Talk about a mammoth appetite, when most of the world’s large mammals went extinct roughly 10,000 years ago, the vast majority of the vanished species were herbivores. This of course meant that they were no longer around to eat the plants they otherwise would have, and - according to Christophers Doughty and Field from Oxford and Stanford Universities respectively – this freed up an extra 1.4 trillion kilos of food, roughly 2.5% of the net product of all Earth’s dry land. However, the researchers add, this excess had been ‘used up’ by burgeoning human numbers by around 1700 and today we consume six times as much as the Pleistocene critters ever did while simultaneously driving down land productivity by 10% (Nature)(PDF).
That’s not to say that our massive consumption doesn’t have it’s upside, As Vangelis Kapatos of Manhattan discovered when he attempted suicide by jumping from his ninth floor flat, only to survive when his fall was broken by a pile of uncollected garbage. Mr. Kapatos’ timing, from his perspective, couldn’t have been worse, the unusually large garbage pile was due to collections being suspended because of snow. They were due to resume the day after his impromptu dumpster dive (Today Online).
Mind you, we’re not the only animals prone to excess. After finding the bodies of dozens of starlings near the city of Constanta in Romania, locals were concerned that the cause might be bird flu, instead post-mortems of the birds have revealed that they in fact died of alcohol poisoning, having ‘drunk’ themselves to death on the discarded leftovers of the local winemaking industry. A least they died happy (BBC News).
Better than dying happy, though, is living happy, and the secret of that, says the UK’s Office for National Statistics, is having a job. But it’s not the pay but the job security that counts, say the government statisticians, which ironically are facing staff cuts themselves due to the economic downturn. Other key happiness factors, according to the preliminary report, are good personal health and a decent family life. What will we do without these people (Telegraph)?
First up, apologies if this post contains more typos than usual, I'm sending it from my new ultra-small netbook and I'm still getting used to its itty-bitty keyboard. Which brings me nicely to my first story. That according to a survey for satellite channel SKY-HD, British consumers waste £52 billion a year on hi-tech features they don't use. For example, half of the people polled did not know their high definition television also required a hi-def signal source such as a blu-ray player or HD satellite receiver – like the ones sold by SKY-HD perhaps (Telegraph).
And it's not just the the British, military officials in Russia recently discovered 100 front-line battletanks parked and forgotten by the side of the road near Yekaterinburg in the Urals. Locals say the tanks, which were unguarded and unlocked, have been there for several months and lack only ammunition and the all important starter keys (Reuters).
Someone who might have had a use for those tanks were guests at a wedding in New Delhi in India recently. The Hindu ceremony was somewhat marred when an elephant hired for the event went on a rampage after becoming aroused by the smell of a nearby female in heat. The amorous pachyderm then proceeded to crush 20 limousines, smash through a nearby mall and mount a truck before it could be tranquilised (Orange).
Also losing it this week was the man on the RyanAir flight who found he had won 10,000 euros on a scratchcard he bought on the budget flight from Poland to the UK. Furious that the airline had not seen fit to equip all their planes with the requisite amount of cash onboard, hence he could not be given his prize there and then as he demanded, the unnamed passenger ate the winning card rather than wait to claim it at his destination (BBC News).
It is surprising to think that less than fifteen years ago we knew of no planets but those in our own solar system. Now astronomers discover them with such frequency that it takes finding a potentially habitable one like Gliese-581d to stir the public’s interest. But a British team at the Isaac Newton Telescope on the Canary Islands may have done something much more amazing than finding another planet in the Milky Way, they believe they may have just detected one in another galaxy. The object orbits a star in the Andromeda galaxy, more than 2.5 million light-years away from Earth, causing that star to wobble. Normally any motion would be invisible at such a distance, but by chance the distant solar system is acting like a lens in front of even more distant stars, and every wobble of the lens is magnified enough to be discernable (Scientific American).
Closer to home, relatively, is the planet is known only as WASP-18b, but if it were ever to be given a proper name it would be “Icarus”, for this is a planet that has flown too close to its sun. WASP-18b is the 375th extrasolar planet discovered by astronomers, and is possibly the most extreme one yet. It is another gas giant like Jupiter, but ten times the size of our neighbourhood giant, yet it orbits its star in less than a day. This 22.5 hour long “year” would mean the planet is so close to its sun, and moving so fast, that tidal forces are almost certainly dragging the planet inwards to its doom. The team from Keele University that discovered WASP-18b, led by Coel Hellier, calculate that realistically the planet probably has less than a million years left (Nature).
As if "swine flu" wasn't bad enough, Scientific American is reporting that the Ebola virus has been detected in domestic pigs in the Philippines. The particular strain of the virus, Reston ebolavirus, is not known to cause fatal haemorrhagic fever in humans, but is still rated a class 4 pathogen by the US Center for Disease Control (it's highest rating) because of the extreme fatality rate and absence of effective treatment of the disease caused by other Ebola viruses. One farmhand who worked with the pigs has also tested positive for R.ebolavirus, but is asymptomatic.
In this case it seems like most likely that the pigs caught the disease from the human rather than the other way round. However that pigs can catch and potentially pass on the organism to humans is an unexpected, and worrying, development. Michael McIntosh of the Department of Agriculture expressed concern not only that the Reston strain might mutate into something more deadly in its new host, but that the other disease-causing strains might also be using pigs as a reservoir. "What is the level of risk?" said McIntosh, "We really don't know" (Scientific American Article) (Paper in Science).
For those of you who are not already aware, May 25 is Towel Day, a celebration of the life and literature of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
If you want to see some pictures of froods in the know, they have their own group on Flickr
Be the envy of every other survivalist and have your own converted cold-war Atlas-F missile silo home! You too can live in complete cold war safety and luxury. The converted missile launch site is marketed as a getaway, luxury home, and in my opinion is every survivalist’s dream. The property includes its own private runway, 2000 square foot luxury home above ground with master suite, a private airstrip, and a hangar/garage. Below ground, past the 2000 lb. blast doors and three feet of reinforced concrete built to withstand brutal missile assaults lies two additional stories of space in the converted control room where you will find two additional suites with luxury marble Jacuzzi baths and an escape hatch to your private hangar.
Here are two commercials to watch. I believe that you will see a startling similarity emerge that will shake you to the core (or maybe just halfway to the core).
So far, so good. It's your basic ad for cosmetics, showing a heavily airbrushed woman who looks somewhat like an android (gynoid?), poncing around in an empty, black, out-of-focus room, interspersed with product shots against a stark white background. (I'm always a little saddened when the real product doesn't create lines of light in contour around my wife's face.) I don't know to much about the product's specific properties.
What I know for sure is that it bares a startling similarity to a fictional product I have seen before.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.