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Mailed it

This rogue bicycle pony express delivered mail in 1894

If any of the cyclists who participated in the great bicycle messenger mail route were still alive to tell the tale, it would make the ultimate "when I was your age story."

Picture this: San Francisco, 1894. The Pullman rail strike in Illinois cuts off all rail service west of Detroit, leaving California train-less and thus, mail-less. One "enterprising citizen" and bicycle salesman Arthur C. Banta decides to create a fixie chain gang relay along a 210-mile stretch from San Francisco to California's Central Valley with eight primary riders. He charges $0.25 for stamps, 10 times the price of standard mail at the time.

I can just hear the conversation now:

Read more: Living

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dog snoops

Weed-sniffing dogs join the fight against invasive species

dog nose
Shutterstock

There aren’t a lot of career options for dogs. Basically they’ve been limited to law enforcement, imperial transport, and designated hitter -- until now. A crack team of canines is on the hunt for invasive species.

The dogs, which are equipped with GPS units because we live in the future, search the countryside looking for invasive weeds, snails, and, for the lucky dogs, scat. Under the auspices of the Montana nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, it’s a career that combines two of a dog's favorite things: wandering about and smelling poop.

Jodi Helmer at Takepart has the rest of the tail (ahem):

Read more: Uncategorized

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Scientist: Save Earth by shrinking humans — and making them hate hamburgers

mad-scientist
Edward Fielding

If the Earth were a potluck, humans would be the guest who shows up empty-handed and already drunk, eats all the dip, knocks over the fish tank, and electrocutes the dog. There’s a reason why there’s a billion trillion planets out there and only one invited us to the party: No matter how many times we offer to fix the coffee table, perhaps with some sort of whacky pseudo-sciency scheme using Duck Tape and a hundred or so tons of iron sulphate, we’re still shitty guests.

Maybe it’s better to change ourselves -- and not just switching from bourbon to beer, but serious change, on the genetic level. At least that’s what Matthew Liao, director of the bioethics program at New York University, is suggesting.

Frank Swain with the BBC has more:

“We tried to think outside the box,” says Liao. “What hasn’t been suggested with respect to addressing climate change?”

The answer they landed on is human engineering: the biomedical modification of human beings to reduce their impact on the environment. The associate professor suggests that by changing our underlying biology – altering our size or diet, for instance – we could create greener humans. ...

“We’re not suggesting that we should mandate these ideas, but it would be good to make them options for people,” says Liao

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crikey

Australia repeals carbon tax, scientists freak out

Australian outback
Shutterstock

The cartoonish stereotype of Australia of yesteryear featured a rough-headed bloke in an Akubra hat wrangling crocodiles. That image has finally been scrubbed from our collective memories -- only to be replaced with something worse. Today, when we read news dispatches from Australia, we're seeing a dunderheaded prime minister cartoonishly wrangling commonsense, becoming the first leader in the warming world to repeal a price on carbon.

It's like George W. Bush, Crocodile Dundee-style.

Conservative prime minister, climate change denier, and accused misogynist Tony Abbott was elected in September. He started working as the nation's leader almost immediately, but he had to wait until this month for newly elected senators to take their seats. Abbott's (conservative) Liberal party still doesn't control the Senate, but it has found Senate allies in a powerful party that was founded just last year by kooky mining magnate Clive Palmer. Palmer held a press conference with Al Gore last month to announce that he opposed some of Abbott's climate-wrecking policies, and that he wanted a carbon-trading program to replace the carbon tax. That now seems to have been smokestacks and mirrors. When it came to repealing Australia's $US23.50 per metric ton carbon tax, the immodestly named Palmer United Party fell into line on Thursday, helping the repeal pass the Senate by a vote of 39 to 32, without demanding the establishment of any alternative.

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Goodbye, everyone! A massive hole has opened at the End of the World

yamal_holeattheendoftheworld
Bulka

Well! It was nice knowing yinz, because Doomsday is upon us. According to Scripture, the first two signs of the apocalypse are:

1. A goblin of the underworld shalt sign a princess with a voice of gold to his record label, and so the two will beget a heavily Auto-Tuned music video starring a mythical beast.

2. And lo! For a chasm shalt suddenly appear at the End of the World.

We’re two for two! Tuesday, The Siberian Times reported that a massive hole measuring 262 feet in diameter suddenly appeared in the Yamal region of Siberia. Gee, what does Yamal mean in the language of the Nenets, the region’s indigenous people? “The end of the world.”

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Ask Umbra: Are organic cherries worth the extra expense?

UmbraCherries
me and the sysop

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. While I go organic as much as I can, the inability to buy organic cherries is the price I pay for a low-paying job cleaning up our gorgeous environment. Since I cannot bear to live life without a few fresh summer cherries, I buy the regular ones. My mother insists that in this case, using that fruit wash stuff is the way to go. But it's expensive! Does it REALLY do a good job of getting pesticide residues off of the surface of fruit, or does a good spray of plain old water do just as well?

Karen
North Bend, Wash.

A. Dearest Karen,

I wholeheartedly agree: No one should be confined to a life without fresh summer cherries. Or strawberries. Or blueberries. Mmm … Methinks a trip to the farmers market is in order, stat.

As you note, though, even in-season cherries can be pricey, with organics still more so (and that’s not considering the premium you’ll pay for those tasty kings-among-cherries, Rainiers). We here at Grist love organic produce: It’s free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, making it healthier for you and the planet. But if your budget can’t swing it – I’m going to go into some tips on that in a moment, mind you – you can still reduce your pesticide exposure from the conventional variety.

Read more: Food, Living

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Four things you should know about Detroit’s water crisis

detroit-water-red-pipe
iStockphoto

This May, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District (DWSD) sent out 46,000 shutoff notices to customers who were behind in their water bills. It was the latest calamity to befall a city that had seen its water rates rise 119 percent in the last decade.

As a city that has lost nearly two-thirds of its population in the last 60 years, Detroit has a lot of water infrastructure to maintain, and not much money to maintain it.

Since the shutoffs began (about 17,000 households and small businesses have lost service to date), residents have fought back hard. They've blocked trucks that are being sent out to shut off water accounts. They've called out DWSD for focusing on shutting off water to private homes that don't even owe that much, while ignoring golf courses that owe amounts in the hundreds of thousands. (DWSD responded that it had focused on residential customers because shutting off water to a large-scale user was more technically complicated than most of its employees can handle.) They've accused DWSD of dropping low-income customers as a way of making the system more appealing to potential buyers. (Whether or not that's true, Detroit emergency manager Kevin Orr has spoken openly about selling DWSD to a private company.) They've organized brigades of volunteers to bring water in to people who've had their accounts shut off. They even got the United Nations to condemn the way that DWSD is handing the situation.

But what's happening in Detroit isn't just Detroit's problem. It has larger implications for the rest of us. Here's what you need to know.

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what's that smell?

Now Google Street View is mapping gas pipeline leaks

Google Street View car
Emmadukew

Some of those Google cars that drive around photographing streetscapes and embarrassing moments have captured something extra -- something that should embarrass major utilities. The cars were kitted out by University of Colorado scientists with sensors that sniff out natural gas leaking from underground pipelines. These methane-heavy leaks contribute to global warming, waste money, and can fuel explosions.

The sensor-equipped cars cruised the streets of Boston, New York's Staten Island, and Indianapolis. They returned to sites where methane spikes were detected to confirm the presence of a leak. The results were released Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund, which coordinated the project, revealing just how leaky old and metallic pipelines can be, such as those used in the East Coast cities studied, particularly when compared with noncorrosive pipes like those beneath Indianapolis.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Another bad creation

Mother jailed for letting her daughter run free — at the playground

debra-harrell

Remember Another Bad Creation’s song, “At the Playground”?

A more recent story that happened at the playground: A mother lets her child go to the playground by herself and goes to jail for it.

The young girl, just 9 years old, is used to spending hours and days on the internet in McDonald’s, not only because it has free wi-fi, but because it’s where her mother works. It’s summer, and Debra Harrell can’t afford to put her daughter in daycare, because it’s McDonald’s.

The restaurant is daycare, but on this particular day the girl wants to go to a playground, a little over a mile away. Harrell allows her, and is later charged with “unlawful conduct towards a child” for letting her go unsupervised. Her daughter goes to state custody.

I’m really glad Jonathan Chait stepped outside of his normal political coverage at New York Magazine to draw attention to this story, which happened earlier this month, in North Augusta, S.C., where apparently it’s a crime for parents to trust their kids and their surrounding environment.

Read more: Cities

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Good riddance, ocean, you were terrifying and gross anyway

Humpback_Anglerfish_(Melanocetus_Johnsonii)
Javontaevious

When I put a fishy face to the victims of ocean acidification, overfishing, and pollution, my brain usually goes off into Christian Riese Lassen territory. Orcas leap through the ocean at sunset. Coral reefs teem with diversity, each fish more lovely than the next. Sea turtles circling the globe? Why the heck not.

You know what never made it into the ocean diversity art on my seventh-grade geography folder? This guy:

Read more: Living