News for Nerds - The Spiderweb Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 8/23/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Spiderweb Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll meet a painting robot, learn about the world's oldest crock-pot, and give you one more reason to blame all  your problems on your mother. But first: spiders!

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Everyone has that one thing they're afraid of. For some it's sharks or bears or clowns. My son has a hilariously irrational fear of snakes. But for me, like a lot of you, it's spiders.

However, just because I don't like spiders, that doesn't mean I don't respect them. I spotted a pretty cool spider web on my back porch this week, and it got me wondering: how do they do that? How are spiderwebs even made?

The answer, of course, is that spiders are incredible engineers. Each web starts with a single thread that is cast out into the wind. If the spider feels that the thread has caught on to something, it tightens up the silk and attaches it to a starting point. The spider then walks across this 'bridge thread' and releases a looser thread below it. Climbing down to the center of the loose thread, the spider lowers itself on a vertical thread to form a Y-shape.

At this point the spider will create anchor points, along with a series of radius threads from the center of the web to the frames. It also lays more non-stick silk to form an auxiliary spiral, extending from the center to the outer edges of the web. It then spirals inward, laying out sticky thread as it goes. Whew!

The resulting web is a marvel of engineering genius: an intricate web with non-sticky radius threads for getting around, and with a sticky spiral for catching bugs. I highly recommend the diagram slide show featured here to get the full picture.

Also of interest: this Daily Mail story about the world's biggest spiderweb, stretching 80 feet across a river; and this close-up HD video of a banana spider making its web. Cool stuff, even for minor arachnaphobes like me.

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One of the few positive benefits of so-called reality TV has been an increased interest in cooking. People who previously paid very little attention to kitchen activities now spend hours learning about food preparation, culinary technique, and - hopefully - how to prepare healthy and delicious meals.

On my radio show at Mix100, we even have a resident Crock-Pot expert -- Jeremy regularly posts new recipes, and his Crocktober series has a loyal following. Well, Jeremy will be pleased to know that his kitchen tool of choice has a long and impressive history: researchers from the University of York claim to have found conclusive evidence of the earliest use of spice as a cooking aid . . . and it was used in an ancient Crock-Pot more than 6,100 years ago!

The evidence comes in the form of burnt food remains from clay cooking pots found in Neolithic dwellings in Denmark and Germany. On the pots, along with traces of meat fats and fish, scientists found the remains of garlic mustard seeds. While other spices, such as cumin, basil, and coriander have been shown to be in use earlier, that was always in the context of medicinal or decorative purposes. This is the earliest evidence of spices turning up in food.

And earlier this year, researchers dated the earliest cooked fish stews to Jomonic Japan at the end of the last ice age, 15,000 years ago. That project determined that the first cultured cheeses appeared in Neolithic farming communities 7,500 years ago. I'll bet it was stinky cheese.

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

  • There are plenty of factors that affect how quickly you age, and at the top of the list are diet, exercise, and lifestyle. But now you can add one more factor: your mom's genes. There's a joke here somewhere about how Mom Genes also affect how you wear your Mom Jeans, but I'm just going to let it go.
  • I don't have a great skill for drawing and painting . . . which makes it a little humbling to see the video of e-David, the incredible painting robot. Watch this video in its entirety, because the good stuff doesn't really get going until around the 2-minute mark.
  • And finally, a silly one: a mysterious 'horned' sea monster has washed ashore in Spain. Its carcass is 13 feet long, and because it had already decomposed quite a bit, no one really knows what it is. But that won't stop the inevitable Loch Ness Monster speculation, will it?

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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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