5 Weird Secret Projects That Keep The World Running
You know how the world works. Some people sit at desks and type things, and other people stand in stores and sell things, and so it goes. But that's just what you see. Behind the scenes, all kinds of other operations are grinding along, and these can get really weird.
People Fight Geese By Sabotaging Eggs
Geese are evil tricksters, always turning our yards into seas of poop and chasing small children into ponds. If they had scales and breathed fire, you could kill every goose you see and be hailed as a hero. But as it is, geese in the United States are protected by law.
Specifically, we're talking about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, under which you may not kill wild geese. There are exceptions for hunting season and specific situations where they're a serious threat (like around airports, where geese in engines spell doom for all), but other than that, you can't kill, capture, chase, or disrespect geese in any way.
So what do people do when they want to control the geese population in an area? An activity known as "egg addling." They stalk geese to their nests and mess with the eggs when the goose isn't looking, so the eggs don't hatch. You cannot simply break the eggs, because then the mother goose would just lay more. In fact, you can't let her know the eggs have been disturbed at all. Instead, the usual method is to furtively coat each egg in corn oil. This cuts off the oxygen supply and keeps the embryo inside from developing.
"Choking unborn goose babies?" some of you are now saying. "Hey, that doesn't sound so cool after all." Well, the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees with you, which is why they force egg addlers to check how far along the embryo is (by trying to float the egg in water). Too developed, and that embryo is a protected bird, and addling's off the table.
But the real threat isn't to the hypothetical chick but to the addlers themselves, because if the adult goose spots what's happening, it'll attack. Authorities provide helpful self-defense tips against geese for such cases. You can probably win a fight against a goose—the bigger danger is in the goose tricking you into falling off a cliff or something.
An Arctic Vault Secures A Trove Of Code
When it comes to storing data long-term, we're currently living in both the most secure and least secure period in history. It's the most secure because that relatable witty tweet of yours ("hey, remember being a kid and using towels?") will probably outlive you, a kind of immortality our ancestors could only dream of. But it's the least secure because there's a chance that a catastrophe may wipe out ALL digital info. Future archaeologists would then have more records on Mesopotamian pee farmers than on you.
Naturally, tech companies are guarding against this as best as they can, trying backups with redundancies. Archivists, meanwhile, continue to preserve printed records of all kinds. They're not interested in your filthy PDFs—archivists want a format that's guaranteed to be readable centuries from now. But what about data that starts out in a digital form? You can't exactly print out a mountains of code and store that on sheets of paper, right?
Wrong. We can and do pretty much that exact thing. This code goes in a vault in Norway, hundreds of feet below the ground. When the project began in 2017, the digital archivists (a Norwegian company, the Norwegian government, and Microsoft) banked a bunch of open-source code that controls widely used applications. The collection expanded from there and now stores more code than, for reference, you could personally type in 100,000 years.
To clarify again: They're not just transferring data to a solid state drive and chucking it in cold storage. That is currently a very dense way of storing data, but in 200 years, we'll likely lack the hardware to read that drive or the software to read those files. Instead, the people behind the vault engrave code as text on physical film. To read it, you only need a magnifying glass. The film will remain intact for at least 500 years and maybe as long as 2,000 years. We have no idea what tech will exist by that point, but magnification will still exist, so long as light still exists.
The Arctic World Archive is located pretty close to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which you've surely heard of before. If apocalypse strikes, they'll both help us rebuild, using the twin pillars of Science and Another Type Of Science.
A Whole Lot Of Coconuts Are Picked By Monkeys
Picking fruit takes a ridiculous amount of effort. Despite recent technological innovations (we hear there's something called a "cotton gin" now, probably invented by Boston Dynamics), we haven't figured out how to harvest some types of produce other than by hand. So, consider how hard it is to pick strawberries off the ground, and now picture having to instead get them out of a tree 100 feet tall. That's what it's like to pick coconuts.
So some coconut plantations in Thailand came up with a solution. Instead of getting people to do it, they send monkeys.
They don't just do this to save on having to pay workers. The monkeys climb trees better than humans, and each picks 20 times as many coconuts per day as a person can. Human workers also risk falling and injuring themselves (proper safety equipment isn't really on the table), while monkeys don't seem to ever fall at all. Hanging out in trees is kind of their whole deal.
It all sounds very whimsical, until you realize the plantations keep the moneys on chains during all this. The animals would flee into the jungle and live free, given the choice. The plantations say it's not that bad for the monkeys, and some of the more serious accusations are just PETA propaganda, but you still might wonder why these monkeys have fewer legal protections than, say, those goddamn geese.
The fact is, the monkeys do have protections—it's illegal to capture wild ones and own them. And domesticated animals in Thailand are covered by animal welfare laws that prevent you from chaining them by the neck and making them grab your nuts. But the coconut farmers operate in a kind of gray area, saying that these monkeys aren't wild and also aren't domesticated, so anything goes.
Obviously this will end in a monkey uprising and the slaughter of all humans, the innocent and guilty alike. Until then, some international retailers are now refusing to buy coconut oil from companies that use monkeys. ("Okay, back to chaining people," say the companies, presumably.) You can do your part by buying no more coconut donuts. Actually, you should do that regardless; coconut donuts are trash.
The MLB Has Its Own Soil Distribution Network
When people first played baseball, they found the nearest bare stretch of land, scratched a few lines on it, and said, "Eh, good enough." When the sport advanced a little, the league built actual stadiums, which generally meant laying dirt down someplace where no park had existed before. But simply grabbing local soil left the ground varying wildly from park to park. In Texas, the soil was 20 percent broken glass, 10 percent human remains. In California, it was mostly Styrofoam. In Missouri, the ground caught fire at least two times a game, while in Ohio, the dirt was full of lost gold, disrupting play.
Note: To avoid offending readers from various states, we replaced the jokes we originally planned for the previous paragraph with a bunch of stereotypes that we simply made up, which make zero sense. But you get the point: Different dirt can lead to different gameplay. Soil that compresses too easily may trip players. Soil that dries too quickly leads to potholes. Soil that absorbs too much water forms mud, which you can't run on properly.
So, baseball parks don't leave it to chance and grab whatever's local. They buy imported soil that's been specially designed for baseball. The manufacturer takes some clay and takes some silt and takes some sand and grinds it all together, using a ratio settled on by soil scientists. If you're super observant, you might have noticed that different parks seem to have different colored soil, some more reddish than others, but that's artificial. The park tells the manufacturer what color they want, and the company dyes the soil accordingly.
A couple different companies are in the business of baseball soil, with each saying theirs is the best. But a large majority of all American MLB stadiums buy their soil from one location in the town of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. A company there ships Pennsylvania clay all over the country to be mixed with sand (which is a more generic ingredient than the unique Pennsylvania clay).
The result costs parks about four times as much as buying soil that's not specifically crafted for baseball, but it's worth it, if it means players don't fall on their asses quite as much. Unless the whole reason you tune into ESPN is for the bloopers, in which case this dirty business messes with how baseball is meant to be played, and we must put a stop to it.
The Navy Manages A Huge Forest To Supply One Ship With Wood
Wood is a renewable resource. That's a little surprising if you mentally divide everything into either "renewable" or "stuff we burn," but yeah: If we can replenish a resource within a couple decades, it counts as renewable. So today, the timber industry doesn't just consist of Paul Bunyan types, tearing their way through the forest and leaving just desolation in their wake. It also consists of managed timberlands, with newly planted trees replacing the old ones.
That's standard now. The weird part is when one of these forests is used for a single purpose, instead of being managed by a lumber company for general lumber stuff.
The US Navy maintains a 50,000-acre forest and uses it for ship-building. That's surprising because, well, the Navy doesn't have all that many giant wooden ships. Aside from the occasional minesweeper (it's good to have few boats immune to magnetism), it has just one: the USS Constitution, which happens to be the world's oldest ship still afloat. And the Navy manages the forest just to replace the planks of the Constitution over time.
Starting around 60 years ago, the Navy cut down 130-year-old trees to refurbish the ship, and they said they'd leave the 70-year-old trees alone till they reached that age themselves. Now, those trees have grown up and are ready to embrace their destiny, and the Navy plans to keep the process going for another 60 years and beyond.
This does raise an interesting question, though. If the Navy replaces every single piece of the Constitution with wood from their Indiana facility, wood from trees that didn't even exist when the ship first sailed, is it really the same ship as the one that launched in 1797? This is a question that we ourselves came up with, just now, so if you mention it to anyone, be sure to credit us properly.
Top image: pxhere