March 4, 2014

50-foot snowman named Granddaddy.     Photo: pourmecoffee/YouTube

The Granddaddy of All Snowmen

Minnesota farmer constructs 50-foot snowman

Just as Michelangelo saw a statue in a block of marble, Minnesota farmer Greg Novak saw a 50-foot snowman in the pile of snow he'd accumulated on his property.

As the St. Cloud Times reports, Novak spent almost five weeks and hundreds of hours constructing what he calls Granddaddy. He utilized a skid loader and a silage blower to stack snow nearly five stories tall. Friends and family pitched in either to help build the snowman or do farm chores while Novak worked.

Gilman, Minnesota, received almost double the average monthly snowfall during January and February. When the roof to one of Novak's greenhouses collapsed, he began moving snow away from structures, and that snow pile was transformed into the snowman he named Granddaddy.

“As long as you’re moving it, might as well do something practical with it,” Novak told the Associated Press.

"This is unreal," Gerald Harbarth—who traveled 70 miles to see the mammoth snowman—told the Associated Press.

Granddaddy, however, is a midget compared to Olympia, a 122-foot snowman constructed in Bethel, Maine, in 2008 and claims the world record for largest snowman.

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A team claims to have cracked hover technology.    

Tony Hawk Introduces "Real" Hoverboard

Just an elaborate hoax, right?

In what can only be described as an elaborate hoax, Tony Hawk, Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd, and a crop of athletes and celebrities introduced the world to a real-life hoverboard. The company, Huvr, claims to have Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as a backer. In the company’s launch video, Christopher Lloyd delivers a hoverboard to Tony Hawk who says that Marty McFly’s board from the movie is what prompted many young people in the eighties to start skating.

The thing about the video is that everyone in it claims, seriously, that the board is real. The parking lot where the promo was filmed was blocked off with black plastic to prevent onlookers from seeing into the lot. In several shots, actors show obvious signs—shirts bulging and rising—of being lifted by wires. Most of the shots are of peoples’ lower bodies. And one particular shot, at 3:31, shows a rider who’s more pasted on than the original Marty McFly.

The video raises several questions: Why are these people doing this hoax now? And will there be a price to pay for tricking people into clicking on their fake ad? And now that they’ve got our attention, what do they hope to gain by it? If only we had a time machine, we could find out.

Also, if this is real, I’ll let a UFC fighter punch me in the face.

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There's a new explanation for why bears love human food.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

We've Trained Bears to Love Our Food

Yosemite animals are insatiable

Next time you have to bear-proof your campsite at night before snuggling into your sleeping bag, don't feel quite so resentful. Bears love human food, but that's because we've trained them to make it a part of their diet, according to new research from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In the study, to be published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, scientists specifically researched the Yosemite black bear population, analyzing chemical isotopes in hair and bone samples to determine how much human food the animals consumed.

Yosemite has worked to improve the problem. In 1999, the park implemented a strategy to keep human food out of the mouths of bears, which included buying bear-resistant food-storage containers, hiring staff to manage "problem bears," and organizing a team to educate vistors about how to store their food. The study suggests that these initiatives resulted in a more than 60 percent reduction in how much human food Yosemite bears consumed.

Once exposed to human food, however, bears get addicted to it, and because some people will always mistakenly leave their food out, the animals continue to search for it.

Study co-authors Jack Hopkins and Paul Koch analyzed hair and bone samples from Yosemite bears killed between 1915 and 1919 to get a statistical baseline. Back then, bears would sift through garbage, and annoyed visitors would often shoot them. From 1923 to 1971, the park actually opened feeding areas so visitors could watch the bears eat. From 1927 to 1956, Yosemite ran a fish hatchery, which it let bears hunt in for fresh trout. Still, bears sought human food at campgrounds and hotels.

"The remarkable thing is that the bears that eat human food are now back to the same level of Dumpster diving as in 1915, despite the fact that there are now millions of visitors in Yosemite every year and presumably a lot more garbage," said Koch, who is UCSC's dean of physical and biological sciences.

Human food constituted the largest proportion of bear diets from 1975 to 1985, when as much as a third of the food the animals ate came from humans. While Koch said reduction techniques could help ween bears from human food, he adds that the real solution is not conditioning them to eat our cuisine, which has more meat and corn than the animals should consume, in the first place. That's because genetic analysis has proven that even the offspring of bears that eat human food are conditioned to forage for our food in the same ways as their parents.

So, grumble all you want, but make sure to safeguard your food from bears accordingly. If you don't, you're part of the problem.

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Titan's UAVs have a five-year flight time and a carrying capacity of 250 pounds.     Photo: Courtesy of Titan Aerospace

Facebook Eyeing Drone Fleet

Solar-powered UAVs could provide Internet service almost anywhere

Facebook is reportedly in talks to purchase Titan Aerospace, a producer of solar-powered, near-orbital unmanned aerial vehicles. Titan UAVs can stay airborne for up to five years without landing and have the potential to house and operate communication systems very similar to satellites but at a much lower cost.

The immediate application for Facebook would be using these UAVs to provide Internet service in developing nations and remote regions around the world.

Facebook’s possible new acquisition would go a long way in the Internet.org initiative, which plans to deliver Internet access to 5 million people around the globe. Facebook, along with other tech giants such as Samsung, Nokia, and Qualcomm, set out in August 2013 to partner on creating cheap, high-quality access to the Web, primarily in developing countries. 

To start, Facebook is reportedly interested in launching more than 10,000 UAVs, with Africa as the primary focus. The Solara 60, one of Titan Aerospace’s premier units, is the likely choice with its ability to carry up to 250 pounds of equipment during flight.

In American airspace, near-orbital UAVs like Titan Aerospace’s Solara 50 and 60 are qualified as satellites and operate above the FAA’s regulatory ceiling of 60,000 feet.

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Researchers from Hawaii and Tokyo strapped a POV camera to a tiger shark similar to this one.     Photo: Amanda Cotton/Getty Images

Sharks Film with POV Cameras

To map their movements

It seems like everyone has a POV camera these days—even sharks.

Researchers recently outfitted sharks with wearable computers that track the animals’ movements and habits. The sophisticated gadget comes with an array of sensors and a video camera to give the team a shark's-eye view of the ocean.

"What we are doing is really trying to fill out the detail of what their role is in the ocean,” Carl Meyer, an assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told Treehugger. “It is all about getting a much deeper understanding of sharks’ ecological role in the ocean, which is important to the health of the ocean and, by extension, to our own well-being.” 

The computer, which looks a bit like a walkie-talkie strapped to the shark’s fin, has already disproved a few common misconceptions about the animals. Turns out sharks swim more often than they glide, and deep-sea sharks move in slow motion compared to their shallow-water relatives.

Next the researchers plan to develop a device for the sharks to eat. The idea is to get a better understanding of the animals’ diets and feeding patterns. Maybe these predators will be able to tweet about their meal someday.

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No Mount Whitney permits were distributed on October 2 at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center.     Photo: Whitney Dreier

Shutdown Cost Parks $414 million

8 million fewer visitors in 2013

Last October's government shutdown didn't stop one of our editors from summiting Mount Whitney on her birthday, but it definitely cost America’s national parks and their surrounding communities some dough: $414 million in lost visitor spending, the Associated Press reports

About 8 million fewer people—a 33.3 percent decline—visited national parks last October, due to the 16-day shutdown. A report released Monday by the National Park Service notes that five states, including California and Arizona, lost more than $20 million during that time. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which stretches across Tennessee and North Carolina, received 329,104 fewer visitors than average.

Six states—Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah—received permission to reopen parks during the shutdown and were able to generate approximately $10 for every dollar visitors spent. Congress will review a bill to reimburse those states. 

"It is not known how people intending to visit NPS or other federal lands near gateway communities may have modified their travel plans during and after the shutdown," the report states. "Therefore, estimating the overall total change in visitation and spending impacts to NPS gateway communities associated with the government shutdown is beyond the scope of this analysis. This summary focuses on the more immediate changes in visitor spending associated with October NPS visitation in the gateway regions and does not estimate job, labor income, or output impacts, which are typically considered longer-term effects."

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