Last night, my husband and I went to the Minnesota State Fair and stumbled upon a demonstration of a linotype machine, a semi-automated, mechanical printing system that was used by newspapers and magazines (and basically everything else) from the end of the 19th century through the 1970s. It's a completely mesmerizing piece of equipment. An operator types out a line of text and the machine responds by collecting molds that match each letter and fitting them together. Then, it fills the mold with molten metal and dumps out the freshly minted block, ready for the printer ... before automatically re-racking all the letter molds so they're ready for the next line of text. Read the rest
Besides magnetism, there's another thing that the Insane Clown Posse was on-track in categorizing as a mind-blowing mystery — Why do Shaggy 2 Dope's kids look just like him? As with the magnets, this is another situation where the obvious answer (it's genetics!) masks a much more complicated issue that science hasn't totally figured out yet. At Pacific Standard, Michael White explains why genetics is still messing with our heads, almost 150 years after Mendel:
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The problem: most of the genetic differences discovered have only a very small effect. And when you add up all those effects, the result can’t possibly explain the full influence of our genes on those traits. For example, researchers have identified hundreds of DNA differences between people that influence the very strongly heritable trait of human height, but the total effect of those differences added together explains only about 10 percent of the genetic influence on height. In other words, we still can’t explain why tall parents have tall children.
Scientists have named this discrepancy the “missing heritability,” and they’ve spent the last half-decade trying to find it.
Now, to temper this awesome news with a bit of harsh reality: Nova Delphini is not a supernova and it's not going to be as bright an object as you're probably imagining. Discover's Corey Powell has instructions for how to spot it (it probably won't be super obvious, especially if you're in a city) and galleries of photos, just in case you can't see it yourself. Read the rest
Four foot, four inches in circumference. "She believes her voluminous hair may have grown even bigger, but she cannot reveal its size until Guinness take an official measurement." [Video Link, Daily Mail] Read the rest
Behold, the common housefly — Musca domestica. You know it as a connoisseur of both sugar water and disgusting crap (literally), but this animal is also, deep inside, a sensitive arteest. Human artist John Knuth figured out how to help M. domestica express its passionate, aesthetic side in a series of paintings that exploit basic housefly behavior.
Houseflies "taste" with their feet. Their appendages are covered with chemically sensitive hairs, called chemoreceptors, which means that houseflies spend a lot of time walking around on top of their food. In addition, they can only eat liquids. If they encounter something delicious-but-solid they must first liquify it by slathering it in digestive juices. Finally, because they have to not-exactly-vomit on solid food so often, houseflies also need a lot of liquid in their diet to remain sufficiently hydrated. And that, as this pregnant lady can tell you, means the flies are also using the bathroom fairly frequently.
Knuth puts these rather disgusting traits to work in the name of art by supplying his flies with ample quantities of colored sugar water and lining their cages with canvas. The flies track the colors all over the canvas, in the form of brightly hued footprints, digestive juices, and excrement. The results are much more attractive than you might guess.
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Syracuse University makes its own lava by melting down hunks of basalt. Then, they give school kids the opportunity to toast marshmallows over the top of the fiery goo. Read the rest
Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler, published in 2010 and written by Duane Nickel, promises to be a tour guide to chemistry and physics points of interest all across the United States. (Thanks Tim Heffernan!) Read the rest
Scientists managed to link the brains of a conscious human and an anesthetized rat, allowing the human to wiggle the rat's tail with his thoughts. And all God's creatures said, "Holy shitballs!" Read the rest
Known affectionately as Bertha, this tunnel boring machine has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built; 57.5 feet. It's being used to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle and it just arrived there today after being shipped from Japan.
I feel this warrants your attention for two reasons:
1) If you live near Seattle, you can actually go get a look at this massive beast before it starts chewing its way through the city. If you like looking at giant machines (or know someone who does) now's your chance. She's coming into the Port of Seattle, Terminal 46, as you read this and there will be ample opportunities to get a look as the pieces are assembled and moved into the nearby launch pit. The Washington State Department of Transportation has suggestions on places to go to get a good view.
2) If, for some reason, you were looking for a new way to lose massive amounts of time on YouTube, Bertha (and boring machines, in general) can help with that. Here's a cutaway animation explaining how boring machines work. Here's a video of Big Becky, another boring machine, breaking through to the other side of a tunnel at Niagara Falls, Canada. (In fact, boring machine breakthrough videos are, in and of themselves, a mesmerizing genre.) And in this video, you can watch the massively long line of support equipment go by in the wake of a boring machine. Read the rest
Like the people cheering at about :25 into this video, I'm a sucker for dramatic explosions. This one comes from Texas, where the transportation department blew up an old bridge in the city of Marble Falls on March 17th. Also, apparently, it's warm enough in Texas that multiple gentlemen could watch a bridge explode from the comfort of their jet skis. Read the rest
Later today, you can interact with some of the best science writers around — Carl Zimmer, Ed Yong, Virginia Hughes, and Brian Switek — in an epic science edition of "Ask Me Anything". They'll be taking your questions on everything from parasites to dinosaurs, beginning at 2:00 Eastern. Read the rest
Who is Harry Stamps? Excellent question. He was the dean of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, but, as his excellently written and tear-inducing obituary explains, he was also "a ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler" who held the secrets of the world's greatest BLT sandwich and went to his deathbed despising Daylight Savings Time (aka The Devil's Time). A man after my own heart. Read the rest
Sixty feet under the Gulf of Mexico lie the remains of an 50,000-year-old forest. Diver and photographer Ben Raines took some amazing photos of the site and sent samples of the trees — which still look like trees — to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for radiocarbon dating. You can see sap in a cross-section of the wood and, when it's cut, Raines says it still smells like fresh cypress. Read the rest
Just what the headline says. Watch it burn.
Tonight, I got to meet Martyn Poliakoff — the fabulously frizzy-haired University of Nottingham chemist who you might recognize from a series of awesome videos about the periodic table that Xeni first blogged about back in 2008.
This is his business card.
It's a microscope image of the world's tiniest periodic table, which Poliakoff's friends inscribed on a strand of his own hair as a birthday gift in 2010. The hair, which Poliakoff keeps in a glass vial, has earned him a spot in The Guinness Book of World Records.
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When the feds busted the Unabomber they found a live bomb under his bed. They needed it for evidence. But they also needed it to not explode. Enter a crack team of bomb experts who were flown in to Montana to dismantle the explosives in Ted Kaczynski's backwoods cabin. Read the rest
Space Station Commander Sunny Williams takes you on an in-depth tour of humankind's home away from home in space.