From Daniel Vaughn for Texas Monthly: “The origins of barbecue are murky. Both the transformation from the word “barbacoa” and the development of the cooking process are widely accepted as having come from the Taíno people Christoper Columbus first encountered in present-day Haiti. After much research, Joseph Haynes explains why we’ve got it all wrong in his new book. He contends that barbecue is a uniquely American invention, and he emphatically dismisses what he calls the Caribbean Origins Theory (COT). “Barbecue was born after enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia in 1619 from West Africa,” he writes. “Eventually, enslaved people of African descent, along with people of European descent, and others of American Indian descent combined their cooking traditions, and created what we today call southern barbecue.”
The showman immortalized by John Lennon was the first Black circus owner
From Mike Dash for Smithsonian magazine: “Anyone who has ever listened to The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band–and that’s a few hundred million people at the last estimate–will know the swirling melody and appealingly nonsensical lyrics of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” one of the most unusual tracks on that most eclectic of albums. The lyrics mention Pablo Fanque’s Fair, which was a real thing. During a break in the filming of Strawberry Fields Forever, Lennon wandered into a nearby antique shop and saw a gaudy Victorian playbill advertising a performance of Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal in February 1843. Fanque was more than an exceptional showman — he was a black man making his way in an almost uniformly white society, and doing it so successfully that he played to mostly capacity houses for the best part of 30 years.”
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Researchers believe that artificial intelligence may allow us to speak to other species
From Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker: “The world’s largest predators, sperm whales spend most of their lives hunting. To find their prey—generally squid—in the darkness of the depths, they rely on echolocation. By means of a specialized organ in their heads, they generate streams of clicks that bounce off any solid (or semi-solid) object. Sperm whales also produce quick bursts of clicks, known as codas, which they exchange with one another. The exchanges seem to have the structure of conversation. One day, Gruber was sitting in his office at the Radcliffe Institute, listening to a tape of sperm whales chatting, when another fellow at the institute, Shafi Goldwasser, happened by. At the time, she was organizing a seminar on machine learning. Perhaps, Goldwasser mused, machine learning could be used to discover the meaning of the whales’ exchanges.”
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How residents on a Wisconsin lake relocated a floating island
From Jason Kottke: “About once a year, boat owners on Wisconsin’s Lake Chippewa gather to move a small floating island from blocking access under a bridge. It’s a simple application of Newtonian physics: the boats all just nose into the island, gun their motors, and slowly shove the island out of the way. The floating clump of mud and plant material is technically a bog, not an island, but it’s hefty enough to support the growth of trees all the same. Looking at it, you could easily believe it was a fully-fledged island. That is… until it starts drifting around. “It’s one of the first things you look for when you come out here in the morning; where’s the bog?” Denny Reyes, owner of The Landing in Chippewa, told Arizona News. The problematic bog is actually one of many, but it’s one of the biggest, and close to a bridge that can get blocked when it goes for a wander. In 2022, it took around 25 boats to budge the bog and push it out into the lake.”
The strange history of ice cream flavours – from brown bread to Parmesan
From Lindsay Middleton for The Conversation: “English Heritage is now selling what it calls “the best thing since sliced bread” at 13 of its sites – brown bread ice cream, inspired by a Georgian recipe. The announcement of the flavour mentions several more outlandish Georgian flavours trialled by English Heritage before it landed on brown bread, such as Parmesan and cucumber. In Edinburgh, the National Trust for Scotland’s Gladstone’s Land features an ice cream parlour linked to the dairy which stood there in 1904, and sells elderflower and lemon curd ice cream based on a recipe from 1770. The iced delights eaten in Britain in previous centuries took a huge variety of flavours and forms. One consisted of a chicken pâté spiked with curry powder and Worcestershire sauce, egg yolks and anchovies, which was then mixed with gravy, gelatine and whipped cream, before being frozen in decorative cups and served for lunch.”
A protein in the human eye is similar to those that allow animals to sense magnetic fields
From Nature.com: “In vertebrates, such as migratory birds and sea turtles, the ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic field is clearly important for positional and directional information during their long-distance migrations. In many animals, magnetoreception is thought to depend on light-sensitive chemical reactions involving the flavoprotein cryptochrome (CRY). Humans are widely assumed not to have a magnetic sense. But we show using a transgenic approach that human CRY2, which is heavily expressed in the retina, can function as a magnetosensor. The results show that human CRY2 has the molecular capability to function as a light-sensitive magnetosensor and this could reopen an area of sensory biology that is ready for further exploration in humans.”