Watching the World

Artificial Bug Eyes

“Robotic insect eyes designed by Australian scientists have been bought by NASA for use on a Mars probe,” reports the newspaper The Australian. Researchers at the Australian National University based the design of the artificial sensors on the eyes of locusts. The report says that “the university’s biorobotic vision laboratory has spent years observing how locusts, bees and dragonflies use vision to control their flight. They have deduced the rules that govern flight and created mathematical algorithms to replicate them.” NASA wants to attach the artificial locust eyes to a tiny probe that will “dart just above the craggy Mars terrain without crashing or colliding, just like an insect.” If successful, the probe will “examine the rock stratification of the grandest canyon in the solar system​—the 4000km-long [2,500 mile], 7km-deep [4 mile] Valles Marineris, in a bid to reveal the geological history of the red planet.”

 Killer Whales Attracted by Dialects

“How do killer whales that spend their entire lives within the same small pods manage to avoid inbreeding?” asks The Vancouver Sun of Canada. “Based on seven years of genetic research and 340 DNA samples from killer whales in B.C. [British Columbia] and Alaska, Vancouver Aquarium senior scientist Lance Barrett-Lennard has found that females breed exclusively with males from other pods,” but not outside the local population, or group of pods. “There is no evidence of incestuous mating,” says Barrett-Lennard. “Almost all the mating is between pods with very different dialects.” The article adds that “killer whales choose a mate as distantly related as possible, a process that is probably based on listening to the vocalizations, or dialect, of other whales and finding those that are least alike.”

Tracking the Great White Shark

“The largest predatory fish, the great white shark, has been tracked by satellite and found to migrate thousands of miles across open ocean,” says The Daily Telegraph of London. This finding, published in Nature magazine, has shattered earlier beliefs about great whites. Although found worldwide, the shark was thought to keep to coastlines, hunting seals and sea lions and never straying far from its home territory. Recently, however, when researchers in California tagged four males and two females, they found that one shark traveled as far as the Hawaiian Islands​—2,280 miles [3,700 km] from the California coast—​covering at least 43 miles [70 km] per day. The study also revealed that great whites, while rarely diving more than 90 feet [30 m] near the coast, sometimes dive very deep out in the open ocean.

Economic Woes Spill Over Into Clinics

Economic woes related to the sharp fall in the value of Argentina’s currency are sending Argentinians to hospitals and clinics in droves with stress-related health problems, taxing these facilities beyond their capacity, reports the newspaper Clarín. Health problems include “headaches, hypertension, ulcers, gastritis, insomnia, and anxiety.” Some people faint “without neurological causes,” said one medical professional. Consultations for stress, depression, and fear increased 300 percent in just a few days in one clinic. Besides having to cope with crowded waiting rooms, doctors and nurses also have to contend with patients who are angry because of the financial crisis. Some patients have even physically attacked doctors and nurses. One nurse was hit in the head.

Fastest Roller Coaster

“The world’s fastest roller coaster opened at the Fujikyu Highland amusement park,” reports Japan’s IHT Asahi Shimbun newspaper. “Reaching 172 kilometers per hour (106 miles per hour) from a standing start in under two seconds is not for the fainthearted. It is like being fired from a rocket. Riders can experience the gravitational pull that is normally the domain of fighter pilots.” Heith Robertson, project director of the company that built the ride, said: “A plane, when it is launched can have a force of 2.5 Gs [2.5 times the force of gravity]. Here you have 3.6 Gs.” The roller coaster rides on “the wheels of small airplanes” and is powered by three air compressors that generate 50,000 horsepower, which is “comparable to a small rocket.”

Tobacco-Related Heart Disease in India

“Senior cardiologists [in India] say the incidence of coronary artery disease is rising,” comments Mumbai Newsline. “According to Dr. Ashwin Mehta, director of cardiology at Jaslok Hospital, Indians have a genetic predisposition to getting heart diseases.” Of special concern is that more young people are experiencing “heart problems because of increased smoking.” Dr. P. L. Tiwari, consultant cardiologist at Bombay Hospital, believes that unless radical action is taken, India will one day lead the world in heart patients. In neighboring Bangladesh, over 70 percent of the men aged 35 to 49 are smokers, says The Times of India, and “the rate of smoking increased as income decreased.” On the average, each smoker “spends more than twice as much on cigarettes as per capita expenditure on clothing, housing, health and education combined.” It is estimated that 10.5 million malnourished people in this poor country could have an adequate diet if the money spent on tobacco were diverted to food.

Tall Buildings​—Still in Demand

“The collapse of the twin towers jolted architects and engineers into a new and frightening awareness,” states U.S.News and World Report. “Notwithstanding temporary skittishness, the demand for skyscrapers will not dry up.” One reason is that land in some areas is scarce and very expensive. In addition, cities want boasting rights. Ultra-tall buildings are “about putting a place on the map, about modernity and such,” says William Mitchell, dean of the school of architecture and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, architects are debating how to make their buildings safer. Buildings can be hardened against attack by blast-resistant walls and windows, but these add weight and are cost prohibitive. In China, building codes require an open-air, empty “refuge floor” every 15 stories. Building codes in other locales stipulate an elevator, all the way to the top, that is designed just for fire fighters as well as pressurized staircases that would keep smoke out. Already, designers of the Shanghai World Financial Center, which could become the world’s tallest building, are incorporating extra precautions into their design.

Ambient Noise and Hearing Disorders

“Every fifth school-age child and every third adult Pole have hearing problems,” says the Polish weekly Polityka. Surveys reveal that the biggest nuisances include traffic noise and loud audio, video, and household equipment. A report on the state of the environment said that the increase of traffic in Warsaw has already raised the noise level on one of the main streets to 100 decibels. The screams of children at play reach the same levels. Amplifying equipment at discos can attain noise levels as high as 120 decibels, which is just a little below the pain threshold of 130 to 140 decibels. These loud noises, say specialists, are a direct cause of hearing disorders. Professor Henryk Skarżyński, an otolaryngologist at the Institute of Physiology and Pathology of Hearing, notes: “Hearing disorders translate into serious social ailments. People affected by them are more irritable, have learning difficulties, [and] learn foreign languages with more difficulty.”