Weekend reads: Centuries-old valentines, robot ski tournament, the serious study of UFOs

Kristin Tyndall's read

Eight robots competed on an alpine ski course in Pyeongchang to celebrate the Winter Olympics. The event was one of several designed to highlight South Korea's booming robotics industry. Eight teams built self-driving, humanoid robots to ski down the course, avoid obstacles, and compete for a $10,000 prize. Bitterly cold weather caused some malfunctions, but a few robots successfully navigated the course. In their child-sized ski suits, the robots also manage to look pretty charming.

UFOs, Bigfoot, and ghosts are the stuff of serious academic study—or at least, the folklore surrounding them is. University Affairs profiled a few of the researchers working to understand how stories of the paranormal relate to issues of community, culture, belief, and knowledge. "Can we discount an experience because it’s out of the ordinary and strange? I don’t think we can. We need to ask hard and critical questions about it," says one researcher.

Kathleen Escarcha's reads

12,000 Valentine’s Day cards from as early as the 1680s have found a home in California's Huntington Library. Historian Nancy Rosin spent over 40 years collecting the valentines, some of which cost thousands of dollars. Many of the cards have intricate pop-ups or feature Civil War motifs. My favorite card is a “vinegar valentine” from Esther Howland, a 19th-century artist and businesswoman who popularized valentines in America.

French onion soup lovers rejoice, the tearless onion is finally here. Scientists from Bayer spent three decades developing the Sunion, a sweet onion bred to be mild on the eyes. Right now, only seven states and six grocery chains are carrying Sunions so shoppers may have a difficult time finding one in store. While the tearless onion may encourage shoppers to give onions another look, it’s unlikely “onions will ever be the next kale,” says a public relations director at the National Onion Association.


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