June 30, 2019

A few things I learned this month

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

Researchers have found evidence that bedbugs are much older than previously thought, and probably dined on dinosaurs. (NYTimes)

On May 20th, 2019, a cylinder of platinum-iridium alloy was removed from a vault in the Pavillon de Breteuil and relocated to a museum, becoming the last object in human history to serve as a physical standard of measurement, or as metrologists describe such an object, an artifact.” It was created along with a few dozen sister cylinders at the end of the 19th century to act as the definition of the kilogram. (LitHub)

Mary Anning got her start in science at the age of 12 when she and her brother Joseph discovered a complete Jurassic-era fossil of an Ichthyosaurus. Over the years that followed, Anning made further discoveries of fossils that revolutionized science. However, in spite of her phenomenal contributions, Anning was rarely recognized officially for her discoveries, which were instead credited to the wealthy gentlemen scientists” who bought the fossils. She was also consistently refused entry to the Geological Society because she was a woman. (Atlas Obscura)

Using a sample of 1.9m transactions in art auctions across 49 countries in the period from 1970 to 2016, researchers found that art made by women sold at an average discount of 42% compared with works by men. If transactions above $1m are excluded, then the discount falls to 19%. (Economist)

Saliva is basically filtered blood. The salivary glands sieve the blood, keeping back the red blood cells, which are needed in our arteries, not in our mouth. But calcium, hormones, and some products of our immune system enter the saliva from the blood. (Gut)

Archaeological evidence confirms that humans have been roasting and eating plant starches for up to 120,000 years—that’s more than 100,000 years longer than we’ve been able to farm them. (Gastro Obscura)

Special tough skin and scales on the legs of flamingos prevent burns and freezing, and they can drink water at near boiling point to collect freshwater from hotsprings and geysers. If no freshwater is available, flamingos can use glands in their head that remove salt, draining it out from their nasal cavity. (The Conversation)

Nathaniel Bowditch invented” bureaucracy as we know it by instituting uniform systems to organize office practices and the handling of information at the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company. This move to impersonal bureaucratic methods helped transform nineteenth-century American financial practices, and set the foundation for modern bureaucracies. (Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers)

Franklin Loufrani trademarked his drawing of the now-ubiquitous smiley face in France in 1971 and has been licensing it out to companies ever since. Today, the Smiley Company does nearly $500m per year in licensing deals, working with companies like Nutella, Clinique, McDonald’s, Nivea, Coca-Cola, VW, and Dunkin’ Donuts. (The Hustle)

When the author Eric Carle wrote and conceived of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, no American printers were able to print and produce the interactive book. Editor Ann Beneduce saved the day by locating a Japanese printer who could get it done. (LitHub)

While starting in childhood still presents advantages, MIT Scientists have shown that adults can learn language to fluency nearly as well as children. (Cognition)

The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect that was originally voiced by Sheb Wooley in 1951 for the movie Distant Drums. It has been used in over 400 films and TV series since then. (Twenty Thousand Hertz)

The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in 2010 shrunk the time for African-American cancer patients to receive chemotherapy to nearly the same as for white patients. (STAT)

On January 15, 1919, a 50-foot-tall molasses-holding tank exploded, propelling a 15-foot-high wall of the sugary-sweet substance through the streets of the North End neighborhood of Boston at 35 miles per hour, smashing houses, elevated rail tracks, and firehouses in its path. (LitHub)

Genetically, wines have changed little since the Ancient Romans, making today’s varietals vulnerable to ever-evolving threats. (NPR)

People in cities with plastic bag bans use fewer plastic bags, leading to about 40 million fewer pounds of plastic trash per year. But sales of garbage bags actually skyrocket after plastic grocery bags are banned; small, 4-gallon bags, saw a 120% increase in sales after bans went into effect. (NPR)

The International Space Station is now available for commercial exploitation—like film shoots, product-testing, and visiting private astronauts. (Verge)

In every single country, the average estimate of happiness is far lower than actual reported happiness. In the US, 90% of people say they’re happy, but the average guess is that only 50 percent of people say they’re happy. (Mother Jones)

America spends $35 billion a year on substance-abuse treatments. Heavy drinking causes 88,000 deaths a year. Alcoholics Anonymous dominates substance-abuse treatment in the United States, but researchers have debunked central tenets of AA doctrine and found dozens of other treatments more effective. (The Atlantic)

Suburban houses in the US are twice as big as they were in 1973, but residents aren’t any happier. By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later. (The Atlantic)

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