"Flu Fears Halt a Long Decline in Orange Juice Sales"

  • Orange juice sales rose 0.9% to 38.66 million gallons in the four weeks ended Jan. 20. 
  • That uptick marked the first year-over-year increase in nearly five years, according to Nielsen, though analysts don’t expect this trend to last much beyond flu season.
  • Consumption has been dwindling over the past decade for a number of reasons. 
    • Greater public awareness of orange juice’s high sugar content has dented its image as a healthy drink. 
    • Flavored water, blended beverages like smoothies, and energy drinks such as Red Bull have made traditional fruit juices look staid in the eyes of many consumers, analysts say
  • But the most severe flu outbreak in the U.S. in at least eight years has those worried about getting sick turning to this traditional source of vitamin C, helping boost sales for the first time since April 2013.
  • Flu pandemics have aided orange juice sales before. In 2009, an outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus, better known as swine flu, helped boosted sales by 8%.
  • Scientific research, however, suggests only a tenuous connection between orange juice consumption and flu prevention.

Read the full article (by Julie Wernau in the WSJ) here

Fun (and Un-Fun) New Findings:

"A Witness Drew This Terrible Sketch To Help Police Identify A Suspect. It Actually Worked."

Read the story here

In Praise Of: PPC Cement Laptop Bags

  • An unused Pretoria Portland Cement paper bag (from South Africa) is the beginning of each piece. 
  • We separate the layers, remove the top and third layer of the bag and fuse them together.
  • Bonding them with black cotton means that durability is never compromised. 
  • From there, you can treat it like any other fabric. 
  • There are two sections and two pockets...A padded divider separates your laptop from any other papers or notes, and the entire inside of the bag is also padded to protect everything that you carry inside it.
  • We treat the bag with Scotch Guard so you don’t have to worry about exposing it to the elements.

The designer saw the beauty of the actual, industrial, cement-filled PPC bags...and found a way to transform them into wearable art. They come in different colors and sizes. See more (and buy one?) here. Learn more about the designer and the company here


Fun (and Un-Fun) New Studies:

"Saildrones" Will Be Used To Explore the Southern Ocean and Collect/Transmit Real-Time Data For Research

  • Australian research group CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) will be using aquatic drones to explore the Southern Ocean. 
  • The Saildrones...are propelled by the wind, and their electronics are powered by the sun -- this allows them to remain at sea for up to 12 months at a time, uploading collected data along the way.
  • Equipped with both automatic identification systems and ship avoidance systems, they can operate autonomously or be remotely controlled via a satellite connection from anywhere in the world.
  • "Saildrones are long-range research platforms that can be sent to remote locations for an extended period of time, delivering real-time data back to scientists that was previously impossible to collect," says CSIRO Research Group Leader, Andreas Marouchos.

Learn more here

Fun (and Un-Fun) New Findings:

ART: Ferdinand Kriwet

  • Ferdinand Kriwet is a multimedia artist who has engaged with text, language and concrete poetry since the 1960s. 
  • Kriwet's circular use of text also has strong associations with the mandala, an Indian form imbued with spiritual significance in Buddhism and Hinduism. Moreover, it has the function of disrupting the linear process of writing, as words and names join together or are juxtaposed to suggest a clashing and fusing of ideas.

Learn more here and here. See lots more here

Fun (and Un-Fun) New Findings:

"Why Does It Cost $32,093 Just To Give Birth In America?"

  • America is the most expensive nation in the world to give birth. 
  • When things go wrong – from pre-eclampsia to premature birth – costs can quickly spiral into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 
  • While the data is limited, experts in medical debt say the costs of childbirth factor into thousands of family bankruptcies in America each year.
  • It’s nearly impossible to put a price tag on giving birth in America, since costs vary dramatically by state and hospital. But one 2013 study by the the advocacy group Childbirth Connection found that, on average, hospitals charged $32,093 for an uncomplicated vaginal birth and newborn care, and $51,125 for a standard caesarean section and newborn care.
  • Insurance typically covers a large chunk of those costs, but families are still often on the hook for thousands of dollars.
  • Another estimate from the International Federation of Health Plans put the average amount insurers paid for a vaginal birth in the US at $10,808 in 2015. That is quintuple the IFHP estimate for another industrialized nation, Spain, where it costs $1,950 to deliver a child. 
  • Even the luxurious accommodations provided to the Duchess of Cambridge for the birth of the royal family’s daughter Princess Charlotte – believed to have cost up to $18,000 – were cheaper than many births in America.
  • Despite these high costs, the US consistently ranks poorly in health outcomes for mothers and infants. The US rate of infant mortality is 6.1 for every 1,000 live births, higher than Slovakia and Hungary, and nearly three times the rate of Japan and Finland. 
  • The US also has the worst rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. That means America is simultaneously the most expensive and one of the riskiest industrialized nations in which to have children.
  • Nearly half of American mothers are covered by Medicaid, a program available to low income households that covers nearly all birth costs. But people with private insurance still regularly pay thousands of dollars in co-pays, deductibles and partially reimbursed services when they give birth. Childbirth Connection put the average out of pocket childbirth costs for mothers with insurance at $3,400 in 2013.

Read the full article in The Guardian here

Relaxing? Or creepy?


Switzerland Bans the Boiling Of Live Lobsters. Can They Really Feel Pain?

  • The Swiss Federal Council issued an order this week banning cooks in Switzerland from placing live lobsters into pots of boiling water — joining a few other jurisdictions that have protections for the decapod crustaceans. 
  • Switzerland’s new measure stipulates that beginning March 1, lobsters must be knocked out — either by electric shock or “mechanical destruction” of the brain — before boiling them, according to Swiss public broadcaster RTS.
  • The new order also states that lobsters, and other decapod crustaceans, can no longer be transported on ice or in ice water, but must be kept in the habitat they’re used to — saltwater.
  • The announcement reignited a long-running debate: Can lobsters even feel pain?
  • “They can sense their environment,” said Bob Bayer, executive director of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, “but they probably don’t have the ability to process pain.”
  • A 2013 study in the Journal of Experimental Biology found that crabs avoided electric shocks, suggesting they can, in fact, feel pain. Bob Elwood, one of the study’s authors and a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, told BBC News at the time: “I don’t know what goes on in a crab’s mind. . . . But what I can say is the whole behavior goes beyond a straightforward reflex response and it fits all the criteria of pain.
  • However, marine biologist Jeff Shields, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said it’s unclear whether the reaction to negative stimuli is a pain response or simply an avoidance response. “That’s the problem,” he said, “there’s no way to tell.”
  • But because lobsters do not have the neural pathways that mammals have and use in pain response, Shields said he does not believe lobsters feel pain.
  • According to an explainer from the Lobster Institute, a research and educational organization, lobsters have a primitive nervous system, akin to an insect, such as a grasshopper. “Neither insects nor lobsters have brains,” according to the institute. “For an organism to perceive pain it must have a complex nervous system. Neurophysiologists tell us that lobsters, like insects, do not process pain.”
Learn more about this fascinating "debate" here

Modern Life: "What Happens to All the Salt We Dump On the Roads?"

  • It’s estimated that more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S. annually...about 137 pounds of salt for every American.
  • But all that salt has to go somewhere. 
  • After it dissolves--and is split into sodium and chloride ions--it gets carried away via runoff and deposited into both surface water (streams, lakes and rivers) and the groundwater under our feet.
  • Because it’s transported more easily than sodium, chloride is the greater concern, and in total, an estimated 40 percent of the country’s urban streams have chloride levels that exceed safe guidelines for aquatic life, largely because of road salt.
  • A range of studies has found that chloride from road salt can negatively impact the survival rates of crustaceans, amphibians such as salamanders and frogs, fish, plants and other organisms. 
  • There’s even some evidence that it could hasten invasions of non-native plant species--in one marsh by the Massachusetts Turnpike, a study found that it aided the spread of salt-tolerant invasives.
  • Recently, in some areas, transportation departments have begun pursuing strategies to reduce salt use. 
  • Salting before a storm, instead of after, can prevent snow and ice from binding to the asphalt, making the post-storm cleanup a little bit easier and allowing road crews to use less salt overall. Mixing the salt with slight amounts of water allows it to spread more, and blending in sand or gravel lets it to stick more easily and improve traction for cars. 
  • Elsewhere, municipalities are trying out alternate de-icing compounds. 
  • Over the past few years, beet juice, sugarcane molasses, and cheese brine, among other substances, have been mixed in with salt to reduce the overall chloride load on the environment. These don’t eliminate the need for conventional salt, but they could play a role in cutting down just how much we dump on the roads.

  • Read the full article (by Joseph Stromberg for Smithsonian) here.

    Fun (and Un-Fun) New Findings:

    "The Man Who Revealed the Hidden Structure of Falling Snowflakes"

  • A numinous fact, as basic to childhood as George Washington’s cherry tree confession (and far more reliable), is that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. 
  • Almost as incredible...is that one individual is responsible for this...revelation, a man as deserving of a place in that pantheon of those who have revealed something we never knew before as Copernicus, Newton and Curie. 
  • Let us add his name to the list: Wilson A. Bentley.
  • Beginning in the early 1880s, Bentley...[devised] a mechanism that combined a microscope with a view camera. Using light-sensitive glass plates not unlike those that had recorded Civil War battlefields, he learned how to make extraordinarily sophisticated “portraits” of individual snow crystals.
  • Isolating individual crystals itself posed a daunting challenge—there may be 200 of them in a large snowflake. And keeping the crystals frozen and unspoiled required Bentley to work outside, using balky equipment. 
  • Bentley seemed willing to pursue his arduous work—over the years he made pictures of thousands of snow crystals—not with any hope for financial gain but simply for the joy of discovery. 
  • Nicknamed Snowflake by his neighbors, he claimed his pictures were “evidence of God’s wonderful plan” and considered the endlessly varied crystals “miracles of beauty.”
  • In 1904, Bentley approached the Smithsonian with nearly 20 years of photographs and a manuscript describing his methods and findings. But...the submission [was rejected] as “unscientific.” (Eventually, the U.S. Weather Bureau published the manuscript and many of the photographs.)
  • Avowing that “it seemed a shame” not to share the wonders he had recorded, Bentley sold many of his glass plates to schools and colleges for 5 cents apiece. He never copyrighted his work.
  • Bentley’s efforts to document the artistry of winter garnered him attention as he grew older. He published an article in National Geographic. Finally, in 1931, he collaborated with meteorologist William J. Humphreys on a book, Snow Crystals, illustrated with 2,500 of Snowflake’s snowflakes
  • Bentley’s long, frigid labors culminated just in the nick of time. The man who revealed the glittering secret of every white Christmas died that same year on December 23 at his Jericho farm.

    Read the full profile (by Owen Edwards) here. See the book here