January 30, 2020

A few things I learned this month

Below, a quick roundup of a few of the things I learned in January, 2020.

The red giant Betelgeuse is the dimmest seen in years, prompting some speculation that the star is about to explode. (NatGeo)

The tin can was patented in 1810 and the first commercial canning facility opened in 1813. The can opener, however, was only patented in 1858. Prior to the invention and widespread adoption of the can opener, people used a hammer and chisel to open the thick tin cans. (ThoughtCo)

A recent study found that mammal and bird communities are 26 percent less diverse in forests where feral pigs are present. (Ecology and Evolution)

Ireland will be the first country to divest from fossil fuels. In the next five years, it will pull $400 million out of carbon-producing companies. (Fast Company)

Canada’s Loonie” coin was supposed to be much different than the one we know today. It was supposed to feature a canoe instead of a loon, but was altered after a mysterious theft in 1986. (Ottawa Rewind)

An old vaccine (BCG) for tuberculosis—which kills more people than any other infectious disease—gets new life when the injection site is changed (intravenously vs. intradermally). (Nature)

There is an anomaly in the earth’s magnetic field near Prince Edward County, Ontario which makes compasses useless and caused many shipwrecks. In the Marysburgh Vortex”, as it’s called, acompass can point north when the true heading is 16° to 22° southwest. (Ottawa Citizen)

In Spain, a powerful drought over the summer revealed a more than 4,000-year-old oval of at least 100 standing stones called the Dolmen of Guadalperal, which had been submerged since 1963 in an engineered reservoir. (Smithsonian)

A newfound species of electric eel in Brazil, Electrophorus voltai, produces the strongest shock scientists have ever measured from a living animal. It can produce 860 volts at up to one amp of current. (Guardian)

Researchers watched puffins use sticks to scratch their backs and chests—essentially, using tools—a behavior previously unknown to scientists. Birds that spend most of their time at sea aren’t known for tool use, since their superior swimming abilities are usually sufficient to help them get food. (PNAS)

The beds in the Athletes Village at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be made of cardboard (that can support up to 200 kilograms). This is the first time that the beds and bedding in the Athletes Village have been made of renewable materials. (AP)

New research postulates that Jupiter, instead of protecting Earth from dangerous comets and asteroids, is actively flinging objects into the inner solar system. (Gizmodo)

In the US, the normal, oral temperature of adults is, on average, lower than the canonical 37°C established in the 19th century. New research has determined that mean body temperature in men and women, after adjusting for age, height, weight and, in some models date and time of day, has decreased monotonically by 0.03°C per birth decade. (ELife)

Climate change is causing vegetation to grow at high altitudes near Everest—where plants have not previously been known to grow. (BBC)

Of the 69 rulers of the unified Roman Empire, from Augustus (d. 14 CE) to Theodosius (d. 395 CE), 62% suffered violent death. (Nature)

In 1885 Tiffany was responsible for the redesign of the Great Seal of the United States, which made the previously long and skinny eagle’s legs more muscular, apparently to match the country’s muscular ambitions. The design is still on the back of the currency. (NYTimes)

The most borrowed book of all time at the New York Public Library is Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day, a 1962 illustrated kids’ book that evokes the magic of a first snow. (NBC)

In Persia during the Safavid dynasty there arose a curious institution called the kitab-khana—literally book-house”—which was like a workshop, or set of workshops, where calligraphers and painters and scribes and papermakers and binders all worked together to make gorgeously illustrated books. (Studies in the History of Art)

The Old English word for squirrel is Acweorna’ which translates as oak botherer’. (Etymology Online)

With the purpose of creating an alternative to animal leather, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez developed vegan leather made with nopal, which they successfully showcased in the last edition of the International Leather Fair Lineapelle in Milan, Italy. (Modern Farmer)

Each year, about 15% of queries on Google have never been searched for before, putting Google in a powerful position of being able to better train its algorithms and provide more accurate search results than its rivals. (Gov.UK)

The number of people aged 100 or older in Japan has exceeded 70,000 for the first time after marking an increase for the 49th consecutive year in the aging society whose birth rate remains low. (Japan Times)

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