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Spraying vodka into the air is now a legit means of communication

Shay Hass

Vodka in the air typically means you’re at a sorority party, in Russia, or both (FUN). Now it means “O Canada.” That’s the message patriotic Canadian researchers sent each other through a series of vodka spritzes, ostensibly to create a backup to radio communication, but probably just because they like booze. The Register explains:

According to the eggheads, the sender sprays vodka at set intervals and concentrations to mimic a binary pattern of 1s and 0s. A second [robotic] unit, placed four meters away in laboratory tests, then analyzes the concentrations of the alcohol in the air and converts the data into digital code and characters, effectively receiving the transmitted missive.

They call it a “chemical barcode,” but we think that’s just a fancy way of saying “grant-funded bender.” (Test the department’s supply of Belvedere? Don’t mind if we do!)

More importantly, if we could only train HUMANS to sniff and analyze the vodka signals, we could have an infrastructure-free form of communication that doesn't require any rare earth elements! Surely this is just around the corner. After all, we have an inborn aptitude, kinda:

Read more: Food, Living


These guys just revolutionized the humble cardboard box


The day after Christmas is also known as Boxing Day, probably because we all start to look past our shiny new toys and notice that we now have to deal with a huge pile of boxes -- the boxes that carried the gifts we bought from Amazon, and the entirely different boxes into which we then put those gifts in order to wrap them and deliver the gifts to one another. That's a lot of half-broken down, tape-covered cardboard that half the time has too many stickers and labels and nonsense all over to be reused for some other purpose.

Henry Wang and Chris Curro, two engineering students at Cooper Union, want to put an end to this state of affairs.

Read more: Living


Look out, cyclists: Southern states have the worst drivers

Cyclists in every state know drivers can be buttheads (after all, cyclists are more likely to get killed in the U.S. than in any other OECD country -- cheery!). But one region in particular earns the (dis)honor of having the nation’s worst drivers: the South.

Car Insurance Companion did a study using data from the National Highway Traffic Administration and MADD to come up with the 10 states with the worst drivers. The study factored in fatality rate, drunk driving, tickets, careless driving, and failure to obey issued citations for seat belts and the like. Seven of the 10 worst states are in the South, with Louisiana ranking No. 1.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

Here are the 10 worst offenders:

Read more: Cities, Living


This weird deep-sea worm has a dick on its head

The bone-eating snot-flower worm (or Osedax mucofloris if you wanna get prissy) was just discovered less than a decade ago, on the ocean floor -- and it’s hella weird. For starters, 600 or more males can compete for each female. (AW yeah!) Plus, it looks like a fluffy pink cloud. Well, a cloud with a giant dick blossoming out of it:

Natural History Museum London, Alamy

That’s right: Bone worms don’t have mouths, guts, or buttholes, but they DO have dicks on their heads! (That makes it easier to fertilize the females' eggs.) “It’s an extreme example of males being reduced to simply a bag of sperm,” says Adrian Glover, a marine biologist with London’s Natural History Museum. As opposed to a less-extreme example, like a bad Jennifer Aniston movie.

Read more: Living


Ask Umbra: What’s the best way to seal up a drafty house?

cold girl

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. This winter is supposed to be very cold in Virginia. What are your top recommendations to renters in drafty homes? We plan to put plastic wrap on the windows and replace the door jamb insulators. Is there anything else we can do?

Cold Kate
Fredericksburg, Va.

A. Dearest Kate,

There’s something rather Dickensian and romantic about the idea of huddling 'round the fire as icy drafts sweep through your charming Victorian home. But it’s not so nice in practice, is it? As renters, you may feel limited in what you can do to fortify your house against winter’s chill, but take heart: There are several short-term steps you can take without your landlord’s involvement, and several more long-term improvements to be made with it.


Five years after Tennessee coal-slurry disaster, EPA has produced no new rules

coal slurry mess
Appalachian Voices

Five years ago, in the dead of night, a torrent of more than a million gallons of slurry broke free from its holding place at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Tennessee. The toxic stew of coal fly ash, which is produced when coal is burned, polluted waterways and 300 acres of land. The disaster triggered anger from residents and promises from the EPA to introduce new rules to prevent such accidents.

The anger is still there. But the government promises appear to have been broken. The Louisville Courier-Journal brings us a depressing update on government inaction in the wake of the catastrophe:


Your cable box is a vampire, but it’s about to get more efficient

cat on cable box
Johnny Vulkan
At least somebody's benefiting from that wasted energy.

When you turn off your cable box, you may think it isn't using any power. In fact, every electronic device uses some electricity as long as it’s plugged in. These energy suckers are known as “vampires” and they account for a tremendous amount of energy waste in the U.S.: over 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, costing Americans more than $11 billion.

Wasted energy means more than just wasted money when you pay your electric bill. All too often, it also means that the coal-burning plant where your electricity comes from is belching more greenhouse gases and particulate pollution into the air.

A cable box uses far more electricity than your average appliance, because it’s never really off. According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, “In 2010, set-top boxes in the United States consumed approximately 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants. The electricity required to operate all U.S. boxes is equal to the annual household electricity consumption of the entire state of Maryland, results in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and costs households more than $3 billion each year.”


How to land a green job in 2014

green jobs marchers
Green for All

You want an environmental job. And who wouldn’t? You get to go to bed at night knowing you’ve done something good for the world. You can be smug about your job with less nobly employed friends. You can move out of your parent’s basement. These are all good things.

Still, you wonder. Are there any educated guesses about what employers are thinking? We’ve got you covered. Our prognosticator has traveled throughout the green employment community and returned with some predictions to get you going.

1. Compliance with rules and regulations is still a strong eco-job driver.

Businesses still invest most in environmental activities when they are required to do so. Government still invests most in insuring that existing laws, regulations, codes, policies, and programs are implemented effectively. For these reasons, the vast majority of environmental professionals work within the existing infrastructure of compliance with regulations for clean air, health and safety, clean water, solid waste, and hazardous waste, as well as with zoning laws and building codes.

Although the job growth in 2014 will be slower in these core environmental area than in a few emerging ones, the starting base of jobs is much larger than in newer niches. The total number of new jobs in compliance-driven sectors will be a significant number even under slow growth.


Meals with wheels: A fresh food movement rolls into Boston

Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw.
Fresh Food Generation
Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw.

Wander through Portland, Ore.’s Pearl District, SoCo in Austin, or Manhattan’s financial district and you won’t be able to spit without hitting a food truck selling poutine, Korean tacos, or barbecue in some form. The trend has hit Boston as well, unless you happen to live in the neighborhood of Roxbury.

Most Roxbury residents are black or Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey. Thirty percent of the people living there have incomes below the poverty line. A Tufts project found the obesity rate of Roxbury about 8 percent higher than the overall average in the city.

And it isn’t just food trucks missing, says Cassandria Campbell, who calls Roxbury home. Grocery stores and restaurants serving healthier options aren’t in high supply. “I found myself going to other neighborhoods to get good food,” she says. “These food trucks [appearing in other parts of the city] weren’t serving my neighborhood or other neighborhoods in Boston that are similar in demographic to mine."

So she called up her friend Jackson Renshaw with an idea for solving both the dearth of trucks and lack of access to healthy, local food in one swoop.

Read more: Cities, Food


First oil shale mine in U.S. is coming to Utah

Uinta Basin, Utah
Jim Davis / Utah Geological Survey
Utah's Uinta Basin before shale mining begins.

As if we didn't already have enough filthy, inefficient, unconventional oil-extraction techniques in use in North America, here's one more: oil shale mining.

A Utah company has received the go-ahead from the state’s water-quality department to begin operating the first commercial oil shale mine in North America.

Oil shale is not to be confused with shale oil, or shale gas, or oil sands. So what the hell is it? "Contrary to its name," explains Western Resource Advocates, "oil shale contains no petroleum but is instead a dense rock that has a waxy substance called kerogen tightly bound within it. When kerogen is heated to high temperatures, it liquefies, producing compounds that can eventually be refined into synthetic petroleum products."

Companies have mulled oil shale mining in the Mountain States for more than a century, but previous efforts have foundered as energy prices have been too low to justify the large expense associated with the complicated extraction process. Now Red Leaf Resources is ready to give oil shale another crack. Here's more from The Salt Lake Tribune: