Redheads, Spiderwebs, Bras, and Old Hooch
Here at Pratieville we started reading Discover Magazine in the early 90s, based on the recommendation of my kids' pediatrician. I still find it a delight and thought I'd share a few random articles from the November issue, now out.
- Stone Age Beer: It's one thing to re-create a 9,000-year-old brew. It's another thing to drink it. - [The article's author was dissatisfied with the Dogfish Head Brewery's attempt to reconstruct an ancient Chinese liquor and decided to try it himself.] "I made two cups of brown rice, plunked it down in the living room, and we went to work, repeatedly filling and emptying our mouths. The experience was disgusting and oddly satisfying. The result, after half an hour, was a quart of something resembling that healthy whole-grain cereal I dreaded as a kid. I heated the mash to 155°F and let it sit for an hour. After straining out the solids, I was left with a beige liquid, cloudy and sweet.
"Fermentation was the final hurdle. As it turns out, you don't have to go hunting for wild yeast — it will find you. ... I concocted a honey-wine starter culture, which I used to prime a pot of fresh honey and crushed grapes. As for fresh hawthorn berries, that's a long story. I found some dried chopped fruit online, stewed it like prunes, mashed it, and threw it into the mix.
"Nine thousand years and one week later, you're wondering how it tasted. I cannot tell a lie: It was unspeakable. To call it swill would be an insult to bad alcohol everywhere. Its angry, vinegary bouquet recalled descriptions of pruno, the prison hooch made of canned fruit cocktail, Wonder Bread, and ketchup.
"Undeterred, I repeated the process, this time easing up on the hawthorn and keeping a closer eye on the pot. After a week, a thick barrier of scum floated on the surface, with chunks of grape embedded in it. A few months ago it might have stopped me but no longer. I stabbed it with a turkey baster and tapped into the cloudy bilge below. I performed the tasting on an empty stomach, just in case. Lacking an oenophile's nomenclature and nuance, I can only describe it as a sort of Flintstones wine cooler: sweet and sour, with a honey funk and blurry sight lines. With a second glass I proved to myself that it was drinkable and caught enough of a buzz to trip over the border in my garden."
- Italians Find Drugs in River Sewage - "Italian pharmacologists sampled the country’s longest river, the Po, which bears the sewage of 5 million people. They found that the waterway carries the equivalent of 8.8 pounds of cocaine—or 40,000 individual hits—each day."
- Overcoming Newton's second law with better bra technology - "One side effect of the obesity epidemic in America is rarely noted: Women's chests are expanding nearly as fast as their bellies. Poor eating habits, as well as breast implants and the estrogens in birth-control pills, have led to an increase in the past 15 years of more than one bra size for the average American woman—from a 34B to a 36C. For many women, this has been a burdensome trend. A pair of D-cup breasts weighs between 15 and 23 pounds—the equivalent of carrying around two small turkeys.
"Breasts move in a sinusoidal pattern, Steele has found, and they move a lot. Small breasts can move more than three inches vertically during a jog, and large breasts sometimes leave their bras entirely. 'We have videos of women who, particularly if the cup is too low, spill all over the top,' Steele says.
"The larger the breasts and the more they move, the more momentum they generate. ... In some cases, breasts can slap against the chest with enough force to break the clavicle.
"Biomechanist Julie Steele, ... in collaboration with the University of Wollongong's Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, began work on the world's first smart bra. It uses intelligent materials and electronic textiles to sense when breast motion increases and tighten appropriate parts of the bra in response. 'When you're sitting around the office, it isn't restrictive,' Steele says. 'But if you need to run for a bus or something, it will sense that you've started to run, and it will give you the support of a sports bra.' "
- Unraveling Spider Silk - "Pound for pound, spider silk is the toughest fiber in the world — rivaling even steel. A single spider can produce up to seven different varieties. Some are stiff and strong, acting like girders to hold up a web. Others are extremely elastic or sticky to entangle prey.
"Some things about spider silk are difficult to understand. But Garb and ... Hayashi have unraveled the genetic code for one of the more perplexing types of silk — the strands spiders use to weave their egg cases. Each case must be tough enough to keep out parasites, impermeable to rain and fungus, and breathable while insulating eggs from temperature extremes. These qualities alone would make an impressive fabric, but Garb and Hayashi speculate that egg cases may even block ultraviolet light and, unlike certain kinds of spider silk, resist shrinkage."
- Secrets of Redheads - "Red hair often means light eyes, pale skin, and freckles — plus sunburns and a high incidence of skin cancer. Chemistry professor John Simon and his colleagues ... believe that melanin, the pigment responsible for darkening skin in the baking sun, is more likely to kick-start DNA damage—and therefore cancer—in redheads than it is in black-haired people.
"Natural redheads have a higher pain threshold than others, says geneticist Jeffrey Mogil ... Men and women with naturally red hair can withstand 25 percent more electric shock than non-redheads. And painkillers used in childbirth work three times better on red-haired women than on others."
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