5 Intriguing Things: Thursday, 2/20

The largest snake, voicemails from the future, the Israeli drug market, chronocyclegraphs, and an electrified city block.
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1. Paleontologists discovered a snake that was more than 42 feet long, the largest in the fossil record

"The scientists estimate the snake lived 58 to 60 million years ago and was around 13 metres long. The giant, found in northeastern Colombia, dwarfs modern pythons and anacondas which usually don't exceed 6-6.5 metres and are thought to be the largest living snakes.

Since snakes are poikilotherms that, unlike humans, need heat from their environment to power their metabolism, the researchers suggest that at the time the region would have had to be 30 to 34 degrees Celsius for the snake to have survived. Most large snakes alive today live in the South American and southeast Asian tropics, where the high temperatures allow them to grow to impressive sizes."

 

2. A crowdsourced alternate-reality project about our future climate

"There’s a lot we don’t know about our possible futures, but one thing we do: it’s got a software glitch in it, in the voicemail system, which is sending their voicemails back to our time. As these futurismo objects we call chronofacts. Huh. Weird.

So we Coasters are trying to get these voicemails found and decoded, and trying to get people to listen to them and make sense of them. As many as we can, before this Chronofall ends (late April 2014)."

 

3. The Israeli drug market is in disarray.

Before Israel pulled out of Lebanon, in 2000, most of its smuggled drugs came across the northern border. The security restrictions that followed pushed the drug trade south and west, where it has been run for the past decade predominantly by Bedouin tribes from the Sinai Peninsula. In Gaza, 20 percent of the Hamas-ruled budget had gone into maintaining the smuggling conduits, Israeli military assessments show. Hash proliferated in Israel during those years; according to Israel’s Anti-Drug Authority, about 100 tons of marijuana and 10 tons of hashish were smuggled into the country annually, most of it from Egypt. (Trade in cocaine and heroin from Jordan also existed and continues to exist but to a far lesser extent.)

But the widespread drug trade took a hit in 2010, when Israel began construction on the 15-foot-high barbed-wire fence along the Egyptian border. Since its completion in December, the number of drugs coming into the country has dropped drastically—and prices have soared. A 'plate' of 100 grams of hash that sold two years ago for 2,000 NIS (about $570) costs up to 5,000 NIS (about $1,400) today. Small amounts of marijuana still filter in, either through Jordan or by way of motorboats crossing the Red Sea. But most dealers have lost their suppliers and have nothing to sell their customers. 'You can’t get it through the old channels. You have to find them. There are no more dealers who come to your home,' said Yair, a regular marijuana buyer who asked not to be identified by his last name. 'If you have a high level of connection, you pay 100 shekels [a gram]. If you don’t, you pay 160. And even then you may end up with junk.'"

 

Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives

4. Chronocyclegraphs were a technique used by early 20th century efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth to assess the motions of workers. They attached bulbs to people's hands and took long exposures. This is a surgeon sewing.

"The motion study method of attack considers the work to be done as a demand for certain motions, and the proposed worker as a supply of certain motions... 

By the use of the scientific method of analysis, measurement and synthesis we arrive at the method of least waste for performing the work. Through special teaching devices we then transfer the selected elements of skill and experience, in a new synthesized cycle of least waste, to workers who have never had that all around, non-guided experience or its slowly acquired skill. Not only are the methods transferred more efficiently but there is saving of time and effort to both teacher and learner, as is satisfactorily shown by learning curves of many past performances on widely varied types of work."

+ The Gilbreths also had 12 kids and were the inspiration for the 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen and its (apparently rotten) 2003 remake starring Steve Martin.

 

5. An entire New York block—Avenue of the Americas between 26th and 27th— became electrified

"It is unusual for an area as large as a whole city block to become electrified, Mr. McGee said.

There are often small areas that become electrified after storms. Sometimes they deliver no more than a small jolt. Other times, the stray voltage can prove more dangerous.

In 1997, Philip Vanaria, a teacher, was crippled and suffered brain damageafter being shocked while using a pay phone in Greenwich Village.

'I was holding the phone with my left hand,' Mr. Vanaria said in court papers, 'and I got a very sharp jolting feeling that ran — it was like a current that ran up my left bicep into my left shoulder down toward my heart.'

Two years later, Jackie, a 7-year-old carriage horse, stepped on an electrified Con Ed service box cover. She kicked her driver in the head, then collapsed and died.

This winter, there have been scattered reports of dogs’ being shocked, including on Monday, when a woman on Watts Street in TriBeCa reported that her dog yelped in pain after stepping on a subway grate.

On Wednesday, firefighters warned passers-by to avoid stepping on metal manhole covers. At one point a Con Ed worker approached a man walking a Chihuahua and said: 'Hey chief, you want to pick up your dog. There’s stray voltage all over the place.'"

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

apricot. The dictionaries all give long ā first. 

">

Apecricots, not appricots.

 

+ KQED wanted to know what was up with 5 Intriguing Things. I went a little crazy with my answers.

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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