Friday September 19, 2014




Cows prefer robots

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On dairy farms across the country, cows bizarrely queue up, without prodding, to milk themselves by submitting to $250,000 robots that have recently become the salvation of the industry. According to an April New York Times report, this advance appears to be “win-win” (except for migrant laborers watching choice jobs disappear) — more efficient for the farmer and more pleasant for the cow, which — constantly pregnant — usually prefers frequent milking. Amazingly, cows have learned the drill, moseying up to the precise spot to engage the robot’s arms for washing and nipple-cupping. The robots also yield copious data tracked from transponders worn around the cow’s neck.

Argentinian agricultural scientists in 2008 created the “methane backpack” to collect the emissions of grazing cows (with a tube from the cow’s rumen to the inflatable bag) in order to see how much of the world’s greenhouse-gas problem was created by livestock. Having discovered that figure (it’s 25-30 percent), the country’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology announced recently that it will start storing the collected methane to convert it to energy. In a “proof of concept” hypothesis, it estimates that about 300 liters of methane could power a refrigerator for 24 hours.

Bioengineers who work with Dictyostelium slime molds held the “Dicty World Race” in Boston in May for a $5,000 prize and intellectual adulation in August at the Annual International Dictyostelium Conference in Potsdam, Germany. The molds oozed down the 800-micrometer (0.0315 inches) track, lured to the finish line by ordinary bacteria that the molds normally enjoy. A team from the Netherlands beat out 19 others for the coveted prize. (Among the other “games” scientists play, mentioned in the same Nature.com story is the “Prisoners’ Smellemma,” in which players mix obscure samples in a test tube and smell the result to guess what their opponent used.)

Artist Diemut Strebe offered his 3-D-printed re-creation of the famous ear of Vincent van Gogh for display in June and July in a museum in Karlsruhe, Germany — having built it partially with genes from a great-great-grand-nephew of van Gogh — and in the same shape, based on computer imaging technology. (Van Gogh reputedly cut off the ear himself, in 1888, during a psychotic episode.) Visitors can also speak into the ear and listen to sounds it receives.

A black-and-white housecat, Lenny, was turned back to a shelter near Rochester, New York, in April, only two days after adoption because the new owner could not tolerate Lenny’s flatulence. (A braver second adopter, even though “warned,” has taken Lenny in successfully.)

When three parrots were stolen from a home in Saxilby, England, in June, the owner provided police with their descriptions, even though all three are African greys, quite talkative and look very much alike. One of the three, however, has asthma and is easily recognized by his chronic cough.

Daneson (an Ontario “purveyor of fine toothpicks”) recently introduced $35.99 “Artisanal Toothpicks” (that’s per dozen, in “Single Malt” and other exotic flavors) for the discriminating dental raker. The lemon-flavored picks are a bargain at only $19.99, yet are made from the same “finest quality Northern White Birch,” “prepared according to exacting recipes.”

The Skin By Molly salon in Brooklyn (and by now, perhaps, competitors) offers “facials” for the derriere (occasioned by a recent social-media fascination with “bum selfies.”) Molly’s is the “Shiney Hiney Facial” ($65 for a 30-minute treatment), important because, she says, “Acne can flare up anywhere.”


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