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Sarah Laskow's Posts

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Wool balls keep your laundry soft, and maaaaybe save energy

When I was taught to do laundry, I was told that a Bounce dryer sheet went into the dryer with every load of wet clothes. But the green-minded among us have come up with a better solution to keeping your clothes static-free and soft (without involving PVC in the process): wool dryer balls.


Get a few of these thingies, and you will not need to buy dryer sheets for years. You can even make your own, with minimum craftiness required.

The companies that make balls like these claim that they save energy, too, which would be great if it were true, since dryers suck up a ton of electricity. But the few industrious people who've tried to confirm this claim have come up way short.

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New perfume lets you smell like New York City, because THAT sounds great

I don’t know about you folks, but when I think of the “essence and spirit" of New York City "in an olfactory memento" … well, if it's summer, I mostly think of quickly rotting trash. If we're talking Queens, I'll give you the smell of Indian spices in Jackson Heights. Brooklyn smells like the sea in some places, though that may just be the roving gangs of artisanal picklers. But never, never would I think of the scene that Gerald Ghislain and Magali Senequier chose for their Scent of Departure fragrance line:

A lovely sunny day in the Big Apple City. The air is filled with the scents of lilac and rose from the vast and majestic Central Park. You are walking along Times Square under the mild and fresh breeze from New York harbor. Enjoy this modern, crisp and invigorating fragrance with sparkling and sourish notes of apple.

Lilacs, rose, apple, and a “mild and fresh breeze.” Right. Have these guys actually been to New York, or did they just watch Sex and the City on repeat?

Read more: Cities

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Heritage wheat could let gluten-sensitive people eat bread again

One of my greatest fears in life is that I'll find out I'm gluten-intolerant, because there is almost nothing I love to eat more than really good bread. (I know that there is bread made with non-wheat flour, but … it's just not the same.) But it turns out, according to Pacific Standard, that there's a strain of heritage wheat that even gluten-sensitive people might be able to digest. It's nutty-tasting, and it has an excellent name: "einkorn,” which I'm going to roughly translate as The One True Grain.

Einkorn was apparently the first cultivated wheat, and it has an different gluten structure -- one that's easier to digest -- than most of the wheat we eat today.

Read more: Food

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This 11-year-old environmental activist is oil companies’ worst nightmare

At Rio+20, Tai'Kaiya Blaney, 11, spoke -- mic-check style -- against a future where the land is filled with pipelines and oceans are empty of life:

Blaney's a member of the Sliammon Nation in Canada and has already built up an impressive record as an environmental activist. She's been fighting against tar-sands pipelines in Canada and has already been escorted off of pipeline company Enbridge's property, as Yes! Magazine reported:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Ikea won’t tell where it gets its wood — and Congress is about to give it a pass

Photo by yassan-yukky.

Most Americans wouldn’t consider eating a burger made of chopped-up, unidentified meat that could include, say, monkey or mountain lion. But dorm rooms, group houses, and respectable living rooms across the country are furnished with the wood-based equivalent of mystery meat: dirt-cheap dressers, desks, tables, and cabinets made from chopped-up wood of indeterminate, and potentially troubling, origin.

Particleboard might not be as physically off-putting as pink slime, but the source of its contents can be as hard to trace as the source of an E. coli outbreak. And while the materials in an Ikea dresser won’t make consumers physically sick, the purchaser of these products might well feel queasy. Right now, there’s no way of knowing whether or not that chest of drawers or flimsy bookshelf contains wood from old-growth or illegally logged forests -- in other words, whether the product is implicated in deforestation, climate change, and drug smuggling.

Congress is about to make it even less likely that Ikea and similar companies will provide that information. In 2008, lawmakers put into place new measures that would have required retailers to disclose the source of wood in their products. Even before the new law was passed, Ikea and other retailers were fighting it, and already, the government has given them a grace period in which they do not have to provide details on the makeup of materials like particleboard. Now, House leaders are pushing through a bill that could let companies like Ikea continue to hide where much of the wood they use comes from.

Read more: Living

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Finally, a good use for drones: Catching poachers

Conservationists are taking a page from the U.S. government in the fight against poaching -- they're sending in the drones.

Already in use in Indonesia and soon to be in the air in Nepal, the drones can monitor protected areas where endangered species are hanging out. If they see a poacher, they leap into action.

Unlike the U.S. government’s drones, though, they do not send quantities of explosives down to blow up a wedding destroy the enemy. They merely alert humans to go check out the situation.

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Flock of 5,000 ducks stops traffic in city of 6 million people

Taizhou lies 190 miles south of Shanghai and has 6 million people, putting its size at “somewhere in between Los Angeles and New York City” on a U.S. scale and “just some town” on a Chinese one. One day recently, though, the streets were filled not with cars, scooters, or pedestrians, but with ducks. Thousands upon thousands of ducks:

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The Christmas lights of the future will run on firefly juice

Fireflies make light without electricity, and by copying them, scientists have figured out how to do the same thing. Only instead of the yellowish light of fireflies in the night, a team at Syracuse University has figured out how to make green and orange and red light -- all out of firefly juice.

Read more: Living

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Domino’s thinks pizza is too complicated for calorie counts

Domino’s doesn’t want to tell you how many calories are in that Bacon Cheeseburger Feast pizza, so they’re pulling out the Teen Talk Barbie defense: “Math is hard!” According to the company, there are 34 million ways to customize a Domino's pizza, all of which result in a meal that tastes like wet cardboard. With so many permutations, Domino’s argues, how could they POSSIBLY post calorie counts?

Proposed FDA rules would require food chains to reveal some info about what, exactly, they're selling us. But Domino’s says they couldn’t possibly comply, because freedom! So much freedom to put whatever crap you want on your terrible pizza! Freedom and math are not compatible, guys.

Read more: Food

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Scientists create Facebook for great tits

Photo by nottsexminer.

We know that more people than like to admit it troll Facebook to check out ladies, but scientists have actually created a social network that they use for nothing but looking at tits.

Our more astute and wildlife-oriented readers will have guessed that the tits scientists are ogling are wild great tits -- a type of bird biologists often study, probably because it has a funny name. The lead researcher on this study says that using a new data-crunch approach, his team found that they could accurately map social relationships among the birds, identifying not just birds that happened to meet each other in passing but those who had actually formed friendships:

What we have shown is that we can analyze data about individual animals, in this case great tits, to construct a 'Facebook for animals' revealing who affiliates with who, who are members of the same group, and which birds are regularly going to the same gatherings or 'events.'

Read more: Animals