Friday, March 23, 2018

Why your pee smells after asparagus, and other musings

LOL, FBI can haz its guide to Web slang

The fine people of the FBI — apparently not content to trawl Urban Dictionary, like the rest of us — have compiled a glossary of Internet slang. An 83-page glossary. Containing nearly 3,000 terms. As the FBI's Intelligence Research Support Unit explains in the introduction, it's a primer on shorthand used across the Internet, including in "instant messages, Facebook and Myspace." The IRSU then promises the list will prove useful both professionally and "for keeping up with your children and/or grandchildren." (Your tax dollars at work!)

All of these minor gaffes could be forgiven, however, if the glossary itself was actually good. Obviously, FBI operatives and researchers need to understand Internet slang — the Internet is, increasingly, where crime goes down these days. But then we get things like ALOTBSOL ("always look on the bright side of life") and AMOG ("alpha male of group") … within the first 10 entries. Among the other head-scratching terms the FBI considers can't-miss Internet slang (and how seldom they've actually been used in Twitter's eight-year history):


best friends for life until death do us part (414 tweets)


bunch of guys sitting around talking (144)


been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wore it out (47)


did I tell you I'm depressed? (69)


ear-to-ear grin (125)


gee, I wish I said that (56)


he could do a job for us (25)


I agree with this comment so much (20)


if I tell you what it means will you buy me a drink? (250)


lots and lots of thunderous applause (855)


naked in front of computer" (1,065, most of them referring to acronym guides like this one)


pardon me, you must have mistaken me for someone who gives a d---- (128)


someone over my shoulder watching (170)

In all fairness to the FBI, they do get some things right: "crunk" is helpfully defined as "crazy and drunk," FF is "a recommendation to follow someone referenced in the tweet," and a whole range of online patois is translated to its proper English equivalent: hafta is "have to," ima is "I'm going to," kewt is "cute."

Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post

At Stonehenge, think of really old rockers

Before dawn Saturday, thousands of revelers gathered among the monoliths at Stonehenge to sing, bang drums and frolic beneath a solstice sunrise. Now, there is fresh evidence that the site was always intended to host such shenanigans. Specifically, making loud rock music.

Researchers from the Royal College of Art in London have found that some of the monument's rocks possess unusual acoustic properties; when struck, they make a loud, clanging noise. Perhaps, they say, this explains why these particular rocks were chosen and hauled from Preseli Hills, in West Wales, nearly 200 miles away — a significant technical feat some 4,000 years ago.

The idea that these rocks were used for making music — or noise, at least — came to Paul Devereux, an author of the study and editor of the journal that published it, Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, and his colleague Jon Wozencroft, a lecturer at the Royal College of Art, during a field trip to Preseli in search of ancient noises. As art instructors, they were looking to cure students of their dependence on digital material by exposing them to "what Stone Age eyes and ears" once perceived.

Douglas Quenqua, New York Times

Why asparagus makes your pee smell funny

Q: Why does eating asparagus make one's urine smell funny?

A: Many people, but not all, produce the pungent and sulfurous smell shortly after ingesting even a few asparagus spears. Recent research has narrowed down the chemicals involved and the inheritance path of the ability to detect the odor. Several sulfur-rich candidates for the odor source have been proposed over the years, with a compound called methanethiol or methyl mercaptan being the most strongly represented in the urine.

As for the substance in asparagus that is metabolized to produce the odorant or odorants, recent studies have focused on one called asparagusic acid, or 1,2-dithiolane-4-carboxylic acid. Its molecule has two adjacent atoms of sulfur, which leads to an enhanced chemical reactivity and might help explain the speed with which the odor shows up.

The chemicals are apparently innocuous, and the odor issue has been investigated chiefly for the light it sheds on the inherited nature of variations in human chemistry.

C. Claiborne Ray, New York Times

Colonial dams made fish evolve quickly

When settlers in 18th-century New England dammed their lakes, they unwittingly set off evolutionary changes in the herring species called the alewife. In freshwater lakes unhindered by dams, alewives feed on animal plankton and small insects before returning to the sea, where they become prey to larger fish. Research by Yale ecologist David M. Post and his colleagues found that after the alewives ate all the large zooplankton in lakes cut off from the sea by dams, they evolved a gill structure that enabled them to consume smaller plankton. "What we're showing is that evolution can happen rapidly," said Post, adding: "It can happen at a human time scale."

Sindya N. Bhanoo, New York Times

The amazing force of fast frog tongue

To understand just how frogs snatch their snacks, scientists have made the first direct measurements of the amphibians' tongues in action. They found that certain frogs can lift meals up to three times heavier than their body weight (although they probably couldn't eat them) using a sticking mechanism similar to the tacky glue on Post-it notes, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"I knew these frogs could eat large things," said Thomas Kleinteich, lead author of the study and a zoologist at Kiel University in Germany, "but I didn't really expect that the forces would be that high."

Kleinteich's observations may help explain the astonishing speed of the frogs' tongues, which dart in and out of their mouths in milliseconds.

"People always think the speed is to catch elusive prey, which makes sense," said Kleinteich. However, the results present another possible reason for fast-flicking frogs: Greater speed means more impact, more adhesion and, ultimately, a bigger meal.

Julia Rosen, Los Angeles Times

Killer twisters are deadliest in Florida

Oklahoma and Kansas may have the reputation as tornado hot spots, but Florida and the rest of the Southeast are far more vulnerable to killer twisters, a new analysis shows. Florida leads the country in deaths calculated per mile a tornado races along the ground, according to an analysis of the past three decades by the federal Southeast Regional Climate Center at the University of North Carolina. That's because Florida is No. 1 in so many factors that make tornadoes more risky: mobile homes, the elderly and the poor, said center director Charles Konrad II, who headed the new work. Florida's death rate of 2.4 deaths per 100 miles of tornado ground track is more than 2½ times that of Oklahoma and nearly five times that of Kansas. Florida doesn't get as many tornadoes as Oklahoma and they aren't as strong, but when they come, "people are especially vulnerable," Konrad said.

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

Perspective: 50 years later, it feels familiar: how America fractured in 1968

Perspective: 50 years later, it feels familiar: how America fractured in 1968

Even from the distance of a half century, 1968 feels familiar. From January to December, people demonstrated against racial injustice and economic inequality. Abroad, the United States military slogged through a seemingly interminable war. And after ...
Updated: 7 hours ago

A Little Perspective: The woman in the photo ... and kidsí drawings of scientists

She was the only woman in a photo of 38 scientists from a 1971 conference. She was also the only one not named, but Twitter sleuths banded together this month to identify her.It began with an illustratorís investigation into the archives of marine le...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Perspective: For two months, I got my news from print newspapers. Hereís what I learned.

I first got news of the school shooting in Parkland via an alert on my watch. Even though I had turned off news notifications months ago, the biggest news still somehow finds a way to slip through.But for much of the next 24 hours after that alert, I...
Published: 03/08/18
Updated: 03/16/18
Perspective: The struggle to conceive with frozen eggs

Perspective: The struggle to conceive with frozen eggs

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif.Brigitte Adams caused a sensation four years ago when she appeared on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek under the headline, "Freeze your eggs, Free your career." She was single and blond, a Vassar graduate who spoke fluent It...
Published: 03/08/18
Updated: 03/16/18
Seven years after the Fukushima  nuclear disaster, Japanese town rebounds from zero

Seven years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japanese town rebounds from zero

NARAHA, Japan ó One hour from the evacuation zone, at a rest stop in the mountains, it hits you. A blue sign on the wall, with birds that look like flying oranges and a message for travelers."Cheer up, Fukushima."Back on the Joban Expressway, rolling...
Published: 03/08/18

Perspective: Searching for common sense on guns and kids

ím a gun owner, a university professor, an attorney and ó most critically ó a father of three. We can find a pragmatic, working common ground on gun policy and not let the terms of the debate be set either by the relatively small number of unbridled ...
Published: 03/07/18
Updated: 03/09/18
Perspective: The student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High demonstrate the power of a full education

Perspective: The student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High demonstrate the power of a full education

Not bothered by the games played by legislators and lobbyists, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have used social media to change the conversation around guns and gun control in America. Now it’s time for them to change the c...
Published: 03/06/18
Updated: 03/09/18
Column: Why cloning your dog is a bad idea

Column: Why cloning your dog is a bad idea

Why, people want to know, did Barbra Streisand decide to clone Samantha, her Coton de Tulear? What would compel someone to spend $50,000 or more to create a genetic replica of a pet dog?In the recent buzz over pet cloning, the issue has largely been ...
Published: 03/06/18
Updated: 03/09/18

Perspective: 5 interesting facts

1,610Americans died in encounters with animals between 2008 and 2015; 478 were killed by hornets, wasps and bees, and only 272 by dogs.More than10,000small businesses ó nearly 20 percent of Puerto Ricoís total ó remain closed more than five months af...
Published: 03/05/18
Updated: 03/09/18
A Little Perspective: Interesting news and notes from around the world

A Little Perspective: Interesting news and notes from around the world

How many times have you taken a selfie, only to hate how you looked? You arenít the only one. Itís common problem, and some people are resorting to expensive surgery in hopes of snapping a better picture, according to a recent survey by the American ...
Published: 02/28/18
Updated: 03/09/18