April 29, 2014

Paratarsotomus macropalpis leaves the cheetah completely in the dust.     Photo: sophiek_robertson/iStock

A Dyna-Mite Runner

Rarely studied species takes the prize for fastest land animal

The fastest land animal in the world is the size of a sesame seed and has legs the size of splinters. That doesn't stop Paratarsotomus macropalpis, a species of mite found in southern California, from covering ground at about 20 times the rate of a cheetah.

Samuel Rubin, a physics student at Pitzer College, discovered the new record holder by measuring how many of its own body lengths the mite covered per second. A Paratarsotomus macropalpis traveling at top speeds hit 322 body lengths in one second. By comparison, a cheetah covers a measly 16 body lengths per second. 

A human would have to travel 1,300 miles per hour to accomplish the same rate of speed as this mite, but we can still learn something from this tiny champion. Rubin hopes that understanding the physics behind the mite's incredible speed could inform designs for robots or other helpful devices. Not bad for a sesame seed.

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Canadian James Nielson takes down the beer mile world record.     Photo: Getty Images/Merydolla

Man Runs Sub-5 Beer Mile

Canadian James Nielson drinks 4 beers, runs 4 laps in 4:57

We are one week away from the 60-year anniversary of Roger Bannister running the first sub-four-minute mile. What he accomplished on that blustery day in 1954 on Oxford University's track is perhaps still the most significant moment in athletics: a testament to humankind's eternal striving to break barriers once thought impenetrable.

Now humanity can celebrate another such milestone: The sub-five-minute beer mile has been achieved. 

Last Sunday, a 34-year-old Canadian named James Nielson successfully downed four cans of beer and ran four laps around a track (alternating drinking with running) in four minutes and 57 seconds, smashing the previous beer-mile record of 5:09.

The rules for this prestigious event, as stipulated by BeerMile.com, require the beers to be no less than 335 ml (12 ounces) each and five percent alcohol content. If a competitor vomits before finishing the race, an additional lap must be added at the end of the race, meaning cheap-date competitors can probably say sayonara to their chances of besting Nielson's mark.

Speaking of which, U.S. Olympian and athletes' rights advocate Nick Symmonds (himself a 5:15 beer miler) has offered Nielson his congratulations, as reported by Flotrack.org: "Huge congrats to him. I guess I better start training."

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Rio is far from ready for the 2016 Olympics.     Photo: Getty Images

Rio Olympics Probably Doomed

IOC vice president concerned for 2016

If we thought Sochi was a fail for the Olympic Games, we've got another thing coming in 2016. John Coates, vice president of the International Olympic Committee, called Rio's preparations for the 2016 games "the worst" he's seen yet, the Guardian reports.

At an Olympics forum in Sydney, Australia, Coates said construction hadn't begun in some venues in Rio de Janeiro and that infrastructure and water quality are behind schedule. To prevent what seems like an inevitable #RioFail, the IOC is swooping in. 

The IOC has formed a task force to speed things up, Coates said. Steps will include implementing extra monitors, project managers, and teams of experts.

"The IOC has adopted a more hands-on role. It is unprecedented for the IOC, but there is no plan B," Coates said. "We are going to Rio. We have become very concerned. They are not ready in many, many ways. We have to make it happen, and that is the IOC approach. You can't walk away from this."

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Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Dzhokhar is currently in federal prison on charges of using a weapon of mass destruction.     Photo: Associated Press

Why Did Dzhokhar Bomb Boston?

New sibling research suggests power of Tamerlan's influence

Since the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon a year ago, journalists, psychologists, and ordinary people have struggled to understand their motives. With elder brother Tamerlan dead and the younger Dzhokhar on media silence until his trial, it might take months to find out why the Tsarnaevs did what they did—if we ever find out at all.

But a new study published in Psychological Medicine might lend credence to one prominent theory, which portrays Tamerlan as the violent ringleader who corrupted and compelled Dzhokhar to assist him in his plot.

The new study, conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Sweden's Lund University, suggests that older siblings can strongly influence younger siblings who are close in age to commit violent crimes—and that this relationship doesn't work in reverse.

Experts have long recognized that violent criminal behavior runs in families because of shared factors including poverty, divorce, and parental supervision. This new research elaborates upon these previous observations by specifically examining how siblings influence one another.

The study's authors reviewed data from Sweden's national crime databases, analyzing the age differences in siblings and how they related to histories of violent criminal behavior. The statistics showed not only that violent older siblings influence their younger siblings, but also that the closer the age gap, the stronger the influence.

"Because older siblings often exert more influence on siblings than younger, the risk for violent criminal behavior should be greater when the older sibling has violent criminal behavior as compared to the younger sibling," the study says. "However it is not just mere closeness in age, but rather the nature of the sibling relationship that often occurs when siblings are closer in age."

The Tsarnaevs were seven years apart, so this analysis of sibling psychology doesn't completely account for Dzhokhar's actions—and plenty of reporting has suggested that the younger Tsarnaev relished his descent into rebellion and radicalism. But the research at least provides a starting point for understanding what went wrong.

Although we'll never be able to bring back the lives lost in Boston and may always seek answers about what drove the Tsarnaevs to commit the atrocities, these new findings might help to design prevention and treatment programs to reduce sibling violence in the future.

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Sweet shades, dude.     Photo: Newcastle University/YouTube

Praying Mantis Tries 3-D Glasses

Unimpressed by virtual objects

Most humans ditched their 3-D goggles post-Avatar, but Newcastle University just released video of its scientists hurling virtual objects at a praying mantis equipped with a miniature set of three-dimensional specs. The praying mantis seems undaunted—despite looking pretty suave in its new shades.

In a ploy to understand how insects perceive depth, scientists glued a pair of 3-D glasses—with beeswax, not actual glue—to the praying mantis's stereoscopic eyes (nature's version of three-dimensional vision), placed the creature in front of a green screen, and tried to get the insect to react.

This is not the first time scientists have messed with bugs. Backyard Brains released "the world's first commercially available cyborg" last year. The Roboroach, a cockroach-ready backpack that gifts the user with "brief" wireless control of the left and right movements of the cockroach from their smartphone, is no longer available in Apple or Google Play stores after receiving some serious flack from the pro-roach community.

That's insects two, scientists zero.

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Holidog lets your pet take his catnap in someone's home rather than a kennel.     Photo: darak77/ThinkStock

Airbnb Is Going to the Dogs

Holidog offers peer-to-peer pet services for kennel-wary owners

If the thought of leaving your four-legged friend in a kennel is enough to keep you from traveling, get ready to pack your bags. Holidog has set up shop in the United States.

First launched in France and Belgium in 2012 by Julien Muller, Holidog enables purrsonalized peer-to-peer pet care. As with home-rental service Airbnb, prospective pet owners can search by travel dates and location to find someone willing to look after dogs, cats, mice, and even horses—in their own homes or with the pet sitter's family. 

Letting a complete stranger get his or her claws on your beloved pet and credit card information is no simple task. Even before owners and sitters interview each other, they can determine if they're barking up the wrong tree. Sitters set up profiles specifying whether they already have pets, if they have kids, if they smoke, and even what type of property they own. 

Moreover, Holidog offers options that make it useful even when pet owners are in town. If you're busy with work, some hosts are willing to stop by and exercise a pet, feed it, or simply keep it company. 

To hold people responsible and ensure better care, pet parents and pet sitters alike publicly rate each other. Those ratings follow you, as owners can expand their search options to include a minimum number of reviews and average scores. More than that, the people watching your pet typically live close to you—they've got plenty of reasons to make sure Fang gets quality attention.

From our recent interaction with the Holidog website, it seems that the company's supply of stateside pet sitters is still relatively sparse, and those it does have are heavily concentrated in cities such as Chicago and New York City. However, Holidog already has a sizeable Facebook presence (largely French) and an active reviewing community.

Interested in meeting lovable pets in your neighborhood and earning cash at the same time? Sign up to become a pet sitter on the Holidog website.

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