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facts & arguments


Why tomatoes taste blah

"The mass-produced tomatoes we buy at the grocery store tend to taste more like cardboard than fruit," writes Jon Bardin of the Los Angeles Times. "Now researchers have discovered one reason why: a genetic mutation, common in store-bought tomatoes, that reduces the amount of sugar and other tasty compounds in the fruit. For the last 70-odd years, tomato breeders have been selecting for fruits that are uniform in colour. Consumers prefer those tomatoes over ones with splotches, and the uniformity makes it easier for producers to know when it's time to harvest. But the new study, published [last] week in Science, found that the mutation that leads to the uniform appearance of most store-bought tomatoes has an unintended consequence: It disrupts the production of a protein responsible for the fruit's production of sugar. Mass-produced tomato varieties carrying this genetic change are light green all over before they ripen. Tomatoes without the mutation – including heirloom and most small-farm tomatoes – have dark-green tops before they ripen."

Disappearing books

"For less voracious readers and those with busy lives, finishing a book can be an elusive task continually pushed to the bottom of to-do lists, right along with reorganizing a closet and learning French," says The Huffington Post. "A small Argentine publisher, Eterna Cadencia, has found a way to combat this. They created an ink that begins to fade away after only two months of interaction with light and air. Is this a gimmicky sales tactic or a creative new means of using technology to make a statement about print books? Apparently the latter – the publisher sold out of their first print run in just one day. Their disappearing book contains an anthology of works by new Latin American authors."

Deceived by a chatbot

"My name is Peter and I was seduced by a machine," writes Peter Nowak in the New Scientist. "Jen introduced herself via a social networking website by asking if I had any advice about getting into journalism. Boy, did I. She was pretty, about the same age as me, and lived in my hometown in Canada. We messaged back and forth. Soon, she asked me if I'd like to catch a baseball game with her. Wow. An attractive girl with the same interests and career aspirations – how lucky could a guy be? Still, it was the Internet, so I asked Jen for more details about herself. She sent me a link I clicked and was taken to a page that asked me to input my personal information, including credit card details. The game was up. Jen was a chatbot, programmed to scour social network profiles for personal information, then initiate conversations with the intention of suckering people into divulging their financial details."

Are your houseplants stunted?

"Plants grown in pots never reach their full potential, images of their roots show," reports BBC News. "A medical imaging technique called magnetic resonance imaging has been used by researchers to capture plant pot root snapshots. The pictures reveal that the roots 'sense the size of the pot' and restrict the growth of the plant. The findings have been presented at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual meeting in Salzburg, Austria. Lead researcher Hendrik Poorter, from the Julich research institute in Germany, told BBC Nature that as soon as he saw the results, he repotted all of his houseplants. 'I thought, you poor guys, what have I done to you?' he recalled."

A green way to cut grass

"People who scythe put up with a lot of Grim Reaper cracks," says The Wall Street Journal. "Then again, long-handled, crescent-bladed scythes don't use gas, don't get hot, don't make noise, do make for exercise, and do cut grass. … While Americans persist in cutting grass with labour-saving devices, faithful scythers believe their old tool has plenty of life left in it. In the dozens just 10 years ago, U.S. scythe sales are nearing 10,000 a year now, for a kit that costs about $200 (U.S.). Predictably, scythe buyers are small, green farmers; unpredictably, they are also city folk and suburbanites."


"Destiny has two ways of crushing us – by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them."

Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-81), Swiss philosopher