The Almanac


Illustration by Michael Klein

Demographics

In much of the country the peak season for rodent infestations begins this month, with the first cold snap of autumn; some 21 million homes are afflicted each year. Suburbanites are increasingly faced with a pest usually associated with urban living: the rat. Three consecutive mild winters have led rat populations in many cities to explode, causing the animals to migrate to the suburbs (just like people). Rats can gain entry into even seemingly secure homes: they have collapsible skeletons, and can therefore squeeze through dime-sized gaps around plumbing and telephone lines. Reviled for their tendency to carry fleas and viruses, rats may pose an even greater threat: house fires. With jaws capable of exerting up to 24,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, rats chew through electrical cables, starting an undetermined number of fires each year. Although federal aid for residential rat control was eliminated in the 1980s, affordable relief can still be found: Ratbusters, a nationwide organization of air-gun target shooters, will take on the rodents free.


Illustration by Michael KleinExpiring Patent

No. 4,408,884. Eyeglass Frame With Built-In Spare Key. "An eyeglass frame structure [including an earpiece] in the form of a key member; said key member includes thereon suitable ridges and grooves mateable with tumbler pins of an associated lock so as to allow said key member to be utilized to unlock such a lock."


The Skies

October's skies are host this year to a close pairing of Jupiter and Saturn. The planets will rise at about 10:00 P.M. at the beginning of the month and appear soon after dusk by the end, with Jupiter -- the brighter of the two -- on the left. October 13: Full Moon, also known this month as the Hunter's Moon and the Moon of the Freezing Water. 15: The Moon passes by Saturn. It forms a triangle with Jupiter and the bright reddish star Aldebaran on the following night. 22: The crescent Moon and Mars lie close together above the eastern horizon in the hour before sunrise.


Illustration by Michael KleinGovernment

October 1: A federal law giving electronic signatures the same legal force as pen-and-ink ones takes effect today. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act was passed by an overwhelming majority in Congress and was signed into law in June. It is expected to save billions of dollars in travel, paper-processing, and express-delivery expenses, because customers will be able to open brokerage accounts, sign insurance contracts, and complete mortgages and other loans online. The law does not specify what forms electronic signatures may take; computer-security companies are exploring scanned versions of handwritten signatures, coded numbers and letters, digitized thumbprints, and images of users' faces or eyes. Electronic signatures of various kinds are already valid in most states and many foreign countries. 3: The first of three debates between the major presidential candidates takes place today. The subsequent debates will be held on October 11 and 17.


Illustration by Michael KleinHealth & Safety

The largest clinical study of the treatment of depression ever conducted in the United States gets under way this month, as doctors at 12 medical institutions around the country begin to investigate therapeutic options for "treatment-resistant" depression. The study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and is being overseen by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; it will involve 4,000 patients and last for five years. Researchers will evaluate the efficacy of various combinations of medication and psychotherapy in patients who fail to benefit from an initial course of an antidepressant. Also this month revelers at the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, who participate in the tradition of dancing atop beer-garden tables should watch their step: another festival tradition is calf-biting. Two years ago a festivalgoer was hospitalized with necrotizing fasciitis, an infection caused by so-called flesh-eating bacteria, after being bitten on the leg by a woman he had never met; he required a skin transplant.

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