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Posts Tagged ‘Science’

NAPLES, FLORIDA — Biologists have captured an 18-foot Burmese python in the Florida Everglades that weighed 218 pounds, the heaviest on record.

Burmese pythons are an invasive species from Southeast Asia first found in the Everglades in the 1990s. The snakes have no natural enemies and threaten a range of native mammals, birds, and reptiles.

The captured snake was a female carrying 122 developing eggs, which were destroyed along with the mother. A postmortem showed that the snake’s last meal was a whitetail deer.

Importing the pythons was banned by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2012, but the snakes thrive in the South Florida wetlands. Their current population is about one million.

Over 1,000 Burmese pythons have been eliminated in Florida since 2013. Typically, biologists implant radio transmitters in male snakes, which always seek out the largest females, and follow the signals. Eliminating females is considered the best way to interrupt the breeding cycle.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — A South Korean software engineer marked the demise of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s much-maligned browser, by erecting a tombstone with the epitaph, “He was a good tool to download other browsers.”

The engineer said Explorer was “a pain in the ass,” but he was forced to use it because Explorer was the default browser for so many government and business offices.

Explorer was launched in 1995. It came pre-installed on billions of computers equipped with the Windows operating system and quickly became the world’s leading browser. But many considered Explorer to be sluggish and flawed, and by the late 2000s, Google Chrome took over as the top browser.

In June, Microsoft retired Internet Explorer to focus on the Microsoft Edge browser, which was released in 2015.

“I won’t miss it,” the software engineer said of Explorer’s passing. “Its retirement, to me, is a good death.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND — The government of New Zealand and the country’s agriculture industry have jointly agreed to a tax on methane emissions by sheep and cattle, to be paid by farmers and the farming industry.

Currently, agricultural emissions are exempt from such taxation, and pressure has increased for industry and the government to take action.

New Zealand, population five million, is home to 26 million sheep and 10 million cows, which are the source of about half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The plan hopes to reduce methane emissions at manure treatment facilities as well as from the belching of farm animals.

Under the plan, farmers and agricultural businesses can reduce their methane taxes via such methods as using feed additives that minimize belching and placing covers on manure ponds.

Worldwide, agriculture is the largest source of methane emissions caused by human activity. In the U.S., agriculture causes about one-third of total methane emissions, and the oil and gas industry causes another third.

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Corvids

One special memory of my raft trips down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon is the behavior of the ravens living along the river. When we camped each night, their goal was to steal food, and they often worked in pairs to do it. Several times, I saw a raven dance and squawk to draw attention while another bird snatched unguarded food.

Ravens are members of the corvidae family, as are crows, rooks, jays, and magpies. Most experts consider corvids, especially crows and ravens, to be the most intelligent of all birds.

Scientists say that, despite having a brain the size of a pecan, they possess the reasoning ability of a seven-year-old human. True, one’s reasoning ability at age seven is a work in progress, but that’s still impressive.

In several experiments, crows quickly learned to drop stones into containers of water to raise the water level, either to get a drink or to bring food into reach.

They also regularly use twigs or sticks as tools, and they will drop nuts onto a highway so passing vehicles will crack the shells.

A family of crows usually consists of about a dozen birds. They are highly social and use a variety of caws and clicks to communicate. They use separate calls to tell their fellows that a threat is from a person, cat, hawk, or whatever.

Crows not only can recognize individual human faces, but also have the capacity to inform later generations about known threats.

In 2011, a team at the University of Washington trapped a dozen crows while wearing “caveman” masks. The crows were tagged and released and thereafter left alone.

For the next five years, researchers walked a designated route near the trapping site, some wearing the caveman masks and some not.

Initially, the team noted that the crows showed alarm and scolded people wearing the caveman mask 26 percent of the time. After 15 months, the figure was up to 30 percent. After three years, it rose to 66 percent. The researchers concluded that the crows were informing their peers and offspring that caveman humans are dangerous.

Conversely, crows will be nice to you if you’re nice to them. Instances have been recorded of crows bringing gifts — pebbles, sticks, etc. — to people who feed them.

Some 40 species of crow exist around the world. The one you’re familiar with probably is the American crow, although the fish crow and Tamaulipas crow also live in North America.

Thanks to their brain power and adaptability, crows are doing quite well as a species. Experts say their numbers over the last 40 years grew about 20 percent per decade. Their estimated breeding population now stands at some 27 million.

Impressive and interesting animals. And certainly not birdbrains.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Thomas Edison held a total of 2,332 patents worldwide. Today, the president of a semiconductor lab in Japan holds the world record — 5,843 patents and counting.

● English has more words than any other language.

● The average human sheds some 600,000 particles of dead skin per hour, or about 1.5 pounds per year.

● When viewed from the Earth, the Moon goes through eight phases as it progresses from new moon to full moon and back to new moon, as shown below. (The word gibbous refers to being more than half lighted, but less than full, which is the opposite of a crescent.)

● British author Agatha Christie (1890-1976) featured her famous detective Hercule Poirot in 33 novels, 50 short stories, and one play. Christie was honest about the character. She once described Poirot as “a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep.”

● The word karaoke comes from the Japanese words karappo, which means empty, and oke, a shortened form of okesutura, which means orchestra.

● July 4 is the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. However, the vote to do so took place on July 2. John Adams and several other founding fathers believed that we chose the wrong day to honor.

● The average adult bald eagle weighs 14 pounds and is about three feet long. Its wingspan, however, is a full seven feet.

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The Questions…

1. What is a baby puffin called?

2. What is the Ocean Ridge?

3. Only one variety of turtle cannot retract into its shell. What is it?

4. Spam is a brand of canned cooked pork created by Hormel in 1937. What two words were combined to create the word Spam?

5. What are the only mammals capable of flight?

The Answers…

1. A puffling.

2. The Ocean Ridge is a 40,000-mile-long mountain range that encircles the globe, 90 percent of which is under water. Formed by the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates, it has been compared to the stitches on a baseball. It is one of the defining features of the planet, but ironically is little known.

3. The sea turtle.

4. Spiced and ham. Despite its reputation, Spam was vital during the Great Depression because it was a cheap and nourishing meat product.

5. Bats.

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The Questions…

1. What is the world’s largest known living organism?

2. What online service has the most users?

3. The term living room surfaced in the late 1800s. What were living rooms called before then?

4. When sea otters sleep, how do they keep from drifting away from each other?

5. Fireflies (Lampyridae), known for emitting light through the chemical process of bioluminescence, are classified as what type of insect?

The Answers…

1. The largest known organism is a massive network of honey mushroom fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) that occupies about 3.4 square miles in eastern Oregon. It is thought to be 2,400 years old. Locals call it the “humongous fungus.”

2. Facebook, which has an astounding 2.9 billion users. That’s more than the populations of China (1.4 billion) and India (1.3 billion) combined.

3. Mostly, they were called parlors, from the French verb parler (to speak) because that’s where people sat and talked. In the 1500s and 1600s, they sometimes were called drawing roomsshort for withdrawing, in the sense of withdrawing there for privacy.

4. They hold hands.

5. Fireflies are a variety of soft-bodied beetle.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Russia is massive, extending across eight time zones and bordering 14 other countries. But its economy is puny — roughly equivalent to the combined GDPs of Belgium and the Netherlands.

● The average automobile contains 30,000 parts, counting bolts and screws.

● The main ingredients of the spread Nutella are sugar, cocoa, and hazelnuts. A medium-size jar of Nutella (26 oz.) contains about 97 hazelnuts. Annually, 25 percent of the world’s hazelnut crop is used to manufacture Nutella.

● Europa, the fourth-largest of Jupiter’s 80 known moons, is slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon. Its surface is believed to be largely a crust of ice. Beneath it, scientists now think, is a liquid ocean that holds more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.

● The first sharks evolved about 400 million years ago, which makes them 50 million years older than the earliest known trees.

● In the card game of whist, and in the game of bridge that evolved from it, a yarborough is a hand of 13 cards with none higher than a nine. The term is named for the 2nd Earl of Yarborough (1809-1897), who regularly bet 1000-1 against being dealt such a hand. He usually won; the probability of being dealt a yarborough is 1 in 1,828.

● The rubber band was invented in 1845 by Stephen Perry of the rubber manufacturer Messers Perry and Co., London.

● Polar bears have two layers of fur: a dense undercoat for insulation and a coarse, protective outer coat. Both layers are colorless. The bears appear white because the hairs are transparent, and they reflect all wavelengths of light instead of absorbing some and manifesting color. Polar bear skin is black, which absorbs sunlight for warmth. Mother Nature is a smart cookie.

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The Questions…

1. What are the names of the three Rice Krispies elves?

2. What is the most valuable residence on earth?

3. Anne Frank and her family were in hiding from 1942 to 1944 in what city?

4. What is the strongest muscle in the human body?

5. What was the duration of the age of the dinosaurs, aka the Mesozoic Era, aka the Age of Reptiles?

The Answers…

1. Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

2. Buckingham Palace in London, which is worth about $5 billion. The palace has been the official royal residence since 1837, when Queen Victoria moved in.

3. Amsterdam.

4. The jaw muscle.

5. Between 150 and 200 million years. The earliest ancestors of humans appeared only six million years ago.

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Groundhogs

This hillside behind the Jefferson Civic Center is home to a sizable colony of groundhogs. Now that spring is here, I’m beginning to see the little guys peeking out of their hidey-holes.

In the photo above, the brownish spots are entrances to their burrow. Sentries are posted here and there to keep an eye out for perils such as me, Jake, cats, hawks, etc.

The critters are Marmota monax, aka groundhogs, aka woodchucks, which are burrowing rodents of the marmot family. They are said to be quite intelligent and have a complex social order that includes whistling to warn the colony of threats.

The hillside is about 15 feet high, providing an excellent view of the area, and some 200 yards long, almost all of it pocked with holes. A sizable colony, it seems.

I’m certainly not a threat to them, and Jake is on a leash, but they don’t know that.

The Rio Grande Rift

You may be aware that the Rio Grande flows down the center of New Mexico, dividing the state neatly in half. But did you know that the river follows a fault that began forming about 30 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau uplifted itself from the rest of the continent?

The Rio Grande Rift runs from southern Colorado to northern Mexico. Below El Paso, the rift continues south into Mexico, but the river turns east there and flows to the Gulf of Mexico as the border between Mexico and the US.

Although classified as a “narrow” rift, the fault averages about 180 miles wide. Geologists say it is expanding at a rate of about two millimeters per year.

Out of Sight

On weekends, Jake and I usually take our morning walk at one of the local schools. No people, no traffic, and Jake can go off-leash.

He doesn’t stray far, but occasionally he disappears from view for a moment, which can be worrisome. One Saturday recently at Jefferson Academy, when he was 30-40 feet ahead of me, he turned a corner, and I lost sight of him. I walked faster to catch up.

A few seconds later, I found him — surrounded by, and being petted by, a group of kids whose basketball game he had interrupted. Jake was gloriously happy.

If reincarnation turns out to be real, I want to come back as a dog.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The first novel depicting time travel was “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain, 1889.

● Alexander the Great had a favorite horse, Bucephalus, which meant “ox-head” because of a branding mark depicting the head of an ox. Bucephalus died in battle in 326 BC. Alexander buried him with full honors and founded the city of Bucephala in Pakistan as a memorial.

● All nine species of the flowering plant Datura are poisonous if eaten and can cause fever, hallucinations, psychosis, and even death. Datura also is known as thornapple, jimsonweed, devil’s weed, and hell’s bells.

● In October 1961, the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened an exhibit featuring works by Henri Matisse, and they managed to hang one of them upside down. It remained that way for 47 days until an observant visitor informed MOMA of the error. To be fair, the work in question, “Le Bateau” (the boat) is a simple paper cutout depicting a sailboat and its reflection, so…

● The Akita dog breed originated in Japan in the 1500s. In the past, Akitas were used to hunt elk, bear, and wild boar and often were the companions of samurai warriors.

● In informal use, a jiffy is a rough measure of time that means “real quick” or “right away.” Technically, however, a jiffy is a precise unit of time: how long it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum. The answer, as determined by chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875-1946) in the early 1900s, is one-trillionth of a second.

● C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John F. Kennedy all died on November 22, 1963.

● The KattenKabinet is an art museum in Amsterdam dedicated to works that depicts cats. On display are paintings, sketches, sculptures, etc. by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rembrandt, and others. The museum was founded in 1990 by Bob Meijer in honor of his cat J. P. Morgan.

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Thoughts du Jour

What’s in a Name?

In 1781, using a humongous new 40-foot telescope, British astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. At the time, Mars was thought to be the outermost planet in the solar system.

In 1787, Herschell spotted two moons in orbit around Uranus and temporarily named them One and Two.

As more big telescopes were built and more moons were found, Sir William’s son John assumed the task of formally naming them. Being a proud Englishmen, Sir John broke from the tradition of using names from Greek mythology and named the moons after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

Moons One and Two became Titania and Oberon from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Today, Uranus has 27 known moons. Three are named for characters in poems by Pope, and 24 are named for Shakespearean characters.

Teklehaimanot

Putting up with spam texts and phone calls is a part of life these days, and I have a spam problem that has become especially maddening.

A few years ago, I began getting texts that read something like, “Hi, Teklehaimanot. This is Fred at Liberty Partners. Are you still interested in selling your property at 255 Lakefront Drive?”

The texts arrived regularly from Bill, John, Tina, etc., all asking Teklehaimanot if he wanted to sell various properties. In the most recent one, “Marc” asked if I want to sell 3430 Shorelake Drive in Tucker, Georgia, “in as-is condition.”

My guess is, they’re hoping for a reply to confirm that the number belongs to a live person. Anyway, I just mark the texts as spam, delete them, and block the numbers.

In all, I’ve received 40-50 Teklehaimanot messages. Which I admit is minor compared to the steady bombardment of incoming phone calls flagged as “potential spam.” A modern problem with no solution.

Teklehaimanot, by the way, is an Ethiopian word and can be either a first or a last name. It came from Saint Takla Haymanot (1215-1313), an Ethiopian priest who, legend has it, first spoke when he was three days old, healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, and raised the dead.

Blooey

The San Francisco Volcanic Field is a region of northern Arizona, covering about 1,800 square miles around Williams and Flagstaff, that contains over 600 extinct volcanoes. The volcanic remnants range in age from 6 million years old to a mere 1,000 years old.

The tallest remnant in the field is Humphreys Peak, which overlooks Flagstaff. Humphreys is part of the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain chain left behind after a massive volcano went blooey half a million years ago.

The US Geological Survey says it expects more eruptions to occur, maybe once every few thousand years. But the events are likely to be small and, with luck, will happen in remote areas.

The most recent eruption in the region occurred northeast of Flagstaff in about 1070 AD and created what is known as Sunset Crater.

At the time, the area was home to numerous native settlements, so people almost certainly witnessed the event. And maybe lived to tell about it.

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