Poison newts, noisy turbines, bad decision making, and more

Published April 22, 2020

Newt choices

If a witch is going to turn you into a newt, polite­ly ask if you can become a Western rough-skinned newt. Bacteria liv­ing on its skin pro­duce tetrodotox­in — the same par­a­lyt­ic neu­ro­tox­in found in puffer­fish and the blue-ringed octopus.

Remember: “If the skin is rough, you’ll say ‘Auggggghh!’ ”

tl;dr: Some newts have neurotoxic bacteria on their skin

That’s definitely remote working*

Working from home is the new norm — and that also applies to NASA engi­neers con­trol­ling the Curiosity rover.

From tech­ni­cal workarounds to devis­ing ways to keep hun­dreds of peo­ple in con­tact, they found solutions.

“It’s clas­sic, text­book NASA. We’re pre­sent­ed with a prob­lem and we fig­ure out how to make things work. Mars isn’t stand­ing still for us; we’re still exploring.”

* Original title for you Heinlein fans: “Where’s Waldo?”
tl;dr: The folks controlling the Curiosity rover on Mars are working from home, too

The headline says it all

North pole soon to be ice free in sum­mer

That said…

One way to fight the cli­mate change that’s caus­ing that melt­ing might be to release herds of hors­es, bison, and rein­deer in the arc­tic. Their stomp­ing hooves would reduce the snow cov­er, cut­ting down on reflectivity.

A test con­duct­ed by a Russian sci­en­tist last year was the inspi­ra­tion. His 100 animals…

…cut the aver­age snow cov­er height in half, dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduc­ing the insu­lat­ing effect, expos­ing the soil to the over­ly­ing cold­er air and inten­si­fy­ing the freez­ing of permafrost.

And now a com­put­er mod­el fig­ures that doing that on a larg­er scale “would be enough to pre­serve 80 per­cent of the cur­rent per­mafrost though the end of the century.”

tl;dr: Arctic ice is disappearing, but grazing animals could slow it.

Coffee really does make everything better

Danish sci­en­tists: “Chemosensory Sensitivity after Coffee Consumption Is Not Static: Short-Term Effects on Gustatory and Olfactory Sensitivity.”

English speak­ers: “Coffee makes oth­er food taste sweet­er,” espe­cial­ly bit­ter foods, like, say, dark chocolate.

Fun fact: It’s not the caf­feine — it works just as well for decaf.

tl;dr: Something about coffee means everything else tastes sweeter.

Invader vs invader

Ragweed pollen is a prob­lem for, well, lots of peo­ple. But some Europeans have found a way they believe will cut it down: the leaf bee­tle, which loves to eat rag­weed.

Since both are inva­sive species and both are already present, it’s just a mat­ter of deployment.

“Our con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mates indi­cate that bio­log­i­cal con­trol of A. artemisi­ifo­lia [rag­weed] by O. com­mu­na [the leaf bee­tle] will reduce the num­ber of patients by approx­i­mate­ly 2.3 mil­lion and the health costs by Euro 1.1 bil­lion per year.”

Even bet­ter, man­age­ment would cost noth­ing “since the bee­tle has estab­lished per­ma­nent­ly and is prop­a­gat­ing by itself.”

What could go wrong? (The Simpsons tack­led this very issue, in fact.)

tl;dr: There’s this beetle that loves to eat ragweed … and reduce pollen.

The sound of the wind

The noise from wind tur­bines affects the sleep of peo­ple liv­ing near­by, even if it’s qui­eter than typ­i­cal traf­fic — so found Swedish researchers after a small study.

They test­ed both peo­ple who live near exist­ing tur­bines and those who don’t (to see if habit­u­a­tion to the noise made a dif­fer­ence). It didn’t.

During the night with [wind tur­bine noise] the par­tic­i­pants spent an aver­age of 11.1 min­utes less in REM sleep, which they entered 16.8 min­utes lat­er, than dur­ing the qui­et night.

Further, on a qui­et night, peo­ple gen­er­al­ly spent 20.6% of their sleep in the REM phase, com­pared to only 18.8% in REM if there was tur­bine noise.

tl;dr: The subtle noise of wind turbines makes people dream less.

Mr. Bernoulli will see you now

Noise is one issue with wind tur­bines. Cost, main­te­nance, and minced birds is anoth­er. And while solar pan­els can be deployed on indi­vid­ual homes, wind tur­bines are a bit more obtrusive.

Enter AeroMINE: a new type of small, qui­et, and bird-friend­ly wind-ener­gy cap­ture device. No blades need­ed — it uses the same prin­ci­ple as air­plane wings (Bernoulli’s Principle, of course) to cre­ate a pres­sure dif­fer­ence in a tube that hous­es a generator.

Bernoulli’s tur­bine: The wind pass­es through, pulling air through the holes, which dri­ves a generator.

[T]hey are “less noisy than a ven­ti­la­tion fan.” The rel­a­tive sim­plic­i­ty of their design means there are few­er mov­ing parts to mal­func­tion. The tur­bine, which is housed inside a build­ing, would be eas­i­er to access if it does need repairs. This arrange­ment also keeps the blades iso­lat­ed from any con­tact with peo­ple or wildlife.

tl;dr: They came up with a simple rooftop device to capture wind energy without noise or dead birds

All they had to do is visit the /r/holdmybeer subreddit

New research reveals heavy cost of exces­sive drink­ing on peo­ple’s deci­sion mak­ing

 

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