OMG, Origami Robots!

Scientists are exploring uses for robots that can be enveloped in an exoskeleton made from folding a thin sheet of plastic. Cuts are made into a sheet, and then applying heat makes them fold up. The robot can effectively become a rolling ball, a boat, or a glider. They can be developed to have super strong  muscles according to Daniela Rus1, but making tiny robots may be the most promising as a tool to serve humans.

One of the projected exciting uses is in medicine where once inside a human body, an appropriately designed robot could perform a variety of procedures without a single cut with a knife. These include surgery, collection of tissue samples, removing a foreign object swallowed by a child, and dispensing medicine to a particular body site. A magnet inserted into the tiny robot  will allow it to be controlled.

The robot could be frozen in an ice pill, which will melt in your tummy and out will pop the robot reporting for duby.

I first heard about it on NPR’s Science Friday and had to look it up. Check out this source  to see one of these things scuttling around a dinner plate. If I saw one on my kitchen floor, my first instinct would be to stomp on it.

Despite looking like darting insects, part of their beauty is their cost benefit. They are affordable for education and manufacturing marvelous toys. Too bad they’re not yet perfected with Christmas coming up.


  1. Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT

PS I’m changing my blog pattern to every other Saturday from the 10th, 20th, and 30th of the month. I’ve noticed more readers on Saturdays.;

Hard to believe these things exist, but they do in the deep dark depths of our oceans

Goblin shark is scary ugly

How would you like to meet this guy on a casual swim after dipping your toe in the water?It’s hard to believe how many truly odd creatures live in the depths of the ocean—where the sun doesn’t shine, no less.  I’ve mentioned all of these in my book, Lower World so I thought it would be fun to display them. BTW, the price of the e-book will be $2.99 if you preorder by the 25th and the paperback is available now at $10.99 before my official launch date and celebratory party. After the launch on the 25th the costs will be $7.99 and $13,99 respectively.

Perhaps the strangest living being in the book is the human-like beings who live under the ocean floor and have developed a sophisticated by dysfunctional society.; Anyway, here are more oddities.

Do you have greedy genes?

More, more, more

Can you inherit a tendency to be greedy, to work your proverbial arse off to get ahead financially, or is it something else? You never got enough atta-kids when you were young so you maintain your self-worth through accumulation of valuable stuff? I wondered about it recently when I read a column by economist, Paul Krugman. He argued the recent tax reform proposal, which benefits the super wealthy, wouldn’t make them any happier,  I’ve heard the argument before. After some people have so much money they don’t know what to do with, they continue to seek more and more not because they need another yacht, but because it’s a way to keep score.
If you’re the CEO of Snicky Snacks and make 10 million per annum, you’re not happy since the average CEO earns 12.2 million per year. Everyone thinks they are above average so believe their salaries should reflect that. Krugman argues Scrooge McDuck won’t be happier because all  wealthy get the same advantage.

Many personalities are genetic as every parent knows and behavioral science agrees.  I was aware that traits like optimism vs. pessimism, outgoing vs shy, and fearful vs. courageous, were well-studied. But, I thought who would do a study on greediness?

I was wrong..A gene has been identified that correlates with selfishness.   I found a book by Richard Dawkins called The Selfish Gene.  He explores genes for selfishness and altruism, written in 1972 and updated twice. I ordered it as it sounds interesting.

In fact, scientists  search for genetic evidence for all kinds of traits. As an example economists are  interested in spending habits. If it’s true that money is a way of keeping score for the wealthy, then perhaps it’s due to a competitive gene.

In the past the study of separated identical twins dominated the research, and in fact, income is more closely correlated with identical twins vs fraternal twins than IQ. I’m not sure income disparity is due to greed, but there’s likely a correlation. However,  with more information about our DNA, we may one day be able to predict all kinds of behavior.

I recall one savvy saying , “it doesn’t matter whether it’s nature or nurture, either way the parents are to blame.”

Mushrooms Can’t Play tennis

Devil’s fingers


Maybe mushrooms can’t play tennis, but according to a mushroom researcher1 that’s about all they can’t do. In fact, the fun guy on the left moves like an octopus. The devil’s-fingers mushroom lives mostly underground, but when it’s time to reproduce it looks like it’s being born from an egg. It’s tentacles reach out and produce a putrid slime, which flies love. My guess is the slime feeds their spores.

Of course, there are many things mushrooms can’t do, but the researcher obviously knows how much they can. One of the most intriguing things they are capable of is growing their own antibiotics. Inject certain mushrooms with  bacteria, and they will produce antibodies, which  their “sweat” exudes and can be collected for human use. So, if you have a disease from bacteria, which is resistant to existing antibacterial medications, your little mushroom can serve as your personal pharmacy.

Another unlikely use is as building material. Many mushrooms fall apart in my hands so it surprised me that they could be made into strong, light furniture or bricks. In addition people are working on how they can be used in cleaning products, textiles, biofuels, biodegradable packaging—take a breath it goes on—insulation, wall tiles, particleboard, a styrofoam substitute, and more. Seems like a new area of research.
My last post made me hungry for the mushroom soup soup I had in Prague. From googling I think it was made from wild morels. There are evidently around 1.5 million different kinds of mushrooms with 10,000 known edible ones. Who knew from our grocery store offerings?  I  found  wood-ear and oyster mushrooms in an Asian market and mixed them. It turned out yummy.

Doll’s eyes-poisonous


I’ll end my internet mushroom hunting with another weird one. I love the names the biologists come up with. At one time I thought only physicists had amusing names for their discoveries.



PS: Of the mushrooms in my last post, the ones which are edible are:  turkey tail,  stinkhorns in their egg stage, veiled lady, some brain mushrooms, indigo milkcaps, amethyst receivers (but can absorb arsenic from soil), and lion’s mane. Some are unknown, and some smell so bad it doesn’t matter as no one wants to eat them. I came across a recommendation not to trust apps for identifying edibles in the wild. I don’t need to be told twice.

  1. Tradd Cotter, mushroom researcher and cultivator for a company called Mushroom Mountain

Source:National Geographic

Lower World is available for preorder on Amazon

Ring of Chimneys Park outside of Volcano City,
Pelagia, under the ocean floor.


You can preorder Lower World as an e-book until November 25th at $2.99. After that it will be $7.99.  I’m working on having the paperback ready by then. I don’t know if I can reduce the price for preorders of paperbacks. You need to search by my name on Amazon or or your favorite place to buy ebooks.

Use Mushrooms as an Escape

Fly Agaric in cap stage

Well, there are many mushrooms that can make you escape permanently, and those that can give you a fun-guy high, but I’m speaking about an escape into their wonderland of existence. I’m one of those who thought those bright-red, white-polka-dotted mushrooms that elves sat under in fairy tale books were figments of someone’s wonderful imagination. Then hiking in the woods near Sea Ranch not so many years ago, I encountered a real one. I was so fascinated that my husband had to drag me away from it lest I touch it and transfer the poison to my picnic sandwich.

Fly Agaric in flattened stage

A recent NYTimes article about the fly agaric reminded me of that day. Evidently, it’s a good year for mushrooms. The article confirmed what our guide on a cruise on the Danube through Eastern Europe told us on the night we ate a marvelous mushroom soup. Mushroom hunting near Praha (Prague) is a favorite pastime. It’s relaxing and brings in income. Her grandfather showed our guide how to hunt for safe mushrooms although he liked to say, “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.”

At any rate, in a bit of google sleuthing, I encountered an article with amazing pix of  more bizarre mushrooms. Thank you to Google for aggregating images and a way to identify those in the public domain, most from Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons. I’m sharing what I found below.

Now I need to google what kind of mushroom might have been in that delicious soup in Prague.


This is Really Weird, if not Spooky

True Togetherness

Over ten years ago I read an article about fetal cells  crossing the placenta into the mother’s body proper and remaining there for decades. Male DNA in a mother may be how this was discovered. I told a friend who suffered a loss that a part of her daughter is still with her.

Previously, I imagined a  womb to be like a hammock with a feeding tube. The article made me envision some fetal cells shedding and Mommy’s body putting them in a keepsake box.

A few days ago an NY Times article describing a strange protein coursing through the veins of pregnant women, changed my perception. This protein called Hemo is not made by the mother but by her fetus and placenta, via a gene that originated from a virus infecting our mammalian ancestors over a 100 million years ago. Scientists don’t know its purpose if any. I’m reminded of the Sci-Fi series, Extant with Halle Berry, but I exaggerate. Nevertheless, a poorly understood exchange is going on between mother and fetus.

I did not expect a virus to be involved. A virus is defined as a microorganism that can only replicate by usurping a living cell. According to that definition it doesn’t necessarily cause disease. Part of the communication from fetus to mother may be to prevent her immune system from harming the fetus, to keep that food coming, and to prep the mammary glands. Maybe it’s related to those strange pregnancy cravings?

Fetal cells are like stem cells. They can transform into a variety of different cells (heart, lung, whatever), depending on what they are told to be by molecular signals, another process that is not well understood. When they drift into the mother’s body, they may be assimilated into the surrounding tissue. If not, they are sluffed off after  birth.

8% of the human genome consists of viruses. Aris Katzourakis, a virologist at the University of Oxford, conjectures these ancient viruses may play a positive or negative role, but feel they have an effect on human health. Virologists also conjecture that studying them may help in understanding cancer. A retrovirus takes over a cell and replicates much as a cancer cell does.

I met a woman over the weekend who became allergic to chocolate after her second pregnancy. Hmm?

I hope we’ll find the purpose of what’s going on some day. I find all of this most bizarre.

Ancient Viruses in our DNA
Baby’s Cells Can Manipulate Mom’s body
How Do Stem Cells Know What to Be