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The Globe and Mail

Snake charming is an endangered profession

Snakes losing their charm

"Pali Nath has a high-tech advantage in performing an ancient ritual," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The snake charmer's cobra is computer chipped and ready to dance. Well, almost. It's winter in northern India, and the beast isn't terribly energetic. So as Nath waves his flute, striking up a brisk tune, a listless Reshma briefly lifts her head before retreating into her basket and semi-hibernation. Nath, 52, is one of only 10 Delhi-area snake charmers whose serpents have semiconductors embedded under their skin by the Delhi government. The chips act as name tags that legalize ownership. … But working in a profession that's as endangered as some of its snakes weighs on [Nath] Tastes are changing as India's middle class explodes. Children who once followed the sound of his flute, Pied Piper fashion, now barely look up from their portable Game Boy consoles."

Rattlesnakes get cuddly

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"Though often regarded as loners, rattlesnakes may be relatively social, cuddling up with their relatives, a finding that suggests serpents may have more complex social lives than currently appreciated, researchers say," reports Live Science. "Timber rattlesnakes ( Crotalus horridus) had long been thought to be solitary creatures, though recent studies have suggested their social lives may be more complex. For instance, rattlesnakes in captivity preferentially associate with relatives and use the scents of their kin to guide them on where to forage and dwell."

Better food for astronauts

"Calling all space geeks and food connoisseurs: Researchers at Cornell University are looking for volunteers to test out menus designed for astronauts on missions to Mars," The Village Voice reports. "The researchers need people to spend four months in a simulated Mars habitat located in Hawaii's lava fields, living exactly like astronauts would – donning spacesuits and eating only space-ready food – and providing feedback on the lifestyle. Jean Hunter, an associate professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell, told the Cornell Chronicle that the biggest food issue in the space-travel field has been that astronauts get sick of eating the same food every day and start to eat less, which puts them at risk for nutritional deficiency. Hunter hypothesized that the problem could be solved if astronauts cooked and gardened while on a landed mission – an idea she will test out during the NASA-sponsored study."

Youngsters join the lodge

"Just a year ago, the sight of twenty- and thirtysomethings inside Seattle's Elks lodges – places long known for secret meetings, bingo games and square dancing – was fairly uncommon," says The Seattle Times. "Membership in fraternal clubs across the nation has been plummeting for decades. But the Elks club is cool again in Seattle. Since spring, the lodges in Ballard and Queen Anne have seen an unexpected spike in membership, largely among people considered young by fraternal-club standards. … 'They were once into health clubs, and now they're out of the clubs and interested in us again,' said Lois Morgensen, who didn't want to give her age but concedes to ties to the Ballard lodge since the 1960s, when women weren't allowed to join. … For around $100 a year, men and women 21 and older can join the Elks. The only requirements: American citizenship, a belief in God and sponsorship of an existing club member. It's a far cry from 30 years ago when only white men could join."

Shooting a gun in space

"Fires can't burn in the oxygen-free vacuum of space, but guns can shoot," Life's Little Mysteries says. "Modern ammunition contains its own oxidizer, a chemical that will trigger the explosion of gunpowder, and thus the firing of a bullet, wherever you are in the universe. No atmospheric oxygen required. … Once shot, the bullet will keep going, quite literally, forever. 'The bullet will never stop, because the universe is expanding faster than the bullet can catch up with any serious amount of mass' to slow it down, said Matija Cuk, an astronomer with appointments at Harvard University and the SETI Institute."

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Thought du jour

"Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense, dancing."

William James (1842-1910)

American psychologist and philosopher

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