August 5, 2014

The Cobra formation in all its former glory.     Photo: Thatcher Clay/Flickr

Beloved Moab Structure Topples

Stood for millions of years

Officials in Moab, Utah, have confirmed that the Cobra, an iconic sandstone formation 10 miles east of Arches National Park, fell from its perch following an intense isolated thunderstorm last week. Characterized by a strikingly top-heavy shape resembling the head and body of a snake, the Cobra was a favorite among hikers and climbers who visit the Special Recreation Management Area around Fisher Towers.

Formed out of Permian Cutler and Triassic Moenkopi sandstones about 245 million years ago, the Cobra and the trails surrounding it have long been sought out for their views of Castle Valley and the Colorado River. Climbers familiar with The Cobra estimate that it was first scaled some time in the early- to mid-1990s, and mountainproject.com has since given the “classic” route a difficulty rating of 5.11b.

Reports that the rocks falling from the formation were the result of impact by climbers remain unconfirmed. “We haven’t been out there to investigate, but from our perspective, it’s an act of nature. Erosion happens,” says Lisa Bryant, a public information officer for the Bureau of Land Management. "It’s sad when something like this happens, but we’re very grateful that no one was hurt.”

Lisa Hathaway, a climbing enthusiast based in Moab, echoed theories passed around by other climbers that the top of The Cobra fell when it was struck by lightning. “It had a very loose cap,” she said. “It was almost more miraculous that it lasted as long as it did.”

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Good job, orcas, for still refraining from killing humans in the wild.     Photo: Tatiana Ivkovich/Thinkstock

No, Whales Didn't Eat Whalers

Viral story was a hoax

When a story surfaced that a Japanese whaling crew had been attacked and eaten by a school of killer whales, leaving 16 dead, the social-media peanut gallery picked up on the "tragedy," hailing the assault as "awesome" and "karma."

This would have been the first deadly attack on humans by wild orcas—a significant event amid the growing SeaWorld controversy. After all, one of the central arguments in Blackfish is that keeping orcas in captivity essentially drives them mad, making them uniquely dangerous to humans. So the more than 250,000 shares on this whaling-attack story would have been warranted—had the piece not been completely fake.

People, check your sources. Anyone who clicked on the original piece would see that it appeared in World News Daily Report, a self-described "news and political satire publication"—which basically means it just makes everything up, funny or not. That's pretty much all there is to this hoax.

That means killer whales have still chalked up a total of zero fatal human attacks in the wild. And the handful of incidents that have occurred in nature usually seem to be cases of mistaken identity. Orcas could very easily kill humans, but all signs point to the fact that they probably aren't interested in eating us. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of orcas in captivity. Tim Zimmermann's The Killer in the Pool explores several of those deadly incidents—it's worth a read and is definitely real.

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These days, beer drinkers in the USA are spoiled for choice.     Photo: The Source Reno/Flickr

We've Entered a Craft Beer Bull Market

Americans just can't get enough beer

Americans have had it with watered-down swill.

The mid-year report released by the Brewers Association (BA) reported that American craft-beer-production volume has increased by 18 percent for the first half of 2014. Approximately 10.6 million barrels of craft beer were sold during the past six months, up from approximately 9 million barrels from the first half of 2013.

BA chief economist Bart Wilson said:

The sustained double-digit growth of the craft category shows the solidity of demand for fuller-flavored beer in a variety of styles from small and independent American producers. Craft brewers are providing world-class, innovative products that continue to excite beer lovers and energize the industry.

As of June 30, 3,040 breweries were in operation in the United States, of which 99 percent were craft breweries. According to the Brewers Association, craft breweries currently employ an estimated 110,273 people.

All this—plus Outside's frequent and enthusiastic coverage of artisanal suds—might leave you wondering about the precise definition of "craft brewer." The Brewers Association Board of Directors recently approved changes to its official definition. Here is the latest:  

An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional. Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

Save the mass-produced stuff for your beer mile exploits.

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To gluten-free or not to gluten-free, that is the question.     Photo: Andrea Nguyen/Flickr

Finally, Gluten-Free Means Something

New labels will actually be FDA regulated

Gluten-free labels abound in grocery stores, but until recently there was no FDA-supported definition of what gluten-free actually means.

Starting today, all packaged foods labeled gluten-free must contain no more than 20 parts per million of gluten, an amount that is recognized by the medical community to be low enough so that people who have celiac disease likely won't be affected. Gluten-free products will be technically free of wheat, rye, or barley. 

Food companies must market foods “in a truthful and not misleading manner," reports Time. Any packaging that fails to meet the FDA requirements “will be subject to regulatory action."

But there is one caveat: the new labels are voluntary. According to the Los Angeles Times, food companies and restaurants are encouraged—but not required—to comply.

Although companies have a choice about whether to use labels, at least now there is a definition of what constitutes “gluten-free” and what doesn’t. “A decade ago, our research determined that the prevalence of celiac disease in the United States was 1 in 133,” said Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at MassGeneral Hospital. “Even then it was obvious that patients could not safely manage their diet without better labeling requirements. The FDA has devoted years of work to make sure the standard issued today was safe for celiac patients. Our research supports that standard.”

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If you want to get amped up when you sweat, put some Queen in your exercise playlists and avoid the Baha Men (if you don't already).     Photo: Kai Chan Vong/Flickr

Make Your Playlist a PED

Bass-heavy music empowers, boosts performance

If you play to win, ensure your pre-game playlist is full of bass lines deeper than your squats. Previous research has found that music can enhance learning and even reduce pain, but a new study reports that listening to music—especially music that goes heavy on bass—can boost feelings of empowerment and control.

Dennis Hsu, a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, and his coauthors decided to test whether music has empowering effects after noticing athletes listening to music right before stepping onto the field.

"The ways these athletes immerse themselves in the music—some with their eyes steely shut and some gently nodding along the beats—seem as if the music is mentally preparing and toughening them up for the competition about to occur," Hsu said in an interview with EurekAlert

To test whether music—any music—was in fact empowering, the team had a group of participants report how powerful they felt after listening to 30-second clips of 31 songs, from genres including hip-hop and arena rock. After ranking the songs from most- to least-powerful, and controlling for the effects of lyrics, new subjects performed a series of tests while listening to three songs from both groups. 

As subjects completed the tasks, the researchers judged how high- and low-power songs affected subjects' sense of power and three effects of power: the illusion of control, willingness to make the first move in competition, and thought abstraction (big-picture thinking). Hsu's team found that high-powered music did elicit feelings of power, and that subjects listening to high-powered songs showed all three consequences of power. Notably, they were almost twice as likely to take charge in hypothetical debates (i.e., make the first move), and were more likely to complete "fill-in-the-blank" word tasks with powerful words. 

But why? The team hypothesized that strong bass levels, which existing literature associates with dominance, might be at play. They performed a second round of testing in which subjects listened to instrumental pieces with digitally varied bass levels. Those subjects who listened to bass-heavy songs reported feeling more powerful and used more power-related words to complete tasks. 

The research adds credence to the contagion hypothesis: that when people hear music that expresses feelings of power, they mirror those feelings. Conversely, it could also support the conditioning hypothesis: that we feel powerful when we hear certain songs—fight songs, for instance—because we associate those songs with powerful experiences such as rallies and athletic events. 

High-Powered Songs

"We Will Rock You" Queen
"Get Ready for This," 2 Unlimited

Low-Powered Songs

"Who Let the Dogs Out," Baha Men
"Because We Can," Fatboy Slim

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