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Birthday, it’s ya birthday: Fracking technology turns 65

birthdaycupcake
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Gather round, ladies and gentlemen, for today the technology behind hydraulic fracturing turns 65. We’d personally like to take this moment to remind all the fracking wells out there that they’re now eligible for a free beverage at Taco Bell. Get that Pepsi, girl! The American Petroleum Institute has thoughtfully organized a publicity campaign around this momentous occasion. In the spirit of birthdays being the time of year that we lie to ourselves to feel better about our lives, API’s "happy birthday, fracking!" press release is basically chock-full of fun falsehoods: “Americans have long been energy pioneers, from the 1800’s …

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These pictures of spring flowers will melt your frozen heart

Arenaria_congesta.jpg
Matt Lavin

Climate change might have had a hand in the exceptionally cold winter much of the country just suffered through, but on the upside, there's new evidence that it's sending spring in early, and giving us more time with wildflowers.

That's the conclusion of one of the most exhaustive surveys ever conducted on flowering "phenology," the term scientists use for the timing of seasonal events (such as the day the first migratory birds arrive in a given place or, in this case, the first day flowers open). The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From 1974 to 2012, biologist David Inouye of the University of Maryland took a team to Colorado just as the winter frost was beginning to thaw, and spent the spring and summer documenting when 60 common plant species had their first, last, and peak (i.e., the most individual plants) flowering.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Self-cleaning subway strap could make your commute a little less sickening

cyclean

As I write this, I am coming off of a week-long bout of flu, and since none of my friends will admit to more than a mild cold I can only assume I caught it the way most New Yorkers catch the flu: by riding in one of those underground germ-boxes we call a subway. So I am very, very intrigued by Cyclean, a (hypothetical) self-disinfecting handle for buses and trains. (No, I really am very intrigued! I just don't have the energy to lift my head up all the way.)

Cyclean, which won a 2014 Red Dot Design award, was conceived as an alternative to the bars and straps we normally put our grubby mitts all over in the subway, which -- sorry -- are so encrusted with invisible grime that it doesn't bear thinking about.

Read more: Cities, Living

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What we can learn from millennials who opt out of driving

preppy guy on bike
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The signs of an American shift away from driving have been so well-reported as to amount to a new conventional wisdom -- declining vehicle miles traveled, increasing mass transit use, the trendiness of biking. Jeffrey Ball of The New Republic examines whether the leaders of this supposed cultural movement, the millennial generation, really are affirmatively choosing not to drive. Could it be instead that most of them are merely avoiding the cost of driving? During the last decade in which driving has plateaued, gas prices have risen and the economy has been weak.

Ball is compelling in marshalling evidence that, except for a relatively small number of educated professionals choosing to live car-free in big cities, the decline in driving reflects economic constraints, not personal preferences. Here are his two concluding paragraphs:

According to data from the Federal Highway Administration, “zero-vehicle households” encompass two Americas, one unusually rich and one unusually poor. Roughly 4% of those households earn more than $80,000 annually, a wealthy group concentrated in and around New York. Yet 70% of U.S. zero-vehicle households earn less than $30,000 per year. It’s a spread, in other words, much like many others in certain coastal American cities: Some well-off and often-child-free folks up top, some struggling folks at the bottom, and not many in between.

Things may well be changing in the land of the Mustang and the Explorer. But for now, most carless households in the U.S. remain what they’ve long been: carless by economic necessity rather than by choice.

Ball suggests higher up in the piece that such a conclusion is bad news for urbanists and environmentalists, who are hoping America’s love affair with the gas guzzler has ended. “[I]t may be ... an economically-driven, and thus ephemeral, shift,” Ball writes. He implies that millennials will start driving more as they move up the income ladder.

While his basic analysis is strong, it could lead to a different conclusion, one much more encouraging to environmentalists.

Read more: Cities, Living

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This eye condition means you don’t see pedestrians — but in many states, you can still drive

pedestrians-crosswalk-stroller-kid-flickr
Marie Coleman

As surprising as it is, people who have lost sight in half their visual field in both eyes -- a condition called hemianopia -- can legally drive in 20-some states. In addition to the usual worries -- a driver smashing into your bike, T-boning you, or never seeing your obscene gestures -- this is troublesome because these drivers don’t see pedestrians, according to a new paper in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute compared people with and without hemianopia, using a driving simulator:

People with hemianopia have to look (scan) with eye and/or head movements toward the side of the field loss in order to see obstacles or hazards on that side. “The wide field of view that needs to be scanned at intersections presents an especially challenging situation for drivers with hemianopia as they have to scan larger angles than drivers with a full field of vision in order to see all of the intersection on the side of the field loss,” said lead author Alex Bowers, Ph.D.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Baby gorilla born via C-section is both cute and freaky-looking

After chimps and bonobos, gorillas are our closest animal relatives, sharing 98.3 percent of our genetic code. So it’s no wonder people are saying this baby gorilla, born last week via a rare animal C-section, looks kind of like a baby-shaped wrinkly old human:

Doctors delivered little Benjamin Button* at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park after her mom, 18-year-old Imani, was having a tough time in labor. The baby gorilla’s lung collapsed, but vets successfully operated, and now Ms. Button is recovering in the ICU.

baby-gorilla-c-section

She’s one of 100,000 to 200,000 gorillas left in the world, so roughly one Salt Lake City or Fort Lauderdale full of banana fiends. According to World Wildlife Fund, things aren’t looking too good for gorillas; within the next decade or so, they could be mostly gone from the Congo Basin:

Read more: Living

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Alabama wetland still infested with oil, four months after train accident

Aftermath of a arain derailment in Alabama
Public Herald
Cleaning up this oily mess turned out to be hard, so it looks like the railroad pretty much gave up.

The derailment and explosion of a train passing through Alabama wetlands in November helped bring attention to the dangers of hauling oil by rail. But the mess left behind after the explosion has been largely ignored.

The Associated Press recently visited the derailment site near the town of Aliceville and found "dark, smelly crude oil still oozing into the water." Waters around the oil spill's epicenter are lined with floating booms to help prevent the spread of surface oil, but environmentalists have detected toxic chemicals from the oil flowing downstream. And questions have been raised about a decision to rebuild damaged tracks without first removing all the oil that surrounded them. Here's more from the story:

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Judge rejects latest Koch-led bid to snuff out Cape Wind

wind turbines
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Wind won, and Bill Koch took another one in the crotch.

A U.S. District Court judge rejected a long-running legal effort by the Koch-funded Alliance for Nantucket Sound and other groups to strip the planned Cape Wind energy farm of its federal approvals, which have taken more than a decade to secure. Bill, a lesser-known Koch brother, has spent millions leading a battle against construction of the 130-turbine offshore wind array, which he says would mar his views of Nantucket Sound.

The alliance had alleged a laundry list of shortcomings in the federal government's approval process. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, this was the alliance's 15th legal challenge to the project, and the 15th to fail.

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Tomatoes could be giving you BO

Can we just pen a quick love letter to tomatoes? Zesty dried ones. Juicy organic ones (bonus: they’re healthier!). Fresh, naturally ripe heirloom tomatoes from somebody’s backyard or rooftop. YUMMM. So it’s kind of a bummer that they’re making us smell bad.

Get in my mouth.
Nova Skola
Get in my mouth.

According to a new article in Medical Hypotheses (so yes, it's hypothetical, although it's a peer-reviewed hypothesis!), Irish biochemist J.C.M. Stewart believes the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes is to blame. (Lycopene is a type of terpene, the chemical compounds that give essential oils and beer hops their smell. Red peppers, watermelon, and papaya also have lycopene in ‘em.) Turns out that terpenes mainly exit the body by squirting out your armpits.

Writes Stewart in his article’s abstract:

I propose that underarm odor is commonly caused by terpenes excreted via the axillary apocrine glands. I also show that these come from terpene and carotenoid-rich dietary sources including lycopene, tomatoes, orange peel and the glandular trichomes of tomato plants. These observations suggest that the axillary apocrine glands are a prominent excretory route for terpenes. Considering the quantities eaten, tomatoes are likely to be the main source of dietary terpenes, and underarm odor in turn.

Read more: Food, Living

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Watch Will Ferrell and Robert Redford hilariously insult each other to save a river

This is probably the first river-related PSA that’ll actually crack you up. Golden fox Robert Redford (he’s more tawny than silver) just wanted to tell you about Raise the River, a campaign to restore the Colorado River. But of course Will Ferrell had to go and interrupt with his OWN campaign, Move the Ocean. “Do we REALLY need more river? I mean, hell, we’ve got plenty of ocean. Let’s move IT.”

Watch and laugh, my friend:

Read more: Living