“Are you a cat or a dog person?” Feedback is often asked. To which we reply, “no”.
Catty? Perhaps. Yet even our heart is softened by the unbounded joy expressed by a feline rubbing against a catnip plant (Nepeta cataria, to get in there before our ever-vigilant subeditors do). The suspicion that hardcore drugs are involved has now been confirmed by a study pinning down how nepetalactol, an organic compound first isolated from catnip, activates the feline opioid reward system.
Reiko Uenoyama at Iwate University in Japan and her colleagues reached this conclusion by testing the effect of nepetalactol on 25 laboratory cats, 30 feral cats, an Amur leopard, two jaguars and two Eurasian lynx. We hope the claw marks are on their way to healing.
We also appreciate the further insight from the study that, besides an opioid rush, self-anointing with nepetalactol has the practical effect of repelling mosquitoes. “Our findings suggest that nepetalactol may be a new natural candidate repellent to help reduce mosquito problems in human society,” the authors write. We can think of a few potential drawbacks – especially if you’re not a cat person.
The Australian High Court has recently asserted a “right to reuse”, allowing third parties to refill and resell expensive patented printer ink cartridges. Despite living in a stationery cupboard at a resolutely northerly latitude, we can only approve. No more night-time visits to the backstreet cartridge retrofitter, desires wordlessly expressed in a series of faded A4 printouts.
Quite how big a deal this is takes some working out, discovers reader Michael Paine. The website choice.com.au informs him that, including printer cartridges, “in 2019, Australia produced about 539,000 tonnes of e-waste, which is more than the estimated weight of all of the northern hemisphere’s blue whales combined”.
We screw up our eyes, 10 per cent in confusion at the familiar blue whale measure resurfacing in a more complex guise, 10 per cent in perplexity at the strangely globetrotting nature of the comparison, and the remainder in a strained attempt to envision what all the blue whales living in the northern hemisphere look like.
The weight of these blue whales, it turns out, is a majestically large number multiplied by a lamentably small one. But, we muse, this comparison has a lot going for it as a measure of sustainability. We can imagine no better future than one where the mass of our waste diminishes as the mass of an imperilled species rises, with the one expressed as progressively smaller multiples of the other.
A mildly jittery colleague clutching a homeschooled infant in one arm and a quadruple espresso in the other draws our attention to a new paper in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, titled “Coffee effectively attenuates impaired attention in ADORA2A C/C-allele carriers during chronic sleep restriction“.
Pausing only to note that this paper, dated 13 July 2021, appears to come from what we hope is a happier, less sleep-deprived future, we turn to an accompanying press release. “Drinking coffee may help temporarily offset the negative effect of chronic sleep loss on working memory, attention and reaction-time,” it trills. “The study explored coffee’s effects during a simulated busy work week, in which the 26 participants involved underwent sleep restriction, sleeping a total of only five hours each night for five days.”
This, apparently, is what goes on behind the closed doors of the “state-of-the-art Institute of Aerospace Medicine, in Cologne Germany”. Sadly, while positive effects of caffeination were observed during the study’s first three to four days, by the fifth day, no difference was observed compared with a control group being fed decaffeinated coffee.
Feedback is tempted to growl “tell us something we didn’t know”. But it was a disturbed night, no one’s been round to service the office coffee machine since March 2020, and… sorry, what were we talking about?
We probably weren’t talking about blockchain. Reuters reports that two UK hospitals are “using blockchain technology to keep tabs on the storage and supply of temperature-sensitive covid-19 vaccines”.
Blockchain, Feedback readers will no doubt be aware, is a distributed ledger technology designed such that any attempt by one party to explain what it is or how it works causes the eyes of a second party to glaze over, thus ensuring total security about what’s actually going on.
Accordingly, opinions about this new development are divided in the windowless basement of New Scientist Towers housing our technology staff. “There’s literally nothing blockchain can do that a spreadsheet can’t,” says one. Another points out that at least a blockchain can’t run out of rows – a snafu that caused Public Health England to lose some 15,000 records of positive covid-19 tests last year (24 October 2020, p 56).
If you say so. Feedback is inclined to shrug: what, after all, is the worst that can happen? Actually, don’t answer that. Better still, answer it on a blockchain.
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