This space geek built a DIY radio telescope for $150

David Schneider built his own radio telescope out of roof flashing, an empty paint thinner can, a free software-defined radio app, USB receiver, and a length of coaxial cable. The whole project cost him less than $150 and he's already used it to detect galactic hydrogen and monitor the motion of our Milky Way galaxy's spiral arms. (With a radio telescope, you look for and measure radio-frequency radiation emitted by astronomical objects.) From IEEE Spectrum:

Point at Cygnus and you’ll receive a strong signal from the local arm of the Milky Way very near the expected 1420.4-MHz frequency. Point it toward Cassiopeia, at a higher galactic longitude, and you’ll see the hydrogen-line signal shift to 1420.5 MHz—a subtle Doppler shift indicating that the material giving off these radio waves is speeding toward us in a relative sense. With some hunting, you may be able to discern two or more distinct signals at different frequencies coming from different spiral arms of the Milky Way.

Don’t expect to hear E.T., but being able to map the Milky Way in this fashion feels strangely empowering. It’ll be $150 well spent.

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A 1953 colloquium pondered the question "Did Man Once Live By Beer Alone?"

Photo of glass of beer by Alan Levin

The folks at JSTOR Daily have unearthed the proceedings of a 1953 colloquium that pondered a great question: Did early humanity first cultivate grain not for the purpose of making bread -- but brewing beer? Or, as official title of the event asked, "Did Man Once Live By Beer Alone?"

If the latter is true, then we owe the very concept of agriculture to the delights of getting sozzled.

As the proponents of that theory noted, beer-like drinks are arguably easier to create than bread. The former requires less technology:

The proponents of the beer-before-bread idea noted that the earliest grains might have actually been more suitable for brewing than for baking. For example, some wild wheat and barley varieties had husks or chaff stuck to the grains. Without additional processing, such husk-enclosed grains were useless for making bread—but fit for brewing. Brewing fermented drinks may also have been easier than baking. Making bread is a fairly complex operation that necessitates milling grains and making dough, which in the case of leavened bread requires yeast. It also requires fire and ovens, or heated stones at the least.

On the other hand, as some attendees pointed out, brewing needs only a simple receptacle in which grain can ferment, a chemical reaction that can be easily started in three different ways. Sprouting grain produces its own fermentation enzyme—diastase. There are also various types of yeast naturally present in the environment. Lastly, human saliva also contains fermentation enzymes, which could have started a brewing process in a partially chewed up grain.

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"Fancy" silky teabags shed microplastics

Some "fancy" brands of teabags are made of polyethylene or nylon and they're shedding microplastics into hot drinks. Delicious! No-one knows if it's bad for you.

Nathalie Tufenkji, a professor of chemical engineering at the Montreal university, was surprised to find one such bag in the tea she ordered from a coffee shop one morning.It looked like plastic, she recalled. "I said, 'Oh God, I'm sure if it's plastic it's, like, breaking down into the tea.'"

So when she got into the lab, she asked her graduate student, Laura Hernandez, to go out and buy a bunch from different brands. Sure enough, Hernandez's lab tests showed that when steeped in hot water, the tea bags released microplastic and even smaller nanoplastic particles — and not just the hundreds or thousands Tufenkji had been expecting.

"We were shocked when we saw billions of particles in a single cup of tea," she said.

Just reading about plastic teabags makes me think I'm taking crazy pills. Plastic teabags! What a marvelous discrepancy between a blatantly hostile fuck-the-environment product and its cosy marketing.

Boing Boing's tea recommendations are all good old fashioned paper bags. Read the rest

An unintended consequence of New York's new clean water is a return of destructive marine borers

"Shipworms" are a menace, devouring the wood in ships and docks. For a while, as the New York Times explains, the pollution in New York harbor actually had some benefit in fighting them:

By the 1960s, the waters had become overrun with raw sewage and oil and chemicals discharged by factories. “Industries were using the harbor as a dumping ground,” Mr. Goldstein said. “You wouldn’t want to swim or eat the fish, and only the bravest would take out a kayak.”

Indeed, there were stories of boats being taken into the polluted harbor just to clean off any marine borers from other waters.

The good news is New York waterways are increasingly clean thanks to laws like the the 1972 Clean Water Act. But the bad news is the clean water has allowed marine borers to flourish:

Marine borers took out a heavily used Brooklyn footbridge over Sheepshead Bay in 2015, requiring the city to close it for several months to repair a hole-ridden foundation. The borers have also weakened timber pilings under the Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, and under the F.D.R. Drive in Manhattan.

Along the New Jersey waterfront their handiwork led most notably to the partial collapse of a pier at Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken.

Now the city is spending massive amounts to fight the pests, including $114 million to coat the 11,000 timber pilings under Brooklyn Bridge Park with epoxy.

(Image of Teredo navalis from Popular Science Monthly, September 1878 and Wikipedia.) Read the rest

New timeline of dino extinction day, 66m years ago

Scientists drilled into the Chixclub crater in the Gulf of Mexico to learn more about the end of the mesozoic era. They learned more than they expected, reports Katherine Kornei in The New York Times.

The first day of the Cenozoic was peppered with cataclysms. When the asteroid struck, it temporarily carved a hole 60 miles across and 20 miles deep. The impact triggered a tsunami moving away from the crater. It also catapulted rock into the upper atmosphere and beyond.

“Almost certainly some of the material would have reached the Moon,” Dr. Gulick said.

The largest pieces of debris rained back down to Earth within minutes, Dr. Gulick and his team say, pelting the scarred landscape with solidifying rock. Smaller particles lingered for longer periods, and glassy blobs known as tektites, formed when falling, molten rock cools, have been found across North America and dated to the Chicxulub impact. Within about 30 minutes, ocean water began to flood back into the crater through a gap in its northeastern rim, the researchers suggest.

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Study finds that texting while walking is fine

Get over it! Despite the mockers and complainers, and even attempts to make it illegal to perambulate while looking at your own damned phone, science concludes that the risks of it are negligible.

As part of the mandated study, the DOT conducted an in-depth review of written crash narratives in the city between 2014 and 2017. They found just .2 percent of reports made any mention of pedestrians using electronic devices. In one of those cases, the victim was actually reaching to pick up a dropped cell phone when they were fatally struck by a driver.

Those numbers bore out at the national level as well. According to the last six years of available federal data, fatalities involving the use of portable electronic devices by pedestrians represented between 0 and .2 percent of pedestrian deaths.

Phones are to cars as video games are to guns. Read the rest

Gorgeous photos of undersea life, in black and white

Black and white photo of jellyfish, by Christian Vizl

Typically, marine photography is done in rich, saturated color -- the better to show off the riot of life beneath the waves.

But the photographer Christian Vizl has done it in high-contrast black and white, producing eerily intense ways of re-seeing marine life. You can see the work on his site, and in his new book Silent Kingdom.

From his interview with My Modern Met:

Any particular favorite images from the book or a story behind a particularly interesting photo you’d like to share?

It’s hard for me to choose only one because I have so many memorable encounters with marine life, but one would be two giant mantas touching each other’s tips. I observed this behavior for the first time during the first dive we did in a very remote and special dive area in Mexico called Revillagigedo Islands. The two mantas were swimming directly towards each other when, at the last second before colliding, they would move upwards, positioning themselves slightly to one opposite side so they could touch each other’s tip of their wings. I was so amazed by this behavior that I wanted to capture it. I tried many times and finally the last day of diving in the last minute before having to go for the surface I managed to take this picture in the exact time. I felt so happy!

Some of the images are incredibly striking; in black and white, this school of fish looks like the hull of a ship ... Read the rest

My Life on the Road: Accidental Rocket Sighting

In April, my wife and I returned from a few months in Mexico, to Texas. We were planning on hanging around until the end of the month before driving back up to Canada. On a particularly hot day, we thought it'd be nice to take our pooch to the beach so that she could cool off. Landlocked as we were, in Mission, we opted to drive east, to the coast. We considered South Padre Island, but seeing the traffic thicken the closer we got, we opted out at the last minute. Instead, on the advice of a fella we met while pulled over for a few licks of an ice cream, we set our Garmin to direct us to Boca Chica. The beach was beautiful, we were told, and no one cares if your dog plays the goof, provided she doesn't bother anyone else.

We were sold.

It wasn't a long drive, but it was a damn flat one. When we arrive in south Texas each year, I'm always thrilled to see the scrub brush, flatlands and palm trees. It's a completely alien world compared to what I grew up with in Canada. By the time we're getting ready to head north, I long for mountains. As the miles down the lone road to Boca Chica clicked by, I starting to whine that I knew what would be around the next corner... it would be flat and dry, with just a hint of dust, just as with the last corner we'd whipped around. Read the rest

The Milky Way from Anza Borrego desert, a sky-stabilized timelapse

A moment of peace. Read the rest

Apple tech, jewelry, guns: Dataviz of what Americans pawn

Dataviz of which items are disproportionately likely to be pawned, state by state in the US

I'm coming late to this one, because it was posted last year -- but hey, better late than never: Behold this fascinating set of Pricenomics graphics about what types of objects Americans pawn.

One thing that jumps out in the data? Apple products dominate the realm of pawning. Here's the chart:

Basically, Apple products are amazingly good at holding their value. Electronics are the single biggest category of what Americans pawn overall, but even within that valuable vertical, Steve Jobs has created a storehouse of capital value for everyday Americans: "Apple’s products retain value far longer than its competitors in both personal computing and smartphones. They’re the Honda of electronics– or maybe the Volvo." Jewelry and guns are the only other things in the top 5. "It turns out that weapons serve as a remarkably durable store of value."

Speaking of jewelry and guns, they are, perhaps unsurprisingly, super gendered in their empawnment. Fully 76% of guns are pawned by men, and 69% of jewelry is pawned by women.

Also interesting is the geographic distribution of pawning, as rendered in the state-by-state dataviz of which items are disproportionately likely to be pawned; that's the chart at the top of this entry. As the Pricenomics folks note ...

Perhaps most notable in the above analysis is the category of guns. In American pawn shops, there are “gun states” and “everything” else states. In Southern states and ones with larger rural populations, like the Mountain West, people pawn guns at a much higher rate than the national average.

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Optimists live longer

According to data from two large studies spanning thirty years, optimistic people live considerably longer than pessimists. Read the rest

Mysterious rolling balls of poop alarm authorities in Great Smoky Mountains

In an extremely weird National Park Service notice, tourists are advised that these poop-y looking brown balls of mystery crap that have been observed rolling over trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are indeed critter poop, and nothing is wrong. Read the rest

The easy way to season cast iron

I have offered plenty of advice on caring for your cast iron cookware. Stop seasoning it in the house, use your BBQ.

Seasoning this stuff in the oven (my favorite old way,) or on the stove smokes your house up. Just throw the shit on the grill.

Super thinly put a coat of oil on your cast iron piece.

Put the cast iron piece on the grill.

Heat the grill up, let it run until the cast iron piece has stopped smoking.

Turn off grill and let cool down.

Repeat.

I was able to perfectly season a set of cast iron Pie Irons with no problem. Read the rest

Adding pink seaweed to cow feed eliminates their methane emissions

One of the major contributors to greenhouse gases is the methane that cows belch up as they break down cellulose, but five years ago, research from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) found that adding small amounts of a pink seaweed called Asparagopsis to cows' diets eliminated the gut microbes responsible for methane production and "completely knocks out" cows' methane emissions. Read the rest

A deep dive into how parasites hijack our behavior and how we evolved to resist them

On Slate Star Codex (previously), Scott Alexander breaks down Invisible Designers: Brain Evolution Through the Lens of Parasite Manipulation, Marco Del Giudice's Quarterly Review of Biology paper that examines the measures that parasites take to influence their hosts' behaviors, and the countermeasures that hosts evolve to combat them. Read the rest

NASA is going to Europa

NASA announced today that the agency is moving ahead with a planned mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. In this next phase, engineers will complete the final design, construction, and testing of the Europa Clipper spacecraft for a launch as soon as 2023. Why the icy moon Europa? From NASA:

NASA's Europa Clipper mission will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon Europa to see whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life. The mission will carry a highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft that will perform repeated close flybys of the icy moon from a long, looping orbit around Jupiter.

The payload of selected science instruments includes cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa's surface and determine its composition. An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon's icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica. The mission also will carry a magnetometer to measure strength and direction of the moon's magnetic field, which will allow scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean.

"This is a giant step in our search for oases that could support life in our own celestial backyard," says Europa program scientist Curt Niebur.

That's all well and good, assuming we attempt no landing there.

image: NASA/JPL-Caltech Read the rest

Canada's election watchdog: ads saying climate change is real may break law

The BBC reports that Canada's election watchdog claims that advertisements saying climate change is real may break the law, because it is a political opinion and "issue" advertising is partisan political activity.

Canada has strict regulations on partisan advertising during the election period, whether they be from candidates, parties or third-party organisations. ... Keith Brooks, programme director for advocacy group Environmental Defence, says Elections Canada told him that because one candidate denies that climate change is an issue, any ad urging action on climate change, or calling climate change an emergency, could be considered partisan. ... Mr Cornish says it is "absolutely ludicrous" that charities are barred from advocacy work on climate change during the election just because one of the party's platforms denies it is an issue.

"We're talking here about someone's opinion overruling scientific consensus around the need to adapt to climate change," he said.

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