February 27, 2014

Offshore wind turbines could greatly reduce hurricane severity.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Can Wind Farms Fight Hurricanes?

New study says yes

Students at Stanford University have discovered that placing wind turbines off shorelines can reduce a hurricane’s wind surface speed by up to 80 percent. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, reports that these turbines can both protect coastal areas in times of bad weather and be a significant source of renewable energy.

To slow the onslaught of a hurricane’s winds by up to 93 MPH, offshore turbines must produce at least 300 gigawatts of electricity. Using a computer simulator, students calculated that Hurricane Sandy’s strength could have been notched down by as much as 34 percent. That would have had a notable impact on the $80 billion in storm damages incurred on the East Coast.

The findings have been met with skepticism, because up to 400,000 wind turbines would be required to produce the necessary 300 gigawatts. But researchers point out that fewer turbines could still be used to diminish the impact of strong winds, and therefore waves, caused by hurricanes in vulnerable coastal areas.

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Evening tail splash.     Photo: Steven Benjamin/Getty Images

Whip-Slapped by a Whale

Tourist takes one in face

Whale watching is usually a subdued, hands-off experience. Not so for Nova Scotia native Chelsea Crawford, who was slapped in the head by the tail of a humpback whale off the Southern California coast last weekend.

As part of her 20th birthday celebration, Crawford was enjoying a close encounter from the dinghy when the ornery whale's tail came down directly on top of her head. “We were about to leave and I said, 'Aw, man, I didn't get to pet one,'" Crawford told reporters. It looks like she spoke too soon.

The video, recorded by a friend, has enjoyed more than a million views in its first four days on YouTube. Crawford is a little bruised but otherwise in good spirits.

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Even though your dog might look guilty, he isn't actually feeling any shame.     Photo: AnnaIA/Shutterstock

Study: Dogs Feel No Shame

Despite guilty looks

No matter how guilty your dog might look after eating your slippers, he isn’t feeling any shame.  

According to behaviorists, dogs don’t feel guilt. That regretful look—ears pulled back, head lowered—is a reaction to your yelling, not the damage caused.

"Just get over it and remind yourself not to put temptation in the way next time," Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, told the Associated Press.

In 2009, researchers examined why dogs look so sad after misbehaving. Dogs were left alone in a room with a treat their owners had forbidden them to eat. Some dogs ate the biscuit, while others resisted, but in each case the “guilty look” was associated with the owner’s actions—not the dog’s.  

Those scientific findings haven’t prevented the growth of online dog shaming sites like DogShaming.com and ShameYourPet.com. Many of these images show dogs—surrounded by the remnants of their misdeeds—with guilt written all over their muzzles. Or at least that’s how we perceive it. 

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The old (left) and new (right) versions of the "Nutrition Facts" label.     Photo: Courtesy of the Food and Drug Administration

FDA to Change "Nutrition Facts"

First overhaul since 1993

For the first time in more than 20 years, the FDA has proposed changes to the iconic "Nutrition Facts" chart printed on nearly every food product sold in the United States. The label hasn't been modified since its 1993 introduction, but in a statement released Tuesday the agency claims that Americans' habits—and what they know about nutrition—have.

"Obesity, heart disease, and other chronic diseases are leading public health problems," says Michael Landa, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "The proposed new label is intended to bring attention to calories and serving sizes, which are important in addressing these problems. Further, we are now proposing to require the listing of added sugars."

The most notable changes will take place near the top of the familiar chart. The FDA has chosen to place a larger emphasis on calories and serving size, both to reflect their importance and how Americans realistically consume food.

For example, with the new label you might see the calories in your ice cream double—but not because your Ben & Jerry's just got twice as unhealthy (or delicious, depending on how you see it). A close inspection of the chart would reveal a slash in servings per container, because the FDA now realizes its prescribed servings are often considerably smaller than the ones average Americans eat.

Certain ingredients will also receive special treatment. "Added Sugars" will be included as a subset of "Sugars" (similar to how "Sugars" is now a subset of "Total Carbs"), because the average American consumes 16 percent of his or her daily calories from sugars added during food production. Additionally, the FDA will eliminate "Calories from Fat," because it acknowledges that the type of fat is more important. It will still require information about total, saturated, and trans fat.

In a further effort to help Americans understand not just what's in their food but also the impact of those ingredients, the new labels will shift recommended daily values from the right side to the left for easier readability. Information about potassium and vitamin D will also be required for every label. Potassium helps to lower blood pressure and prevent hypertension, while vitamin D helps bone health, especially among women and the elderly—FDA nutritionists say Americans aren't consuming enough of these nutrients.

The FDA's "Nutrition Facts" revisions aren't as aesthetically drastic as the ones the USDA made in 2005 to the food pyramid. That's because the redesign is less of a rearrangement of existing data than a renewed emphasis—essentially, the FDA is saying, different aspects of our nutrition are more important than previously thought.

The agency has published its proposed changes for a 90-day comment period and suggest that the food industry be given two years to comply after the approval of any modifications.

As part of her Let's Move! health campaign, first lady Michelle Obama helped with the announcement and quickly voiced her support:

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    Photo: leungchopan/iStockphoto

Parrot Cracks Murder Case

Screeching bird IDs perp

A culprit in a botched robbery that resulted in murder had evaded Indian detectives for nearly a week until an unlikely witness stepped forward: Hercule, the parrot.

As the Times of India reports, on February 20, Neelam Sharma and her dog were found stabbed to death at her residence. In the days following the murder, Sharma's husband, Vijay, noticed that the family parrot acted peculiarly whenever their nephew, Ashutosh, visited the home.

"Whenever Ashutosh's name was mentioned, the parrot would start screeching," Vijay Sharma, told the Times of India. "This raised my suspicion, and I informed the police."

Police questioned Ashutosh, who confessed to the crime.

Parrots have a long and noble history as crime solvers. In 1931, a green parrot tipped off police to the murder of its owner with shrieks that the Spokane Daily Chronicle reports sounded like "don't, Papa, don't."

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