September 29, 2023

Things I learned these past few months

Below, a quick roundup of a few of the things I learned over the past few months.

Tuesday July 4, 2023 was the hottest day on Earth since record-keeping began in the late 19th century. (WaPo)

A Belgian startup has raised $13.1 million to create wooly-mammoth burgers, one of many companies trying to capitalize on DNA from extinct species. (Economist)

Just like people, orangutans get smoker’s voice. During fires–and for several weeks after the smoke had cleared–orangutans called less, and their voices dropped in pitch, showing more vocal harshness and irregularities. (SciAm)

Scientists at Purdue have created a white paint that, when applied, can reduce the surface temperature on a roof and cool the building beneath it. (NYTimes)

The bird population in North America has decreased by 3 billion birds in the past 50 years, an absolutely profound change in the natural system”. (nautilus)

Researchers announced the discovery of a new astronomical enigma. The new object, GPM J1839–10, behaves a bit like a pulsar, sending out regular bursts of radio energy. But the physics that drives pulsars means that they’d stop emitting if they slowed down too much, and almost every pulsar known blinks at least once per minute. GPM J1839–10 takes 22 minutes between pulses. Researchers have no idea what kind of physics or what kind of objects can power that. (ArsTechnica)

Logistics company UPS delivers about a quarter of all US packages to their final destination. In the first three months of this year, UPS handled 18.7 million domestic packages per day on average. (CNN)

Only 8%-10% of the population is left-handed. (Lefineder)

Green herons have been observed repeatedly dropping insects, worms, or bread crumbs into the water and then snatching the small fish that are drawn in. Sometimes they even fish with their version of artificial lures — feathers or plant material. (

India accounts for more than 40% of world rice exports, which amounted to 55.4 million metric tons in 2022. India’s rice shipments reached a record 22.2 million tons in 2022, more than the combined shipments of the world’s next four biggest exporters of the grain - Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and the United States. (Reuters)

South Asians have a four times greater risk of heart disease than the general population. (Stanford Health Care)

Seeking relief from the heat, on Amazon, sales of air conditioners increased 248% during the 30 days ending July 14. Sales for fans grew 60%. (CNN)

Dogust, which takes place Aug. 1 each year, is a nationwide celebration for dogs whose birthdays are unknown. It’s been a holiday since 2008, when staff at the North Shore Animal League America of New York set out to ensure even dogs without official birthdays still get their own special day. (Chewy)

August 2 of this year is Earth Overshoot Day: the date on the calendar year where human demand for ecological resources is more than what the earth can regenerate. This date has trended towards being earlier and earlier in the year since the 1970s. (CTV)

Once on the brink of extinction with only about 200 animals in the wild, the golden lion tamarin population has rebounded to around 4800 individuals hopping between branches in the Brazilian rainforest thanks in part to yellow fever vaccinations. (ABC)

The largest landowner in the world currently is King Charles III of England. He and the British Royal Family own more than 6,600,000,000 acres of land around the world. (Second on the list is the Catholic Church.) (Madison Trust)

A new study revealed that some things never change: life is harder for middle school students who are not attractive and for those who are not athletic. Findings show the peer group punishes those who do not have highly valued traits such as being good-looking or being good at sports. (FAU)

A single injection of a novel CRISPR gene-editing treatment safely and efficiently removes SIV–a virus related to the AIDS-causing agent HIV–from the genomes of non-human primates, scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University now report. (MedicalXpress)

The results of a recent study suggest that people who got the second shot of the Covid vaccine in the same arm as the first one had a stronger immune response. (USAToday)

More than 50% of all species live in the soil, according to a study that has found it is the single most species-rich habitat on Earth. Soil was known to hold a wealth of life, but this new figure doubles what scientists estimated in 2006. (Guardian)

France has launched an initiative to reduce textile waste by paying people to repair their clothes instead of throwing them out. Starting October, people will be able to claim between €6 and €25 of the cost of mending clothes and shoes. The money will come from a €154 million fund and is meant to support businesses in offering more apparel repair services. (Guardian)

NYC doctors have seen success in a pig kidney transplanted into a brain-dead man. For months, the kidney has worked normally—a critical step towards trying xenotransplantation in living patients. (Scientific American)

New research finds that the memories useful for future generalizations are held in the brain separately from those recording unusual events. (Quanta)

Throughout the classical Hollywood era, moviegoers dropped in on a film screening whenever they felt like it, heedless of the progress of the narrative. Hitchcock’s Psycho was an important part of the move to change that practice. (Hollywood Reporter)

A new paint, partially made from discarded oyster shells is able to reflect 90% of the sun’s rays away from a building. This results in an average temperature reduction of 6-7°C. (Euronews)

A 2019 study of scientists over-wintering in Antarctica revealed subtle but measurable changes in the participants’ speech, a new accent. (MentalFloss)

The most recent US presidential election set a new record as the most expensive election cycle in history. Political spending for the 2020 election came to an eye-watering $14.4bn, or $16bn if adjusted for inflation. (Chartr)

Humanity is slowly losing access to the night sky, and astronomers have invented a new term to describe the pain associated with this loss: noctalgia,” meaning sky grief.” (Space)

The first popcorn plants were farmed in the eighth century BCE by Indigenous groups, such as the Aztec and Maya in southern Mexico. These popcorn seeds, when placed on rocks or in pots over fire, would explode upon reaching about 355 degrees Fahrenheit. (Taste)

Although there are only five written vowels, English has 14-21 different vowel sounds, depending on the dialect. This is a much larger vowel inventory than most languages (the smallest is 3). However the consonant inventory for English is a very typical 22. (Pimsleur)

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