Wednesday, December 27, 2006

50 Things We Know Now

50 Things We Know Now (That We Didn't Know This Time Last Year) 2006 Edition

By JEFF HOUCK The Tampa Tribune
Published: Dec 26, 2006

You know how it is.
You go through life thinking you've got your head wrapped around the world and all of its knowable information.
Then one day you read that since 2005, scientists have discovered more than 50 new species of animals and plants on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. These new members of the List of Animals We Previously Didn't Have a Clue About include a catfish with protruding teeth and suction cups on its belly that help it stick to rocks.
Go back for a second.
A bucktooth, rock-climbing catfish. With suckers.
We'll understand if at this point you wish that your brain were an Etch A Sketch so you could shake it clean and start over.
Even more mind-numbing: Tons of cool new discoveries wash ashore in the media tide each year but fall through the cracks, what with all the coverage of Britney Spears' undies and Tom Cruise's wedding.
Consider this list - culled from dozens of news stories from 2006 - your chance to catch up.

1. U.S. life expectancy in 2005 inched up to a record high of 77.9 years.

2. The part of the brain that regulates reasoning, impulse control and judgment is still under construction during puberty and doesn't shift into autopilot until about age 25.

3. Blue light fends off drowsiness in the middle of the night, which could be useful to people who work at night.

4. The 8-foot-long tooth emerging from the head of the narwhal whale is actually a type of sensor that detects changes in water temperature, pressure and particle gradients.

5. U.S. Protestant "megachurches" - defined as having a weekly attendance of at least 2,000 - doubled in five years to more than 1,200 and are among the nation's fastest-growing faith groups.

6. Cheese consumption in the United States is expected to grow by 50 percent between now and 2013.

7. At 68.1 percent, the United States ranks eighth among countries that have access to and use the Internet. The largest percentage of online use was in Malta, where 78.1 percent access the Web.

8. The U.S. government has paid about $1.5 billion in benefits to thousands of sick nuclear-weapons workers since 2001.

9. Scientists have discovered that certain brain chemicals in our tears are natural pain relievers.

10. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover wrote a drooling fan letter to Lucille Ball in 1955 to tell her how much he enjoyed an episode of "I Love Lucy." "In all the years I have traveled on trains," he noted, "I have often wondered why someone did not pull the emergency brake, but I have never been aboard a train where it was done. The humor in your program last Monday, I think, exceeded any of your previous programs and they have been really good in themselves."

11. Wasps spray an insect version of pepper spray from their heads to temporarily incapacitate their rivals.

12. A sex gene responsible for making embryos male and forming the testes is also produced by the brain region targeted by Parkinson's disease, a discovery that may explain why more men than women develop the degenerative disorder.

13. Ancient humans from Asia may have entered the Americas following an ocean highway made of dense kelp.

14. An impact crater 18 miles in diameter was found 12,500 feet under the Indian Ocean.

15. Americans spent almost $32 billion on toys during 2005. About a third of that was spent on video games.

16. A new planet described as a "super-Earth," which weighs 13 times as much as our planet, exists in a solar system 9,000 light-years away.

17. A gene for a light-sensitive protein in the eye is what resets the body's "internal clock."

18. Australian scientists discovered a polyrhachis sokolova, which is believed to be the only ant species that can live under water. It nests in submerged mangroves and hides from predators in air pockets.

19. Red wine contains anti-inflammatory chemicals that stave off diseases affecting the gums and bone around the teeth.

20. A substance called resveratrol, also found in red wine, protects mice from obesity and the effects of aging, and perhaps could do the same for humans.

21. Two previously unknown forms of ice - dubbed by researchers as ice XIII and XIV - were discovered frozen at temperatures of around minus 160 degrees Celsius, or minus 256 Fahrenheit.

22. The hole in the earth's ozone layer is closing - and could be entirely closed by 2050. Meanwhile, the amount of greenhouse gases is increasing.

23. Scientists discovered what they believe to be football-field-sized minimoons scattered in Saturn's rings that may be debris left over from a collision between a comet and one of Saturn's icy moons.

24. At least once a week, 28 percent of high school students fall asleep in school, 22 percent fall sleep while doing homework and 14 percent get to school late or miss school because they overslept.

25. Women gain weight when they move in with a boyfriend because their diet deteriorates, but men begin to eat more healthy food when they set up a home with a female partner.

26. Some 45 percent of Internet users, or about 60 million Americans, said they sought online help to make big decisions or negotiate their way through major episodes in their lives during the previous two years.

27. Of the 10 percent of U.S. teens who uses credit cards, 15.7 percent are making the minimum payment each month.

28. Around the world, middle-aged and elderly men tend to be more satisfied with their sex lives than women in the same age group, a new survey shows.

29. The 90-million-year-old remains of seven pack-traveling carnivorous dinosaurs known as Mapusaurus were discovered in an area of southern Argentina nicknamed "Jurassic Park."

30. A group of genes makes some mosquitoes resistant to malaria and prevents them from transmitting the malaria parasite.

31. A 145-million-year-old beach ball-sized meteorite found a half-mile below a giant crater in South Africa has a chemical composition unlike any known meteorite.

32. Just 30 minutes of continuous kissing can diminish the body's allergic reaction to pollen, relaxing the body and reducing production of histamine, a chemical cell given out in response to allergens.

33. Saturn's moon Titan features vast swaths of "sand seas" covered with row after row of dunes from 300 to 500 feet high. Radar images of these seas, which stretch for hundreds of miles, bear a stunning likeness to ranks of dunes in Namibia and Saudi Arabia.

34. Scientists have discovered the fastest bite in the world, one so explosive it can be used to send the Latin American trap-jaw ant that performs it flying through the air to escape predators.

35. Janjucetus Hunderi, a ferocious whale species related to the modern blue whale, roamed the oceans 25 million years ago preying on sharks with its huge, razor-sharp teeth.

36. DNA analysis determined the British descended from a tribe of Spanish fishermen who crossed the Bay of Biscay almost 6,000 years ago.

37. Marine biologists discovered a new species of shark that walks along the ocean floor on its fins.

38. Most of us have microscopic, wormlike mites named Demodex that live in our eyelashes and have claws and a mouth.

39. The common pigeon can memorize 1,200 pictures.

40. The queens of bee, ant and wasp colonies that have the most sex with the largest number of males produce the strongest and healthiest colonies.

41. By firing atoms of metal at another metal, Russian and American scientists found a new element - No. 118 on the Periodic Table - that is the heaviest substance known and probably hasn't existed since the universe was in its infancy.

42. A "treasure-trove" of 150-million-year-old fossils belonging to giant sea reptiles that roamed the seas at the time of the dinosaurs was uncovered on the Arctic island chain of Svalbard, about halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole.

43. Sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday can disturb your body clock, leaving you fatigued at the start of the week.

44. Migrating dragonflies and songbirds exhibit many of the same behaviors, suggesting the rules that govern such long-distance travel may be simpler and more ancient than was once thought.

45. During the past five years, the existence of a peanut allergy in children has doubled.

46. Photos taken of Mars in 1999 and 2005 show muddy sand, indicating there may have been a flood sometime between those years.

47. A python was the first god worshipped by mankind, according to 70,000-year-old evidence found in a cave in Botswana's Tosodilo hills.

48. Red wines from southwest France and Sardinia boast the highest concentrations of chemical compounds that promote heart health.

49. One of the most effective ways for athletes to recover after exercise is to drink a glass of chocolate milk.

50. Researchers from the University of Manchester managed to induce teeth growth in normal chickens - activating genes that have lain dormant for 80 million years.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fly Power


Take a wooden matchstick and slice a thin sliver
from one side. Then cut the remaining stick in two, lengthwise. Make sure you
leave a little of the red tip intact for effect. Discard one half.

Make the aircraft by gluing the sliver of wood -
the wing - across the remaining part of the matchstick - the fuselage. If you
want, you can use little scraps to make a tail section. Or you can make a
biplane. Or you can use a couple of thin slices of balsa to make a huge wing,
one that will carry maybe twenty engines. Indulge your aeronautical whims. Think
of lift, think of thrust, think of innovation without the benefit of an
industrial policy.

Catch a bunch of flies. Put them in a jar and put
the jar in the freezer. In a few seconds the flies will be chilled out
completely. This is called cryogenics, and it has its drawbacks. For example,
the flies will be dead flies if you freeze them too long. Dead flies are no
good. So if you're a tinkerer, refrigerate your flies. It takes longer to make
them comatose, but they have a higher recovery rate than the ones you leave in
the freezer next to the burritos.

Meanwhile, put a tiny drop of rubber cement at
each place along the wing where you want an engine.

Take the flies out of the freezer. Attach the
abdomen of one frigid fly to each drop of glue. Make sure all the flies are
facing the same direction.

Breathe life into the flies. A miracle: A gentle
puff of your warm breath will resuscitate the flies.

Launch the aircraft. It should fly like a charm,
and, far from being cruel to the flies, you'll be teaching them a new and
valuable thing, one that brings us to the virtue of this exercise. For we see
that while flies think a lot alike, have a great deal in common, share many of
the same hopes and dreams, they never act in concert, as a team, with regard for
the worth of other, neighboring flies until forced to by grim circumstance - as,
for example, when they are harnessed to fly and either first experience the
exhilaration of high-altitude cooperation or die. Redeemed by such a critical
choice, they'll soar like a glider, race like a Stealth, and, when overflying a
barnyard or kennel, turn into a wicked-awesome dive bomber.