The Scientific Subjects Behind Kibble and Noms

In the British Midlands lies an animal research facility like no other. The animal test subjects each have their own beds in uncrowded but shared rooms, access to the outside at all times, playtime with people and each other, and even TV to watch. Their health care needs are a priority, and when they get tired of their research duties, permanent homes are found for them.

These are the 200 dogs and 200 cats of the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, who test products for a big chunk of the $150 billion pet food industry. Keeping them happy, especially with the food, is the whole point of the research facility. Their findings go to Mars Petcare, a corporation with many pet food brands under its umbrella. Waltham took the lead in determining what vitamins and minerals cats and dogs need to function optimally, which became standard across the industry. In the 1990s, they worked to create food that would make dog farts less stinky. These days, they concentrate more on making food that tastes good to pets, because all the nutrition in the world won't do any good if a pet won't eat it. Read about the cats and dogs who taste-test pet food before it goes into production at the Guardian. -via Nag on the Lake

(Image credit: Carsondelake)

Kiribati's Lazy Naming Practices

The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced "Kirr-ih-bass") is a nation consisting of 32 islands stretching across 1.3 million square miles of water in the central Pacific Ocean. The social media manager for the government has had a lively week responding to a viral tweet about the names of villages on the island of Kiritimati.

Emmanuel Rougier, an early Twentieth Century French priest and entrepreneur, provided the names of the villages when he leased the island.

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Packing a Suitcase is Simple with a Hydraulic Press

Since airlines are charging for every bit of checked luggage these days, people are flying with carry-on luggage only. Finnish maniac Lauri Vuohensilta (previously at Neatorama) has cracked the code for getting everything you need in a small suitcase you can stash in an overhead bin. He needs some help from his wife Anni in arranging clothing, but with the compression power of a 150-ton hydraulic press, Lauri packs everything he needs for the trip- clothing, electronics, and snacks- with room left over. Might as well take a whole bunch of new socks, too.

There's still room left in the suitcase, but it's getting heavy now. You have to wonder what airport security is going to think about this. Lauri is going to need an iron when he tries to unpack all this stuff. Who knows? Maybe he packed one, along with the flashlight and hair dryer. -via The Awesomer

Firefly Petunias Will Light Up Nighttime Gardens This Summer

Almost four years ago, we told you how scientists were genetically modifying plants with mushroom genes to produce tobacco plants that glow in the dark. In that post, I predicted garden plants for sale using this technology. It's taken longer than I thought, but those plants will go on sale in April, and they are petunias.  

A company called Light Bio has received USDA approval to sell these GMO flowers they call Firefly Petunias. They look like regular petunias during the day, but at night they glow a soft green, with no black light necessary. The more sun they receive, the brighter the glow. Their bioluminescence is due to enzymes controlled by mushroom DNA. They can be planted in your garden or in pots and will even grow inside if they get enough sunlight. They will cost you $29 a plant, and shipping is almost as much. You can pre-order yours here. I think I'll wait until the price comes down, since I've never had much luck keeping petunias going all summer. -via Born in Space

(Image credit: Light Bio)

If Gilbert and Sullivan Staged Dracula

Imagine, if you will, songs in the light operetta style of Gilbert and Sullivan used to tell the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Nothing connotes a gory death better than an oom-pah beat. Yeah, it's hilarious, especially the song that accompanies the voyage of the Demeter, as the crew slowly disappears. The rhymes in each song are genius ("I am Doctor Van Helsing / I never let anyone else sing"), yet utterly ridiculous for the tone of the original story. It lacks the full backing chorus of a real Gilbert and Sullivan opera, but we can assume that creator Mitch Benn didn't think a large crew was necessary for this video. The point is that a terrifying classic horror story gets turned into a comedy with cheesy poetry and an accordion. The video clips that accompany the soundtrack are from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula, which couldn't be more incongruent to the music. -via Metafilter

The Portable Nuclear Bomb Shelter

In modern life, there's a very real risk of being caught in a nuclear blast. You may be caught unawares while casually walking to work, shopping, or doing chores around your home. This is a reality that we've lived with since August 22, 1949. Fortunately, American inventor Harold C. Tifft prudently responded with a portable protective shield. You can read a copy of his patent here.

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A Story That Could Be 100,000 Years Old

The Pleiades are a star cluster visible from October to March, and to April in Australia. There are several ancient Aboriginal stories about the Pleiades, which are referred to as the seven sisters. A common thread among these stories is that a hunter, represented by the stars in the Orion constellation, chases the seven sisters across the sky. Meanwhile, in ancient Greece, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. Since Atlas was too busy holding up the sky to protect his daughters from Orion the hunter, Zeus turned them into stars. Eventually, Orion also became stars, so he still pursues them in the sky. The strange confluence of these stories is even stranger when you look up and realize there are only six stars in the Pleiades. There are other ancient tales in different cultures about these stars that also refer to them as seven sisters, but something happened to one of them.

The last time the ancestors of the Greeks and the Australian Aborigines were together was around 100,000 years ago, when modern humans began to migrate out of Africa. The Australians were quite isolated until the British arrived in 1788. Could the story of the seven sisters have been around that long ago? Of course it could, because the stars were always a great subject to hang a legend on. What drives the idea home, though, is the fact that these stars could easily have been the six sisters, as that's how many stars you see. The seventh star is Pleione, which is too close to the star Atlas to distinguish it with the naked eye. However, a team of astronomers ran simulations and found that all seven stars would have been easily visible 100,000 years ago. So it's quite possible that the seven sisters being chased by Orion is the oldest surviving story on earth. Read more about this idea at IFL  Science.  -via Strange Company        

(Image credit: NASA)

The Cartographic Persistence of California as an Island

A mutineer who left Hernan Cortez’ expedition sailed up the west coast of Mexico observed the Gulf of California in 1533 and assumed that the place he called California was a large island. He compared it to a fictional island from a novel and the name stuck. And so did the idea that it was an island. Only a few years later, in 1539, the Gulf of California was thoroughly explored and California was found to not be an island after all. But explorers, geographers, and cartographers didn't get the memo, and maps were drawn showing California as an enormous island that went up the entire west coast of what is now the US for the next 300 years! Granted, the last of these maps, dated to 1865, was Japanese and relied on hopelessly outdated information. Still, it is odd that European mapmakers continued to draw California as an island up through the middle of the 18th century.

There were reasons for the misunderstanding, including slow communication between continents and translation between languages, but it was also politics. Spain and England were in a race to claim North America, and cutting off California, claimed by Sir Francis Drake, would leave the mainland open to the Spanish. Read about the island of California at Atlas Obscura. The post has 18 maps made between the 16th and 19th centuries, 17 of which show California as an island.

Why Concerts Use Wireless Microphones

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam was quite an athlete of sorts back in the day. He was famous for climbing the light rigging at concerts. You can see a long compilation of these stunts here. The most amazing was at a Rock the Vote concert in Seattle on September 20th, 1992. Vedder had thrown the microphone up, and it became tangled in the rig about 20 feet up. What to do? It would have been simple to just replace the mic and cord, but no. Vedder climbed the scaffolding, inched over to the mic, and untangled it most of the way.

But then Vedder realized that if he freed the cord entirely, he would have to either climb down or jump, and he was no doubt getting tired. So he just slid down the mic cord! We don't know what damage that did to his hands, but the cord did not break. And a legend was enshrined in rock 'n' roll history. -via reddit, where you can see an alternate video of the same stunt.  

Two College Athletes Granted Cornhole Scholarships

Why do we exercise? In the West, a cultural emphasis on fitness derives from a desire for military preparedness.

Strabo notes that the Romans had a field dedicated to Mars, the god of war, outside of the city where men engaged "ball-playing, hoop-trundling, and wrestling." An apocryphal statement by Wellington asserts that "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." It is an invented quote, but became a popular attribution because the sentiment is true: sports prepare young people for war.

Which brings us to cornhole.

This is a martial sport popular in the United States, especially at outdoor social gatherings. It consists of throwing beanbags precisely into holes cut into an inclined board. Cornhole requires precision, focus, and courage--martial qualities.

So it is good that Winthrop University in South Carolina is offering scholarships to Gavin Hamann and Jaxson Remmick, who are two young men with prodigious talents in cornhole. The New York Post informs us that they are the first such scholarship recipients in the United States.

-via Dave Barry | Photo: Tony Alter

Man Secures Guinness World Record by Sticking 68 Matches up His Nose

The Greco-Roman historian Plutarch, in his Life of Julius Caesar, describes an incident in which the future ruler of Rome was reading a biography of Alexander the Great when he burst into tears. His companions asked him why. Caesar replied:

"Do you not think," said he, "it is matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success?"

No matter what any of us can accomplish of the course of our lives, there is always someone greater than ourselves. That person is Peter von Tangen Buskov, who has secured a Guinness World Record for the most matchsticks stuck up the nostrils. That number is 68, but von Tangen Buskov plans to train his nose to take an even greater number, just as Alexander, at the time of his death, was planning the conquest of Arabia.

-via Dave Barry

Scottish People Love to "Hurkle-Durkle" in Bed

Little is known about the mysterious and frozen lands of the Caledonians. Historically speaking, we have few sources to work with. The First Century AD writer Tacitus, in his biography of the Roman general Gnaeus Julius Agricola, describes a great battle by Agricola in what is now Scotland, but provides only that the inhabitants have "red hair and large limbs" -- a description nearly as skimpy as a true Scotman's underwear.

But recent news reports trickling south of the Wall inform us that Scottish people like to "hurkle-durkle" in bed. And, despite gender stereotypes, both men and women do this. The New York Post tells us more, if you really want to know. Social media is abuzz with this scandalous news. Defenders insist that a good hurkle-durkle is beneficial for your health.

As for me, I make no judgments of other cultures or what other people do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Or huts. But I assure you that although my ancestors may have hailed from Scotland, I most assuredly do not engage in hurkle-durkling.

-via Dave Barry | Image: Pxhere

Visible Mending is an Animated Tribute to the Healing Power of Knitting

Why do people knit? In the charming, award-winning stop-motion animation Visible Mending, we hear from a variety of people who knit for a variety of reasons. An engineer used knitting as physical therapy after a stroke. A mother knitted a blanket to ease her stress when her son was injured. A knitting club member remembers friends who she inherited yarn from. A terminal cancer patient knits to feel a sense of accomplishment. And there's a man who knits burial clothes for a maternity hospital so he can focus on the needs of others. Knitting improves hand-eye coordination, provides feedback, reduces stress, improves focus, and builds community with others. And it makes an awfully cute group of knitted animals to illustrates these concepts in film. They are, in fact, mending themselves. -via Laughing Squid 

News Flash: Women Can Propose to Men During Leap Year

Leap Year is when we add an extra day to the calendar to make up for the fact that it takes 364.25 days to travel around the sun. It happens every four years, and means that we also have the summer Olympics and a US presidential election. I had always heard that February 29th is the day that women can actually propose marriage to men, which is a joke on how rare that outrageous act should be. But it turns out that traditionally, women can propose to men any time during a Leap Year. Until recently, that was still seen as a strange twist on the the usual custom of a man proposing to a woman. Sometimes it made the papers, and sometimes it backfired.

In 1932, Alf Shepherd, the manager of the Ashington Ballroom in England, launched a promotion in which he offered a free wedding reception, including the venue, orchestra, and a cake to a woman who proposed to her gentleman while in the ballroom. With no takers by the February 11 deadline, the business extended the promotion to February 29 and encouraged women to propose by valentine, but some women misunderstood the update notice. Shepherd received at least three valentines from women who asked for his hand in marriage, sight unseen!

Read about this and other newsworthy Leap Year proposals through the years at Fishwrap. -via Strange Company

Blatantly Inaccurate AI Images Pass Peer Review in Science Journal

Once upon a time, when there were many fewer academic journals than there are now, a scientist or team would submit a paper on their research, and then scientists in the same general area with no connection to the authors would then review the paper before it was accepted for publishing.

Today, science journalism is a cutthroat industry, and we have artificial intelligence to help create shortcuts. A paper published in the journal Frontiers drew peer review from the public for its AI-generated images. The authors disclose that the illustrations were generated by the program Midjourney, but they are so inaccurate and badly labelled as to be completely useless. Science integrity consultant Elisabeth Bik described the image above as "a bunch of pizzas with pink salami and blue tomatoes." But the real show-stopper is an image of a rat with the world's largest penis and four testes. Now, science illustrations will often enlarge an important inset, but will indicate this somehow. This rat's parts are labeled with words like iollotte sserotgomar, testtomcels, dissilced, and dck. The testtomcels label points to the rat's hind leg. But at least the word Rat is spelled correctly.   

A commenter who knows more about molecular biology than I do says the text appears to be AI-generated in places, too. Twitter is having a good time with the paper.

One day after Bik posted her article, Frontiers has retracted the paper. A document of the original is still available. -via Metafilter

(Image source: Frontiers)

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