Wikipedia has just surpassed the two-million mark in a number of English articles, approximately 15 times as many articles as the largest version of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last-second essay writers are rejoicing the world over. (I just looked up Wikipedia on Wikipedia and it blew my mind).

Organism of the week: Rattus norvegicus.

Otherwise known as the common rat, this is one of a few organisms to have a truly worldwide distribution, discounting Antarctica of course. Its name means “Norwegian rat” but this is a misnomer as it most likely originated in China. Responsible for spreading the bubonic plague (with the help of fleas) through Europe during the 14th century, rats are capable of carrying and transmitting many other diseases as well. These spectacular pests are known to eat almost anything and are probably one of the best examples of omnivores known to exist. There is an upside, surprisingly—brown rats have been used to breed many strains of laboratory rats, which have been extremely useful in a wide variety of biological experiments. Their favorite foods? Macaroni and cheese, cooked corn kernels and scrambled eggs. Least favourite? Celery, raw beets and peaches. Should I find it weird that my culinary tastes are similar to those of the common rat?

How little we know

This piece from may reduce your confidence in the almighty power of science. It surveys thirteen glaring holes—ranging from dark matter to the placebo effect—in our knowledge of the universe. It’s a lengthy read, but worth the time and effort. After reading this article, I tore up my copy of The Universe In A Nutshell and wept for several hours. Link: article.ns?id=mg18524911.600&print= true

I need to get me one of those Science … it works, bitches t-shirts.

Anyone who can point me in the right direction gets a free pound of dark matter.

Supply and demand

(Whales owe the economy, big time): Iceland has decided to call off its whale hunt not because of pressure from other governments or environmental groups, but because there was simply not enough demand for whale products to justify it. Even better, Iceland’s whale-watching industry is estimated to bring in over $20 million per year.

Power of wind (I miss Captain Planet)

It feels good when another group recognizes the usefulness of renewable energy. As reported at ecogeek. com, the Bahrain World Trade Centre is installing wind turbines to take advantage of otherwise wasted wind flow at the higher stories of the giant structure. It’s like getting something for nothing (after a few million dollars of construction costs, that is).

If you like big holes (this is not goatrelated, you sicko)

Also from ecogeek are the Seven Largest Holes in the World. Five of the seven are man-made (apologies to eco-friendlies for the graphic pictures of open pit mines) and are a stark reminder of the power of humanity to shape the world we inhabit. The scariest one would have to be the 100-metre-deep sinkhole in Guatemala that opened up and consumed several homes. I am currently fighting the urge to visit some of these and throw a pebble down to the bottom. Link: http://deputy-dog. com/2007/09/09/7-amazing-holes/

With apologies to Carl Sagan

A weekly web-roundup column would be incomplete if I neglected to add a YouTube link. View for possibly one of my favourite Family Guy moments of all time. (Sure to get me a lot of angry e-mails from creationists). Link: watch?v=VYOYfG0QGG0&NR=1

In the year 2000

This collection of pictures from 1910 depict what French life could have been like by the year 2000—including flying firemen, automated barbers and (accurately enough) helicopters used for surveillance. While it’s probably for the best that heating with radium didn’t catch on, the futuristic school where books are transferred directly into students’ brains without reading them is an idea I wish was reality. The flying policemen are still kind of scary, though. Link: http://paleo-future.blogspot. com/2007/09/french-prints-show-year- 2000-1910.html

The Crazy Things We Used To Believe #1

Orthogenesis: Ever since Charles Darwin proposed the idea of natural selection in 1859 (with a little help from the spectacularly-bearded Alfred Russel Wallace), the field of evolution has seen controversy, debate and discovery on a regular basis. Although evolution is far from being fully understood, we have a fairly good idea of how it works, thanks to advances in genetics and evolutionary biology. At one point, though, it wasn’t so cut and dry. In the 19th century, the idea of orthogenesis had a large following in the scientific community. The hypothesis centred on the assumption that evolution is linear organisms evolving towards a particular goal. Under this model, species were thought to specialize by developing certain traits (say limb length or visual ability) towards perfection. This model had difficulty explaining extinctions, which by that time were known to occur. Those who defended orthogenesis argued that organisms could overshoot their goal and end up being unable to survive due to the over-development of a trait. The poster boy for this explanation was the extinct Irish Elk (see picture), whose giant antlers were said to be an overdeveloped advantageous trait. One major flaw in the theory was that it couldn’t find a driving force to explain linear evolution. In a famous critique of the hypothesis, George Gaylord Simpson harangued “the mysterious inner force.” Surprisingly, orthogenesis had hangers-on in the scientific community up until the 1950s. It only goes to show that the dumber the idea, the harder it falls (see: creationism).

Schrodinger’s cat up for adoption

No takers yet.