Thursday, December 17, 2009

AM I THE ONLY ONE SURPRISED BY THIS? In 2005 a manure fire started in a Nebraska feed lot, spread and burned for months. Manure stored in bags on a truck in Texas started a deadly fire. It seems that as manure breaks down, it produces both methane and hydrogen sulfide gases. If this happens in extremely hot weather, spontaneous combustion can occur. The manure can explode and catch fire. Exploding manure isn’t uncommon on farms and isn’t an uncommon cause of wildfires. Now knowing the danger of combining manure with hot air, it’s surprising that Washington, D.C. isn’t always exploding into flames. In 2007 the painting “Profile of the Bella Principessa” was bought on behalf of a Swiss collector for $19.000. That was approximately the amount paid for the painting at auction by the gallery owner 11 years before. However, what was thought to be a 19th century, German painting is actually a painting by Leonardo da Vinci worth more than $150 million. Authenticity was proven by a digital scanner, which found the print of an index or middle finger on the painting. That fingerprint matched Leonardo’s fingerprint on his painting “St Jerome” in the Vatican. Who knew Leonardo da Vinci finger painted? In 2009 the discovery of a vegetarian spider was published in “Current Biology”. Unlike the other 40,000 species of spiders known to science that are meat-eaters, 2 scientists working independently of each other in Costa Rica and Mexico discovered a neotropical jumping spider that eats leaf tips of acacia trees. Previously it had been thought that the stinging ants which feed on the melon-like acacia food protected the trees from all other plant-eaters. However, the eyesight, agility and cognitive skill of the “Bagheera kiplingi” allow it to avoid the ants. For arachnophobiacs this discovery unfortunately has legs. In 2009 who knew NASA was running out of plutonium-238? Because plutonium-238 was a byproduct of the Cold War, none has been made since the 1980’s. NASA has enough for the next Mars Rover and the next major mission to outer planets, but the heat which is given off by plutonium-238 and converted into electricity is essential for future space missions that are too far from the sun for solar power. When or if Congress approves $30 million to restart production, it will take 8 years to make the 11 pounds NASA needs yearly. Thus the future of outer-planet space travel is left up in the air.
DID YOU EVER WONDER ABOUT THIS? Between 2005 and 2006 the Transportation Security Administration confiscated 13 million items from passengers' carry-on bags. Liquids in access of 3 ounces are immediately disposed of. Guns and firearms are turned over to local law enforcement. Items of value - electric saws, meat cleavers, 10-pound exercise weights, even a kitchen sink - are donated to state surplus agencies and sold - the states keeping the profits. Bats, clubs, knives and blades are confiscated the most; but instead of legally putting these items in checked luggage or mailing them, 90% of passengers relinquish them - realizing their protests won't fly. Crickets don't fly, but different species have different calls. It's the males that make the calls and they do it by rubbing their wings together. However, what sounds like a continuous chirp to humans is actually a series of pulses - or rhythm. For example, the snowy cricket's chirp is made up of 8 pulses, which are arranged in a rhythm of 2 beats, 3 beats, 3 beats. The Riley's tree cricket divides its chirp into 11 beats. The different calls enable female crickets to know which calls are from their species. Basically, female crickets are "on call". For humans musical training can improve hearing. According to studies presented at Neuroscience 2009, serious musicians are better at perceiving and remembering sounds. This is because sounds are interpreted by the brain and experience improves the brain's ability to interpret. Fifteen classically trained musicians and 16 non-musicians were asked to listen to a voice speaking simple sentences amid increasingly loud conversations. Because this experiment is similar to musicians being able to hear their own instruments amid many others, the musicians excelled in the experiment. Music teaches auditory concentration, which improves hearing - which should be music to our ears. Something else that requires concentration is getting silk from golden orb-weaving spiders - a species that bites. The spiders have to be gently harnessed to a small machine that holds them down. A hand then carefully pulls the golden thread from each spider and wraps it around a spindle for weaving on a hand loom. After about 20 minutes of "silking" the spiders are released back into nature. It took Madagascan weavers 4 years, over 1 million spiders and half a million dollars to weave a one-of-a-kind, 11-by-4-foot tapestry, finished in 2009. Arachnophobiacs, however, might prefer using silk worms. Their silk comes from cocoons.

Knight Pierce Hirst

I may be the only writer who has moved to Los Angeles for the weather.

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