Diversions Archive

The science behind autumn colors

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 25, 2016

Each autumn, Americans can witness leaves turn a variety of vibrant colors before falling to the ground. At heart, the process is a chemical reaction triggered by a diminishing amount of daylight, as these articles explore.

Want to hear Phil Collins? Try a Brazilian brass band

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 24, 2016

Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" has become a hit among state-sponsored brass bands in Brazil. The easy-to-play and melodic nature of the song is a factor, as is a 40-year-old government program to encourage Brazil's brass band tradition.

Scientists turn to DNA to learn how farming first started

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 21, 2016

Researchers are learning more about the world's first farmers through DNA extracted from skeletons at the 10,000-year-old settlement Ain Ghazal in Turkey and other early Near East farming communities. Recent DNA studies have helped suss out relationships between early farmers and others, and scientists hope to discover exactly where agriculture began.

Curious George's close call

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 20, 2016

The beloved tales of Curious George might not have become known if not for the courage of his creators, Hans Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein, who assembled two handmade bicycles and fled hundreds of miles over 11 days to Portugal to escape the invading Nazi army.

What time is it? Ask the Statue of Liberty

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 19, 2016

Regard the beauty of the Statue of Liberty; now consider how she would look bearing a wristwatch. Such was the dilemma of the War Department as it considered and ultimately denied the branding request of the Lazarus brothers in 1926.

The origins of the pencil

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 18, 2016

From its earliest beginnings as a marker for livestock in the mid-16th century, the pencil has had an interesting and myth-marked history. This article gets to the point on issues like "What does No. 2 mean?" "Who invented the first eraser?" and "Why yellow?"

The artistic roots of spaceflight

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 17, 2016

Long before people breached the stratosphere, artists, writers and visionaries were imagining the fantastical forms that space travel might take, author-illustrator Ron Miller says in "Spaceships: An Illustrated History of the Real and the Imagined," his new book. "I think astronautics is probably one of the only sciences that has its roots in the arts," he says.

A new dinosaur find suggests herbivores may have been omnivorous

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 14, 2016

Paleontologist Ji Qiang and his colleagues upended conventional thinking about dinosaurs when they announced in August that they had discovered a new type of Chinese ankylosaur. Though ankylosaurs are commonly thought to be herbivores, Liaoningosaurus had fish fossils in its belly, suggesting that perhaps dinosaurs didn't distinguish between meat and plants as strictly as we do.

Bees can teach each other new skills, researchers say

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 13, 2016

Bees can learn a task, then share that knowledge with other bees, according to a study published in PLOS Biology. In the experiment, researchers taught a bee how to pull a string to retrieve a reward, then released the trained bee into its colony, where they recorded how much the newly learned behavior spread.

Meet the Texas pitmaster who's as beloved as her famous barbecue

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 12, 2016

Tenacity, humility and history are all parts of Tootsie Tomanetz, a pitmaster who has been making barbecue for 50 years. At 81, she works for the school district during the week and, each Saturday, arrives at Snow's BBQ in Lexington, Texas, at 3 a.m. to get cooking.

Palm trees are perfectly adapted to hurricane winds

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 11, 2016

Palm trees are a notable stalwart against hurricanes, as their branches, trunks and root systems make them grounded and flexible.

The women camoufleurs of World War I

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 10, 2016

The Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps was a U.S. Army-commissioned group of female artists who tested camouflage outfits in New York City parks during World War I, as this article depicts using photos from the National Archive. The women also developed and mastered a form known as "dazzle camouflage" to make ships less easily detectable by German U-boats.

The scientific mystery of dark energy

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 07, 2016

Scientists became aware of dark energy in 1998. But for all we can observe of this mysterious force that counteracts gravity and may even threaten to rip the universe apart, the biggest question remains: What, exactly, is it?

Drones provide a new view of marine life

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 06, 2016

Consumer drones are becoming more affordable, which is helping shipboard researchers deploy them to study oceans and marine life. Though drones need to be customized to handle these environments, they've helped researchers monitor whales and track sea turtles during rarely seen egg-laying events.

How many home runs will we see? Depends on the weather

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 05, 2016

The flight of a baseball is affected by temperature, humidity and elevation, and a changing climate could lead to more home runs at hotter, humid ballgames, researchers say. The news gets worse for pitchers: As air gets less dense, especially at altitude, pitches break less and become more inviting.

This book wants to help you say words better

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 04, 2016

People usually learn words by reading them instead of hearing them, so there's a good chance we're mispronouncing them, according to authors Ross and Kathryn Petras. They have produced a book to help save people from the embarrassment of mispronouncing words such as kefir, Fage and Qatar.

Microwaves were a war technology put to civilian use

SmartBrief on Leadership | Oct 03, 2016

Magnetron tubes were used in World War II to enable short-range radar, and in the decade after the war's end, Raytheon introduced expensive commercial and consumer models of microwaves for heating and cooking. The 1955 Tappan RL-1 cost nearly $1,300, but by 1967 Raytheon had cut the price by nearly two-thirds.

Researchers watch budgies fly to learn about collision avoidance

SmartBrief on Leadership | Sep 30, 2016

Researchers are getting clues about collision avoidance by watching budgerigars, informally known as budgies, fly toward each other in narrow tunnels, according to findings published in PLOS ONE. In most cases, the birds veered right to avoid each other, and no collisions were seen, a finding that could help drones avoid hitting each other in flight.

Ocean "blobs" are usually just rare forms of aquatic life

SmartBrief on Leadership | Sep 29, 2016

News reports of "blobs" in the ocean are rarely mysteries, but usually creatures from the little-explored midwater depths of the oceans, says Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute marine biologist Steven Haddock. "You'd be surprised at the number of interesting things you can find if you jump into the water in the middle of nowhere," he says.

The science behind the shift in the stars

SmartBrief on Leadership | Sep 28, 2016

If you found yourself unsettled about news that constellations have shifted in when they appear in the Earth's night sky, don't blame NASA. The change is because of Earth's imprecise rotation over many hundreds of years.

Scientists get closer to determining how humans migrated

SmartBrief on Leadership | Sep 27, 2016

Three separate teams have published their conclusions in the journal Nature that nearly all non-Africans date to a single migration of people from Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago. Researchers sequenced the genomes of indigenous peoples to reach their conclusions, and a fourth paper details climate changes that may answer questions about why that group migrated.

How to make a corn maze

SmartBrief on Leadership | Sep 26, 2016

The Wissemann farm in Massachusetts has hosted elaborate corn mazes for the past 16 years. The mazes have become more elaborate and detailed over time by maximizing the grid structure of corn fields, and drones with real-time video now hone that precision down to the individual corn stalk.

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