February 28, 2019

A few things I learned this month

Below, a quick roundup of a few of the things I learned in February, 2019.

While Americans consumed nearly 37 pounds of cheese per capita in 2017, it was not enough to reduce the country’s 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus. There is enough cheese sitting in cold storage to wrap around the U.S. Capitol. (NPR)

Cocaine overdoses, killing about 15,000 people a year, now exceed those from opioid painkiller pills. Methamphetamine deaths are surging just behind them, now estimated at around 11,000 annually. (Buzzfeed News)

From 2013 to 2018, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Streaming devices, which pay artists by the song regardless of length, may be one reason for this trend towards brevity. (Quartz)

Porphyromonas gingivalis, the key bacteria in chronic gum disease, may be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s; a drug that attacks the toxins in the bacteria is being tested and may potentially lead to a way to slow or stop the onset of Alzheimer’s. (New Scientist)

Data from the Cassini spacecraft show that Saturn’s rings are surprisingly young and may be from shredded moons. (Science)

In the 14th century, the intestines used to be referred to as the arse ropes.” (OED, via)

The spider-tailed horned viper has a tail that, when moved about in the right way, looks like a spider crawling on a rock. The crawling spider” attracts small birds who eat insects…and then the viper eats the birds. (Kottke)

Falling fertility rates in the USA will result in less money being paid into the Social Security and Medicare systems, requiring either cuts in benefits, a higher retirement age or ever-ballooning deficits. Past experience suggests that Americans will be asked to work longer, thus making retirement out of reach for many. (Bloomberg)

Climate change could devastate Atlantic and polar cod. With ocean acidification, the eggs become more sensitive to temperature extremes; their thermal tolerance range narrows. Big changes in cod populations will likely have ripple effects: cod are food for many other animals, like birds and seals. (Science Advances)

California was named after a mythical island of black women who kept man-eating griffins as pets. Their queen was Calafia, a buxom warrior who was desirous of achieving great things.” (The California Sun)

The oddly-sized label on a bottle of angostura butters originated from a mistake made when the Siegert brothers were entering the bitters in a competition. One of the judges saw the oversized label and called it an example of signature labeling,” so they decided to make it a part of the brand. (The UI Junkie)

Nearest Green was the first African-American master distiller in the United States, acting as the chief distiller for Jack Daniel’s distillery when it opened in Lynchburg, Tennessee in the late 1800s. (New York Times)

Researchers have built a small, flexible device called a rectenna” that harvests wi-fi, bluetooth and cellular signals, and turns them into wireless electricity. The device is flexible and, using typical home wi-fi signals, it spits out about 40 microwatts—enough to light up a simple LED display or power a biosensor. (Nature)

The world’s oldest intact shipwreck was discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea, off the coast of Bulgaria. Radiocarbon analysis suggests the wood vessel dates back to 400 B.C. (BBC)

Europe’s most restless volcano, Mount Etna, is slowly sliding into the sea under its own weight. If part of it collapses suddenly, researchers say it could trigger megatsunamis in the Mediterranean Sea. (National Geographic)

European colonizers killed so many Native Americans that it changed the global climate. The killings caused large swaths of farmland to be abandoned and reforested, resulting in a massive decrease in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (Quaternary Science Reviews)

South-east Asia is one of the most internet-addicted regions on the planet, with the Philippines topping the global list with an average 10 hours and 2 minutes of screen time every day. (Hootsuite)

Scrabble was invented in 1938, when architect Alfred Mosher Butts combined his love of anagrams and crossword puzzles. Butts then tested out his new game, which he called Lexiko” at the time, in the social room at the Community United Methodist Church in Queens. (Atlas Obscura)

There are only two sets of escalators on the entire state of Wyoming, both of them located in banks in the city of Casper. (The Atlantic)

Cancers fueled by obesity—colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic and multiple myeloma—are on the rise among young adults in the United States and appearing at increasingly younger ages. (The Lancet)

By the year 2100, the response of phytoplankton to climate change will alter the color of Earth’s oceans. Blue ocean surfaces are expected to shift to a darker blue; green-tinted marine habitats could become more intensely verdant. (Nature)

Of the 2,041 nuclear detonations that occurred last century, over 1,021 took place in Nevada. (Real Life)

Health care is a right, not a privilege,” the slogan for the free clinic movement and a rallying cry for the medicare for all movement, was first uttered by Dr. David Smith in 1967 during a public meeting with city health officials. Dr. Smith went on to open the Haight-Ashbury free clinic, which saw 250 patients in its first day open. (UCSF)

The name ascorbic acid,” for Vitamin C, is a derivative of the word antiscorbutic,” which indicates an effectiveness against scurvy. Vitamin C deficiency is the cause of scurvy, hence the reference to its antiscorbutic properties in its chemical name. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

An estimated 1,500 hospital visits due to e-scooter injuries have occurred in the US since late 2017—some requiring surgery. That number may be low, as many hospitals still don’t track them. (Consumer Reports)

The H in the phrase Jesus H. Christ” most likely is derived from the monogram IHS or IHC. In Greek, Jesus” is ΙΗΣΟΥΣ in uppercase letters and Ἰησοῦς in lower. The first three letters (iota, eta, and sigma) form a monogram, or graphic symbol, written as either IHS or IHC in Latin letters. (Grammarphobia)

In a marked departure from other teams in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors play music during their practices, often tailored to the city where the team is playing that night. (SF Chronicle)

The Earth contains around 333 million cubic miles of water. Of that amount, 97% is in its oceans, seas, and bays, making it highly saline and unusable without costly desalination processes. (Quartz)

A team of researchers in Boston has developed a swallowable pill-based insulin-delivery system that injects the medicine directly into the stomach wall, which is painless. (MIT)

In a 2018 survey, more than one in four high schoolers and one in 14 middle schoolers in the United States used tobacco—most often e-cigs like Juul—in the past month. (CDC)

A survey of 944 Uber and Lyft riders by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston last year, found that 42 percent of riders would have taken transit if the services hadn’t been available. Another 12 percent said they would have biked or walked their journey. Another 5 percent would have just avoided the trip altogether. Only about 17 percent — less than one in five — said they would have made the journey in a private car otherwise. (Streetsblog)

Students at the University of California Los Angeles are taking 11,000 app-based taxi trips every week that begin and end within the boundaries of the campus. (Streetsblog)

Group A strep, or strep A, ranks among the most destructive pathogens on Earth, rivaling malaria parasites, tuberculosis bacteria and HIV. It kills more than a half million people a year, but those deaths mostly occur in developing countries, so big pharma won’t justify a vaccine. (Digg)

The price of palladium, a precious metal 30 times as rare as gold, has risen by more than 50% since August, surpassing the price of gold for the first time since 2001. More than 80% of palladium is used for catalytic converters; law enforcement across America has seen a rise in vehicle vandalism in order to steal these converters to harvest palladium. (Fortune)

Higher rates of nephropathy—chronic liver disease—are now being considered an example of climate canaries,” a sign that global warming is not just already here, but is causing catastrophic effects. The basic idea: when people are exposed to long stretches of extreme heat, they sweat more. If they don’t rehydrate, or don’t have access to clean drinking water, the kidneys, which are supposed to filter waste and regulate fluid in the body, get stressed. Over time, that stress can lead to kidney stones and chronic damage. (Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology)

Early evidence suggests the Affordable Care Act, which expanded health insurance coverage, helped make a difference” in narrowing cancer disparities between African Americans and whites in the United States. (Washington Post)

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