Have you ever played Pit, the commodities card game? It always seems like it might be a little boring -- trading barley or hay sounds awfully tame, after all. But then you realize you're gaining a corner on barely and everything gets really intense.
Well last year, the dairy pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange saw a little action of its own. According to NPR, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission fined the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and former executives $12 million for trying to inflate the price of cheddar cheese.
The incident sounds bizarre, but it's systemic of a wider problem: monopolization and manipulation in the dairy business. The proof is in the (milk) pudding: Despite the lowest raw milk prices in 40 years, consumers aren't seeing much of a dip in supermarket prices. Instead, dairy giants are increasingly forcing down what they pay to farmers, leaving dairy farms in the lurch.
In many countries (such as Gambia, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, Argentina and India) meteorite ownership defaults to the government or state museums. As you might imagine, this puts varying restrictions on meteorite collecting, depending on where you are.
Since we're gobbling up fish faster than they can spawn, aquaculture has had to pick up the slack. Fish farming produces about half of the fish we eat -- the rest comes from increasingly depleted fisheries. So it's likely that if you want to keep fish as a regular part of your future diet, you'll have to rely more and more on the farmed variety. Unfortunately, farming doesn't always produce the healthiest, tastiest animals.
To keep fish accessible and safe from rough weather, most farming operations are close to shore. The resulting combination of poor water circulation plus tight quarters can equal disease or heavy antibiotic loads to prevent it. Deep water cages offer more circulation (and the potential to introduce a little natural food into the fishes' diet), but due to their inaccessibility, they're not particularly convenient. Could robots do the work for us?
We're already part-way there according to National Geographic News: Cliff Goudey of MIT is building self-guided operations that equip Aquapod cages with propellers.
We've largely come to hold DNA evidence as the ultimate weapon in criminal investigation, as well as one killer obstacle on the road to the perfect crime. Humans are constantly spurting fluids, shedding skin flakes and dropping hairs. Just one genetic sample left in the wrong place is enough to cinch it. At least it's been that way till now.
If you're on the same wavelength as me, then that slightly misleading headline probably summons images of The Cure front man flanked by Mounties, their ranks of cavalry charging rotting hoards of undead on the plains of Saskatchewan. Will our smokey-eyed hero stand a chance at conquering these reanimated cannibal legions? The actual story on BBC News is nearly as odd.
Following a trip to Boston early this summer, I left with one particularly indelible impression about the lovely city: The drivers there are crazy. I spent most of my time on the "T," the favored mode of transportation for many sensible citizens. But a jaunt around the city by car and a two-way trip on the Massachusetts Turnpike left me shaken by the patient, seemingly deliberate impulse drivers had to run into each other or make up their own lanes.
So it's easy for me to understand why Boston is one of the most walkable cities in the world -- who would want to drive? At HowStuffWorks, we even ranked it at No. 4 on a list of the United States' five most walkable cities. There's the aforementioned "T" and the miles of foot and bike paths.
But according to Inhabitat, the city's about to become even easier to get around sans car due to a new bike-sharing system.
Just consider this image, would you? Do you find your dieting resolve strengthening, or caving to its sweet, chocolaty powers of seduction? According to a recent study, this photograph might help you resist temptation.
As a kid, I remember conservation being all about the Three R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Thus the triangular formation of green arrows that probably graces all manner of products in your home. But at some point (maybe even from the start), recycling surpassed the other two R's in terms of recognition. It became the talented artist in the passé pop group who obviously needs to go solo.
But what of reducing and reusing -- arguably the most important of the three R's? They didn't vanish, only to return years later on some "Remember the '90s" clip show. No, they've been rebranded as the trendier sounding "precycling" and "upcycling," words that happen to look a lot like their popular counterpart.
I've posted about upcycling before, so you might already know the deal: It's not just buying a table at Goodwill instead of IKEA.
Fiction lovers adore splendid underwater cities. It used to be the ancient, lost Atlantis (or its similarly mythical colonies) that made regular appearances in books and movies. Then it was high-tech underwater bases. Now it's more likely to be real, recognizable coastal cities drowned in a global warming end game.
Sure, thanks to a pesky sinkhole, all you have are your memories of the Epcot Center's Horizons attraction. But hey, maybe you won't have to wait too long for the real thing. Scientists are once again talking about robot harvesters in a way that brings to mind the ride's futuristic farm equipment (check out the video clip). You can practically smell the oranges.
When you think of future bone replacement methods, you probably either imagine cultivated, lab-grown tissue or some manner of steel and plastic implants. You probably don't think of wood -- at least not inside you. Too many weird "George Washington had carved chompers" connotations to think about. Yet Discovery News is reporting a new procedure may make it possible to turn a block of wood into artificial bone. It's not simply a matter of whittling a femur out of red oak, though.
I know what you're thinking: Isn't there away to stay on the cutting edge of NASA's space missions while ALSO pumping hours of ambient electronic music into your brain? Now there is, as popular Internet radio station SomaFM has unveiled a new channel "Mission Control." So plug in your ear buds, grab that DVD of "2001" and prepare to drift off into deep space.
As frightening and intimidating as the dark can be, it's something we might need on a biological level. Earlier in the week, I blogged about light pollution and its effects on both the environment and our enjoyment of the night sky. Today, I thought I'd quickly run through some of the possible effects on human health.
I love a good ape-related news story, so naturally I'm all about musical orangutans. But I also love an amusing headline. Lets look at some of the language that media outlets are using to sell this particular science story, shall we?
How ironic is it that gold and diamonds -- substances valued for their purity or clarity -- can turn out to be so messy? By now, most folks have heard of "blood diamonds" (if not from newspaper headlines then from the 2006 movie), as well as the Kimberly Process that protects consumers from unwittingly supporting conflict diamonds.
"No Dirty Gold," a campaign based in Washington, D.C., is trying to achieve an ethical standard similar to the Kimberly Process. While gold isn't so closely associated with violence and conflict as diamonds are, there's not much that's pretty about mining the precious metal.
According to the Economist, most gold is procured through open-pit mining (gone are the days when '49ers panned riverbeds for sizable nuggets). One ounce of gold requires at least 60 tons of rock be removed; plus, there's the addition of cyanide and mercury used to separate the metal.
Just take a look at the night sky in this photo. Do those stars look anything like what you encounter in the evenings? If you're like me and live in a densely populated area, then the answer's probably "no." Here in Atlanta, we're lucky to catch a twinkle or two in the haze overhead -- and that's probably just an airliner.
The reign of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) was supposed to begin last February. The climate observation instrument would have mapped atmospheric carbon dioxide and tracked greenhouse gas emissions. It would have finally answered some big questions about global warming causing gases and our climate. The only problem? Minutes after its launch, the OCO crashed and burned, bringing nine years of research and development to a sudden halt.
Now the National Academy of Science's (NAS) National Research Council is asking NASA to start picking up the pieces -- figuratively of course. According to the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog, NAS wants NASA (oh, the difference a letter makes!) to consider working on a new satellite.
NAS isn't satisfied with current atmosphere-bound instruments, pointing out that "the existing atmospheric CO2 sampling network of ground stations, aircraft, and satellites is not well designed for estimation of emissions from large local sources distributed around the globe."
Have you checked your mechanical assembly of imprisoned leeches to see what tomorrow's weather forecast is? You haven't? Well, that's because the Tempest Prognosticator or "leech barometer" didn't really catch on in nineteenth century England.