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Sarah Laskow's Posts

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Tulsa authorities bulldoze edible garden for being too tall

Denise Morrison grew more than 100 types of plants in her yard in Tulsa, Okla. She had garlic chives and strawberry, apple mint and spear mint, an apple tree and a pecan tree.

But someone complained about it, and city inspectors stopped by. Her plants, they said, were too tall. The entire lawn would have to go.

Morrison knew she was in the right; she had read the city code, which allowed plants over 12 inches if they were meant for human consumption. Hers were, so she got the police involved. They issued a citation, and she and the city went before a judge in August. The judge told them to come back in October.

The next day, the city came to Morrison's yard and bulldozed her plants.

Read more: Cities, Green Home, Living

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This dude bought a private island in New York City for less than a studio apartment

Alex Schibli, 72, owns an island, right smack off the coast of Manhattan. (Delightfully, it’s called “Rat Island.” Great name for a NYC island, or BEST name?) When you hear “owns an island” you figure “Romney rich,” but Schibli only paid $176,000 for the 2.6 acres. That might seem like a lot, but when a studio apartment in the East Village is going for $400,000, really, it's a steal. Schibli told the New York Post why he chose to buy a little piece of nature:

I’d always dreamed of having my own place for peace and quiet in the middle of the ocean. When Rat Island came on the market, I had to buy it ...

I love swimming, canoeing and collecting mussels -- and we’re going to have lots of fun with my family. There’ll be picnics, barbecues and the occasional party, but, more than anything, we’re just going to relax.

Read more: Cities, Green Home, Living

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North Carolina elephant might be getting contact lenses

C'sar, a 38-year-old bull elephant living in North Carolina, could become the first pachyderm to wear contact lenses. Because nothing looks nerdier than an elephant in glasses.

"An elephant has never been fitted with corrective lenses," the Associated Press reports. (One elephant once had a contact put in his eye, but it was just to keep some gunk in, not to help his vision.) To give you a sense of the scale here, C'sar weighs 12,000 pounds and has eyes about the same size as a horse's. His contacts would need to be 1.5 inches in diameter -- about three times the size of the ones humans stick in their eyes. They would need to be changed every three months. And given how hard it is to convince people to stick pieces of plastic in their eyes, we do not envy the person who has the job of sticking their fingers in a six-ton elephant's eye, even if he is sedated.

Read more: Animals

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Bears can count

Photo by blair 25.

North American black bears have the largest relative brain size of all carnivores, and apparently they are capable of using that brain power to count. Scientists tested three bears on their ability to look at groups of dots and identify whether one group had fewer or more dots than another. (Two bears were looking for "fewer," and the other was looking for "more.") Turns out, they could tell the difference, which means they can count, or anyway do some bear-brain counting-like thing. It’s not like they understand what a “five” is, but they know how many of things there are.

Read more: Animals

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Burrito robot problematizes fast food and nutrition, makes you a disgusting burrito

For his thesis project, Marko Manriquez, "a maker, interactive designer and foodie of all things delicious," has created a robot that prints "a 3D edible extrusion combining a blend of digital fabrication and gastronomy." That is the least appetizing possible way of saying “it makes a burrito.” Ladies and gents, we present, the Burritob0t:

Why a burrito? Well, there's the practical explanation, according to Manriquez:

Burritos are a natural choice because most of their ingredients are easily extrudable.

What's that again?

Extrude -- to shape (as metal or plastic) by forcing through a die. Remember when you were a kid and you pushed PlayDough through pre-cut holes (e.g. stars, rainbows, etc.) sculpting crazy shapes? Well, you were extruding 3d objects, even back then. Good for you!

There's also a fancy explanation. Burritos dredge up ideas about fast food, assembly lines, the environmental consequences of quick consumption, and nutritional values.

But we know what you're really curious about. Does it taste good?

Read more: Food

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Help name these weird species

Giving children names is exciting and all, but it is important to consider how they will feel when their name is shouted on the playground. But not so with species! You can name those suckers whatever you want and they will be none the wiser. The Guardian is holding a contest that lets readers indulge in this pleasure by coming up with common names for 10 British species. Past contests have yield such gems as "hotlips" for this labial-looking fungus and "sea piglet shrimp" for this fella.

This year the species on hand are mostly brown. The list includes not one but two sea slugs and lots of bugs. It is actually a travesty that Grist did not think of this idea first, because we are confident that Grist readers can come up with way funnier (and punnier) names than Guardian readers can. (Although, we admit, hotlips may be the best name for a fungus, ever.) We want to see at least one Grist reader's name up in lights on the internet, so get to species-namin’! Here, from the Guardian, are helpful tips:

• Try to incorporate some combination of appearance, natural history, or location. For example, the species' color or feeding habits

• Humor, word play, and cultural references are good when relevant, and names do not need to be direct Latin translations

• Names should ideally consist of two names, not including the taxonomic group name, for example beetle, lichen, shrimp (so three words in total). A good case needs to be made for longer ones

Let's practice on this sea slug, the Akera bullata, shall we? 

Read more: Animals

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Smarter than a Smart car: A Smart e-bike

Quick, what's smarter and cuter and more awesome than a Smart car? We're going to go with a Smart bike, the tiny car’s even-tinier electric bike sibling.

The bike's won all kinds of design awards, and it's no surprise. It actually still resembles a bike, instead of a cyborg bike with a tumor-looking motor attached, like some e-bikes we could name. It's maybe not that fastest e-bike in existence, but we're betting it will get you up hills. And it doesn't need to be charged too often.

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Swarms of robots could replace tractors on farms

Photo by David Dourhout.

Most farm machinery right now consists of huge machines. But in the future, farm machinery could be "a swarm of planting, tending, and harvesting robots running game theory and swarm behavior algorithms to help optimize every inch of arable space in a given field," Popular Science reports. That's one Iowan's vision, anyway, and he's created a prototype of a farmbot. It's named Prospero.

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Biologists coax amazingly cute tiny rabbits back from the brink of disappearance

In Urban Dictionary, the fourth definition of "cute" is "pygmy rabbit." Or actually, it’s probably some gross made-up sex act, but it SHOULD be “pygmy rabbit.” Just look at this thing!


It fits into the palm of a human hand!


But it has also been disappearing from its habitat in Washington State. Coyotes, badgers, weasels, and big bad birds chow down on these little suckers, because they are small, vulnerable, and (we're assuming) delicious.

Despite the best attempts of scientists to prompt the rabbits to breed in captivity, the bunnies were just not doing their bunny thing. So instead, the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife is breeding them in their natural habitat. The scientists pen in a few acres, keep the bad coyotes out, and let the bunnies in.

Read more: Animals

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Dress shirt uses spacesuit technology to keep you dry on your bike commute

You know how you don't bike to work because you get hot and sweaty and gross? A group of MIT graduates has stolen that excuse. They copied technology from spacesuits and used it to make what BikeBlogNYC has rightly dubbed "the TANG of dress shirts" -- a sharp-looking top that regulates your body heat. No sweaty pit spots! No overheating before your meeting! Now helmet up.


The shirt's called the Apollo shirt, because it's space technology and presumably also makes you look like a Greek god. The creators, whose company is called the Ministry of Supply, say that it pulls heat away from your body and stores it "like a battery" -- when you get into your badly climate controlled office, you get that heat back to battle the A/C. (Although you, Grist reader, of course work in an office that properly manages its temperature in a sustainable way.) Also there are vents for airflow, and we're going to give the Ministry of Supply bonus points for creating a wrinkle-free shirt without formaldehyde.