Billions and Billions of Cockroaches

Breeding cockroaches is a flourishing business in China where the insects are a staple medical component. Roaches are used in remedies for ailments such as stomach ulcers and respiratory-tract malaise.

Some roaches, along with other insects, are increasingly finding their way into human diets.

Cockroach farms are common in China. A new operation near the city of Jinan has developed a large new sector in the cockroach industry. Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Company houses a billion cockroaches in four large hangars, each kept secure by a moat filled with roach-eating fish.

The cockroaches feast on food waste collected from restaurants in the area. Every day they consume fifty tons of kitchen debris that would otherwise generate methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. Cockroaches live in spaces between square wooden frames lined up on racks. The environment is warm and humid, ideal for cockroach propagation.

After a lifetime already in roach heaven, deceased insects are ground into animal feed. Says a spokesperson for the project, “If we can farm cockroaches on a large scale, we can provide protein that benefits the entire ecological cycle.”

The Pandemic Gets Real

The Russian River Brewing Company has canceled its 2021 Pliny the Younger release event. Their super-hopped India Pale Ale is brewed only once a year and is available for only a couple weeks. (Pliny the Elder IPA is on the brewpub’s menu year round.)

Last year’s release attracted beer aficionados from forty-seven states and fourteen countries. Every February, intrepid beer drinkers wait for hours in blocks-long lines outside the brewery in downtown Santa Rosa for a ration of the celebrated brew. (Russian River Brewing opened a second, larger brewpub in nearby Windsor in late 2019.)

The Sonoma County Economic Development Board estimates the two-week Pliny the Younger event brought $5.1 million into the local economy last year.
The two Russian River brewpubs have been closed for indoor drinking and eating since March. Husband-and-wife owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo think it very unlikely that they will be able to host even outdoor dining by February 2021. Even if COVID-19 is under control by then, February weather in Sonoma County is typically not welcoming to outdoor seating.

Pliny the Younger will still be brewed. Most will be bottled this time. A few kegs will be set aside for local brewpubs who have been loyal customers in past years. The bottled beer can be purchased online beginning late January, but will be shipped only within California. The Cilurzos are working on a web site robust enough to handle the expected traffic. They also want to block Internet bots from buying cases and reselling them through online beer-trading forums. Last year, 510-milliliter Pliny the Younger bottles that sold for $10 turned up online for as much as $120 a bottle.

How One Town Handled Pandemic

George Vicars, a tailor in the village of Eyam, opened a package of fabric he had ordered from London. A week later he was dead. The cloth carried the bubonic plague. The year was 1665.

Soon other Eyam inhabitants were dying. At the behest of Reverend William Mompesson, the town’s vicar, Eyam locked down. No one was allowed in or out. Food and medicine were left for residents at designated places a safe distance from the town.

Villagers were required to bury their own dead. The quarantine lasted fourteen months. Estimates are that more than two-hundred-and-fifty villagers succumbed to the plague, three-fourths of the population, a fatality rate twice that of London. Catherine Mompesson, the vicar’s wife, was an early victim. The quarantine did prevent the disease from spreading beyond Eyam, though.

The next time you’re in Derbyshire—when you can travel again—Eyam would welcome your visit. In the village center sits a row of “plague cottages” with tablets commemorating those who died. A short distance outside the town, are the Riley Graves. Named for the nearby Riley House Farm, a low stone wall surrounds the remains of Elizabeth Hancock’s husband and six of her seven children. They all died during one week in 1666.

The Eyam Plague Museum tells the story of the plague, with words and artifacts. The museum is currently shuttered, but can still take your order for plague souvenirs.

The Most Recent 66 Million Years, Abridged

Dinosaurs’ reign on earth ended sixty-six-million years ago. That’s when an asteroid crashed into our planet at twelve miles per second—typical meteor speed—burying itself nineteen miles deep. The impact created a crater fifty miles wide. Scientists estimate the asteroid’s diameter at seven-and-a-half miles.

The crater is not visible today. It now is buried two-thirds of a mile under the Yucatan Peninsula. When the asteroid hit, the area was seawater. The impact generated a tsunami and sent gases and debris into the upper atmosphere blocking the sun. Lack of sunlight and the resultant cooling exterminated much of life on earth. Goodbye dinosaurs.

After sixty-five-million-and-some years with no dinosaurs, humans appeared on the world’s stage. All humans trace their origins to Africa. The main Homo sapiens diaspora was about fifty-to-seventy-thousand years ago.
Anthropologists have lately been studying a human skull found in Eurasia dating back 210,000 years, the oldest human bone found outside Africa. It appeared that Homo sapiens first left Africa much earlier than previously thought.

But also found in the very same cave, in southern Greece, was another skull, probably Neanderthal. This one was 40,000 years younger. This discovery becomes more interesting, as researchers have been unable to find any living descendants of the older human. Scientists concluded that the first dispersal from Africa failed and this branch of humankind died out and was eventually replaced by Neanderthals. Neanderthal success was temporary, though. Over a few tens-of-thousand years, they lost the contest for world domination to Homo sapiens, who are considered to be modern humans.

Scientific research goes on. So far, fossils unearthed in Africa still predate any discovered in Eurasia by 100,000 years. None of the recent evidence contradicts the general conclusion that Homo sapiens left Africa generally on a 100,000-year cycle, as the Saharan and Arabian deserts expanded and ebbed.

Past Is Prelude

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Galactic Empire unleashed a deadly weapon in their battle to destroy rebel forces. The All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT walker) appeared to be invincible. Fortunately for their civilization, the rebels used gallantry and deviousness to prevail against the lumbering tanks.

Last year, here on Earth, Hyundai introduced its “Elevate” concept vehicle at the Consumer Electronics (CES) technology show in Las Vegas. With wheels at the ends of articulated legs, the walking car can negotiate uneven terrain, climb a five-foot wall, step over a five-foot crevice and spread its legs to a fifteen-foot wide width, while keeping its main cabin (and passengers) level.

Hyundai sees the Elevate being used for rescues in earthquakes and other natural disasters. It could transport disabled persons by walking up to the front door, leveling itself, and rolling in a wheelchair. The legs can fold up so the vehicle can travel at highway speeds.

Hyundai has put together a joint venture between Ultimate Mobility Vehicles Studio in Silicon Valley California and design firm Sundberg-Ferar, based in Detroit. Sundberg-Ferar has some experience in transportation projects. They designed the Bay Area BART train system.

If You Miss Flying

Had enough sheltering in place? Want to travel but most every place is closed and other countries won’t let in people from the U.S.? Miss seeing the sights through tiny scratched-up airplane windows? Qantas satisfied those desires with a flight to literally nowhere.

Qantas offered 150 seats on a 787 Dreamliner (not built in South Carolina, I hope) seven-hour flight from Sydney to Sydney. The aircraft flew as low as 4,000 feet so passengers could watch the scenery. They were served airplane versions of classic Aussie meals.

Prices ranged from US$566 to $2,734. The flight sold out in ten minutes.
Don’t want to put out that much money to spend seven hours inside a metal tube and not get anywhere? Singapore Airlines is selling meals on parked Airbus A380 planes. A meal served to you in business class costs US$240; economy is only about US$40. It took twenty minutes to sell out the first seating.

For you who want to eat airplane food in the comfort of your home, Finnair has begun selling “Taste of Finnair” meals in supermarkets. The business-class meals, including Finnish treats such as reindeer meatballs, sell for about ten euros (US$12). The strategy is an attempt to keep the airline’s catering employees working. The meals have been modified, using less salt and spices than those in the air, where people’s sense of taste is dulled by high altitude.

Bon voyage!