June 3, 2014

Cuts commute time by 20 minutes.     Photo: ANF Noticias Fides/YouTube

World's Highest Gondola Open

Commute to work at 13,615 feet

The first portion of the world's highest gondola officially opened yesterday at 13,615 feet, from La Paz to El Alton, Bolivia. A commute that took Bolivians some half an hour by congested roadway now cuts travel time to about 10 minutes.

Scheduled for completion in September, the urban lift system from Austrian company Dopplemayr will span six miles, transport 18,000 commuters per hour, operate 17 hours a day, and cost $234 million.

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Fight or flight? When dealing with an angry hawk parent, definitely go with the latter.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hawk Knocks Woman Out Cold in Her Driveway

Aggressive parent protecting nearby nest

The residents of Forest Hills, Pennsylvania, are keeping one eye on the skies after a local resident was knocked unconscious by an especially aggressive neighborhood hawk. Eileen Bridge was washing her car outdoors when she was "dive-bombed" by what is believed to be a red-tailed hawk, according to CBS Pittsburgh.

"[The hawk] knocked me down," said Bridge, who suffered lacerations to her scalp and ear, along with a wicked shiner. "There was so much blood on my face, dripping down my blouse." Despite her wounds, Bridge managed to contact her husband, Pat, who took her to the hospital. Pat Bridge also had a close encounter with the hawk just a few days earlier as he was crossing their yard. "From behind, I heard this rushing air and wind sound," he said. "It was that hawk. It just glanced off the top of my head."

The hawk is likely one of a pair that nested in a pine tree behind the Bridge's home this spring. Nestlings appeared not long after, likely leading to the pair's aggressive and protective behavior.

In light of the attacks, the state game commission has elected to relocate the nest and its babies.

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That scenic ride along the Seine? You could get paid for it if you're French and it's part of your work commute.     Photo: Pranav Babu Photography/Flickr

French Cyclists Celebrate

Get paid to commute

It's a good day to be French: The country has officially launched a six-month experiment in paying people who bike to work. Twenty companies and institutions have signed on to pay their staff the equivalent of about 34 cents per kilometer biked to work.

A few other countries have beat France to the cyclist-friendly punch, namely the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, and Britain. Some schemes involve tax breaks, while others assist with buying bicycles. The United States has yet to shell out to bike commuters, but at least in Los Angeles another commuting innovation is chugging away: the bike train. That's a group of cyclists who ride to work in groups of about five to 10, complete with a "conductor" who meets each biker at their door and makes sure they get to work safely.

The French experiment aims more for an environmental and fitness impact, hoping to get cars off the street and boost people's health—after all, only about 2.4 percent of the workforce currently gets to their job on bike. If officials see results, France is likely to expand the scheme.

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Are Americans really less afraid of "female" storms?     Photo: mac d-ski photography/Flickr

Hurricane Name Implications

Causing a stormy debate

Call it meteorological sexism. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois and Arizona State that was released on Monday suggests that Americans are less intimidated by hurricanes with female names. The team looked at death tolls of hurricanes in the United States from 1950 to 2012 and concluded that "female" storms had significantly higher casualty rates, indicating that people were more laissez-faire when anticipating a "girly" tempest.

"People imagining a 'female' hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter," said study co-author Sharon Shavitt in a statement. "The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women—they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men."

The study excluded statistics from hurricanes Audrey and Katrina, as these numbers would have dramatically skewed the data. Nevertheless, the researchers' decision to begin with storms after 1950 has led certain critics to question their methodology. Jeff Lazo, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told USA Today that hurricanes only began getting male names in the late 1970s, by which time there were already advances in emergency protocol. 

"It could be that more people die in female-named hurricanes simply because more people died in hurricanes on average before they started getting male names," Lazo said.

Lazo also pointed out that the study data included indirect deaths, such as fatalities that occurred during the post-storm cleanup, which clearly had no bearing on the "gender" of the hurricane.

Given the enormous number of factors—from economic to geographic—that influence a population's preparation for an impending storm, it does seem dangerous to attach too much significance to a hurricane's arbitrarily bestowed moniker. Nevertheless, the psychological influence of a threatening name shouldn't be underestimated.

Laura Wattenberg, creator of BabyNameWizard.com, has suggested naming all future hurricanes Voldemort as a public safety measure.

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If this research has legs, string instruments are a dime a dozen worldwide.     Photo: arvitalya/ThinkStock

Spiders: The Original String Musicians

Silk can communicate structural information, inspire new materials

A group of British material scientists conducting research into how spiderwebs vibrate found signatures of musical prowess in Araneae. The researchers knew that spiders "tune" their silk to control material qualities of the silk itself as well as the tension between connecting web strings. However, they discovered that not only can spider silk be tuned across a greater range of notes than most other materials, but also that its creators get more than a feeling when they sense vibrations; spiders pick up on a vast spectrum of information from pitch and changes in pitch.

Spiders aren't known for their eyesight. Like whales, bats, and dolphins, they make up for visual deficiency with frequency sensitivity that puts perfect pitch to shame. Each spindly spider leg houses organs called slit sensillae, which differentiate between nanometer vibrations. Analyzing sonic feedback, or echoes, from plucked webs yields information about the presence of prey, qualities of potential mates, and in an interesting twist, the structural soundness of the web.  

"It might even be that spiders set out to make a web that 'sounds right' as its sonic properties are intimately related to factors such as strength and flexibility," said Beth Mortimer, a biology lecturer at Oxford and member of the Oxford Silk Group, in an interview with EurekAlert.

The physical properties of spider silk, paired with an exciting ability to convey information, could play key roles in revolutionizing materials sciences. The study's researchers, who will publish their work in a future edition of the journal Advanced Materials, believe spider silks could inspire strong, lightweight materials with built-in sensors and actuators that respond to slight shifts in vibration.

To end on a high note, as far as melodic aptitude goes, human musicians and these otters still take the lead.

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Vancouver is just one city that has suffered at the hands of what once brought them gold, silver, and bronze.     Photo: Roland Tanglao/Flickr

Few Takers for 2022 Olympics

Only two cities seriously interested

Krakow has gracefully bowed out. Stockholm and Munich have respectfully declined. The Swiss towns of Davos and St. Moritz bypassed the invitation last year. Oslo got nixed. Only the few and the proud—Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, China—are considered serious contenders to host the 2022 Winter Games, according to ABC News.

So what's the world's most prestigious sports institution to do when nobody wants it? And more important, why does nobody want it?

According to Business Insider, "the Olympics are a great economy booster" is a lie that has scorned one too many cities. The former host cities of Sarajevo, Vancouver, Athens, and now Sochi have empty stadiums and other facilities that cost them millions of dollars to build—just to serve a two-week purpose.

Expense isn't the only factor that puts fear into potential hosts. It's also the media attention they receive. In Sochi, journalists went to Twitter in droves to give their take on how bad the amenities were. As the Guardian put it, it was the "worst TripAdvisor review ever." No city would want to subject their tourism business to that kind of attention.

The IOC will meet on the matter in six weeks. If Beijing is selected, the city will become the first to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics (China hosted the Summer Games in 2008).

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A triathlete finishes the 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco's shore.     Photo: Christopher Michel/Flickr

Andy Potts Escapes from Alcatraz

Olympian wins triathlon for sixth time

San Francisco Bay's water is 58 degrees and breezy, but that didn't stop 2,000-plus athletes from diving in this past Sunday for the 34th Annual Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.

And it certainly didn't hinder Olympian Andy Potts, who swam 1.5 miles, cycled 18 miles, and ran 8 miles in 2:04:21 for the win—his sixth at that race. 

"My race day started with an awesome swim. I was first out of the water, and I never looked back until the finish line," Potts told the Fort Mill Times. "Escape from Alcatraz is my favorite race in the world, and to return after being out due to an injury last year, and win it for the sixth time, is the best feeling ever."

Potts might seem superhuman, but that doesn't mean the rest of us can't do it. Check out our training guide on how to escape from Alcatraz—no Olympic credentials required. Plus, once you get your head out of the water and embark on that hilly ride, the view ain't so bad.

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