News for Nerds - The Dog Years Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 5/17/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Dog Years Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll discuss the science of Facebook emoticons, and we'll check out some creepy video of every homeowner's worst nightmare. But first, here are your headlines.

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As long as I can remember, the go-to equation for calculating a dog's age in 'human years' has been that one year for Fido is equivalent to seven years for you and me. Thus, a 10 year-old dog would be at about the same point in his life as a 70 year-old person.

But actually, that's a greatly oversimplified approach. It turns out that dogs are a very unique species, and not just because they can ride skateboards so gracefully.

You see, dogs' lifespans vary greatly based on their size. That's not unusual in and of itself, but what's weird is that for most of the animal kingdom -- think elephants, gorillas, etc. -- bigger is better. Not so for dogs. Small breeds like terriers and chihuahuas tend to have much longer lifespans than big breeds like Great Danes. The reason for this is probably cancer, which affects nearly 50% of large dog breeds but only 10% of smaller dogs.

So here's a more refined way to calculate your dogs' age. The best general ratio is about 6 to 1, but you should adjust that estimate one way or the other depending on how big your pooch is. For instance, the ratio for a Miniature Dachshund is closer to 4 to 1, while a single human year might equate to as many as 13 dog years for a Bulldog.

- from BBC News

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The impending cicada swarm along the east coast -- known as 'swarmaggedon' -- has grabbed a lot of headlines this week. Billions of the red-eyed arthropods will soon emerge from a 17-year underground slumber and blanket the eastern United States, from North Carolina to Connecticut.

No one knows for sure how many cicadas are coming, but estimates range from 30 billion to 1 trillion. Even on the low end of that spectrum, if you lined them up head to tail, they'd stretch out far enough to reach the moon and back. In some places, cicadas might outnumber people 600-to-1.

But fear not, because while they might look and sound creepy, they're mostly harmless. Sure, one study measured the cicada mating call at 94 decibels, which is loud enough that you wouldn't hear a plane flying overhead. But aside from a few damaged shrubs, they don't do any real damage. Mostly they'll just take up space, hang out in trees for a few weeks before dying off, and then their offspring will retreat underground for another 17 years.

And a quick side note: Why every 17 years? It's a very interesting cycle of life known as Predator Satiation. What it means, in a nutshell, is that by coming out in force every 17 years, their predators can't keep up with the sheer numbers of them. Therefore, more cicadas survive, which is better for the species in general. This will explain it a little better.

One suggestion for dealing with swarmaggedon? Eat them, says entomologist (and cicada cookbook author) Isa Betancourt. "They are arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton. We regularly eat the arthropods of the sea... shrimp, lobster, and crabs."

If you're an east coast resident looking for a high-protein, low-fat snack over the next few weeks, you could do worse than munching on some fresh cicadas.

- from WJLA.com (AP) and USA Today

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Have you ever had a bad dream involving your spouse -- maybe they were cruel or unfaithful -- and when you awoke, you took it out on them? If so, you're not alone. Based on the findings of one new study, this is actually pretty typical behavior.

Researchers tracked 61 people in serious relationships, all between the ages of 17 and 42. The participants kept two daily journals; in the morning they would write down information about the previous night's dreams, and at night they would track that day's events. After two weeks, a pattern appeared: there was a correlation between people's recalled dreams of their partners and subsequent relationship interactions.

For instance, if someone dreamed about getting in a fight with their significant other, there was a higher chance of next-day relationship conflict. Similarly, dreamer infidelity was tied to reduced feelings of love or intimacy.

But the silver lining here is that this phenomenon works both ways. The study also showed that having a sex dream about your partner led to a heightened sense of love and intimacy the following day. So you've got that going for you, which is nice.

- from The Windsor Star

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Here are a couple other cool science stories that you might enjoy:

  • An all-star team of psychologists, engineers, and Pixar animators has come together to address the problem of emoticons. More specifically, they are bringing us the most complete, communicative set of emoticons the world has ever seen. Get ready.
  • And finally, a story (and video) that just might make you shiver. A young couple in Utah heard a buzzing coming from behind the walls of their home. They called an exterminator, who cut a hole in the wall and found... 40,000 bees. That's not a typo. There were 40,000 bees living in their house. Watch the video to see for yourself.

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That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!

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