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Parkour on Skis

Red Bull Media
A little ways up Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica, there's a steep hill of sand, and on any given day, you'll see skiers up there. Take that a few steps further, mix in a little parkour, give or take a little snow, and you have urban skiing, aka street skiing. And you thought slopestyle was risky! (story, video):
   If that gets you amped, you might want to check out this whole website of videos of street skiers cheating death:

Keeping Birthdays on Track

Alan Crowhurst/PA
Not that I'm a proponent of horse racing and, in fact, am quite the opposite, but this is interesting nonetheless. from

In the Northern Hemisphere, all thoroughbred horses have the same official birthday of January 1, regardless of their actual date of birth. In the Southern Hemisphere, all thoroughbred horses share the birthday of August 1. The purpose of giving all thoroughbreds the same official birthday is to more accurately categorize them by age for racing purposes. This birthday rule means that a horse born in mid-December would officially turn 1 year old less than a month later, on January 1. Breeders typically try to have their horses born as soon as possible after the official date, in order to have as much time as possible to train them for racing. After a thoroughbred horse reaches its second birthday, it generally is eligible for racing.

More about horses:
  • Horses are not able to breathe through their mouths — only through their noses.

  • A horse uses more energy when it is lying on the ground than when it is standing up.

  • Thoroughbred horses can run at a top speed of more than 40 miles per hour (65 km/h).

A Clean Stream

A San Francisco company that, as far as I can tell from its website ( does amazing green-related things just about everywhere, has come up with the ultimate portable public urinal and sink (that can be used by women, too). The PPlanter has an attached biofilter that takes in the nutrients, protein, and carbohydrates and leaves only salt behind. It's already passed the test in a crowded San Francisco neighborhood, and the city has ordered a permanent one:

Simply Choose To Forget

Electroconvulsive therapy (remember One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?) is being looked at as a possible aid in severe cases of post-traumatic stress, the idea being that if a particular memory is the problem, the solution might well be to erase that memory ~ permanently (story, video):
   Starting with the Romans, a brief history of "medical electricity" (slideshow):

The Pirate President

Jim Roberts
So Ukraine's now-former president is gone. The first protesters and others to enter his residential compound caught a glimpse of what his life was like behind the wrought-iron gates. The perks include a zoo (of course), a golf course, and a restaurant in the shape of a pirate ship. That bit of irony surely won't be lost on anyone (story, slideshow):

Now, That's Cold!

Ashley Wagner became the face of Olympic ice skating 2014.         Getty/Pool
Many, obviously including Ashley Wagner herself, thought she had skated a medal-worthy performance, and South Korean Yuna Kim's loss to Russian Adelina Sotnikova has been the subject of much talk. A medal-winning former pair skater explains the new International Judging System that caused these Olympic-size controversies. Like so many blanket rules that snub the more ethereal aspects of life, like grace and creativity, this new system was an answer to the previous, more open system's tendency to fall victim to cheating (like the Russian vote-trading episode of 2002):

Violence in Venezuela

OK, so we understand the roots of the unrest and dissatisfaction in Ukraine ( Now what about Venezuela, a little closer to home? Protests there have turned increasingly violent. In what could be called the ultimate irony, one of the victims is Venezuela's Miss Tourism 2013 for her home state of Carabobo. The protesters are mainly students, but what's their complaint? Why has President Nicolás Maduro accused the United States of trying to destabilize his government? And who is Leopoldo López? (story, slideshow):
   "I'm tired of the politicians of both sides," said one protester. I think many of us in the States can relate to that sentiment.
   For a recent report on the situation and more explanatory notes, see (story, video):

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Sumatra, Indonesia, 2010                               Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images
Between 2000 and 2012, data show, the world has lost the equivalent of 50 football fields of forest every minute. But there's good news, too. In 2003-04 and 2010-11, Brazil managed to cut its annual forest loss in half. A new online program uses NASA Landsat images, Google Maps and Google Earth engines, and algorithms developed at the University of Maryland to keep track of the state of the world's forests in near real time. Companies can use it to prove that their products are sustainable, and governments and oversight groups can use it to find those who are logging illegally:

The Teacher Plant

"It's going to kick you in the pants and show you what you need to know about yourself," says anthropologist and author Jeremy Narby. So what is this substance? It comes from the Amazon rain forest, is a combination of two plants, and the trip that results from its ingestion is usually guided by a shaman. One writer joins an ayahuasca ceremony and speaks with a higher intelligence:

Global Self Image

Are all selfies alike, or does the culture of the place we call home influence how we imagine and photograph ourselves? Do gender and age make a difference? One group is investigating, using the selfies of citizens of five cities ~ New York, Bangkok, Berlin, Saõ Paulo, and Moscow ~ and has put together an interactive website, chronicling their findings:

Good Eggs

Anyone who's traveled to Europe may have noticed something rather surprising about the way eggs are stored there: They are generally not refrigerated. AAAAK! Don't the Europeans worry about salmonella poisoning? Not so much ~ and the reason has to do with the difference between the way we and they handle chickens and their eggs:

Why Ukraine?

Kiev's Independence Square, December 2013 Etienne De Malglaive/Getty Images
As all ~ or many, anyway ~ eyes are turned eastward for the Olympics in Russia, its neighbor Ukraine is in the midst of a quite different showdown. Now, too, a Ukrainian Alpine skier has withdrawn from the Olympics to protest the violence in her home country. Protests in the capital city, Kiev, and other cities are resulting in killings, mass arrests, and evidence of torture. Why? (story, videos):

Marina and the Crystal Cave

screen shot from Live at MoMA
"One thing you can leave always is a good idea, and I really wanted to have this good idea to live after me."
   Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović is focusing on her legacy, on the "good idea." And, like all of her works, this one is big and brave and bold. Like all of her works, too, it is sure to be exalted by some, imitated by others, and ridiculed by still others. The Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) "will be a kind of cultural laboratory," she explains, and it will be open to everyone. Her intent? To create a "model society," one community at a time:
   Abramović names 10 new artists worth watching (slideshow):
   A short interview with Abramović as she was preparing for her MoMA show (video):

A Leg Up on Fashion

an ad from 1948
The nylon stocking (a glimpse of which ~ as well as its predecessor, the silk stocking ~ in olden days, was looked on as something shocking, but now, God knows, anything goes*!) celebrates its 75th birthday this year. I think it's safe to say that its introduction was one of those transformative moments in the fashion world (video):
   I had heard that the word "nylon" was a combination of "N.Y." (New York) and "London" because those two cities had something to do with its invention, but alas!, great story though it is, it just ain't true. Here's how the fabric was created and the name conceived (website):
   *To hear Cole Porter sing his wonderful ~ and presaging ~ "Anything Goes," go to

Just Don't Do It

You don't have to be an environmentalist to have a reason to eschew the five foods on this Sierra Club list ~ being a humanist (and, really, aren't we all?) works, too. You can probably guess which they are, but do you know why they're on the list and what to eat instead?:

Flu Power

In this infamously flu-ish time of year ~ and not to make you paranoid or anything ~ I thought you might want to be aware of the following, courtesy of

How long the flu virus, or influenza virus, can live outside the body varies depending on the infected surface. For example, the virus can live for as long as 12 hours on porous materials such as tissue or cloth. Nonporous materials, such as wood or metal, can carry a live flu virus for as long as 48 hours after being infected. If a surface is wet, that can increase the life of the virus to 72 hours outside the body. The flu virus tends to live on skin for only a couple of minutes, but it can spread rapidly during that time from contact with the hands or other parts of the body. 

More about the flu virus :
  • The flu virus is thought to be able to travel as far as 6 feet (1.83 km) when an infected person blows his or her nose or sneezes.

  • The surfaces that most commonly harbor live flu viruses include refrigerator

Get Out'a Town!

Who hasn't dreamed of chucking it all and traveling the world or just moving to a shack in the woods for a year? Here, some who have taken that road offer tips on how to make it a smooth journey and avoid the potholes (story, slideshow):

The Golden Ages

Martin Luther King Jr. won Nobel Peace Prize at 35.
 So, youth is wasted on the young, the ubiquitous
 "they" say, but what, exactly, is "young"? A look at the
 ages of Nobel Prize winners indicates that our most
 productive, creative, and effective years are our
 late 30s ~ give or take, depending on the area of
    And if you don't believe it, here's a partial list of
 Nobel Prize winners over the years by age:

Marie Curie won Nobel for Physics at 36.
At 88, Doris Lessing is, so far, the oldest winner of a Nobel in Literature.

Souvenirs of Lost Love

Now that Valentine's Day 2014 has officially come and gone, it's safe to pull this chestnut out of the fire. I first posted about this intriguing place a couple of years ago (, but it came to my attention again in this well-written column by the author of a book called The Memory of Love. Welcome to the Museum of Broken Relationships. As I said in my first post about it, yes, such a place really exists:
The person who donated this glass horse wrote, in part, "1982-1997, Maribor, Slovenia ... Old memories ~ if I remember correctly, my husband and I took a trip to Venice. It was a splendid day, the sun was shining. I was young, I was in love. I had wonderful dreams about our future. ..."

I See

example of how macular degeneration affects eyesight                from
Two interesting things in one here (such a deal!): In a story that was picked up by a few news outlets, a recent study on mice seems to show that exercise, in addition to all its other known benefits, can prevent macular degeneration, in which the eye's photoreceptors degenerate and die, leading to blindness:
   That's the first interesting thing. The second is that when I researched the subject a little further, I found the following: According to a 2006 story on WebMD, "A new study suggests that regular exercise can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by up to 70%." This study followed about 4,000 men and women in a town in Wisconsin for 15 years:
   Another article, from 2009, reported on two studies that tracked runners and

Love and Marriage

... go together like a horse and carriage, or so claims an old song. There is, of course, more to it than that, as one writer ~ the product of a single-parent household ~ learned when she interviewed the partners in 100 happy, long-lasting marriages:

Tweet of the Times

Created as a tongue-in-cheek app to bring attention to the ongoing dangerous situation in Lebanon, Sandra Hassan's "I Am Alive" app, ironically enough, has been used for real after recent bombings. Citizens of other countries are interested in it as well, as is an NGO looking to use it during natural disasters:

Ice, Ice, Baby

Curling requires a different surface from figure skating. Kevin Liles, USA Today
We've heard a lot about the quality of the snow at this year's winter Olympics, where the daytime temperature has been in the 60s many days. But the quality of the ice is crucial to the athletes, too, and as we learn in this article, all ice is not equal ~ nor should it be:,0,1502638.htmlstory#axzz2tN4j4KZY

Birds Smell

It'll probably be a movie someday because, really, don't we all love it when someone stands up to the negativity and incredulity of the "experts" and proves conventional wisdom wrong? This is that kind of story. The myth that birds don't have a strong sense of smell was started, amazingly enough, by John James Audubon himself. Since then, several individuals have devoted their working lives to dispelling it. One of them, Gabrielle Nevitt, has spent the last two decades and endured much discomfort studying avian olfaction ~ in her case, in seabirds in particular:

Driving Right

September 3, 1967, will forever be known as Högertrafikomläggningen in Sweden. That was the day the country switched from driving on the left to driving on the right side of the street. Just like that. In one day (well, two in some places). Signs were reversed, bus stops relocated ~ one thing that didn't have to be changed was the cars. As most were American, their driver's seat was already on the left side (story, slideshow, video):

Presidential Poetry

On this, Abraham Lincoln's (1809-1865) birthday, the first part of one of his poems. It is said he was a melancholy man, and his poems certainly bear witness to that fact. from

My Childhood Home I See Again

My childhood home I see again,
   And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
   There's pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world
   'Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
   In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that's earthly vile,
   Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
   All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye
   When twilight chases day;
As bugle-notes that, passing by,
   In distance die away;

Yerrrr Outa Here!

Getty Images
Between terrorism, the NSA, the environment, Congress, etc., we haven't heard much about immigration lately. Well, we have, but not that, under this president, we have deported a record number of undocumented migrants while the number who have entered the country from the southwest has dropped.
   "... after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks ..., by an odd jump of logic, a mass murder committed by mostly Saudi terrorists resulted in an almost limitless amount of money being made available for the deportation of Mexican house-painters," according to this article, and it continues, "America now spends more money on immigration enforcement than on all the other main federal law-enforcement agencies combined":

Namaste, Yoga

Western science has once again confirmed what many have known intuitively all along: Yoga has definite benefits for the human body and mind. In the latest such discovery, a study (the largest to date using biological data) of breast cancer survivors has found that practicing yogic positions helps to reduce inflammation:

Post-Soviet Occupation

Lana Sator
Paris may have its ghost stations (see "A New Station in Life," below), but Russia has the relics of the old Soviet Union, both above and below ground. These sites have attracted a new kind of photographer, the urban explorers, who take many risks, both physical and legal, to climb and document areas the less adventurous would never otherwise see. "What appeals to me the most," one such explorer, Sam Namos, explained, "is the ambience of lost places. The process of looking for them is breathtaking, too. If you're serious about it, there is so much you can learn about your own country, so many mysteries you can discover" (story, lots of great pix):

A New Station in Life

the entrance to the abandoned Arsenal Métro station                       ZeMeilleur
There are 16 unused Métro stations beneath the streets of Paris. They're called ghost stations, and most were abandoned between the 1930s and 1970s ~ many at the start of World War II in 1939. A couple were built and never used. Now, a mayoral candidate is proposing turning one of them, Arsenal, into a community center of sorts and has commissioned illustrations of possibilities, including a swimming pool, theater, and nightclub. She says that, if elected, she will ask Parisians for their ideas on how to renovate and reuse other stations (story, slideshow):

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Lisa Britz
With native plants and wildflowers and pollinators all in a row. San Francisco-based Pollinator Partnership has free, very detailed charts of the trees, shrubs, and flowers that attract pollinators specific to your area. There are also great gardening tips and information about specific pollinators. Really, pretty much anything you'd want to know about the topic. Just type in your zip code (website):

Just Because: 'Marjorie Morningstar'

This novel, by Herman Wouk (born 1915), is one of the more charming books I've ever read. Which is curious, because here we have a male author whose protagonist is female. That just goes to show what a good writer Wouk is, particularly when his other novels ~ The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War ~ are so very full of the prototypical male essence. Still, it was the title of the book more than the identity of the author that drew me to it. Here's how Marjorie Morningstar begins:

Chapter 1. MARJORIE

Customs of courtship vary greatly in different times and places, but the way the thing happens to be done here and now always seems the only natural way to do it.
   Marjorie's mother looked in on her sleeping daughter at half past ten of a Sunday morning with feelings of puzzlement and dread. She disapproved of everything she saw. She disapproved of the expensive black silk evening dress crumpled on a chair, the pink frothy underwear thrown on top of the dress, the stockings like dead snakes on the floor, the brown wilting gardenias on the desk. Above all she disapproved of the beautiful seventeen-year-old girl lying happily asleep on a costly oversize bed in a square of golden sunlight, her hair a disordered brown mass of curls, her red mouth streaked with cracking purplish paint, her breathing peaceful and regular through her fine little nose. Marjorie was recovering from a college dance. She looked sweetly

Can You Hear Me Now?

Science Museum/Science & Society Picture
The etymology of English words is always fascinating, perhaps more so than the words of almost any other language. From Britannia's rule by the ancient Romans to today's immigrant influence, we have gleaned so much of our vocabulary from many different and interesting sources. And what about one of the most common of our words, the simple "hello"? This information is from

The word "hello" did not become a common greeting in the English language until after the invention of the telephone in 1877, when American inventor Thomas Edison is thought to have suggested the word as a greeting when picking up the phone. The actual inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, reportedly wanted “ahoy” to

The Destination Is in Your Head

I'd like to hear Siri read this. Or maybe not. But thanks to Gregor Weichbrodt, we now have that choice, because his version of Jack Kerouac's On the Road is made up solely of Google Maps directions. And he didn't even read the entire original (story, link to Weichbrodt's book):

Stick Around

You know those ubiquitous "man" and "woman" pictograms that adorn most public bathroom doors? Sure you do. But did you know they, and all the Olympic sports symbols, were created by German designer Otl Aicher for the 1984 summer games in Munich?:

Hair Today, Coat Tomorrow

HAP/Quirky China News/REX
Weird News Department: In order to keep her long hair, about 11 years ago, Xiang Renxian of China began collecting it as it fell out, keeping a running tally of the strands, until she had enough to knit a coat and hat. In all, her project used more than 110,000 strands:

People We Meet

Mostly, this blog is about links to articles, websites, and other sources of interesting information. This post deviates from that format a bit in that it's a little more personal.

The other day, a friend and I went to a restaurant I hadn't been to before. It was one of those places, kind of like a tonier (this was Brentwood, after all) Souplantation, with lots of great-looking dishes in a display case. You choose how many and which ones, and the person behind the case scoops them out for you.
   I took my turn, choosing three (all delicious, btw), and as the server handed me my plate, she said, "You get an A+ for politeness." What? It was so unexpected, so incongruous ~ like when you were in kindergarten and saw your teacher in the grocery store or on the street, just like a normal person ~ that I had to ask her to repeat it twice before I understood what she was saying. "An A+ for politeness"? Me? And I

Ready To Run
NASCAR's coming up, and for as many world championships as driver Jimmie Johnson has won (6), he gives a huge part of the credit to his pit crew, which is as honed as a Navy SEALS team. Their workouts aren't too different, either. Of course, technology plays a role, too. A decade ago, it took about 17 seconds to get a car ready to hit the track again; now, it's more like 12, and the goal is 10 (video):

Cupid's Doppelganger

Now these are Valentine's cards! And you're welcome! (downloadable cards plus links to a podcast about love and the brain and a story on what science is learning about love):

What Singularity?

Will we ever know exactly how it all started? An alternate explanation of the beginning of the universe suggests that, instead of a Big Bang, fundamental particles just got heavier and gravity got weaker going back into the infinite past. This theory could fit better with the currently accepted concepts of quantum physics and general relativity:

'People Like Us'

screen shot from Kathryn Carlson's video
Thirty-one and eight million. Those are the number of years Bill Bonner has been working as the archivist at National Geographic and the number of images, published and unpublished, he oversees ~ and he has looked at every single one. "We don't have pictures of Babe Ruth hitting a home run," he says, "but there's pictures of people like us just doing our thing" (story, video):

Thai'd in Knots

Nyein Chan Naing/EPA
Feb. 2 is a big day, not only here in the States (Super Bowl, Groundhog Day), but, in a much more serious way, across the ocean in Thailand. A special election has been called for that day, and one party is boycotting it. There have been demonstrations and fears that there may be more violence. Here's a quick explanation (video):
   For a deeper look at the issue, see and

Birdwatch 2014

white-crowned sparrow                    Tiny Gehrke
It's the Great Backyard Bird Count! From Feb. 14 through 17, everyone who signs up ~ from beginners to experts ~ count the number of birds they see during that time and add their information to the official tally. These counts help scientists get an accurate overall picture of bird populations (website):

Sound Around

There's a building in the Southern California desert that, legend has it, is built on an intersection of geomagnetic forces and so has transformative powers on the human body. It was built over a period of five years starting in 1954, but its designer and builder, George van Tassel (1920-1978), worked on it up until his death. Van Tassel says he based his design on inspiration from three sources: Moses's Tabernacle, the work of Nicola Tesla, and instructions he received from extraterrestrials.These days, the Integratron is owned by three sisters, who have opened it to the public for healing session called Sound Baths (website):
   What's it really like inside the Integratron, and how does a Sound Bath session make one feel? It's like a "body massage, internally," says one first-time participant (video):

Watch Time

no matter what the numbers say, it's still 10:10

The time that analog watches are set for in advertisements or sales displays is generally 10:10, with the hands at 10 and 2, for a variety of aesthetic reasons. Most brand logos on watches are located in the top center of the watch’s face, so having the time set for 10:10 is thought to frame the logo and draw the eye toward it. Before the 1950s, watches were often set at 8:20 for the same logo framing purposes, but the downward-facing hands were thought to seem more negative. Some advertisers
believe that having a watch set at 10:10 appears more positive because it makes the mind think of a smile or "V for victory."

More about advertising :
  • In Apple advertisements, the iPhone generally is set at 9:42 a.m. No reason has been confirmed, although it is speculated that was the exact time the