Flying microchips, Kerala exodus, California “snake-mare,” airport pig patrol

Oct 20, 2021 Episode 69

Microchip smaller than an ant can fly! Kerala’s floods cause exodus, California’s under-house snake pit, “pig patrol” foils airport geese threat in N’lands

Episode Transcript

EPISODE 69 –  Flying microchips, Kerala exodus, California “snake-mare,” airport pig patrol


OPENING STING – LEELA: “New, new, newsy – Newsy Pooloozi!” 


LEELA: Hello and welcome to Newsy Pooloozi – the news pool for curious kids and adults!  

I’m your host Leela Sivasankar Prickitt. And this is my sidekick.

And big story explainer. And sound effects finder.

MAMA: Hello

LEELA: And Mama.

MAMA: Hello – I’m also sometimes just known as Lyndee Prickitt.

LEELA: Ahh okay, This week on Newsy Pooloozi… Is it a bird? Is it a bug? Is it seeds scattering through the air? No, it’s a microchip – with WINGS! No kidding.

In India, the southern state of Kerala is being battered by deadly floods, causing many residents to flee their homes permanently.  

MAMA: Technology is once again soaring to new heights – quite literally. Yes. Scientists from Northwestern University in the US have created a flying microchip that’s as small as a grain of sand!

LEELA: Ehhh, say what?

MAMA: OK, first of all, let’s back up and make sure you know what a microchip is.

LEELA: A very small computer chip.

MAMA: OK. Let me you ask instead – do you know what a microchip does? 

LEELA: Uh, not really.

MAMA: So, a microchip is a very small piece of silicon – usually inside a computer – that has electronic circuits on it and can hold large amounts of information and/or perform logical or mathematical operations.

LEELA: And when it’s not inside a computer?

MAMA: It can still do those things, but minimally. Like study the population of an area, check pollution levels and even track the spread of diseases. If, that is, it could fly.

LEELA: And now it can?

MAMA: Yep. The newly developed and appropriately called “microflier” can!


MAMA: For example, it can go where a wildfire is and figure out how big the blaze is and which direction the wind is blowing to help guess where the blaze is likely to spread.

LEELA: Cool!

MAMA: Hot, actually. And it can help predict when a volcano is about to blow and where its lava will go.


MAMA: And it can even help track diseases, like COVID-19 cases! Not just that, but this microchip which is smaller than an ant, is the tiniest flying structure ever made by humans, by the way.

LEELA: Impressive. So how does it work?

MAMA: Well, these microfliers have antennae, sensors and, being a chip, miniature data storage to help save all the information it’s collected after it falls to the ground!

LEELA: Wait, falls to the ground? I thought it could fly?

MAMA: So, like many technological advances, the microflier is inspired by nature. Take maple tree seeds, which – did you know are also called helicopter seeds?

LEELA: They are?

MAMA: Yeah, because growing out from two conjoined seeds at the top are these butterfly or helicopter looking wings, can you believe, which help the seeds spin away from its parent tree and fall on the ground further away.


MAMA: So, when it sprouts into a tree – it doesn’t compete for food, water or sunlight from its mama tree. Cool or what?

LEELA: Isn’t nature full of wonder?

MAMA: Yes. So, the Northwestern team studied the aerodynamics of a number of plant seeds, drawing most inspiration from the tristellateia plant, which is a flowering vine with star-shaped seeds that, again, resembles rotating helicopter propellers.  That’s why there is a growing field of bioelectronics – where scientists try to replicate, or copy, nature’s tricks when designing electronics.

LEELA: Like the squid-bot we did a story on last year?

MAMA: Yes – episode 22 in fact, if you want to have a listen. So, these microfliers will be dropped from great heights like from a building, a plane, or even a drone, and then gently move in a very slow and regulated manner, covering a broad area to gather information.

LEELA: Is it a bird? Is it a bug? No… it’s microfliers falling from the sky! I wonder, though, can they also be used to spy? Dahn-dahn-daaahn.



MAMA: And now – closer to home, floods and landslides are ravishing the southern state of Kerala.

LEELA: And when you say southern you mean at the very bottom of India. Ah! I love Kerala.

MAMA: Yes, it is a gorgeous state, famous for its “backwaters” – the maze of canals off the coast that twist and turn and weave their way inland past coconut groves and lush little islands.

LEELA: It’s beautiful and the food is soooo good.

MAMA: Yes, but sadly, Kerala is paying a price for its backwaters beauty.

LEELA: Yeah, this is one place that when it rains, it pours.

MAMA: Right. Being at the tip of India they get a rainy season, or monsoon, in June from the southwest side. And then, just as things are drying out they get hit again on the other side by the northeast monsoon in October.

LEELA: That’s why everything is so green!

MAMA: That’s true. But in the last few years the flooding is becoming more than they can handle.

LEELA: As our new correspondent in the South of India, Tanushree Velmurugan, is about to tell us.


TANUSHREE: You’re right that Kerala’s backwaters are picture-perfect.

But right now, it’s anything but tranquil.


Days of heavy rain have triggered deadly floods and landslides.

Sadly, this is not a new story.


There was similar devastation in 2018 when floods not only killed hundreds of people but caused an exodus.

That means mass groups of people started to leave the area – permanently. Of course, flooding has been part of life in Kerala’s backwaters for centuries.

But with climate change, and some poorly planned development projects, things have gotten worse. Before people might have had to put up with homes flooded for a few weeks.


But now the flooding can last for months. I mean, apart from anything else, think of all those potential snakes slithering around!


And for others, their homes are simply washing away in the water. There is one happy story, though.

The flooded streets didn’t stop a couple on their way to tie-the-knot – and get married. Nope, they jumped inside a massive pot. Yes, you heard me correctly.

They used a massive metal pot – usually used for cooking up curries – to be their boat, ensuring they exchanged their wedding vows as planned.

(Note – pls say “vows” the American way with a V as in Vancouver, not like a W as in Washington, ok?)

How sweet – or should I say, hot! In the south of India, I’m Tanushree Velmurugan, reporting for Newsy Pooloozi!

LEELA: I love happy endings! Thanks for that report, Tanushree.


WORLD WRAP STING – LEELA: “What’s that? I’ll tell you what. That’s the halftime bell! Which means… It’s time to hear what’s making news around the rest of the world. Hold on tight, it’s around the world in 80 seconds.”

MAMA: Tensions are rising in India’s northern region of Kashmir where terrorists are targeting people they see as not being from the valley. Around a dozen people have been killed in the last few weeks.

In a year of both extreme heat and drought, the US state of California is reporting its driest year in a century. Experts fear the coming 12 months could be even worse.

Also in the US, funeral preparations are underway for the country’s first black secretary of state, General Colin Powell. His leadership in several Republican administrations helped shape American foreign policy.

In space news NASA launches Lucy – a special spacecraft that will take a 12-year trip to learn more about a group of asteroids known as the Trojans, which scientists believe will provide information on the beginning of the solar system.

And speaking of space, have you heard this… The European Space Agency shared the sound of solar wind on Mercury. Its double-satellite BepiColombo flew past Mercury capturing the sonification of the planet’s magnetic field.



LEELA: As ever, thank you so much for that whippity-whappity-zippity-zappity world wrap of world news, Mama.

MAMA: As ever, you’re most welcome. I love spinning around what’s making headlines around the world. Now, earlier we heard about the floods in Kerala and our reporter got a bit creeped out at the prospects of all the snakes that slither into homes during floods. Well, imagine living on top of a full-on snake pit.

LEELA: Yiiiiiiihhhh! No, thank you!

MAMA: Yep. Never mind a nightmare, this week there was a “snakemare” for a woman in California. Let’s cut across to Porter Robbins, our LA correspondent for the story.

PORTER: Reptile rescuer Al Wolf is used to getting calls to clear a snake or two from under houses in Sonoma County in northern California

So, when a woman called, saying she’d seen rattlesnakes scurry under her mountainside home, he was a little surprised by what he found.

Not one, Not two, Not ten  Or even twenty. But NINETY rattlesnakes getting ready to hibernate.

For almost two hours he kept pulling out snakes and dropping them into a deep bucket. And it’s not easy work.

Never mind the – you know, creepy snake part of his work – but crawling in the dirt, on your belly, under a house and into spider webs, for two hours, is no fun. Using a simple 24 inch pole with a hook on the end, he removed 22 adult rattlesnakes and 59 babies when he first visited the home.

He’s been back twice and collected 11 more snakes. They were all northern Pacific rattlesnakes – the only venomous snake found in northern California.

Luckily, he said they were all pretty mellow. Phew!

In Los Angeles California – far away from snakes (I think anyway!), I’m Porter Robbins, reporting for Newsy Pooloozi.

LEELA: Thanks, Porter. I hope the snakes do, indeed, keep away from you. AND ME!

MAMA: And me! I mean, honestly, I’m not sure I’d ever have a pleasant night’s sleep again, if 90 rattlesnakes had been found under my house. Ewwwwph!

LEELA: And finally, let’s see what the lucky dip machine has for us this week.


ODDBALL STING – VARIOUS VOICES: “Step right up, step right up… Have a go at the lucky dip machine… What’s it gonna be today, eh? An oddball, no doubt!”

LEELA: Of course, it’s an oddball through-and-through.  Play the music, Mama.


LEELA: First of all, did you know that geese cause problems with planes, especially when they’re taking off or landing?

MAMA:  I have heard this, yes. They don’t just crack windshields, but can get pulled into engines and cause fuel tanks to rip off. That’s not just costly, but can be dangerous.

LEELA:  Yeah and it’s a particular problem in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which has runways that are in-between farmland. And being the Netherlands

MAMA: Which translates as the low lying country.

LEELA: Yep. That means it’s wet, marshy terrain, which appeals to the geese, both as places to hang out and as lush fields full of yummy food to eat.

MAMA: I see.

LEELA: And lately, the crops in the area have been enticing more birds than expected.

MAMA: Meaning more danger for arriving and departing flights.

LEELA: Exactly. And since these avian infiltrators are a big worry, the airport has decided to hire a special patrol unit for help. You’ll never guess what.

MAMA: Ummm, cats?

LEELA: Cats?

MAMA: Yeah, they eat birds.

LEELA: Cats are the best. But geese are big birds, Mama. Plus, the ground is usually wet. So, no. 

MAMA: OK. A unit of bb-guns?

LEELA: Happily, no. Here’s a clue. 


MAMA: Pigs? They don’t eat geese! Do they? 

LEELA: Happily, no. They do not. But they do eat the left-overs from the sugar beet fields, “beating” the geese to it, and forcing the big birds to fly away from the runways for their meals. Clever, huh?

MAMA: Yeah, sure. I suppose it’s a pretty natural solution to a natural problem, then.

LEELA:  I like to put it another way – forget about “paw patrol” . This is all thanks to the work of the honking, great “pig patrol.” 


FAB FACTS STING – LEELA: “And it’s time to wrap up the podcast with the top five fab facts heard today. Here goes…”

MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 1 – Scientists from Northwestern University in the US have created a flying microchip that’s as small as a grain of sand! What’s a microchip?

A very small piece of silicon that has electronic circuits on it and can hold large amounts of information and/or perform logical or mathematical operations.

LEELA: FAB FACT NUMBER 2 – The microflyer takes its aviation inspiration from plant seeds, like the maple tree seeds, which – given their design and how they fall to the ground – are also known as what?

Helicopter seeds

MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 3 – The south Indian state of Kerala is being battered by deadly floods, causing many residents to permanently flee their homes. How many monsoon or rainy seasons does Kerala get each year?

Two – one usually starting in June and the other in mid- October.

LEELA: FAB FACT NUMBER 4 – A snake-pit was found under a woman’s home in California – there were 90 of northern California’s only venomous snakes, which is?

Northern Pacific rattlesnakes.

MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 5 – Pigs are being used at the Netherland’s Schiphol Airport to help keep skies safe by eating the food that would otherwise attract geese to the marshy area around the airport. What does the Netherlands actually translate as?

Low lying country.

And don’t forget, if you want to test yourself later on, then go to the Lucky Dip page of our website,  newsypooloozi.com, that’s pool-o-o-z-i, and take this quiz online in your own time!

LEELA: And that almost brings us to the end of this episode of Newsy Pooloozi! But first… some thank yous for the thank yous!

MAMA: Yes, two more wonderful iTunes reviews.

LEELA: From the US iTunes.

MAMA: Yes. First from Bloom Ave who writes, “Our whole family loves the show! Brilliant, charming and informative. Thank you – so glad we discovered the show!”

LEELA: Exclamation mark, Mama.

MAMA: Oh, yeah.

LEELA: And another sweet one from some who’s signed in as “Please work this time 1234”

MAMA: Oh, I feel your pain and appreciate your tenacity – at not giving up on filing this review.

LEELA: Seriously!

MAMA: They write, “We love your podcast. A great way to get an international overview of the week’s current events in a kid friendly way. We listen at dinner and talk about it as a family. We love your new name.” Ah – these reviews are so great – thank you!

LEELA: Motivating, more like.

MAMA:. And really, it does help others find out about us – so we doubly thank you. 

LEELA: Triply – one just for thanks!


If you enjoyed this dip in the whirlpool of news and information then do subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Alexa or wherever you get your podcasts.

And don’t forget to check out our website – that’s newsypooloozi.com – p-o-o-l  o-o-z-i.com

Alrighty then. See you next week in the happy, splashy giant Newsy Pooloozi!