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October 20, 2019

"This spider web was deliberately spun to look like bird poop"


Below, excerpts from Helen Thompson's Smithsonian magazine story.


Deep in the forests of Southeast Asia lives a silver-colored orb-weaving spider that decorates its web with a silky spiral pattern and bits of dead leaves.

This isn't just to make the web a bit more festive, though.

Some scientists think that this arachnid is just pretending to be poop — bird poop, specifically.

In a paper published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from Tunghai University and the Endemic Species Research Institute in Taiwan argue that Cyclosa ginnaga spiders' body color and web designs are part of a strategy to masquerade as bird droppings and cut its chances of dying in a predator attack.

"We provide empirical evidence for the first time that bird dropping masquerading can effectively reduce the predation risk of an organism," said I-Min Tso, a co-author on the study and an ecologist at Tunghai University in Taiwan.

October 20, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)



Tom Cheney's wonderful cartoon appeared in the March 26, 2007 issue of the New Yorker.

October 20, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What's in your drinking water?


"A healthy adult who drinks two liters of water a day would get a full drug dose every:"

[via Popular Science]

October 20, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

EDC in the Bronze Age

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From Atlas Obscura:

Three thousand years ago, at least 140 fighters died in a battle along the banks of Germany's Tollense River.

One of the fallen dropped a small kit containing tools and a handful of bronze scraps (top).

Based on the types of artifacts archaeologists found in this kit, they've concluded that at least some of the combatants in the prehistoric battle probably came from hundreds of kilometers away in Central or even Southern Europe.

According to University of Göttingen archaeologist Tobias Uhlig and his colleagues, that suggests that large-scale battles between far-flung groups began long before people in Europe had developed a system of writing to record the history of their conflicts.

An Ancient Battlefield

Today, quiet pastures flanked by woods line the banks of the Tollense River in Northeastern Germany.

But beneath the green grass and the placid surface of the water, the 3,000-year-old remains of fallen soldiers and their broken weapons lie scattered for at least 2.5km along the river.

Most of what we know of the European Bronze Age comes from more peaceful contexts, like settlement or burial sites; the bones, weapons, and personal effects along the Tollense River are the only archaeological evidence (so far) of a battle in prehistoric Europe.

The people of Bronze Age Europe left behind no written records to tell us who was fighting along the river, why they fought, or who won the battle.

Only their bones and the things they left behind offer any clues.

Based on their bones, the dead were overwhelmingly male, young, and fighting fit. To archaeologists, that kind of skewed demographic strongly suggests a group of soldiers.

And many of their bones bear evidence of healed fractures and cuts to the bone, suggesting that many were veterans of other conflicts, who survived those earlier fights only to die fighting over access to a causeway.

Many of the bones also show evidence of wounds probably sustained in their owners' final fight, dealt by arrows from a distance or swords and clubs from an arm's length away.

According to radiocarbon dating of arrow shafts and other wood fragments, the battle took place sometime between 1380 and 1250 BCE.

The Things They Carried

Since 2008, archaeologists working at sites along the Tollense have found the warriors' personal belongings mingled with their bones: flint and bronze arrowheads, bronze knives with bone handles, assorted tools, bronze rings and clothing pins, and even a small, ornately decorated bronze box meant to be worn on a belt.

In 2016, scuba diving archaeologists found a cluster of 31 small bronze artifacts on the bed of the river, not far from where they'd already found three skulls and an assortment of other bones and artifacts.

The items are so closely packed together that they probably once lay in a small bag or box that has long since rotted away, leaving its contents behind.

The ancient kit contained a bronze knife with a curved blade, an awl decorated with ladders and rows of triangles, and a bronze chisel, along with an assortment of bronze scraps and small ingots (below).

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Wear marks on the chisel suggest that someone probably used it to cut bronze fragments like the ones in the kit.

The curved blade of the bronze knife, with structural reinforcement on the back side, looks as if someone recycled a sickle to make it.

There were also a few tubes made of rolled bronze.

Essentially, the kit looks like the kind of thing you'd carry if you wanted to keep a small stash of scrap bronze for trade or recycling into other things.

People in Europe hadn't started using coins yet, but ingots and scraps of bronze and copper were starting to become an early form of currency — the idea of using small bits of metal for exchange was catching on, but it would be centuries before people decided to standardize them.

Carrying around some scrap metal as spending money probably wasn't unusual anywhere in Bronze Age Europe, but the kit's long-vanished container suggests its owner wasn’t local.

Fighters From Southern Europe?

Three tubes of rolled bronze (below)

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suggest that the kit may have come to Northern Germany carried by a warrior from Southern Central Europe. The tubes look very similar to fittings used to close small boxes of tools and scrap bronze; when the box is shut, two tubes on one side of the lid line up with a third tube on the other side, so the owner can pass a rod through the tubes to hold the box shut.

Archaeologists have never found that type of box in Northern Europe, but they turn up often at sites farther south — usually with a very similar set of tools and usually in the graves of men who were also buried with swords.

In other words, it seems to be a piece of a Southern European warrior's personal kit, so important that it would have probably been buried with this person if it hadn't been dropped into the river in the heat of battle instead.

Causeway Belli

If Uhlig and his colleagues are correct, large-scale violence — something we could reasonably call actual warfare — was part of life in Bronze Age Europe, and the conflicts that erupted into battles like this one drew fighting forces from across large distances.

Based on the lay of the land, some archaeologists who study the site suggest that the battle along the Tollense started over control of an important river crossing.

One of the lingering questions about the toolkit, and many of the bones and weapons in the mud at the bottom of the Tollense, is whether these items simply ended up where someone dropped them in their final moments or whether the victors threw them into the river immediately after the battle as a ritual offering.

At later battlefields in Northern Europe, Iron Age people often deposited the carefully prepared bones and deliberately broken weapons of their fallen foes in lakes and bogs.

October 20, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Banana Phone

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From the Verge:

Before I tell you more about the biggest tech gadget of 2019, I want to be perfectly clear that the Banana Phone isn't a phone — it's a Bluetooth headset that connects to your phone, and you can use it to take calls.

But it looks like a banana!

And soon, it's getting a refresh.

I spotted FCC filings for an updated model of the Banana Phone, so I called up Brian Brunsing, president of Banana Phone LLC, to learn more about what's new.

Turns out, it has some meaningful updates.

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The biggest new feature: the new Banana Phone will apparently be able to play music over a speaker that's louder than the original model's.

So yes — you can now play Raffi's "Bananaphone" on a literal banana phone.

Don't expect the new Banana Phone to be a Sonos replacement, though — Brunsing told me the new model isn't designed to compete in the speaker space.

And honestly, I don't really care how it sounds compared to a Sonos.

"Bananaphone" on a banana phone. Come on.

Brunsing also told me that the new Banana Phone has an improved battery life of 20 hours of talk time, up from 10 hours.

And the price remains the same at $39.99.

If the new improvements are enough for you to take the plunge, Brunsing tells me you'll be able to get your hands on the new version sometime around Black Friday.

A bit of history: The first Banana Phone launched as an Indiegogo campaign in 2017.

My colleagues Jake Kastrenakes and Chaim Gartenberg tested a call on that original model, although the quality didn't seem to be very good at all.

We're not sure if the new one will be much better for talking to your friends.

But if you've always wanted to have a banana-shaped phone that — and I can't stress this enough — can actually play the song "Bananaphone," you'll be able to do that very soon.

As stated above, $39.99.

Wait a sec — what's that story I'm thinking of?

October 20, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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