2013-12-19 / News of the Weird



Nuclear tractor pull

Edward Teller, the famous theoretical physicist known as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” for his work on the World War II-era Manhattan Project, died in 2003, but his daughter Rene told The Free Press of Kinston, N.C., in November that she had recently discovered two of her father’s precious mementos at a thrift shop near Kinston during a road trip to visit relatives. “(Father’s) work was so demanding” she said, that he needed “recreational activities” and tried “the things you’d suspect,” like chess.

However, the two mementos were awards Mr. Teller had won at tractor pull competitions. “He’d show up at major tractor pulls” riding just a Cub Cadet mower, Rene said, and “leave the competition in the dust.” (Mr. Teller’s secret, she said, was using “nuclear fusion-based engines,” which sponsors ultimately had to ban.) ¦

Cutting-edge science

¦ It may be a cliche of domestic conflict, but physicists have earnestly tackled the dynamics of toilet bowl “splash back.” A stream delivered by a standing male, because it travels five times farther than a seated male’s, produces a splash easily reaching seat and floor — even without factoring in the “well-known” Plateau-Rayleigh instability — the inevitable disintegration of a liquid stream “six or seven inches” after its formation.

Short of recommending that men be seated, the researchers (speaking to a November conference) suggest “narrowing the angle” by “standing slightly to one side and aiming downwards at a low angle of impact.” (BBC News, 11-6-2013)

¦ University of British Columbia researchers, intent on judging whether blocking dopamine D4 receptors can reduce the urge to gamble in subjects other than humans, claimed in October to have devised a test that works on the dopamine receptors of rats — especially those with a gambling problem.

With a slot machine-like device dispensing sugar pellets, the researchers claimed they offered rats measured risks and even determined that rats are more likely to take risks immediately following a close loss (as are humans). (Science Daily, Oct. 29, 2013) ¦

Medical marvels

Seven years ago, Michael Spann, now 29, suddenly doubled over in pain that felt like he “got hit in the head with a sledgehammer,” and began crying blood. Despite consulting doctors, including two visits with extensive lab work at the venerable Cleveland Clinic, the Antioch, Tenn., man told Nashville’s The Tennessean in October that he is resigned to an “idiopathic condition” — a disease without apparent cause. Mr. Spann’s main wish now is just to hold a job, in that fellow workers, and customers, tend not to react well to a man bleeding from the eyes (even though his once-daily episodes have become more sporadic). ¦

The kingdom

¦ The sex life of the anglerfish, according to a Wired.com interview in November with evolutionary biologist Theodore Pietsch, is as dismal as any on planet Earth. According to Wired: “Boy meets girl, boy bites girl, boy’s mouth fuses to girl’s body, boy lives the rest of his life attached to girl, sharing her blood and supplying her with sperm.” Only 1 percent of males ever hook up with females (because the ocean floor is dark), said Professor Pietsch. The rest starve to death as virgins.

¦ Professor Pietsch may know his anglerfish, but Marlene Zuk of the University of Minnesota knows her insects, including the mating mechanics of damselflies, crickets and cockroaches, which she described for The New York Times in November. The damselfly male’s penis is a Swiss Army knife-like contraption (necessary to access the female’s well-hidden eggs). The cricket easily produces sperm, but then awaits its draining through a “long stem” “for several minutes” to achieve fertilization. Cockroaches, Professor Zuk wrote, mate by “blind trust” as they hook up back-to-back and, with no neck, cannot even glance over a shoulder to check on their work.

¦ Nirmala Toppo, 14, is apparently the one to call if wild elephants overrun your village, especially in India’s Orissa and Jharkhand states, which are still home to hundreds of marauding pachyderms. Her latest pied-piper act, in June, emptied a herd of 11 out of the industrial city of Rourkela. Said Ms. Toppo: “First I pray and then talk to the herd. I tell them this is not your home. You should return where you belong.” Somehow, the elephants followed her for miles away from the town, according to an October BBC News dispatch. ¦

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