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An app to see the invisible

Call it the "X-ray vision" app: In several years, smartphones could come equipped with a microchip that lets users peer through boxes, walls and other objects, says Discover magazine. "Rather than dangerous X-rays, however, the chip beams out waves in the harmless terahertz frequency, a little-used portion of the electromagnetic spectrum between microwaves and far-infrared. Terahertz generators historically have been bulky, expensive affairs. But now Caltech researchers have succeeded in crafting terahertz-emitting silicon chips that are smaller than a dime."

What, lobster again?

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"Lobsters were so abundant in the early days – residents in the Massachusetts Bay Colony found they washed up on the beach in two-foot-high piles – that people thought of them as trash food. It was fit only for the poor and served to servants or prisoners," writes Daniel Luzer in Pacific Standard magazine. "Rumour has it, some in Massachusetts revolted and the colony was forced to sign contracts promising that indentured servants wouldn't be fed lobster more than three times a week. 'Lobster shells about a house are looked upon as signs of poverty and degradation,' wrote John J. Rowan in 1876. … In the 19th century, when consumers could buy Boston baked beans for 53 cents a pound, canned lobster sold for just 11 cents a pound. People fed lobster to their cats."

Does the house have birds?

A British study has shown that houses in areas rich with bird life sell for an average of £21,000 ($33,000) more than those with fewer birds, says The Daily Telegraph. "The research, which attempted to compensate for factors such as house size, age and levels of urbanization, found that the presence of even just one uncommon species of bird was an indication of higher house prices. The more species there were, the higher the prices became, the researchers found." A housing analyst said the relationship between property prices and birds could be explained by the value home owners place on having a garden. "He said: 'Birds are very sensitive to their environment and it could be a sign of an area having good-quality gardens.'"

Alimony windfall for boy

"A German man didn't feel like giving his ex-wife her alimony money, so he gave it to a schoolboy standing outside a bank," says United Press International. The 49-year-old from the Bavarian town of Straubing gave away about $245. "The boy said he was standing outside the bank with a friend when the man walked up to him, handed him the bundle of money, said 'You can keep that money,' and wandered off. The boy went to the police because he assumed the money was counterfeit." They said "there was no evidence of any crime, 'so the pupil is $245 better off for now.'"

Women and happiness

"These days, it's possible for women to 'have it all' – a career and a family – but is that really a recipe for happiness?" asks The Boston Globe. "A new analysis by a professor of economics at the University of Chicago casts some doubt. Among college-educated women, there is 'no evidence of greater life satisfaction or greater emotional well-being among those that have achieved the double goal of combining a successful career with a family life' compared to their peers who have families but no career. In fact, in order from happiest to least happy, women with only a family ranked the highest, followed by women with a family and a career, women with a career only, and then women with neither."

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Thought du jour

"Self-expression is for babies and seals, where it can be charming. A writer's business is to affect the reader."

Vincent McHugh, American poet and novelist (1904-83)

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