past, for sexual gratification. There was no history of underlying psychiatric illness. On examination, the ear phones and the cable were dangling from the external urethral meatus and the cable was palpable within the penile urethra (Fig. 1). Pelvic radiography showed a variable length of the cable within the bladder that appeared to be coiled and the ear phone jack, intact (Fig. 2).”

BONUS (distantly, if at all, related): Plug and Play

BONUS (probably unrelated): “A Salute To Head-Scratching Science


Borborygmi and alternative-to-colonoscopy news

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018 reports:

Nobel winner’s device listens to your gut
A non-invasive way for detecting gut disorders could replace the dreaded colonoscopy, West Australian researchers say

Gut disorders could be detected without the need for dreaded, invasive colonoscopies thanks to an invention by West Australian researchers, led by a Nobel Prize laureate.

A University of WA research team headed by Barry Marshall [pictured here] has invented an acoustic sensing belt that listens, records and analyses gut noises linked to gut disorders for faster and more effective diagnosis….

Gut rumbling sounds can be called by a technical name: borborygmi. There have been previous, very different attempts to discern meaning in those sounds.

BONUS: Here’s one person’s self-recorded intestinal rumblings:

REMINDER (distantly related): The 2018 Ig Nobel Prize for Medical Education was awarded to Akira Horiuchi, for the medical report “Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy.” Here’s video of Dr. Horiuchi performing self-colonoscopy:

A bra that falls off when you clap your hands (new patent)

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Inventor (and IP / patent lawyer) Michael Mansour Ahmadshahi Ph.D., Esq. has just been granted a US patent for his ‘Signal-activated lingerie’ which incorporates a remotely activated (un)fastener “causing the lingerie to fall off from the wearer’s body” when it receives the appropriate signal. The patent document explains :

“Lingerie, such as bras which are worn by females, have a fastening mechanism, such as a hook-type fastener, which is difficult to open, especially for the male counterpart. A bra according to the present invention could be made using a signal-activated fastener such that the female’s boyfriend or husband could clap his hand and the bra would automatically open.”

As described, the invention may also incorporate voice-recognition technology so that only a previously-authorized operator’s voice will activate it.


[1] For those wondering whether the technology could/should also apply to male undergarments – the patent document doesn’t specifically mention them. But it does note that the invention can also be configured to remotely operate belts and trousers.

[2] According to the invention’s website, it’s soon to be launched as a product.

“We are a high-end lingerie company offering specially-designed one-piece lingerie. These lingerie DO NOT use biometrics.

We do, however, have a patented technology which uses biometric signals to unfasten the lingerie remotely. We hope to bring it to you soon! “

[3] The 2009 Ig Nobel Health Prize was awarded to Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, Illinois, USA, for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander. See U.S. patent 7255627 for a “Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks.”

[ Research research by Martin Gardiner ]

A better-rounded understanding of why wombat poo is cubic

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

Ian Sample reports, in The Guardian, a new discovery by Ig Nobel Prize winners, about wombat poo shape:

Scientists unravel secret of cube-shaped wombat faeces
Researchers investigate why excrement emerges in awkward-shaped blocks

… “My curiosity got triggered when I realised that cubical feces exist,” said Patricia Yang pictured below], a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “I thought it was not true in the first place.”

In a new study, Yang and her colleagues have had a fresh crack at the problem. To gain new insights into the mystery, they studied the digestive tracts of common wombats that had been put to sleep after being struck by cars and trucks on roads in Tasmania.

Close inspection revealed that the wombat’s excrement solidified in the last 8% of the intestine, where the faeces built up as blocks the size of long and chunky sugar cubes. By emptying the intestines and inflating them with long modelling balloons, of the sort used to make balloon animals at children’s parties, the researchers measured how the tissue stretched in different places….

The first public presentation happened today, at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society.

Urination Duration

The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Patricia Yang, David Hu, and Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).

The urine-duration research is documented in the study “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size,” Patricia J. Yang, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, and David L. Hu, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111 no. 33, August 19, 2014, pp. 11932–11937.

David Hu, and some of the research done by him Patricia Yang and their colleagues, was profiled a few days ago in the New York Times.

Update: Cat Tongues?

And from the same lab: Alexis Noel’s experiments with understanding cat tongues: “Got Your Cat Tongue?

Update: Wok Tossing

Another lab member, Hungtang Ko, is experimenting with the physics of woks. Anna Kusmer tells about this in an Atlas Obscura report called “Breaking Down the Physics of Wok Tossing.”

Current Grad Students

Here’s a list of the lab’s current grad students:

  • Olga Shishkov, a graduate student  working on insect larvae
  • Michael Tennenbaum, a graduate student involved in studies of ants as fluids, co-advised with Alberto Fernandez-Nieves
  • Thomas Spencer, a graduate student working on moth antennae
  • Marguerite Matherne, a graduate student working on tails
  • Alexander Lee, a graduate student working on sniffing
  • Andrew Schulz, a graduate student working on elephant trunks
  • Huntang Ko, a graduate student working on frog tongues
  • Daniel Kimmel, a graduate student working on running on water

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