May 30, 2020

A few things I learned this month

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

Researchers at Pompeii, the city buried under a thick carpet of volcanic ash when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, have found that huge mounds of refuse apparently dumped outside the city walls were in fact staging grounds for cycles of use and reuse”. It turns out that the Romans were masters at recycling their rubbish. (Guardian)

In German, horseradish is called meerrettich” (sea radish) because it grows by the sea. Many believe the English mispronounced the German word meer” and began calling it mare-radish.” Eventually, the mare” was transitioned to horse,” leading to its current name. (

Pronoia is a neologism coined to describe a state of mind that is the opposite of paranoia. Whereas a person suffering from paranoia feels that persons or entities are conspiring against them, a person experiencing pronoia feels that the world around them conspires to do them good. (Wikipedia)

In Renaissance Italy, wine glasses were designed to be hard to drink from, and required a strange three-finger grip on the base—so the graceful and elite could set themselves apart. (Atlas Obscura)

Cholera influenced the modern street grid: 19th-century epidemics prompted the introduction of sewage systems that required the roads above them to be wider and straighter, along with new zoning laws to prevent overcrowding. (Guardian)

Scientists have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria. Researchers are now investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild, or use spores to suppress the disease. (Nature Communications)

Macrocosmic synecdoche is a linguistic term that describes the phenomenon which happens when we refer to a bigger thing or group than what we mean to illustrate a concept. (Conversation)

Astronomers have discovered a black hole in a constellation, just 1,000 light-years away. The black hole is closer to our solar system than any other that astronomers have found to date. (Atlantic)

Llama antibodies are able to neutralize the new virus that causes Covid-19, like they did for MERS and SARS. Scientists have long turned to llamas for antibody research. In the last decade, for example, scientists have used llamas’ antibodies in H.I.V. and influenza research, finding promising therapies for both viruses. (Cell)

Finland’s experiment in universal basic income concluded that it raises financial and mental wellbeing, and contributes positively to employment figures. (New Scientist)

A shallow water ocean and habitable conditions may have persisted on Venus for as long as 3 billion years, until volcanic large igneous provinces emerged simultaneously and ended the planet’s temperate period. (Journal of Geophysical Research)

Little Richard quit rock & roll because a big ball of fire” appeared in the night sky during a concert, which he took as a sign from God. It was actually Sputnik. (Oxford American)

First described in 2011, and thought extinct, the blue calamintha bee has once again been found in Florida. (Florida Museum)

A technique for measuring the ripeness of avocados could reduce waste by up to 10% and help fulfil consumer demand for ready-to-eat fruit. The technology uses a laser and small vibration to test the individual fruits’ resonant frequency, giving a reliable assessment of ripeness without damaging the avocado. (EurekAlert)

The paint in Edvard Munch’s The Scream is deteriorating—due to Munch’s use of cheap paint and a century of museum-goers breathing. (Guardian)

Susanna Madora Salter was the first woman elected as mayor and one of the first women elected to any political office in the United States. She was originally nominated on the Prohibition Party ticket by several local men as a joke; Salter surprised the group and received two-thirds of the votes. (Kansas Historical Society)

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