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Curiosity Reaches Out

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity beamed back the first song ever (that we know of!) transmitted to Earth from another planet. Do you know which one it was? (And, no, it wasn't Space Oddity.):

Playing Politics

It takes a quick hand and wit and knowledge of geography and current events to make it to the primaries. Are you qualified? (This is really a great game. Rather stressful, though!):

Conventional Phases

When was the first national political convention? When did Democrats first consider nominating a woman for vice-president? Who derided a "do-nothing Congress"? Your political-convention primer:

That Was Then

Photograph Courtesy of Carnegie Observatories Photograph Collection, Huntington Library, via
Los Angeles and Pasadena in photos taken from Mount Wilson in 1908 (above) and 2008 (below); for more pictures of our bright nights, go to
Photograph by Jim Richardson, via

Red Dawn

One-fifth of us cannot see the Milky Way        NASA photo
By now, everyone in or near an urban area is used to the reddish glow of the night sky. But what is that doing to us and the flora and fauna?:
As we turn to more energy-efficient lighting, our nights may turn bluer again, but LEDs might have their own downsides:

How Critical Is Critical Thinking?

How do we teach critical thinking skills to our children ~ and should we? It all depends on whom you talk to (story and video):

Rainbows on the Wall

Two narwhals  Mademoiselle Maurice
French artist Mademoiselle Maurice has taken her origami to the streets:

Eat This

An easy-to-read list of 25 good-for-you foods that are easy to find, easy to consume:

The Past Is Present

A 100-year-old package, labeled "May be opened in 2012," was opened in Norway amid great curiosity and excitement (story and video):

Waste Not, Want Not

The executive director of the National Resources Defense Council's introduction to his series on waste in America ~ of gas, of food, of water, of so many, many things, including links to ideas on how you can reverse that trend in your own life:

Drawing on Life

"Baby Cradled in Dad's Hands," BIC ballpoint pen
An attorney in Portugal, Samuel Silva, creates pen-and-ink drawings that are hard to tell apart from the photographs they're based on (story and slideshow):

World Class

Eight of the top 10 schools in the 2012 Academic Ranking of World Universities are in the United States ~ and three of those are in California. The list is put out annually by the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University:

Picture Yourself on a Ball in a Forest ...

University of Oulu
By fooling animals into interacting with virtual environments and creatures, scientists can control every aspect of their experiments (story and [very short] video):


A new forensic test called the Hirisplex could narrow crime suspects down by using DNA left at a crime site to identify hair and eye color:

Titanic Redux

It'll be a bit wider for stability, the bridge will be higher ~ and there'll be more lifeboats. Otherwise, says Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, his Titanic 2, due to set sail in 2016, will be exactly like the original (story and video):

Brewing Up Ideas

You wouldn't believe some of the successful concepts people have come up with in the most informal settings, like over a beer or two:

Mother of All Tongues

The debate over the origins of the Indo-European languages may be over. An evolutionary biologist at the University of Auckland claims that his study, using advanced computational methods, clearly shows that they were in Anatolia (present-day Turkey):

Anyone Out There?

Calculate how many alien civilizations might exist in our galaxy, according to your own parameters:

Old Dads

A new study seems to confirm that the age of the father plays a major role in some conditions, such as autism:

Air Head

Hövding - Den osynliga cykelhjälmen
Hövding - Den osynliga cykelhjälmen
Is it possible? No more bulky, bothersome bike helmets? Two Swedish designers have come up with a discreet, fairly fashionable collar (left; comes in different colors) that inflates like a car air bag just before impact to save your head from injury (story and video):

The Longest Lap

This Labor Day weekend, swimmer Jamie Patrick ~ who, btw, has completed more than 100 triathlons, 15 Ironman competitions, and three marathons ~ will attempt to swim all the way around Lake Tahoe. That's 69 miles:

The Green Scene

The ten "greenest" colleges, according to the Sierra Club (slideshow):

Making the World a Better Place

Okello Sam is a former child soldier who founded a high school in northern Uganda for refugees, orphans, and former child soldiers; model Christy Turlington Burns founded Every Mother Counts to improve the state of maternal health around the world. They and 10 more are profiled in "The Visionaries 2012":

The Preservation of the World

Białowieża Forest, Poland    photo by me
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), author of, most famously, Walden, said that "In wildness is the preservation of the world." To that I would add that there, too, is the preservation of the human soul. Herein, ideas for making your journey into the wild more accessible, possible, and inspirational:

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

When you hear "NASA," you quite naturally think space, stars, rockets, and other extraterrestrial things, but much of what the organization has done affects everyday life here on Earth:

Give a Little, Get a Little

Interesting breakdown of charitable giving by area (the reason Utah is highest is because Mormon tithing is considered charitable giving):

How Low Can You Go?

It is quite possible that the low note sung by bass singer Tim Storms is the lowest ever sung (story and video):

The Offensive Offensive

Negative presidential campaigning is nothing new. A brief history (story and slideshow):

The Right Fit

If you like jigsaw puzzles and have a few extra minutes, you might want to try The New Yorker's interactive cover puzzles. You can choose from three levels of difficulty, and the pieces fit together with a satisfying little click :-) :

State of the States

Renee DiResta's awesome interactive map showing what many of us think about each of our 50 states, based on the results of Google's autocomplete function:

Ehhh, What's Up, Doc?

You knew there had to be one somewhere, right? And there is ~ A World Carrot Museum! (Actually, it's quite informative and interesting. I found out a lot about carrot seeds, for example. There is also an extensive timeline, including a section on carrots in World War II.):

Did you know that carrots have flowers? They actually smell very nice!

The Dirt on Triclosan

Germophobes everywhere delighted when triclosan entered the marketplace. Then it was shown that it's no better at disposing of germs than regular soap and water. Another study found that it is a hormone-disruptor. Still, antibacterial soaps containing triclosan are ubiquitous in this country. Now, a new study points to the possibility that it has a weakening effect on human heart and muscle cells:
The list of the products that contain triclosan is long and, in some cases, surprising ~ even shocking (Revlon ColorStay lipcolor plus gloss, for heaven's sake?!?):

Back to the Future

The 1990s were ~ well, not so long ago for some of us and a lifetime ago for others. Do you remember what the Internet looked like to you then? (story and video):

Living High

© China Foto Press/Barcroft Media
In the Why-Didn't-I-Think-of-That? Department (not), a unique place to build a home in a crowded city ~ and it comes with a view, too:

Reunited and It Feels So Good

The joyful reunion, in pictures, of brothers who see each other again after two years apart ~ and they just happen to be gorillas (slideshow):

Why a Duck?

Pont du Gard, France           Imapix
Ten of the world's beautiful and just plain amazing aqueducts. Not surprisingly, most are in southern Europe:

Where Stars Are Born

The Phoenix Galaxy Cluster, discovered in 2010, births about 740 stars per year (story and video):

Acts of Kindness

Scott Neeson at Steng Meanchey    Zohar123
Australian Scott Neeson had a successful career in Hollywood, a mansion, Porsche, and yacht. In 2004, he gave it all up to live in Cambodia, where he saves the country's poorest children, the garbage-pickers, and gives them a new future:

No Dirty Thoughts

Apparently, our brain cleans itself, and it's possible that it's a breakdown in this ability that leads to diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's:

Not So Fast

In the wake of the Aug. 14 failed test flight of the much-touted X-51 WaveRider, a look at the history of our quest for hypersonic speed and an analysis of the possibilities:

Ship Ahoy

The SS Terra Nova     Getty Images
One hundred years after it carried Captain Robert Scott on his ill-fated voyage to the Antarctic (see my Jan. 20, 2012, post "To Live and Die in Antarctica" and my April 20, 2011, post "A Time and Place"), the SS Terra Nova has been found, by chance, in the waters off the coast of Greenland:

Hair Today, Comb Tomorrow

© Giorgia Zanellato
In a unique example of recycling, Italian designer Giorgia Zanellato has created a collection of hair accessories out of ... human hair.:

Building by Robot

USC professor Behrokh Khoshnevis explains his plan for automated construction of buildings, which he calls Contour Crafting. It would, he says, offer greater individualization and creativity at reduced building costs and environmental impact (video):!

Hearing What it Sees

The visually impaired could one day have a new way of looking at the world with the EyeRing. A camera in the ring takes a picture, and the information is transmitted to the wearer verbally via smartphone:

A Personal T

You say you've always wanted to share your thoughts with the world? Check out the world's first programmable (and washable!) cotton T shirt (story and video ~ N.B., as one of the backers is Ballantine's, the video does mention that company, and it does start with a warning to that effect):

Green Home

For those who want to grow their own fresh vegetables but can't, for one reason or another, do so out in the open, the Agri-Cube may be the answer (story, slideshow, video):

Just Because ~ "The Seventh Seal"

 (The "Just Because" series is an occasional one in which I share the beginning of a literary work that I have found meaningful or special in some way. The full script of The Seventh Seal can be found at,-The.html .)

a film by Ingmar Bergman

   The night had brought little relief from the heat, and at dawn a hot gust of wind blows across the colourless sea. The KNIGHT, Antonius Block, lies prostrate on some spruce branches spread over the fine sand. His eyes are wide-open and bloodshot from lack of sleep.
   Nearby, his squire JONS is snoring loudly. He has fallen asleep where he collapsed, at the edge of the forest among the wind-gnarled fir trees. His open mouth gapes towards the dawn, and unearthly sounds come from his throat.
   At the sudden gust of wind the horses stir, stretching their parched muzzles towards the sea. They are as thin and worn as their masters.
   The KNIGHT has risen and waded into the shallow water, where he rinses his sunburned face and blistered lips.

There Are Places

Comoros, Africa Michael Runkel/Getty
We'll always have Paris ~ and Spain and Vietnam and England and Thailand. But what about Niue and Kyrgyzstan and Comoros and Suriname? A few picturesque corners of the world that are worth a peek ~ and perhaps a visit (slideshow):

Biiiiiig Snake!

A Burmese python in Florida measured longer than two Smart Cars ~ and was carrying 87 eggs:

The Political Brain

Where we stand on moral issues influences our political bent. And where we stand on moral issues, researchers are finding, is influenced by the structure of our brain:

Bright Idea or Slight Hubris?

Physicists are hoping that the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), being built in southern France, will create energy through fusion, like our sun:

The Butterfly Affected

Butterflies in and around Fukushima, the site of the 2011 nuclear accident, are showing severe abnormalities:

DIY Beck

(mock-up)      mcsweeney'
I've always suspected that Beck was supremely smart and that he thinks outside the box. That doesn't make me a genius ~ it's hard not to suspect these things when you hear his lyrics. And now, voilà, news that his new album, Song Reader, will be a book of sheet music ~ for the rest of us to play and interpret as we wish:

The Worm Turns

Meshworm is a soft robot that moves along by contracting its "segments" in turn, the way a real worm does or like peristalsis. It's rugged enough to withstand being stepped on, and it's pretty amazing ~ watch the video! (story and video):

Paul Who?

Just who is this "intellectual leader" of the Republican party who may be our next VP (or, as Romney introduced him, our next president)?:
Reactions to the announcement:

It's Rainin' Stars

Where to go for the best view of the Perseids meteor shower this weekend (Aug. 11-12):

Growing Sustainability
On a little street in a little corner of London, there's a multi-use shop where chickens live on the roof, mushrooms grow in the basement, and between the two, fish swim in a tank and their nutrient-rich water irrigates edible plants. Now that's sustainability ~ and an amazing example for the rest of the world (story and video):
For more pictures, see

Water Pressure

Overuse is apparently draining 20 percent of the world's aquifers, especially those in areas of high agricultural use, like California's Central Valley, Egypt's Nile delta area, and the upper Ganges in India and Pakistan:

How To Detox a Dorm Room

... or any other room, for that matter. Here are 10 good tips on controlling what we can (because you know there's a lot that we can't). And about those plastics and their confusing recycling numbers? Remember what authors Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie said: Four, five, one, and two ~ all the rest are bad for you:

Good Little Rover

Curiosity has sent back color pictures of the crater in which it landed. OK, they're not stunning ~ until you realize they're coming from MARS!! (story and slideshow):

The Winning Type

A 17-year-old from Wisconsin won $50,000 for being the fastest texter at the U.S. National Texting Championship in New York (story and video):

How Do You Rate '68?

The 1968 Exhibit. I don't know. Do we care? I believe I'm getting tired of all this reminiscing. But in case you're not, it's in Oakland now but will be hitting the East Coast and other areas, too (and it is being put on by museums, not for-profit individuals and/or corporations, so that's good ...) (text and video):

Killer Kitties

Yikes! You probably suspected this, but a kitty-cam project by the University of Georgia and the National Geographic Society proves once and for all that your adorable little muffin may be quite the killing machine. What you many not have known is that cats bring home only about a quarter of their kills:

Tell Your Tale

NPR station KPCC has a program called Snap Judgment, and they're looking for good true stories. They take audio, video, photos, and text, and if your story meets their criteria, you could be part of the show:

Three Dimensions in Two

Art by French duo TSF Crew photo: TSF Crew  
A gallery of some of the best 3D street art from around the world (slideshow):
And while you're there, check out the video, below the story, about crocheted street art. Amazing!

The Human Race

Recent finds indicate that three or more different species of human lived in Africa at the same time. "It was," said Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, "almost as if nature was developing different human prototypes with different attributes, only one of which, an ancestor of our species, was ultimately successful in evolutionary terms":

Sartorial Soul

Roxanne Lowit
In memoriam, a 1998 interview with the ever-creative, always gutsy, truly colorful Italian fashion editor Anna Piaggi (happily, illustrated by a treasure trove of inspirational photos):

Art Among the Elements

Dolls                Juan Devis
Art is being made, encouraged, displayed, and shared in a creative compound called Art Queen, in the hot, cold, and sometimes windy but always starkly beautiful Joshua Tree, CA:


NPR (National Public Radio) asked its listeners to name their favorite young-adult novels, and 75,220 people responded. The result is a solid list of 100. (FWIW, I would have put the Earthsea trilogy up a little higher.):

Growing for the Gold

Olympian, medal-winning swimmer, and urban farmer Natalie Coughlin talks about her edible garden and her chickens:

Takin' It to the Street

Tuesday, Aug. 7, is the date of the 29th annual National Night Out:

Lost But Not Least

The photographer who took pictures of the photographs of missing men on a wall outside a courthouse in Libya speaks about wanting to combat the world's apathy, what it was like "rephotographing" the photographs, and what he has done with them:

Second Sight

German engineers have developed a chip that, when implanted below the surface of the retina, can help those with retinitis pigmentosa "see":

100-Year-Old Child

Julia Child on The French Chef
Chef Julia Child would be 100 years old next week, and in honor of her birthday, public television station WGBH put together a video of inspired moments (not for nothing, but it's set to one of my absolute all-time favorite songs):
For more about this interesting woman with the unmistakable and often-imitated voice:

It's an Age Thing

A chart of the oldest and youngest Olympic contenders ~ and gold-medal winners ~ going back to 1896:

University Abroad

In a small town on the edge of the Sahara Desert, not far from the home of a group of Islamist resistance fighters, is the American University of Nigeria, founded by the country's former vice president:

Olympic Trivia

What's with the oversize headphones?
From that colorful tape many athletes sport on their shoulders, backs, etc., and the biting of the gold medal, to the "London 2012" font, answers to questions you may or may not have thought to ask:

Law of the Jungle?

(Caution: This may be disturbing to more sensitive readers.) There has been talk on and off about whether zoos are an inhumane, outmoded idea whose time has come and gone. Here's an ethical dilemma most of us have been unaware of: animal pregnancy. In U.S. zoos, contraceptive measures ensure that there are none. In Europe, nature takes its course, and when the babies are old enough to separate from their parents, they are euthanized:

Caffeine and a Thousand Words

Via a circuitous route, which I shall outline for you, I ended up at the website of a group that makes many of those infographics that seem to be gaining in popularity:
It all started with an article about how scientists are finding caffeine in the ocean, and not necessarily in the areas in which one might expect it (like around population centers):
In that article is a link to a very interesting story on "How Coffee Changed America":, and that led to the company site and many other interesting infographics!

Monstrous Mascots

Have you seen the London Olympics mascot? No? Count yourself lucky. It's certainly changed my view of English sensibilities! Herein, seven of the worst Olympics mascots (slideshow):

World Record Up in the Air

... Or not. The vertical skydiving world record was broken by 138 skydivers linking up in a snowflake pattern, diving heads-down at up to 220 mph (355 kmph) (story and video):

Game of Clones

The Olympics has decided to allow cloned horses to compete in the Games:

Green Is for Go

As Europe was getting embroiled in "the war to end all wars," in the United States, the world's first electric traffic signal was installed, on Aug. 5, 1914, in Cleveland, Ohio. Its inventor, Garrett Morgan, was the son of former slaves and (like many, maybe even most, inventors) had an abbreviated school career. In addition to the electric traffic signal and among other things, Morgan invented a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector, aka the gas mask:

Fast As You Can

New studies seem to be showing that short but consistent periods of fasting can protect one from certain age-related diseases:

And Now, the Olymp-ICKs

As the world focuses on the official Games, a small town in Germany is holding its own version of the competition ~ in the mud (video):

Working Stiffs

Tom Larson, CNN
First-generation American Ramiro Gomez hopes to bring attention to immigrant workers with his painted cardboard cutouts, which he installs in and around the homes and other locales of Beverly Hills (video):

These Snails Move FAST

The giant (though it's actually quite small) African land snail. In the 1960s, a boy brought three from Hawaii as a gift for his grandmother in Florida, who threw them into her backyard. It took nine years and $1 million for the state to eradicate the invasion that followed. That was then, this is now, and Florida is seeing a second infestation. It has been destroying about a thousand of these gastropods a week since last September. Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil are also battling the creature:

Your Child's Parents Is: a) ...

A quiz to help you determine whether you're a helicopter parent ~ as if you don't already know (N.B., there are 50 questions). My results: "You're ascending to full helicopter parenting, but don't feel you need to hover over your children's every life decision":

Now Hear This

Scientists have figured out how elephants make that amazing, loud trumpeting sound, and while it has very little to do with the trunk, it does sound familiar:

Sing a Song

England's and Liechtenstein's national anthems are written to the same melody. The world's newest anthem is South Sudan's. Spain's anthem has no words, and it's not the only one that doesn't. Interesting information about many of our world's patriotic paeans (story and audios):

The Body Olympic

Enter your height and weight to compare your body type with those of the Olympians and find out which ones you most resemble!:

Haute Cuisine Couture

How can we forget La Gaga's meat dress (or dresses, as she wore them twice)? Perhaps more tasteful, and maybe more tasty as well, are these creations made from edible products:

Dream Weaver

From French engineering student ~ and, I would add, Lego builder extraordinaire ~ Nicolas Lespour, a Lego loom that actually weaves real fabric. "The system is very simple," he said. Uh-hunh. (story, slideshow, and video):