Right Now in Stuff You Should Know

"If you're reading this, I've died." Sent via my Deathswitch

Did you know that there's a service called Deathswitch, a posthumous messenger service that sends out e-mails you've created while alive after you're dead? It's true. I read about it in an AP article on a woman named Melissa Spagenberg, who is on a quest to contact all of her father's online World of Warcraft cohorts after he died suddenly. The Deathswitch service lets a user create up to 30 e-mails addressed and ready to go upon exiting this mortal coil. Automated e-mails that require a response with a password within a predetermined time are sent to users to make sure they're still breathing. Should the user not reply, the e-mails are sent -- from beyond the grave. In the event of a premature launch, Deathswitch has a "Wait -- I'm still alive!" button that resets the service. Seems like that could make for an awkward follow-up conversation:

This week on Stuff You Should Know Josh and I talked about two pretty interesting topics. On Tuesday, we dived into the oceans (see what I did there) to determine who owns them. As it turns out we all own the ocean, in a way. The United Nations passed the Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1994, which leaves the oceans open for all to enjoy. It also established new rules for how far out a country's boundaries extend into the ocean. It made me feel better knowing that the highs seas are still open for business, but I worry about what might happen to those rights in the future as land oil runs out and we become more dependent on pulling petrol from the seas. Yesterday's show was all about aphrodisiacs. We discussed the strange history of aphrodisiacs, including such oddities as Montezuma downing 40 goblets of

Happy Friday the 13th everybody! Shalala! You know we're right smack dab in the middle of our second Friday the 13th in as many months. We're going to have three Friday the 13ths in total this year, the next coming in November, although I'm not sure what day. The last time we had three Friday the 13ths in one year was 1998. The next will be 2012, which is appropriate since that's the year the world will end. This, of course, has little to do with this post; I just thought it untoward to allow a Friday the 13th to pass unmarked. Seemed wrong. I suppose there's a slight correlation - - the two share the common thread of fear. Our friends at Live Science feature a report on a study out of Rice University that suggests we communicate fear through our sweat. The study used gauze pads to capture...

There will be one more appointment on the date book of the psychiatrist held on retainer by the Northhampton County, Penn., District Attorney's office. After he was caught allegedly driving drunk this week, the AP reports Scott Allan Witmer has been ordered by a judge to receive a once over to see if he's competent to stand trail. Not because he's pickled his brain with booze, but because Witmer claimed he's not under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania courts since he's his own sovereign nation. This isn't totally out of the realm of possibility. There are a few places in the United States that could be legally construed as sovereign nations. Near Dayton, Nev., sits the Republic of Molossia, lead by His Excellency, Kevin Baugh, the President of Molossia. The unrecognized micronation's economy is backed by chocolate chip cookies, celebrates Jack Day (in honor of the late First Dog)...

For thousands of years humankind has pursued the enhancement of sexual pleasure and performance through a plethora of medicines and practices -- but how many aphrodisiacs actually work? Listen and find out in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

Smell that stank in the air? That porky smell means it's appropriation bill season, fiscal year '09! Yeah! The season came late this year. It didn't seem like it would come at all. Congress waited until George Bush went back to Texas to begin the task of figuring out how to fund the vast bureaucracy that is the United States government. The bill was supposed to have been passed last September, making the bill a full six months late. Why would Congress wait for Bush to leave Washington? Earmarks. George Bush became one of the first chief executives Congress believed might actually veto any spending bills with earmarks attached. And as a lame duck president when the 110th was deliberating the FY09 spending bill last September, he very well may have, as he had absolutely nothing to lose. So Congress left it for the next guy to deal with, and...

This just in -- an American man believed to be between 35 and 40 years old was rescued from the frigid waters below Niagara Falls at 2:15 pm today. And he was naked. The man allegedly took the plunge into Horseshoe Falls without any kind of protection, which makes him only the second person to do so and live. Josh and I did a podcast on this very topic about three weeks ago and got a lot of good listener mail regarding the topic. He remains unidentified for the time being, but I'll be updating the post as more details become available. It looks like he went over on his own accord and while he was pulled from the water without clothes on, he was allegedly wearing them when he went in.

There's an interesting article from yesterday's New York Times about a school in the Bronx that's experimenting with splitting up the girls and boys in its fifth grade class. The goal is basically to see what happens in relation to behavioral improvements, testing, etc. It turns out that there's even a national movement going on to split up boys and girls in public schools. There are more than 400 such classes around the country, thanks to a federal regulation passed in 2004 that gave schools the right to do so. There isn't enough test data yet to suggest that the move has academic benefits, but teachers and students alike have good things to say so far. Both male and female teachers feel that it's bonding them to their students more and that the students are bonding to each other.

Thanks to the fMRI (the wonder machine), neurology is beginning to get a handle on what regions of the brain control what processes. Show a PTSD sufferer photos of mutilated bodies and the amygdala lights up. Boo-ya! (Two neurologists high five in a dark lab somewhere.) But the wonder machine only provides a map of what brain regions receive blood during a specific function. MRIs say dig here. Still, the technology represents a huge leap in brain research. What really keeps neurologists, philosophers and all manner of other thinkers up all night is what's called the mind-brain problem. As NPR reporter Jon Hamilton recently put it, "How could a bunch of cells produce such complicated mental processes as consciousness or subjective experiences?" It's not like our brain cells rub together really, really fast and produce what we consider our minds like two sticks rubbed together produce fire.

Sometimes a story comes along from the sporting world that makes so much sense you wonder why more people didn't think of it first. Consider the case of Jason Belmonte, the two-handed bowler. This guy has been profiled by the likes of The Wall Street Journal and "Good Morning America" simply because he does what came naturally to him. From a young age, Jason bowled with both hands and because of his early success, he never sought to change his ways. Over the years, Belmonte was criticized by various bowling coaches (yes, they exist) but he stuck with the odd technique. He bowled his first perfect game by the age of 16 and has been a professional bowler for six years now. Although he's not a member of the PBA tour yet, he did get exemptions from the league to participate in two tournaments this season, something that has chaffed one-handed purists.

Dysmorphology and The Perfect Face

One can imagine my dismay upon realizing recently that I may not have developed correctly in the womb. After my glasses disintegrated on Sunday I opted for contacts, since they're cheaper. Everything was going swimmingly until I took a good long look in the mirror and thought, "Huh, I don't remember my eyes being that close together."

International waters cover 71% of the Earth's surface, and a separate set of laws and regulations govern human activity on the seas. But who actually owns the oceans? Listen and find out in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

If you have a hairy belly, then you're familiar with the fun of belly button fluff. Most people probably think that this lint is just tiny bits of cotton collected in the navel from the clothes they wear. Well, that's partially true. But an article last week in the London Telegraph reveals that belly button fluff is a little more complicated than that. A chemist spent three years studying his own navel fluff as well as talking to other people about their own. He found that while it's largely cotton lint, it also contains fat, sweat, dust and dead skin. The small hairs around the navel curve inward and act like tiny hooks, pulling in the funky concoction to lay at rest in the belly of your belly. How's that for some Monday water cooler talk?

This fine morning, Reuters is reporting that over in Vietnam 80 percent of the vodka consumed is produced at home. Just four percent of the vodka found in the steamy Southeast Asian country is imported. The homemade liquor the Vietnamese are making is distilled from rice or corn, which may or may not make for some truly horrible vodka. It's not like the Vietnamese have much of a choice; a series of fake liquor rings have been busted by the government. In the face of a loss of trust that liquor bought at stores actually has alcohol in it, can these people be blamed for making their own? Here's an even better question: Why don't hard drinkers the world round take a cue from our Vietnamese brothers and sisters and make our own booze? Funny I should ask; Chuck and I covered this...

This week on Stuff You Should Know, Josh and I had the pleasure of talking about a couple of real oddities. Alien Hand Syndrome is a very rare disorder in which a person's hand takes on a life of its own, without the knowledge of the owner. The offending hand performs purposeful actions like tearing paper or unbuttoning a shirt. It's so rare that there are more fictional cases in movies and on TV as there are real cases. Think "Evil Dead" and "Dr. Strangelove." It's very interesting stuff that science can't fully explain and we had a lot of fun with it. Tuesday's show was about the so-called "thinking cap." This is a device that attaches to your head and sends magnetic pulses directly to the brain and has resulted in some fascinating findings.

The Drug War in Ciudad Juarez: A Nice Place to -- Scratch That

Down Mexico way, border towns have long been a lure for Americans looking for a place where we can enjoy slightly laxer enforcement of rules concerning underage drinking, prostitution and marijuana consumption. Sure, it's always been a good idea to keep one's guard up when spending a weekend in a border town, but the welcome sign's always been out.

Trekmovie.com reported yesterday that jewelry manufacturer Genki Wear is releasing three Star Trek colognes and perfumes based on the original TV series. Genki Wear is known for selling officially licensed sci-fi replica jewelry -- think "Buffy" necklaces and the like. The scent venture is no doubt an attempt to capitalize on press generated by the soon-to-be released Trek "prequel" from director J.J. Abrams. The fragrances are named for various facets of the Trek universe -- "Tiberius" "Red Shirt" and "Ponn Farr." Genki Wear calls the Tiberius scent "difficult to define" which sounds like a great marketing tag if you ask me. Red Shirt is named for the countless Enterprise crew members that were introduced only to quickly be killed away. (Apparently they were known for wearing red shirts.) Ponn Farr is named for a "Vulcan mating ritual" -- another great tag.

It's a nervous time to be a past or present national leader 'round the world. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that here in the States, the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, is mulling over creating a panel to investigate possible human rights violations carried out in the name of counterterrorism by the Bush administration. The concept has set off a flurry of criticism; chiefly, would prosecutions of high-ranking government officials -- the very same people who ran the world just a few months ago -- open the door for human rights indictments by bodies like the International Criminal Court? The ICC's not a paper tiger. Since it was permanently established in 1998, it's been responsible for indicting and prosecuting leaders like Bosnian Serb leaders Dragomar Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic, Liberian president Charles Taylor, Rwanda's Jean Kambanda and countless lesser government and military officials ...

How Alien Hand Syndrome Works

When a person has alien hand syndrome, his or her hand can move involuntarily, and seemingly of its own volition. Tune in and learn more about this misunderstood syndrome in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

MSNBC reported yesterday that a fertility clinic in Los Angeles (shocker) is now allowing prospective parents to pick and choose certain physical characteristics of their baby-to-be. Yes, this means that if you have the cash, you can order a baby with blonde hair and blue eyes if you so desire. The clinic claims it's already gotten half a dozen requests for these "designer babies" and expects to roll out the first line next year. The method used to screen for these characteristics is called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). It's been used since 1990 to help couples avoid passing on serious genetic diseases to their babies. It's also been used to help create "savior siblings" -- babies that are a good genetic match for older brothers or sisters that might need some blood or bone marrow, for instance.