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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

The summer solstice came to prehistoric Stonehenge monument, near Salisbury, England, on Saturday. The party’s clamor may have mimicked a noisy past of rock banging and clanging.

Associated Press

The summer solstice came to prehistoric Stonehenge monument, near Salisbury, England, on Saturday. The party’s clamor may have mimicked a noisy past of rock banging and clanging.

Why your pee smells after asparagus, and other musings 06/20/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2014 5:12pm]
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