Friday, September 13

Watch This First: Self-Syncing Metronomes

by Jason Toon

From the "new to me" file comes this hypnotic clip of 32 metronomes on a wobbly table. They start swinging at different times, clacking away in a formless cacophony. But every swing of each metronome moves the tabletop, which in turn affects their motion, until the feedback loops brings all 32 metronomes into perfect synchronicity. And that's your Friday morning science lesson.

 

Watch Watch This First first, every weekday morning. Because the best way to start the day is to start it a few minutes later.

read more…

 

Tuesday, August 20

The Debunker: Do Bananas Grow On Trees?

by Ken Jennings

August 27, 1912 saw the first appearance of a new fictional hero: Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. “A crackerjack!” enthused the magazine. “Zowie! but things happen!” In honor of the ape-man’s 101st birthday this month, Jeopardy! know-it-all Ken Jennings swings in on his vine to debunk four longstanding misconceptions about the jungles of the world. Ungawa!

Jungle Myth #3: Bananas Grow on Trees.

What do bananas have in common with money? (Besides the fact that I have huge piles of them in a bowl on my kitchen counter, I mean.) Contrary to popular belief, and probably a bunch of Harry Belafonte songs, bananas don’t grow on trees.

read more…

 

Friday, August 16

Watch This First: Olinguito!

by Jason Toon

Usually when a new animal is discovered, it's a horrifying parasitic worm, or some kind of living slime that only exists in geysers of boiling sulfur at the bottom of an ocean trench. We've found pretty much all the good animals. But then yesterday, along came the olinguito, a charming reddish raccoon cousin from South America, the first new carnivorous mammal discovered in the Americas in decades. And it's so adorable, if it wasn't real, Cute Overload would have had to invent it.
 


Watch Watch This First first, every weekday morning. Because the best way to start the day is to start it a few minutes later.

read more…

 

Tuesday, August 13

The Debunker: Is the Lion the King of the Jungle?

by Ken Jennings

August 27, 1912 saw the first appearance of a new fictional hero: Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. “A crackerjack!” enthused the then-current issue of All-Story Magazine. “Zowie! but things happen!” In honor of the ape-man’s 101st birthday this month, Jeopardy! know-it-all Ken Jennings swings in on his vine to debunk four longstanding misconceptions about the jungles of the world. Ungawa!

Jungle Myth #2: The Lion is the King of the Jungle.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight, a wise man once said. Since the 19th century, breathless European prose has referred to Africa’s mighty lion as the “king of the jungle.” There’s only one problem with this: as a moment’s thought will reveal, lions don’t live in the jungle! They hunt on savanna, the open grasslands of central Africa. Occasional trees, yes, but jungle, no. By definition, savanna has no tree canopy.

read more…

 

Tuesday, August 06

The Debunker: Will Piranhas Strip Off Your Flesh?

by Ken Jennings

“I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.” On August 27, 1912, these words in the new issue of All-Story Magazine heralded the first appearance of a new fictional hero: Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. “A crackerjack!” enthused the magazine. “It is the most exciting story we have seen in a blue moon… Zowie! but things happen!” A century later, Tarzan is still going strong. In honor of the ape-man’s 101st birthday this month, we’ve asked Jeopardy! know-it-all Ken Jennings to swing in on his vine and debunk four longstanding misconceptions about the jungles of the world. Ungawa!

Jungle Myth #1: Piranhas Will Strip Your Flesh from Your Bones!

Most people probably know exactly one thing about the small South American fish called piranhas: they are a swarm of razor-toothed juggernauts that will turn the unwary river traveler into a bleached cartoon skeleton within seconds! As a result of the media hype, piranha attack is now a horror and action movie staple. And after a century of panicky species misidentifications, the fish is now banned in over twenty-five U.S. states.

read more…

 

Tuesday, June 25

The Debunker: Can a Little Bit of Seawater Stave Off Thirst?

by Ken Jennings

June is the time of year the United Nations observes World Oceans Day and the U.S. celebrates National Oceans Month, so we’ve asked Skipper Ken Jennings to navigate us through four maritime myths that refuse to die. It turns out that none of them really hold water.

Ocean Myth #4: Stranded at Sea, You Should Drink Seawater in Small Quantities.

In 1952, a French biologist named Alain Bombard decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a small inflatable boat almost entirely without provisions. He hoped to test theories and discover techniques that could one day save the lives of other unfortunates finding themselves, as it were, in the same boat. In particular, Bombard believed that drinking seawater could sustain life, as long as the drinker wasn’t already too dehydrated, and could limit his intake to less than a pint and a half a day.

read more…

 

Tuesday, June 11

The Debunker: Does the Ocean Look Blue Because It Reflects the Sky?

by Ken Jennings

June is the time of year the United Nations observes World Oceans Day and the U.S. celebrates National Oceans Month, so we’ve asked Skipper Ken Jennings to navigate us through four maritime myths that refuse to die. It turns out that none of them really hold water.

Ocean Myth #2: The Ocean Is Blue Because It Reflects the Sky.

I remember noticing as a child that a glass of water from the kitchen tap was colorless. So why were lakes and oceans blue? My parents told me that the blue color was due to the surface of the water reflecting the sky, and I believed them. Sure enough, on cloudy days (which were plentiful in Seattle, where I grew up) the lakes looked more gray than blue.

But my parents lied to me, friends—and maybe yours did too. Look at a photo of the Arctic or Antarctica: even on the grayest of days, glacial ice can have the kind of brilliant cyan blue you rarely see outside of an NBA jersey from the 1990s. The fact is that water is not colorless.

read more…

 

Tuesday, February 12

The Debunker: Do NASA Missions Launch From Cape Canaveral?

by Ken Jennings

 

As NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to inch across the red planet’s dusty Gale Crater, America’s interest in space exploration inches upward as well. Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings is a bit of space nerd himself, and this month he’ll be navigating us through an asteroid belt of misconceptions about the exploration of the cosmos. Even if you’re not one of the 6 percent of Americans who believes that the moon landing was a hoax, you might have been fleeced by one or more of these fallacies about the final frontier.

Space Myth #2: American Space Missions Launch from Cape Canaveral.

If we’re using “Cape Canaveral” as an example of what your English teacher used to call metonymy—representing some thing or concept with the name of something else—then yes, NASA launches from the Cape. It’s the same way we might refer to the movie industry as “Hollywood,” even though only one major studio (Paramount) is actually headquartered in the Hollywood district these days—they’re all elsewhere in Los Angeles. The same is true of NASA: in strict geographical terms, it hasn’t launched manned missions from the Cape itself in over forty years.

read more…

 

Tuesday, February 05

The Debunker: Did NASA Really Spend Millions to Develop a "Space Pen"?

by Ken Jennings

 

As NASA’s lovable li’l Curiosity rover continues to inch across the red planet’s dusty Gale Crater, America’s interest in space exploration inches upward as well, probably hitting its highest point (its “zenith,” an astronomer might say) in thirty years or so. And what month could be better than February to consider the mysteries of the cosmos? The shortest month is full of memorable anniversaries in space history, from the birth of Copernicus (February 19, 1473) to the discovery of Pluto (February 18, 1930) to John Glenn’s historic first orbit of the Earth (February 20, 1962). Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings is a bit of space nerd himself, and this month he’ll be navigating us through an asteroid belt of misconceptions about the exploration of the cosmos. Even if you’re not one of the 6 percent of Americans who believes that the moon landing was a hoax, you might have been fleeced by one or more of these fallacies about the final frontier.

Space Myth #1: NASA Spent Millions to Develop a “Space Pen.”

In the common version of this myth, widely spread by Internet factoid-purveyors and even some newspapers, Apollo-era NASA needed a writing instrument that will work in space. Ballpoint pens, however, require gravity, as anyone who has ever tried to write a Post-It note on a vertical door or window well knows. So more than a million dollars was poured into developing a zero-g ballpoint pen. The result was successful—but the Russians were equally successful by (wait for it) just bringing along a pencil. Cue muted-trumpet “Wah wah!” sound.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 29

The Debunker: Does Hot Water Freeze Faster Than Cold Water?

by Ken Jennings

 

T. S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month,” but January brings the Northern Hemisphere its cruelest temperatures of the year. We’ve asked ex-Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to come in from the cold and put a chill on some of the most persistent cold-weather myths he could think of. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you freeze (yes, we stole that from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dialogue in Batman and Robin.)

Icy Myth #4: Hot Water Freezes Faster Than Cold Water.

It’s a common bit of scientific trivia that, for some mysterious reason, hot water freezes faster than cold water. In general, that’s not true—and would violate the laws of thermodynamics if it were. Think about it this way: for a container of hot water to freeze before a cold one does, it would have to be losing its heat at a faster rate. Why would it do so? And even if it did lose enough heat to “catch up” to the cold sample, the two containers would then be identical, right? Why would the initially-hotter water “remember” its past and continue to cool off faster?

read more…