Poison newts, noisy turbines, bad decision making, and more

Published April 22, 2020

Newt choices

If a witch is going to turn you into a newt, politely ask if you can become a Western rough-skinned newt. Bacteria living on its skin produce tetrodotoxin — the same paralytic neurotoxin found in pufferfish and the blue-ringed octopus.

Remember: “If the skin is rough, you’ll say ‘Auggggghh!'”

tl;dr: Some newts have neurotoxic bacteria on their skin

That’s definitely remote working*

Working from home is the new norm — and that also applies to NASA engineers controlling the Curiosity rover. From technical workarounds to devising ways to keep hundreds of people in contact, they found solutions.
“It’s classic, textbook NASA. We’re presented with a problem and we figure out how to make things work. Mars isn’t standing still for us; we’re still exploring.”
* Original title for you Heinlein fans: “Where’s Waldo?”
tl;dr: The folks controlling the Curiosity rover on Mars are working from home, too

The headline says it all

North pole soon to be ice free in summer” That said… One way to fight the climate change that’s causing that melting might be to release herds of horses, bison, and reindeer in the arctic. Their stomping hooves would reduce the snow cover, cutting down on reflectivity. A test conducted by a Russian scientist last year was the inspiration. His 100 animals…
…cut the average snow cover height in half, dramatically reducing the insulating effect, exposing the soil to the overlying colder air and intensifying the freezing of permafrost.
And now a computer model figures that doing that on a larger scale “would be enough to preserve 80 percent of the current permafrost though the end of the century.”
tl;dr: Arctic ice is disappearing, but grazing animals could slow it.

Coffee really does make everything better

Danish scientists: “Chemosensory Sensitivity after Coffee Consumption Is Not Static: Short-Term Effects on Gustatory and Olfactory Sensitivity.” English speakers: “Coffee makes other food taste sweeter,” especially bitter foods, like, say, dark chocolate. Fun fact: It’s not the caffeine — it works just as well for decaf.
tl;dr: Something about coffee means everything else tastes sweeter.

Invader vs invader

Ragweed pollen is a problem for, well, lots of people. But some Europeans have found a way they believe will cut it down: the leaf beetle, which loves to eat ragweed. Since both are invasive species and both are already present, it’s just a matter of deployment.
“Our conservative estimates indicate that biological control of A. artemisiifolia [ragweed] by O. communa [the leaf beetle] will reduce the number of patients by approximately 2.3 million and the health costs by Euro 1.1 billion per year.”
Even better, management would cost nothing “since the beetle has established permanently and is propagating by itself.” What could go wrong? (The Simpsons tackled this very issue, in fact.)
tl;dr: There’s this beetle that loves to eat ragweed … and reduce pollen.

The sound of the wind

The noise from wind turbines affects the sleep of people living nearby, even if it’s quieter than typical traffic — so found Swedish researchers after a small study. They tested both people who live near existing turbines and those who don’t (to see if habituation to the noise made a difference). It didn’t.
During the night with [wind turbine noise] the participants spent an average of 11.1 minutes less in REM sleep, which they entered 16.8 minutes later, than during the quiet night.
Further, on a quiet night, people generally spent 20.6% of their sleep in the REM phase, compared to only 18.8% in REM if there was turbine noise.
tl;dr: The subtle noise of wind turbines makes people dream less.

Mr. Bernoulli will see you now

Noise is one issue with wind turbines. Cost, maintenance, and minced birds is another. And while solar panels can be deployed on individual homes, wind turbines are a bit more obtrusive. Enter AeroMINE: a new type of small, quiet, and bird-friendly wind-energy capture device. No blades needed — it uses the same principle as airplane wings (Bernoulli’s Principle, of course) to create a pressure difference in a tube that houses a generator.

Bernoulli’s turbine: The wind passes through, pulling air through the holes, which drives a generator.

[T]hey are “less noisy than a ventilation fan.” The relative simplicity of their design means there are fewer moving parts to malfunction. The turbine, which is housed inside a building, would be easier to access if it does need repairs. This arrangement also keeps the blades isolated from any contact with people or wildlife.
tl;dr: They came up with a simple rooftop device to capture wind energy without noise or dead birds

All they had to do is visit the /r/holdmybeer subreddit

New research reveals heavy cost of excessive drinking on people’s decision making”