STRANGE BUT TRUE- Bladder rain: Urine makes for more cabbages


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. Where might bladder-bloated farmers be going to relieve themselves one day soon? –L. Ward

A. Out back to the cabbage patch. And that "one day" may not be as far off as you'd think, reports Science News magazine. Want some extra nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium for the vegetables? They're in there to varying degrees depending on the depositor's diet. Researchers in Finland have reported the "yucky" liquid not only helps yield bigger cabbages, but ones with fewer germs than with conventional fertilizers. Here, the urine was first stored for six months (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry). Statistics show that one person's output over the course of a year could fertilize a 90-square-meter plot yielding more than 160 cabbages, 64 kilograms more cabbage than if fertilized conventionally. And if you're not really into cabbage, cucumbers reportedly could benefit from the bladder "rains" as well.

Q. His bare buttocks rest on the cold steel shelf, smooth hairless skin a ghastly pinkish-orange. Alongside are his head, rib-cage, arms, hands, legs. His toeless feet lie nearby. No, it's not the grisly scene of a ritualistic slaying but rather serves to save lives. How so? –B. Roberts

A. He's the midsize adult male anthropomorphic test dummy Hybrid III, by Denton ATP. Such human surrogates, simulating how a real person's body might respond in a car wreck, are loaded with sensors for checking data on the head, neck, chest, thigh. These are then added to "data from impact and deceleration tests on cadavers, pig carcasses, or eager graduate students," says Erico Guizzo in "Anatomy of a Crash-Test Dummy" in IEEE Spectrum magazine. Dummies are also used in tests of roller coaster safety, simulated train wrecks, school-bus seat safety, motorcycle air bags, ski-slope protection nets.

The first modern dummies date back to post-WWII, when the U.S. tested aircraft ejection seats. Then in the early '70s, traffic safety became a big issue. Today, WorldSID is the most advanced dummy, designed by a worldwide consortium of experts and priced at about $300,000, and recording 258 different measurements for a single crash test. A new FOCUS (facial and ocular) dummy uses synthetic eyeballs of silicon-like material and load cells at the back of each eye socket for evaluating goggles, helmets, sports injuries, even errantly popped corks. "Turns out these last account for about 10 percent of eye-related hospital admissions in Europe."

Q. Take a magnifying glass and look at the skin of your forearm, revealing arm hairs, pores, etc., as you'd expect. Here's one you might not expect: Will the magnifying glass have an effect on your skin's sensitivity? –D. Elder

A. Amazingly, it might, and in fact you don't even need the magnifying glass, say Tom Stafford and Matt Webb in Mind Hacks: Tips & Tools for Using Your Brain. Just looking at your skin can sensitize it compared to a control situation where you're totally in the dark. Touch tests were done with rods separated at varying distances, and the subjects were asked what they were feeling. Those who had looked at their arms first were more accurate, even though this didn't provide any useful information. And those who first looked through the glass were "nearly twice as precise as their sensitivity in the dark!"

While it's not clear why this happens, in general we all like to look at things as we do them with our hands or listen with our ears, like watching the band at a gig. One theory is our brains (parietal cortex) have polysensory neurons that respond when visual and tactile inputs synchronize but that suppress when the two are discordant. This may explain why some patients with a damaged parietal cortex, when asked to point to their own elbow, will point to the doctor's elbow instead.

Q. How do migrating birds travel afar with barely a flap of the wings? –A. Hale

A. One way is by free-riding on thermals, columns of heated air uprising when the sun warms the ground unevenly, says Chris McGowan in Diatoms to Dinosaurs: The Size and Scale of Living Things. A bird could take one of these "elevators" high, then glide down many miles until finding another thermal, and back up to glide some more, etc.

Thermals work best over land during the heat of the day. Early morning thermals are weakest, when light birds with low wing-loading take to the skies. Later, larger and larger soarers can go; then at day's end, landings are reversed, until last grounded are the lightest birds as the thermal system peters out.

Locating thermals is not always easy, so birds will watch for other birds rising and circling. There can be surprises, however, says the Centennial Museum of the University of Texas, El Paso, as when one flock watched a very big flier stay aloft, circling with ease. "How frustrating to watch a helicopter obviously using a thermal that you just can't catch!"

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.

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