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Not from the people who brought you liquid bandages, it’s the liquid condom.

No, really. It’s actually a gel that turns semisolid upon contact with semen, preventing HIV from passing through. The idea is to give women a way of preventing HIV transmission that doesn’t require her partner’s participation or even knowledge. This is particularly important in places where cultural values prevent men from using condoms and women from insisting they do so.

Now, I gotta say, I am unavoidably reminded of those cookbooks that teach you how to sneak vegetables into your kids’ meals. It may solve the immediate problem, but it won’t lead to a needed long-term change in behavior. (For the record, I always ate my vegetables. Indeed, as a child I was an angel and a delight. Now, not so much.)

In children, the problem is that, if they discover your devious ways, they stop trusting anything you eat, leading to dysfunctions of eating, and meanwhile they still don’t like vegetables. If domineering and recalcitrant lovers discover your devious ways, then, it may lead to dysfunctional sex, and meanwhile they still don’t like or think they should wear condoms. The problem here is men who are in denial about their role in HIV transmission, about how their attitudes and actions contribute to the epidemic.

The solution, as with children and vegetables, isn’t deception—it’s education.

(h/t Boonsri Dickinson)


One of the most important issues of the first quarter of the 21st century will be clean, sustainable energy. I believe the key will be a panoply of sources: instead of using one process, one form of fuel (e.g., fossil fuels) to meet substantially alll of our energy needs, we will combine solar, geothermal, wind, waste biomass, and other sources as yet undiscovered so that no one thing has too big a burden.

One thing slowing progress is that, in part for reasons of infrastructure, petroleum is significantly cheaper than most other fuels. No one has any motivation to switch other than ecological altruism because it requires such a massive investment of time, money, and effort (to find a source for solar panels, or whatever it is).

In particular, using biodiesel in your car requires making it at home: there are no filling stations because so few people have appropriate vehicles, and no one wants a car that requires biodiesel because it’s so inconvenient to refuel.

One solution is to run your car on straight vegetable oil. This, however, makes it impossible to run the car on regular diesel fuel, which is available at filling stations, and it uses food crops (the U.S. grows so much corn that we feed it to cattle, whose bodies metabolize it far less efficiently and completely than grain, and make it into sweetener, which the government creates a market for by levying a tariff on sugarcane).

Another possibility is to use algae. Algae are easy to grow and not used for food, so there’s no chance of the fuel exacerbating food shortages. While the current method of extracting fuel from algae requires toxic solvents heavily regulated in this country, a company in Horseheads, N.Y., has developed a new solid catalyst that may alllow algae-based fuels to be produced at filling stations.

My e-mail tempts me with promises that every hot woman will ask me about the time, and offers to add spices to my bed. The second would be messy, but the first would be intriguing if attenton from hot women were missing from my life.

Well, soon it may happen. Larry J. Young, a research neurochemist at Emory Univversity, say’s he’s found the neurochemical basis of love. I exaggerate, he acknowledges it’s a touch more complex then that.

Young is also convinced that love does not boil down to one single hormone. Other studies have shown that differences in a gene called major histocompatibility complex, which affects the immune system, may be involved in initial sexual attraction. For males, the hormone vasopressin appears to be more important.

However, many of the people saying it can’t work seem to have more of a visceral than a scientific objection.

Fisher also disagreed with Young on the nature of biological love: Rather than a single reproductive imperative repurposed into other feelings, she believes there are three distinct brain systems for sex, romance and attachment.

Young is little concerned with the possibility of unethical uses, though he does note that a love potion can hep strengthen legitimate relationships. I’m not sure how this is different from a date-rape drug, beyond that there would be a sort of manipulated consent which in the long run would probably be wrse for the victims, and women in general, than anything actually available.

Caffeine Molecule

Caffeine Molecule

I, winner that I am, don’t do drugs—except for alcohol and caffeine. I try to watch my alcohol intake, but having been raised on a diet of soda, I pay little attention to how much caffeine I have (though I’ve largely stopped drinking soda).

Whille I’m one of those people who feels caffeine is somewhat the point of coffee, I acknowledge there’s a health benefit to cutting back, particularly for expectant mothers. That’s why it’s possible to get decaf, and to test the caffeine content of your drinks. The product is essentially a pregnancy test for coffee, looking for caffeine by causing a chemical reaction.

Now it’s possible to be sure you’re not getting too much . . . or too little.

I like to cook. A large portion of my bookshelf space is devoted to cookbooks and books on food. So I was drawn to this New York Times story about cooking with Shirley O. Corriher.

I actually have Cookwise (er, somewhere; that was a metaphorical bookshelf I was referring to up there), as well as Harold McGee’s On Food and Coking, also mentioned in the article. One thing I find interesting about their work is the focus on science, the key to which is replicability.

That’s because cooking is a science; in particular, it’s mostly chemistry. The task of the cook is to facilitate chemical reactions (there’s also physics and biology—e.g., yeast used in baking). And science is repeatable.

Too often the words “science” and “cooking” call to mind Ferran Adrià and his ilk, turning olives into olive-flavored green spheroids and the like. In fact, Corriher says, all cooking is science:

I see a little technical information as liberating, something that enhances creativity. If you know the limiting factors in a recipe, you’re free to go wild with the rest.

That said, of course, cooking is older than science as we know it and the scientific method. However, knowing how it all works is useful in perfecting and improving traditional recipes—and creating new ones.

Looks like The Not Scientist independently read the same article and felt the same way. Howdy!

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