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When bicyclists wear helmets

"A study of first-time bicycle-helmet users published in the American Journal of Public Health found men who wore helmets bicycled significantly faster than men who didn't wear them, whereas helmets had no effect on women's biking speed," says The Wall Street Journal. "Individuals often take more risks when they feel safer, a type of behaviour known as risk compensation."

Robot cops with fins

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"In the shallow waters of Gijon harbour, in northern Spain, a large, yellow fish cuts through the waves," writes Rebecca Morelle for BBC News. "But this swimmer stands apart from the marine life that usually inhabits this port: there's no flesh and blood here, just carbon fibre and metal. This is robo-fish – scientists' latest weapon in the war against pollution. This sea-faring machine works autonomously to hunt down contamination in the water, feeding this information back to the shore. Here in Spain, several are undergoing their first trials to see if they make the grade as future marine police. 'The idea is that we want to have real-time monitoring of pollution, so that if someone is dumping chemicals or something is leaking, we can get to it straight away, find out what is causing the problem and put an end to it,' explains Luke Speller, a senior scientist at the research division of BMT Group, a technology consultancy. … The fish, which measure about 1.5 metres long, may be a little larger than their real-life counterparts, but their movements closely mimic them."

How to steal pictures

"To his aristocratic friends in Venice, Count Cristiano Barozzi was 'one of us,' the descendant of a noble lineage stretching back eight centuries," writes John Follain of The Sunday Times of London. "At their palazzi and luxurious villas, the 70-year-old count was a welcome guest and would show a keen interest in the paintings hanging on their walls. The reason for such fascination was not, it is now alleged, an appreciation of the artworks but rather an assessment of how best to steal them. … In an elaborate scam that could have come straight from the plot of the film The Thomas Crown Affair, investigators believe that, having identified a target, Barozzi would take a digital photo of the painting, produce a close copy and replace the original with it. The thefts are alleged to have continued for a decade, during which time none of the paintings' owners realized they had been robbed. According to the police, Barozzi's keen eye was attracted to artworks hanging in poorly lit areas where the copies would not be noticed. … The stolen artworks were predominantly painted by the schools of Old Masters rather than the masters themselves because they are easier to sell on the black market."

Depressed and on the Web

"Some day your phone or laptop might truly be smart: It could diagnose your depression based on your Internet surfing patterns," says Psych Central. "According to researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology, people suffering from depression tend to spend more time chatting and sharing files with others."

The alpha turtle

"Excavating in a coal mine in Colombia, paleontologists have discovered the fossil of the world's largest turtle, a 60-million-year-old specimen nearly eight feet [2.5 metres]long – the size of a Smart car," reports the Los Angeles Times. "Thriving in a lake about five million years after the demise of the dinosaurs, the turtle was undoubtedly the largest predator in its environment, researchers say. The creature had powerful jaws that would enable it to eat nearly anything else it encountered, including mollusks, smaller turtles and even crocodiles."

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Ancient Roman footnotes

Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast writes: " Walking in Roman Culture, a new book by Timothy M. O'Sullivan, argues that we have 'translated away' how essential walking is to our character: 'In Ancient Rome how you walked was a sign of who you were. Quite simply, it could be an indication of paternity. When people wondered whether Cleopatra's child, young Caesarion, really was the son of Julius Caesar, they pointed to his walk (incessus) as much as to his facial features. Gait ran in families. Think, for example, how often those Roman family names (often derived – like Crassus, 'Fatty,' or Rufus, 'Redhead,' from physical characteristics) referred to feet or to odd ways of walking: Plautus, 'flat-footed,' Valgus, 'bow-legged,' Varus, 'knock-kneed.' As O'Sullivan observes, 'a family gait' was no less distinctive than 'a family nose.' "

THOUGHT DU JOUR

"When I hear a man applauded by the mob, I always feel a pang of pity for him. All he has to do to be hissed is to live long enough."

- H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), American journalist

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