Uber in Europe

And four other intriguing things: stardust, epigentics, rat dipping, and what happens after the explosion.
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1. Brussels officials are not messing around with Uber.

"Briggte Grouwels, Brussels’ minister of public works and transport, already made it clear that it wouldn’t be allowing Uber to operate any of its taxi industry-threatening services in the city, and she seems to be hellbent on keeping her word.

During a coincidental check, two UberPOP drivers had their vehicles seized by the police this morning, for not adhering to the relevant laws on taxi services."

 

2. Actually, you're only 93 percent stardust. The rest of you was created in the Big Bang

"Now that we have established that every element in the periodic table aside from hydrogen is essentially stardust, we have to determine how much of our body is made up of this stardust.  If we know how many hydrogen atoms are in our body, then we can say that the rest is stardust.  Our body is composed of roughly 7x10^27 atoms. That is a lot of atoms! Try writing that number out on a piece of paper: 7 with 27 zeros behind it. We say roughly because if you pluck a hair or pick your nose there might be slightly less. Now it turns out that of those billion billion billion atoms, 4.2x10^27 of them are hydrogen. Remember that hydrogen is bigbang dust and not stardust. This leaves 2.8x10^27 atoms of stardust. Thus the amount of stardust atoms in our body is 40 percent.

"Since stardust atoms are the heavier elements, the percentage of star mass in our body is much more impressive. Most of the hydrogen in our body floats around in the form of water. The human body is about 60 percent water and hydrogen only accounts for 11 percent of that water mass. Even though water consists of two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen, hydrogen has much less mass. We can conclude that 93 percent of the mass in our body is stardust."

 

3. Read this no-nonsense feature if you've heard the term 'epigenetics' but aren't really sure why it's important.

"Biologists first observed this 'transgenerational epigenetic inheritance' in plants. Tomatoes, for example, pass along chemical markings that control an important ripening gene2. But, over the past few years, evidence has been accumulating that the phenomenon occurs in rodents and humans as well. The subject remains controversial, in part because it harks back to the discredited theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a nineteenth-century French biologist who proposed that organisms pass down acquired traits to future generations. To many modern biologists, that's 'scary-sounding,' says Oliver Rando, a molecular biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, whose work suggests that such inheritance does indeed happen in animals. If it is true, he says, 'Why hasn't this been obvious to all the brilliant researchers in the past hundred years of genetics?'

"One reason why many remain sceptical is that the mechanism by which such inheritance might work is mysterious. Explaining it will require a deep dive into reproductive biology to demonstrate how the relevant signals might be formed in the germ line, the cells that develop into sperm and eggs and carry on, at a minimum, a person's genetic legacy."

 

4. The rat catchers of Liverpool.

"Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers dipping rats in buckets of petrol to kill fleas for plague control. Liverpool, England. Photograph, 1900/1920."

 

5. The sweeping spotlight of national attention illuminated West, Texas for a short while after a fertilizer plant explosion. It left, but the story went on.

"In the weeks after the explosion, much of West was declared off-limits. People who lived within the blast's immediate vicinity, in Zone 3, weren't allowed to go back to their homes to fetch clothing or medication. Residents were advised to boil water before drinking it, in case of contamination. Food slowly rotted in powerless refrigerators. Still, the town seemed strangely full. There were the groups who'd come to help—the Red Cross, Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery, the Salvation Army—as well as the local, state, and federal law enforcement officers tasked with figuring out who to blame. At one point there were seventy ATF agents working on a potential crime scene that spanned fifteen acres.

"Reed took advantage of the fact that anyone wearing a uniform could move around West a bit more freely. When the town's doctor, George Smith, complained that he couldn't get prescription pads and equipment from his office, Reed flashed his credentials at the checkpoint and smuggled Smith into the restricted zone. He dressed a television producer in firefighter's bunker gear and snuck him into ground zero. He stood weeping in his uniform at the site of the explosion. Eventually, the ATF told Reed that if he was spotted north of Oak Street again, he'd be arrested on the spot."

 

Today's 1957 American English Tip:

ascendancy, ascendant. Both words mean domination or prevailing influence, & not upward tendency or rising prosperity or progress. The ascendancy ofHave an or the ascendancy overBe in the ascendant, are the normal phrases; in the third, which is less detached than the other from its astrological origin, ascendancy is wrong; NOT It is not recorded what stars were in the ascendancy when Winston Churchill was born (must be in the ascendant).

You will note that the line Margaret Nicholson attempts to hold here has been erased. It now, by and large, means rising.

 

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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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