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Sarah Laskow's Posts

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Book lovers make mini public libraries out of trees


These hollow-log bookshelves were erected in Berlin a few years back to help encourage the reuse of books. The German team behind the project explains:

The project adopts the idea of putting up a bookcase in a public space, in which people could release their used books to be picked up by others. This way of free dissemination, called ‘bookcrossing’, is by now a worldwide movement organised in a central database (www.bookcrossing.com). Registration of books enables following their travels through the world and communication about the books.

In other words, books DO grow on trees! If you want something to read, just go pluck it from the book orchard.

This particular project's over but the Bookcrossing community's still very active.

Read more: Cities

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Baby gorillas have figured out how to dismantle hunting snares

Photo courtesy of Smithsonian's National Zoo

In the forests of Rwanda, mountain gorillas sometimes get caught in snares that were intended for game like antelopes. Adult gorillas can often escape; younger ones aren't always so lucky. But staff at the Karisoke Research Center recently observed young gorillas finding and dismantling the traps before anyone could get caught, reports National Geographic News:

On Tuesday tracker John Ndayambaje spotted a trap very close to the Kuryama gorilla clan. He moved in to deactivate the snare, but a silverback named Vubu grunted, cautioning Ndayambaje to stay away, Vecellio said.

Suddenly two juveniles -- Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female; both about four years old -- ran toward the trap.

As Ndayambaje and a few tourists watched, Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.

It looks as if the gorillas have trained themselves to disarm the traps, possibly by observing the actions of the conservationists, who regularly search out and destroy traps on the reserve in which they work.

Read more: Animals

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‘Water cafe’ sells filtered bottled tap water and nothing else

Bottled water is often just tap water in a bottle. But a new store -- excuse me, a new "water cafe" -- in the East Village is basing their entire business plan on that concept: They sell nothing but bottled tap water.

It's a little bit mystifying why anyone would buy a product available for free in EVERY SINGLE APARTMENT and EVERY SINGLE RESTAURANT and EVERY SINGLE PARK. But the proprietors of Molecule have a pitch, the Wall Street Journal reports. This tap water is no ordinary tap water. It’s tap water that’s been subjected to a bunch of BS quackery. And that’s expensive!

Not just any tap water, insist the owners of Molecule. They say the water streams through a $25,000 filtering machine that uses ultraviolet rays, ozone treatments and reverse osmosis in a seven-stage processing treatment to create what they call pure H2O.

In other words, they want to sell you perfectly good water that they make taste like nothing. Because that's what makes water taste good: all the stuff that's in it that's not hydrogen or oxygen.

These guys just moved a year or so ago to NYC from California, and one is a "former world champion boomerang player, musician and self-described social-justice activist." They're not buying the contention that NYC has some of the best tap water in the country. The owners say they "don't want chemicals in my water. I don't even want chlorine in my water." Don’t tell them H2O is a chemical formula, okay?

Read more: Living

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City officials are waging a war on gardens

Across the country and even in Canada, cities' thinking about front lawns is more than a little bit antiquated. It comes down to this simple formulation: Grass good! Vegetables bad. We've heard one too many stories in which people decide to use their yards to grow some fresh vegetables, only to have city officials come down hard on them, forcing them to tear out their food or bulldozing the gardens themselves. If building a few bike lanes counts as a war on cars, this is definitely a war on gardens.

The latest skirmish took place in Drummondville, Quebec, where Josée Landry and Michel Beauchamp built what supporters describe as "a gorgeous and meticulously-maintained edible landscape full of healthy fruits and vegetables." (You can judge for yourself: It's the garden in the picture above.) Under the town's new code, a garden like that would be illegal. It covers too much of the yard. Under the new rules, only 30 percent of a yard's area can go towards growing vegetables, and the town's given the couple only two weeks to pull out their carefully planted veggies.

At least Drummondville hasn't pulled a Tulsa and bulldozed the entire thing.

If you start looking for stories like these, you'll turn them up in droves.

Read more: Cities

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Map shows where the biggest couch potatoes live (and it’s NOT the U.S.!)

A group of researchers looked at health surveys covering 89 percent of the world's population and came to a surprising conclusion -- Americans are not the least active people on the planet.

Six in 10 of us get "30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week," "20 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week," or a combination of the two, the Economist reports.

The most physically inactive people are the Maltese, 72 percent of whom do not get enough exercise. The second and third least-exercising countries are Swaziland and Saudi Arabia.

Read more: Living

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Tiny squid may be killing themselves by having too much sex

Photo courtesy of LiveScience.

Sure, marathon three-hour sex sessions may SOUND like a good idea, but if you’re a 2.8-inch long cephalopod, the nonstop boning may tire you out so much that you can’t feed or protect yourself, says a new study about the sex life of the southern dumpling squid.

"Dumpling squid live fast and die young, mating with multiple partners during their yearlong lives," LiveScience reports. They can get it on for up to three hours at a time, leaving participants so exhausted they can barely find food, escape baddies, or go at it again.

Franklin and her colleagues put a group of squid through an endurance test. One day, they had the squid swim against the current, measuring the time they could keep on pushing through. The next day, they put males and females together. Like Olympic athletes, the squid immediately looked around and figured out who to hook up with.

Read more: Animals

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19th-century London had a train line just for dead people

The remains of Necropolis Station. (Photo by Yersinia pestis.)

Back in mid-19th century England, public transportation was popular enough that even dead people had their own railway. P. D. Smith writes:

The London Necropolis Railway station was constructed by the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company, specifically to serve their Brookwood Cemetery, 25 miles away in Woking, Surrey. The Company’s logo was, somewhat ghoulishly, a skull and crossbones.

The railway transported the deceased, in their coffins, to the cemetery, as well as some living people -- the mourners headed to the cemetery for the funeral. In the late 19th century, the train ran every day, a "daily funeral express." Public transportation was popular enough across all strata of society that the train had different cars and different entrances for different groups of people, Smith says:

In class-conscious Britain, even funeral trains were divided according to class, and this applied to both the living and the dead passengers -- although of course these only needed a one-way ticket.

Read more: Cities, Transportation

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City takes your collected trash, gives you fresh food in return

A growing number of cities in Central and South America are giving residents what may be the best deal ever made: You give us trash, and we give you food.

The Brazilian city of Jundiai has been offering "Delicious Recycling" for 10 years. When residents bring in recyclables, they get vegetables from a local, public garden. It's really working, according to TreeHugger:

"What once cluttered and even choked the flow of water from storm drains is today used as currency for healthy food," local mayor Miguel Haddad tells Jundiaí Online. "Everybody wins with this."

Another Brazilian city, Curitiba (which regularly makes "world's greenest cities" lists) has been running a similar program since 1991.

Read more: Cities

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‘Weed dating’ is like speed dating, but dirtier

I don't know what you all look for in a mate, but if one of those qualities is "a willingness to trade farm labor for the possibility of romance," you might skip speed dating and go for "weed dating."

The AP explains:

Typically, speed daters meet at a bar or restaurant and switch conversational partners every few minutes, in hopes of finding someone compatible. With weed dating, this rapid-fire courtship takes place on the farm, with singles working together in the fields.

Women are assigned to particular rows and instructed in the art of weeding. Men have to switch rows every three minutes and learn from women what they're supposed to do.

Weed dating is preferable to speed dating in many ways.

Read more: Living

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16-year-old scientist could turn Egypt’s plastic problem into a biofuel boom

Image courtesy of European Commission.

What have you done for your country lately? Sixteen-year-old Azza Abdel Hamid Falad has figured out a way to make Egypt $78 million worth of biofuel each year. The key: an inexpensive catalyst that will turn plastic into fuel.

Green Prophet explains:

The idea of breaking down plastic polymers into fuel feedstocks, the bulk raw material used for producing biofuel , is not a new idea. But Faiad has found a high yield catalyst, aluminosilicate catalyst, that breaks down plastic waste producing gaseous products like methane, propane and ethane, which are then converted into ethanol to use as biofuel.