Here at Gowing Life, we have decided to keep a fun record of everything we learn in 2022, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of May!
1: Dog breeding generally has a bad reputation for unethical practices, with inbreeding leading to dogs with disabilities. But breeding can also be used to help humans with disabilities, by breeding smarter guide dogs. The sight loss charity Guide Dogs will analyse the responses of eight-week-old puppies to determine which ones respond well to difficult problems. The results will then be tracked to which qualities are more important for a good guide dog, which is information that can be used to improve breeding programmes.
2: Contrary to popular belief, breed has relatively little effect on a dog’s personality, according to research. The study suggests that breed accounts for only about 10% of the variation in behavior among dogs – lower than what previous studies, which used different methods of analyzing data, have estimated. So if your golden retriever is unfriendly or your German shepherd is timid, there’s probably nothing wrong with them.
3: Backronym: A backronym is when a word that already has its own meaning is turned into an acronym. Examples include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), which are webs of DNA that some white blood cells shoot at pathogens. Backronyms can sometimes constitute false etymologies. This is when people erroneously believe a word to have started as an acronym. The distress signal SOS for example, often beleived to stand for ”save our souls/ship”, was actually chosen because it has a simple and unmistakable morse code representation.
4: This image highlights the incredible evolution of infrared astronomy. From left to right: WISE (launched 2009), Spitzer (launched 2003), James Webb (launched 2021).
5: A startup called Lonestar Data Holdings wants to build data centers inside hollow lava tubes thought to line the surface of the Moon. This could be useful to future lunar missions, and potentially safeguard human knowledge in case of a catastrophe on Earth. Since the same side of the Moon always faces towards the Earth, communication with such a data center would never be interrupted.
6: The Wow signal: On the 15th of August, 1977, the Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope detected a powerful radio signal from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. The signal was so remarkable that astronomer Jerry R. Ehman, who noticed the anomaly while reviewing the data, wrote ‘Wow!’ on the computer printout. The signal occupied a very narrow range of frequencies, which is not something typically found in nature. This, alongside various other specifics, has led many to speculate that it could have been produced by an extra-terrestrial civilisation. Unfortunately, the signal has never recurred, and there is currently no widely accepted theory as to its origin.
7: A nuclear reactor SCRAM is an emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor in which the fission reaction is abruptly stopped. When the world’s first nuclear reactor was tested in 1942, a control rod was suspended above the reactor by a rope. Physicist Norman Hilberry was given an axe and asked to stand next to it. Should the chain reaction get out of control, he would cut the rope, causing the control rod to fall and end the reaction. It has been asserted that SCRAM stands for ”safety control rod axe man”. However, this may well be a false etymology backronym.
8: Escaping the Earth’s gravity is extremely expensive: to get into space, you need fuel, but the more fuel you have, the heavier your rocket will be, which means you need more fuel. A California start-up called SpinLaunch is testing a new way of getting into space using a vacuum centrifuge. Satellites weighing up to 200kg are loaded into a vacuum sealed centrifuge and spun at extremely high speeds, then released at exactly the right moment to launch them up into space.
9: The fastest spacecraft ever made is the Parker Solar probe, which will achieve a top speed of 725000km/h (450000mph) in its orbit around the Sun. At this speed, it would travel the entire width of the United States in around 20 seconds, but would still take around 6500 years to reach Earth’s nearest neighbouring star, Proxima Centauri.
10: This website allows you to enter any town and see approximately where the site of that town was located hundreds of millions of years ago. So, if you ever time travel to the Pangaea supercontinent, you’ll know how to find us in Oxford. Just remember to bring some oxygen tanks.
11: Chester zoo is cryogenically preserving tissues from deceased endangered animals, so that they may one day be revived should their species become extinct. Samples have already been extracted from species such as the Eastern black rhino, mountain chicken frog, jaguar and Javan green magpie. They will be stored at Nature’s SAFE, a biobank dedicated to preserving tissues and cells from the planet’s endangered animals. SAFE is a backronym for ”Save Animals From Extinction”.
12: A Schuttberg (‘debris hill’) is a German term for a hill made of rubble rubbish. Many were amassed following the bombing during World War II. These types are called Trümmerberg (‘rubble mountain’). Most major cities in Germany have at least one Schuttberg.
13: How fast would a hockey puck need to be travelling to to knock the goalkeeper backward into their goal? The answer is that, in practice, it can’t. According to engineer Randall Munroe in his book, What If?, the puck is so much lighter than the goalkeeper that in order to have enough kinetic energy to knock them into their goal, it would need to be travelling at around Mach 2. Needless to say that at this speed, getting knocked back into their goal would be the least of the goalkeeper’s concerns.
14: Many animals play dead when threatened by a predator, but for some animals this is more than just an act. Possums, for example, actually enter a catatonic state when threatened, becoming completely unresponsive and insensitive to pain for up to several hours. The advantage of this is that the animal won’t respond involuntarily to being touched or bitten by the predator, making the act more convincing. Many predators will not eat prey that appears to be dead.
15: People who give negative reviews are perceived as less likeable, but also more intelligent, according to some studies. When presented with excerpts from real book reviews, people perceived negative reviewers as more intelligent, competent, and expert than positive reviewers, even when the content of the positive review was independently judged as being of higher quality and greater forcefulness. It has been suggested that ‘intellectually insecure’ people may be more negatively critical for this reason.
16: Japan’s relative poverty rate, which is defined as the percentag of the population with income below 50% of the national median, is higher than that of most other wealthy countries countries. Furthermore, its per capita GDP at purchasing power parity is lower than many other wealthy countries to begin with: 64% of that of the US, 87% of that of France and 92% of that of South Korea. Tourists from other countries tend to assume that poverty is rarer in Japan because visible markers they associate with poverty, such as crime and urban decay, are rarer or at least less visible.
17: Queen bee syndrome: ‘Queen bee’ is a derogatory term for women who achieve success in a male dominated field. Queen bee syndrome is the idea that women in such positions tend to adopt masculine traits and may refuse to help female subordinates rise up the ranks as a form of self preservation. There is debate over whether this phenomenon is actually real. Some studies suggest that women find it more stressful to work under female managers, while there is no difference in stress levels in men. C. Tavris, who helped coin the term, has said that she regrets picking such “a catchy name” for “such a complex pattern of behavior”.
18: The Sagittarius dwarf galaxy has been orbiting the Milky Way for billions of years, and its core has repeatedly smashed through the much larger Milky Way’s disk. At least three such collisions have occurred, and a study suggests that these may have lead to the formation of new stars, including the Sun. The most recent collision occurred around 1 billion years ago.
19: Over half of young people aged 16 to 25 think that ‘humanity is doomed’, according to a major study published last year. 75% said that the future was ‘frightening’. The study had over 10 000 participants from 10 different countries.
20: An autonomous commercial cargo ship successfully completed an almost 500 mile voyage in the congested waters of Tokyo Bay, avoiding hundreds of collisions with almost zero human intervention. The vessel was powered by Orca AI, a developer of safety software for maritime vessels.
21: During the 19th century you could rent a pineapple – if you had the money to afford it, that is. Though they were starting to be grown commercially, pineapples were staggeringly expensive, and so having one on display was a status symbol.
22: There is growing excitement around the prospect of feeding the world with lab grown meat, but many challenges still lie ahead, one of which scaling up manufacturing. Upside Foods is trying to bring us closer to this goal by building a massive facility that could produce tens of millions of pounds of cultivated meat per year. For comparison, the current largest facility of this kind can produce around 50 000 pounds of meat per year, while Americans consume around 27.6 billion pounds of beef per year.
23: The Brompton Cemetery time machine: A mausoleum in the middle of Brompton Cemetery is believed by some to be a fully functional time machine. It’s a large, Egyptian style structure, and is the resting place of Hannah Courtoy (1784 – 26 January 1849). Like many Victorians, Hannah Courtoy was intrigued by Ancient Egyptian iconography, which can be found on the mausoleum. There is, of course, no evidence that the mausoleum is a time machine, the notion of which seems to have originated from a series of conspiracy theory-fueling events surrounding the structure. One of the designers of the mausoleum, inventor and possible fraud Samuel Alfred Warner, died in obscure circumstances shortly after its construction. The key also went missing, so no one has been inside for over 150 years.
24: The Amazon river is 6400km long, around 25 million people live on or near its banks, and there is not a single location at which the river can be crossed by bridge. This is partly because, during the rainy season, the river rises thirty feet and can turn 5km-wide crossings into 50km ones in just a few weeks. The soft sediment that makes up the river bank is constantly being eroded, and the river is often full of debris. Furthermore, bridges aren’t of much use without roads, which are sparse for most of the river’s length.
25: Below is an aerial picture of a sinkhole discovered by cave explorers in the Guangxi region of southern China. It is 306 meters long, 150 meters wide and 192 meters deep, but what’s more impressive than its size is what scientists found at the bottom: a well-preserved ancient forest, containing trees up to 40 meters tall, and potentially home to species that have never been described by science until now.
26: Below is what is believed to be the first underwater portrait, taken by Louis Marie Auguste Boutan in 1899. It’s a portrait of Romanian oceanographer and biologist Emil Racovitza, taken in Banyuls-sur-Mer in the South of France. The exact details surrounding the photograph are hazy. Some have claimed it to be the first underwater photograph, but it is likely that Louis took other underwater photographs prior to this one.
27: An app called Dieta Mobile uses AI to categorize poop more accurately than patients, which could help people to assess their gut health. In a randomized trial, the app rated stools on the Bristol stool chart with an accuracy closer to that of gastroenterologists than to that of patients.
28: These wave clouds are formed by atmospheric internal waves, which are created as stable air flows over a raised land feature such as a mountain range. If there is enough moisture in the atmosphere, clouds will form at the colder crests of these waves, leading to clouded and clear bands.
29: Google Street View now allows you to visit the International Space Station.
30: The Headington Shark is a fibreglass sculpture depicting a huge shark embedded head-first in the roof of 2 New High Street in Headington, Oxford. It was put up in 1986 by the house’s then owner as a protest against bombing, with the shark representing falling bombs. When it was first built, the Oxford City Council tried and failed to have the shark taken down. In 2022, the council made the sculpture a heritage site for its “special contribution” to the community, despite objection from the son of the original owner, who bought the house in 2016.