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The mysterious physics of bicycles

We don't actually understand why bikes stay upright as they move, writes physicist Michael Brooks at The New Statesman. A 2011 paper, published in the journal Science, poked big holes in the old theories about gyroscopic effects, and nobody has come along with anything to fill them yet. Maggie 55

You can go wading in the lake at the North Pole

Last week, Dean told you about the lake at the North Pole, a pool of melted ice captured on camera by the North Pole Environmental Observatory webcams.

At Climate Central, Andrew Freedman provides some really fascinating context that illustrates the changing nature of, well, nature ... and draws a big, heavy underline on how difficult it can be to make assumptions about what is and what isn't an effect of climate change. Arctic sea ice is melting in concert with rising global average temperatures, but (contrary to the knee-jerk assumption I made about this story) the lake at the North Pole may or may not have anything to do with that. In fact, little pools have been forming at the North Pole in summer for as long as we've been paying attention. They don't actually represent the total melting of ice, but rather a layer of slushy water that forms on top of solidly frozen ice — usually, you could wade out through them and never get more than waist-deep.

What's more, the picture above wasn't taken at the North Pole. That's because the North Pole Elemental Observatory — which sits on mobile ice — has moved far from the actual North Pole since its launch. So, there probably is a lake (more of a pond, really) at the North Pole, but it might not be caused by climate change. While this lake, which isn't at the North Pole, could well be part of the melting sea ice that climate change does cause. But it also might not, because what happens as a result of climate change is always layered on top of stuff that just happens. In order to be able to tell the difference, you have to do a lot of scientific analysis — much more than you can get from one picture.

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Why do mosquitoes prefer to eat some people over others?

If you seem to be the target of bloodsucking attention, there are two biological systems you can blame — your microbial flora, and/or your immune system. Your particular mix of skin bacteria play a big role in determining how well mosquitoes can smell you (and whether you smell delicious). Meanwhile, your immune system controls your allergic response — or lack thereof — to mosquito bites. If you never get red welts to go with the biting, it's easy to think that you're not getting bitten as often as someone who does. Maggie 30

Drowning without a sound

Drowning, in real life, doesn't look or sound the way it does on TV. It's not loud. It's not thrashy. And it can happen just a few feet away from you without you even noticing. At Slate, Mario Vittone explains the Instinctive Drowning Response — a physiological knee-jerk reaction that pretty much prevents all the signs and signals most of us look for in order to identify a person in the water who needs help. Maggie

Brace yourselves, tick season is coming

At Outside magazine, Carl Zimmer has a great long read on why the tick population in the United States is increasing — and why scientists are having so much trouble controlling both ticks, and the diseases they spread. Maggie

How to: Build a better sand castle

Geoscientist Matt Kuchta explains why wet sand makes a better castle than dry sand — and what you can do to make your sand fortress even more impenetrable. Hint: The secret ingredient is window screens.

What's climate change ruining today?

In Virginia, rising sea levels are threatening Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge's ability to provide free parking near the beach for the summer tourists who provide a major source of income in the region. Here's a hell of a quote: "Zones that used to be parking areas in the 1990s are now underwater." Also threatened: The beach itself. Read more Daily Climate. (Via Brendon Slotterback) Maggie

TOM THE DANCING BUG: Scientists Agree - It's the Shortest Summer on Record

Support Tom the Dancing Bug and receive BENEFITS and PRIVILEGES by joining the INNER HIVE right now!“I used to spend 20 dollars a year on TOM THE DANCING BUG collections…

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Just how hot is it in the US right now?

Mark Memmott at NPR's "The Two Way" blog digs in to statistics and maps from the National Climatic Data Center to illustrate exactly how fucking hot it is in hundreds of cities around the US, as a record-setting heatwave continues. I found the data a little confusing, so I 'shooped up a "For Dummies" version for you all, above. But do read the whole post from Mark here. (via Dave Pell's NextDraft)

Monster storms and aging power grids nix many July 4th festivities in Eastern US

Storm damage and high temperatures have left 1.3 million homes and businesses in the eastern United States without power since Friday. At least 23 people have been killed, some crushed by falling trees, others from heatstroke. From Illinois to Virginia, "Many Fourth of July celebrations were canceled as local governments confronted damage from the hurricane-force winds and high heat and drought conditions that made firework shows risky." There's an intense image comparison here at the NASA website, showing before/after satellite images that reveal massive blackouts in DC, Richmond, and other cities affected by the "derecho" storms.

How much of a factor is climate change in the 2012 Western US wildfires? Ask a NASA JPL scientist.

JPL Climatologist Bill Patzert, on the current wildfire outbreak in the Western United States, and the role of climate change: "What's really changed in recent years is that there are more and more people building and living at the urban/wildland interface, so the human impact is greater every time these great fires erupt (...) Looking to the future, the uncertainties of human-influenced climate change will play a stronger and stronger role, and rewrite our fiery history." More here. Xeni

The science of brain freeze

It is 83 degrees in Aspen, Colorado—just hot enough that I started dreaming of ice cream as soon as I stepped off the plane.

Now, if I do find some ice cream and give myself a brain freeze while woolfing it down, I will have a better understanding of what that nasty cold-food headache is and how to combat it, thanks to this Scientific American video.

One of the things I like best about the video: Learning that, despite the ubiquity of the brain freeze, it's still not 100% clear what causes it. In particular, there are several competing theories to explain why putting cold things in your mouth would make your forehead hurt. Nifty!

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Fishbowl bras offer alternative cooling in Japan's summer heat, now that all nuclear power plants are shut down

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Models present lingerie maker Triumph's new concept bra, the "Super Cool Bra", during its unveiling in Tokyo on May 9, 2012. The bra, modeled after a miniature fishbowl, contains a gel material designed to draw excess heat out of the body in its cups. It was created to help women "feel refreshed" during summer by wearing it, the lingerie maker said. Japan is headed for a power shortage this summer following the shutdown of all nuclear power reactors. I don't really get what's up with the pipe.

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Summer in the Bronx (BB Flickr Pool photo)

"Damian and Wayne 2: Point Morris Bronx," Photo contributed to the BB flickr pool by Chris Arnade.