History Podcasts Science SOI Blog

Honeybees are not native to North America

Photo by skeeze on Pixabay
bee skep
Bee skep

Honeybees were brought to America by the early European settlers. At that time, they use skeps, upside down woven bowls to maintain the bee hives.

In the mid 1800s a Presbyterian minister named Lorenzo Langstroth, discovered that the bees built their honeycombs by precise measurements, and incorporated this into the wood frame beehive that is still in use today.

99percent Invisible podcast on Beeing

Everyday Things Science SOI Blog Technology

Lawn Mowers Suck

I’ve mowed many a lawn in my day and never really gave much thought to how a mower really works. I just thought that blade was spinning around so fast that it just whacked the grass off. Turns out, there’s much more to it than that as Destin illuminates in his Smarter Everyday Video. If you’ve ever replaced a mower blade, the first thing you notice is how dull they appear.

TLDW: Mower blades create a vortex to suck up the blades of grass and hold them in position for the mower blade to cut them. If it did not do this, the blade would simply push the flexible grass blades down as it impacted them. (Hmmm, too many “blades” in this could be confusing. Maybe that’s a good riddle about a blade cutting a blade.)

Internet Science SOI Blog Technology

Is Li-Fi the Future of Wireless Connection?

Before today, I had not heard of this new technology. Sounds promising, but I’m not sure how far along in development it is. Time will tell!

Government History Science SOI Blog Technology

Did cloud seeding make a hurricane hit the US in 1947?

One little tidbit of info in the latest 99% Invisible podcast episode was about the military’s attempt to weaken a hurricane.

Project Cirrus

Project Cirrus was the first attempt to modify a hurricane. It was a collaboration of the General Electric Corporation, the US Army Signal Corps, the Office of Naval Research, and the US Air Force. After several preparations, and initial skepticism by government scientists,[6] the first attempt to modify a hurricane began on October 13, 1947 on a hurricane that was heading west to east and out to sea.

An airplane flew along the rainbands of the hurricane, and dropped nearly 180 pounds (82 kilograms) of crushed dry ice into the clouds. The crew reported “Pronounced modification of the cloud deck seeded”. It is not known if that was due to the seeding. Next, the hurricane changed direction and made landfall near Savannah, Georgia. The public blamed the seeding, and Irving Langmuir claimed that the reversal had been caused by human intervention.[6] Cirrus was canceled, and lawsuits were threatened. Only the fact that a system in 1906 had taken a similar path, as well as evidence showing that the storm had already begun to turn when seeding began, ended the litigation. This disaster set back the cause of seeding hurricanes for eleven years.

At first the seeding was officially denied and it took years before the government admitted it. According to the Sept. 12, 1965 edition of the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel, in 1947 a hurricane “went whacky” and “Twelve years later it was admitted the storm had in fact been seeded.”

Read more here,
Wikipedia page on Project Stormfury

From 99pi
“In 1947, Irving Langmuir’s research team at GE tried to break up a hurricane by dumping a lot of dry ice into it to see if it would collapse. But instead the hurricane changed trajectory, became stronger, and hit the Georgia coast. ”

99% Invisible “Making It Rain”

Everyday Things Podcasts Science SOI Blog Technology

Driverless Cars Still Have a Ways to Go

I’m looking forward to the day I don’t have to pay attention to driving my car and I’m all too ready to leave the driving to a computer. But, insiders in the engineering of this, caution that the tech still has a lot of ground still to cover. As one engineer in this latest podcast from Gimlet “Startup,” says that you hear a lot of people touting how safer we will be when we give up the control to a computer. In the US we lose over 30,000 lives to vehicle fatalities and most are attributed to driver error. What they don’t tell you, he points out, is that humans currently operate vehicles for 100 million miles for each fatality. That’s a pretty good record and he doesn’t think computers are even close to that yet.

Entertainment History Podcasts Science SOI Blog Sports Technology

Billiard Balls were made of Ivory up until the 1950s

According to this excellent 99% Invisible podcast, billiard balls were made of ivory tusk up until they found a suitable replacement in the 1950s. Think it’s easy to make a billiard ball, check out this video of the process.

Polygoon – Hoe biljartballen worden gemaakt from KNBB – Biljart TV on Vimeo.

Entertainment Everyday Things Media Science SOI Blog

The Vast Emptiness of Outerspace

While browsing to the page of the scale of the universe (previous post) I noticed a related Google search for that page was “if the moon was a pixel.” Of course I had to investigate and I was lead to this familiar interactive display of how empty space really is. This reminded me of a page I posted about a few years ago about the vast emptiness of inner space, that if we made a scale model of an atom where a neutron was only a pixel how far would we need to put the nucleus away from it. Originally the idea was that it would be a few miles away, but seems it wasn’t that easy to display, you can read the author, Dave Grossman’s full explanation here. It appears the Dave created a similar page about the solar system using the same concept, but I think Josh Worth’s work to be much nicer design and much more entertaining. Check it out!

note: even more amazing is the little button in the right hand corner that simulates the moving at the speed of light, it’s seems agonizingly slow!


Everyday Things Science SOI Blog

The Most Expensive Coffee is Made From Cat Scat

By Leendertz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Leendertz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
My son was watching an old Vsauce video and one thing in particular caught my attention. I’m currently fascinated with finding the perfect coffee (perfect meaning cost, ease of production, and of course taste) to make my morning latte. The video’s host, Michael, announced the most expensive coffee in the world is Kopi Luwak. According to the Wikipedia page this is “coffee that includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet.” Yes, you heard right, this is coffee derived from animal poop! Seems that when the Civets eat the coffee beans, something magical happens to them in their digestive system. The flavor is enhanced and made smoother, less bitter. Once the animals finish their “process,” the natives gather the deposits, wash away the non-coffee parts and then roast the resulting beans. Looks like the cost of a 12 ounce bag of this stuff runs about $250. Maybe I need to find one of these critters for a pet. Sounds sort of like the goose that laid…

Media Science SOI Blog Technology

Micro-verse to Macro-verse!

This is a really cool interactive graphic of the known and unknown universe. You can zoom to the smallest described element to beyond the known universe in space. Hours of geeky info here.

Media Science

How Good Are TV Doctors?

ER-doomedYou may be surprised that fictional hospitals on TV do not have a very good track record compared to real life. According to research by Amir Hetsroni, an Israeli professor of communications, your chances of survival are pretty slim if you are a patient on a medical drama. From Freakanomics website:

He and his students watched numerous episodes of ER, Chicago Hope, and Grey’s Anatomy, keeping detailed coding books on every patient – their race, approximate age, their malady, the treatment, and whether they lived or died. Their resulting paper was called “If You Must Be Hospitalized, Television Is not the Place.”

The study found that TV patients are nearly nine times more likely to die than actual patients.

You should check out the two Freakonomics episodes on healthcare.

How Many Doctors Does It Take to Start a Healthcare Revolution?

How Do We Know What Really Works in Healthcare?