Undeniable Fact: Surgeon General's Warning- LIONS!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Planning a safari in Africa? You may want to avoid convenience stores on the fringes of the jungle. In recent years, these outfits have been visited by lions with increasing frequency. What are the big cats shopping for? Tobacco products, and lots of them! And these aren't paying customers: turns out those three-inch teeth are good for more than piercing gorilla hide - they can rip open a carton of Marlboros in nothing flat.
So how did the king of the jungle turn into a nicotine junkie? Turns out it's nicotine patches! Let me explain. Since its introduction by Eli Cravenshtopper at the 1914 World's Fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the nicotine patch has loosed the monkey from many a smoker's back. But the patches have an unfortunate side-effect: they don't produce the funky aroma associated with fire that strikes fear into the hearts of all animals. And without this natural repellent, the patch-wearing tourist is just as vulnerable to lion attacks as a nonsmoker - a fact which has given rise to an entire race of nicotine-addled cats.

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Undeniable Sunday Comics

Sunday, April 29, 2007

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Undeniable Fact: A step backward

Thursday, April 26, 2007

During much of the American Civil War, food supplies were so strained that luxuries like meat and cheese were simply impossible to come by. At the same time, other, less war-torn parts of the world were experiencing a cattle boom. Of course, it wasn't long before commodity speculators noticed and seized on this opportunity, buying up cheap land and filling it with imported cattle. In fact, when all was said and done, the U.S. had gone from a pre-war number of 200,000 cattle to a post-war 300 million. Naturally, the price of beef plummeted; high quality beef was worth less by weight than lumber, steel, or water.
Leather was just as bountiful, and it was because of this that many craftsmen sought new ways to incorporate the material into their wares at a time when wood was in short supply. Shoemakers, especially impacted by the hike in wood prices, hoped that shoes made partially or entirely out of leather might succeed in the marketplace. The concept had been tried before, and had always fallen flat. The problem was that people simply found (and still do, according to double blind tests) wooden shoes to be more comfortable. A hard sell!
Desperate to save their industry, the National Shoe Council (NSC) devised an unconventional marketing strategy. Over the next few years, the higher quality wooden shoes slowly disappeared from store shelves. Replacing them were new leather designs under signs boasting "enhanced comfort" and "high durability" (wooden shoes were, of course, more durable. The shorter life expectancy of leather shoes was considered a secondary benefit by many shoemakers). The transition was executed so slowly that few complained or even noticed the change. Even today, most Americans wear leather shoes, despite the ready availability of more comfortable wooden footwear.

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Undeniable Sunday Comics:

Sunday, April 22, 2007

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Undeniable Fact: Don't count your kittens...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The smallest animal which regularly gives birth to more than three offspring at once is the cat. At full term, an unborn kitten can weigh up to 20% as much as the mother. Obviously, sustaining as many as six such organisms for a cat's entire six month gestation period would be impractical. So cat's have found an easier way to do it.
For the majority of its fetal development, a kitten is simply incorporated into its mother's body - no more alive than your appendix. The heart doesn't beat, the brain doesn't think, and the blood only flows as a part of the mother's circulatory system. Whereas most mammals merely provide shelter and nourishment during the gestation process, cats actually play an active role in forming and assembling tissue. It is not until about 30 seconds before delivery that the kittens are detached from the mother and awakened using a chemical called "invigorase". Sometimes, a kitten won't get enough invigorase before leaving the womb, resulting in a stillborn kitten. Don't feel bad though - remember: it isn't dead because it wasn't ever alive.
This is why cesarean section was impossible in cats until recently. Scientists working at Bell Labs, following lead researcher Eli Quackenbush successfully synthesized invigorase in late 2002. A small injection is all it takes for a stillborn or cesarean delivery kitten to wake up and start scampering around. While invigorase can also be used to revive recently deceased cats, the effect lasts only for a few minutes.

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Undeniable Fact: You get what you pay for.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

If you've been in a pharmacy lately, you might have noticed that generic adhesive bandages are a lot cheaper than the name brand. There's a caveat though: while name brand bandages use a high quality blend of human and chimpanzee skin material as a binder, generic bandages use less expensive goat or pig skin.

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Undeniable Fact: Red all over

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

There is technically no such thing as the color red. What we perceive as red is in fact simply the absence of green and yellow light. Yet another reason to separate your colors on laundry day!

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Undeniable Fact: Out of pocket

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Even without aborigitone, rudimentary pouch features sometimes form in American groundhogs.
(Image from Wikipedia)

Wildlife enthusiasts and Billabong Pete fans know that while Australian groundhogs have pouches, their American counterparts do not. This has led to the common misconception that Australian groundhogs are marsupials and American groundhogs are rodents which merely act and appear similar. In fact, they are the same species.

As it turns out, marsupials require a hormone called aborigitone to develop and maintain a pouch. And there's only one place you'll find aborigitone. You guessed it: the leaves of the eucalyptus plant. Zookeepers learned this the hard way in the early '40s, when the Australian government finally lifted its long-standing and strictly enforced ban on the export of native wildlife. In their rush to stay cutting edge, zoos hastily imported kangaroos and wombats from Down Under, cobbling together habitats from whatever they had lying around. The marsupials were a big hit with kids - for a while. Removed from their supply of aborigitone, it was only a few days before the animals' pouches withered and vanished, and kids quickly lost interest.
So that explains why the American groundhogs don't have pouches, but why are these marsupial groundhogs in both North America and Australia?

In the late 19th century, during the Australian revolution, the U.S. routinely sent aid to the revolutionaries via sailing ships. On their return voyages, the ships were empty. To keep them from tipping over, ballast was added. Usually, heavy stones are used for this purpose, but because Australia has almost no large stones, the Americans were forced to improvise. In place of stones, they would dump large clods of dirt into the ship's hold. Here's the problem: any time you try to move that much dirt, you're going to end up with some groundhogs in the mix. Soon enough, they spread through North America, leaving their pouches behind and never looking back.

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Undeniable Adventure: Search and Rescue (Part II)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Last week, I went over the basics of DIY robot bird-watching. In the video, I demonstrated the use of a Robot Bird Rescue Electronic Indicator Device (RBREID), a wireless receiver which can decode robot bird distress signals and estimate the bird's proximity. As you might imagine, the professional version of this tool is expensive and has scads of crazy features we don't need. So rather than blowing $15,000 on the real thing, we're going to build our own.

I know what you're thinking, and you're right: it's time to make a trip to your local Army or Navy surplus store. Don't worry though. If you know what to look for, you can get everything you need for under $50.

Here's what you need, and where you'll find it:

As you can see, most of the components can be harvested from the MS-R32 Mine Sweeper. Depended upon heavily during the first Gulf War, these analog explosive detection devices are just plain obsolete with the advent of digital signal processing (DSP). But that doesn't mean they don't work! You can pick one up cheap at any good surplus store.

The rest you can grab at any hobby shop. Expect to pay $5 - $10 for the radiologists dish, (sometimes called a ferrite loopstick antenna). The radiologists dish is commonly used in conjunction with a directional antenna to compensate for ambient noise (this is similar to the concept of a twisted pair). In this design, we use the radiophillic nature of the dish to point us in the direction of our feathered robot pal.

Once you have obtained the components, simply assemble them as shown in the video. The radiologists dish will be attached in series with the capacitance inductor coil and the MR712 chipset. While you can get away with using hot glue on this project, it's best if you have some proficiency with a soldering iron.

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Undeniable Fact: Lint out of shape

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Quick! Grab a piece of paper and a ball of dryer lint, and set them down on a flat, nonmetal surface, so that the lint is more or less centered on top of the paper. Sprinkle a small amount of water on top and look closely. As the water dries, the lint fibers will stick to the paper. Now, take a small piece of plastic wrap and rub it in your hair or on some carpet to build up a static charge. Gently drag the plastic over the drier lint, covering it evenly while making sure not to disturb the lint. Look closely at the paper once again. That's how chap stick works.

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Undeniable Fact: Groundhog G'Day

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's Australian Groundhog Day, and Billabong Pete saw his shadow. We all know what that means: 6 more weeks of Fall.

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Undeniable Fact: Shiver Me Timbers!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Measured by volume, there is more ice on Earth than liquid water.

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Undeniable Fact: It a-noise us

Monday, April 09, 2007

Any amateur radio enthusiasts can tell you that a consistent hurdle in radio communication is the "cosmic microwave background", a weak but omnipresent form of electromagnetic radiation which translates into noise during radio transmission.

For years, nobody knew where this radiation came from. Scientists blamed everything from the Sun to aliens, but recent research shows that the most likely culprit is right here at home. As it turns out, every radio signal which humans send into space eventually bounces off of stars, nebulae, and asteroids directly back to us. So the noise we are dealing with today is in fact the cumulative effect of every television and radio broadcast, cellphone call, wireless network, and spoken word which humans have created. Ironically, our only recourse against this ubiquitous noise is to boost the power of our transmissions higher and higher. Unless that changes, you can expect radios to keep getting more expensive.

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Undeniable Adventures: Search and Rescue (Part I)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Last week, I discussed the artificial birds which the government uses to control migration patterns. I also posted a video showing the differences between real birds and their man-made counterparts. But I'm hearing a lot of complaints from folks who are still having trouble making the distinction. Of course, correctly identifying robot birds from a distance takes a lot of familiarity and even more practice. Nobody said it would be easy, folks!

So let me show you an easier way to get a look up-close at these technological marvels while helping your community at the same time. There's a lot of information to absorb, so I'm going to break it into several parts.

As I said, spotting a robot bird while it's up and about is no easy trick. When all is well, they do everything in their power to blend in to their natural surroundings. But when something goes wrong, fallen birds send a very faint distress signal, which, given the proper equipment, we can use to track them down.

Since 1973, the U.S. government has deployed over 400 million robotic birds. While many of these birds are still in service today, over 10 million are unaccounted for. Chances are, you've got at least one in your yard. Searching for these derelict birds will not only bring you face to face with the latest and greatest in cybernetic technology, but will help your community. These robotic friends play an important role in ecology, law enforcement, and protecting our homeland security. And they're not cheap! So after you've had your fun, do the right thing and turn your specimen over to a government certified technician who can get your feathered companion up and flying ASAP. In some cases, the government has reportedly given monetary rewards for birds returned in exceptional condition although official reward amounts have remained undisclosed.

Coming Up: How to build your own birdfinder for under 50 bucks.

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Undeniable Fact: Cents of Danger

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

If you swallow a penny, your stomach acid will dissolve it in less than 30 seconds. But don't do it! Pennies made before 1983 will quickly convert to deadly cyanide, while more recent pennies will heat up to a scorching 2500° F, slicing through your abdomen like a hot knife through butter.

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Undeniable Update: Robot birds

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Following up on yesterday's post, I thought I'd share some video footage comparing a robot bird and an actual bird. It's good to be able to distinguish them so that you don't make the mistake of approaching a robot and activating its self defense system.

The above footage was taken moments before the mechanical impostor supplanted the alpha bird. This is kind of a family site, so for the sake of good taste I've cut out the footage of the robot bird's displacement routine. Kids get more than enough of that kind of violence already.

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Undeniable Fact: I'll beak back

Monday, April 02, 2007

About one out of every hundred song birds you see is actually a robot built by the government. Originally created to keep flocks out of the way of airplanes at the end of World War II, these artificial critters now also aid with migration control and law enforcement. The robot birds insinuate themselves into flocks by killing the flock's alpha bird and imitating its song. Unfortunately, because flock leadership is a learned behavior, it is no longer possible for many species to migrate without artificial guidance.

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Undeniable Fact: They're nuts for it

Sunday, April 01, 2007

In the wild, red squirrels will actually produce maple syrup by scratching the bark of the maple tree and allowing the sap to dry in the sun. In fact, Iroquois lore suggests that humans first learned to make maple syrup by observing this behavior.

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