March 30, 2019

A few things I learned this month

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

Pufferfish produce a potent defensive chemical, which they eject when threatened. In small enough doses, however, the toxin seems to induce a trance-like state” in dolphins that come into contact with it. The dolphins then pass along” the pufferfish to other dolphins to get a high.” (Smithsonian Mag)

The extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys is understood to be the first mammal killed off by human-led climate change. The limited range of the animal, living on a five-hectare island less than three metres high, left it vulnerable to climate change. (Sydney Morning Herald)

A recent analysis predicts that 40 percent of the world’s insect species could go extinct within the next few decades. The highest death tolls could be among butterflies, moths, bees and dung beetles. (Scientific American)

The incidence of foodborne illness, specifically Campylobacter, could jump in a warming world, due to an increase in housefly activity; flies are more active in warmer temperatures. (Royal Society Open Science)

Doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton performed the first robotic knee replacement surgery in Canada in January. Incorporating a robot in surgery like allows doctors to be more precise, helping speed healing and future health outcomes. (CBC)

Sugary drink consumption in Berkeley has decreased by 52 percent since a soda tax was implemented. Consumption habits in nearby cities without the same long-standing soda tax remained the same. (American Journal of Public Health)

Shrinking biodiversity is affecting the Earth’s capacity to produce food. 20% of the Earth’s vegetated surface has become less productive, and what is growing on it is one notch away from being wiped out. (UN FAO)

A deceptively simple malware attack has stolen a wide array of credentials from thousands of computers in 2019. The source of its success: a combination of short scripts and legitimate executable files that are used so often for benign purposes that they blend right in. (Ars Technica)

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in Earth’s crust. It follows oxygen and silicon as the third most abundant element on Earth’s surface. (LitHub)

The destructive effects of an asteroid’s impact on Earth are related to the size of an asteroid. Asteroids with diameters greater than 10 kilometers will result in mass extinctions and likely the total annihilation of all humans. Impacts by smaller asteroids (1–3 kilometers diameter) will likely cause massive death, infrastructure damage, and global climate change. Asteroids with diameters between 100 and 300 meters will cause regional damage and set up devastating tsunamis. (LitHub)

Of the world’s major root staple crops, most—including the potato, sweet potato, and cassava—are native to the Americas. The others are taro from South and Southeast Asia and the yam from, probably, Africa. (Gastro Obscura)

Psychoterratica is the trauma caused by distance from nature. Solastalgia is the psychic pain of climate change and missing a home that’s transforming before your eyes. (Quartz)

Americans lost $143m in online relationship scams last year. The median amount lost was $2,600 per individual and for those over the age of 70 it was a staggering $10,000. The scam often involves a money request to cover travel or medical expenses. Romantic scams are a rapidly growing sub-category of online imposter scams’ which cost Americans $328m in 2017. (NPR)

Penn State University materials scientists Abdon Pena-Francesch and Melik Demirel think synthetic squid ring teeth could be engineered as a promising biodegradable replacement for plastics. (Frontiers in Chemistry)

A recent analysis of data collected by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows that the Earth’s atmosphere is a lot larger than previously known—up to 630 000 km away, or 50 times the diameter of our planet. This means that, technically, the Moon flies through Earth’s atmosphere. (European Space Agency)

Because of the heat needed to decompose rock and the natural chemical processes involved in making cement, every tonne made releases one tonne of C02, the main greenhouse warming gas. Nearly 6% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 8% of the world’s, are now sourced from cement production. If it were a country, the cement industry would be the third largest in the world, its emissions behind only China. (Guardian)

Beau Brummell, a leader of the dandy movement, shaped much of what menswear looks like today by leading a movement away from jewelry and expensive fabrics to clothing that is meant not to be noticed” and would be removed of adornment. (Alexandra Rowland)

Analyses of responses in an American survey looking at perceptions of eugenics indicated nontrivial support for most of the eugenic policies asked about, such as at least 40% support for policies encouraging lower levels of reproduction among poor people, unintelligent people, and people who have committed serious crimes. (Social Science Journal)

In sub-Saharan Africa, only Tanzania, Ethiopia and Eritrea do not use a colonial language at all during primary education. Others use either English or French. (Economist)

Creedence Clearwater Revival, the band most associated with swamp rock, was actually from California and not the American south; songwriter John Fogerty had never actually been to the South when he first wrote Proud Mary.” CCR holds the Billboard record for most No. 2s without a No. 1 song. (Hit Parade)

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly was once a worldwide leader in the distribution of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals. At a farm in Greenfield, Indiana, it grew 156 acres of marijuana during the early decades of the 20th century. (Indianapolis Monthly)

One of the driest places on Earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile, is losing its microbial life because of unprecedented rains. Frequent rainfall for the past three years has caused the massive extinction of native bacterial species. (Scientific Reports)

Students in Cape Town made bricks using urine from men’s toilets, in a biochemical process involving bacteria, calcium and sand. The bricks offer a productive—and odorless—way to recycle human urine. (Scientific American)

Prior to European colonization, in the Pacific Northwest, indigenous people constructed clam gardens, coastal structures to deliberately encourage the production of shellfish. They were made by constructing rock walls at the low tide line along the edges of bays and inlets, transforming naturally sloping beaches or rocky shorelines into productive, level beach terraces. (Clam Garden Network)

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that state-of-the-art object recognition systems—including the technology in self-driving cars—are less accurate at detecting pedestrians with darker skin tones. (Technology Review)

The number of hundred-dollar bills in circulation has skyrocketed in the past decade. This could be a troubling indicator for global corruption as high-denomination bills remain a go-to for criminals, given the anonymity and lack of transaction record. (CNBC)

The clothing industry churned out 100 billion pieces of clothing for 7 billion people in 2015. The problem is so bad, some brands are burning unsold inventory. (Fast Company)

For just the second time since the global epidemic began, a patient appears to have been cured of infection with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Both milestones resulted from bone-marrow transplants given to infected patients. (Nature)

Some 45 million pounds of plastics make their way to New Orleans every year for Mardi Gras, more than half of which consists of beaded necklaces. In January 2018 the city said it had pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from just five blocks of storm drains and more than 7 million pounds of debris overall. (Bloomberg)

While poverty in India, which has five times the population, is declining, the number of destitute in Nigeria is believed to be growing by six people every minute. The UN expects its population to double to 410 million by 2050, potentially swelling the ranks of the poor. (Brookings)

A loss of sleep leads to a spike in snacking, affecting our blood sugar control and leading to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Even more surprising, sleeping in on the weekend doesn’t help—and even makes things worse. (Current Biology)

A bobtail, notably from the song Jingle Bells” is the tail of a horse where the hair has been cut short in order to keep it from getting caught in the reins. This was a very common practice in sleigh races. (Mental Floss)

Bass Reeves was the first Black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He was credited with arresting more than 3,000 felons, and is thought to have been the inspiration for the character of the Lone Ranger. (The Nod)

Olive groves across Italy are being threatened by a combination of unfortunate weather, a bacterial blight, and the uprooting of thousands of trees to make way for the Trans-Adriatic pipeline. The crisis has pushed Italian olive oil prices up more than 30 percent. (Gastro Obscura)

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