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Rent a quiet room in NYC for studying or sleeping — just not sex


We love cities, but sometimes they take their toll on us. All that dense, efficient living can wear down introverts who just need some quiet time. But the typical “third space” -- an alternative to home or work -- can have its problems. Coffee shops can be noisy. You can't really meditate in a bar. Napping in the library is technically a no-no.

Breather is a new service that aims to profit off these flaws by letting you rent a quiet, relaxing room in New York City or Montreal for around $25 an hour. (San Francisco and Boston are next.) You can study, sleep, meditate, take a phone call between meetings -- anything but drugs, gambling, or sex. (Breather! Always spoiling the fun.) It’s basically a short-term hotel room without the stained comforter.

Read more: Cities, Living


Cycling naked might be the best way to get drivers to pay attention

A nekkid Brit on a bike is basically our version of heaven (just try not to think of the chafing). So this PSA is pretty dang persuasive. After all, if a bare English muffin isn’t enough to get drivers checking their rear-view and side mirrors for cyclists, what is?

We should take this lesson to heart on this side of the pond, where cycling is on the up and up. “According to the Federal Highway Association in the U.S., the number of bike trips in America's 70 largest cities has increased by 73 percent between 2000 and 2011,” says Fast Company. (Data on cyclist nudity doesn’t seem to be available, oddly enough, although we know there ARE naked bike rides in Peru, Portland, Cape Town, and Seattle, for starters ... )

Read more: Cities, Living


Fracking halted at Ohio site following earthquakes


Fracking began at a well in rural eastern Ohio last month. On Monday, parts of the surrounding Mahoning County started shaking, prompting state officials to shut down the operation, fearing it was responsible for what could be an unprecedented string of earthquakes linked to natural gas extraction.

Four earthquakes with magnitudes as high as 3 were felt Monday in Poland Township and in the village of Lowellville, sparking the immediate shutdown order. Another earthquake struck on Tuesday. Ohio oil and gas inspectors have been visiting the fracking site at the Carbon Limestone Landfill in Lowellville this week, trying to figure out whether it was responsible for the temblors.

“Out of an abundance of caution," a state official said, "we notified the only oil and gas operator in the area and ordered them to halt all operations until further assessment can take place."


Get a peek at the world’s biggest ghost town

Darmon Richter

There are no tumbleweeds or abandoned saloons here, but Ordos is most definitely an epic ghost town. Ghost city, to be precise -- and the largest one in the world. Sitting in the middle of a desert in northern China, Ordos was intended to be the Vegas of Inner Mongolia. That was before everything went wrong.

Darmon Richter

Inner Mongolia’s GDP tops Beijing’s, and its cities were booming. So why did shit go south? According to Darmon Richter, it was too much, too fast. Richter recently detailed a depressing, eye-opening trip to Ordos on Gizmodo:

[N]obody quite anticipated how quickly this new development would fall flat on its face. Deadlines weren't met, loans went unpaid, and investors pulled out before projects could be completed -- leaving entire streets of unfinished buildings. The ridiculous cost of accommodation in this dream city put off many would-be inhabitants, so that even fully completed apartments became difficult to sell ...

Read more: Cities, Living


You have to hold hands with strangers to make this bus shelter warm

Look away, germaphobes. A bus shelter in Montreal will keep you warm and toasty -- IF you hold hands with your fellow travelers. As a social experiment (cough, PR stunt that we totally fell for), Duracell sponsored the shelter, which uses human flesh to create a circuit. After joining hands, the people at either end of the chain press one palm to a negative and positive contact to complete the connection and activate the heat:

If the goal is to draw a parallel between human warmth and that of actual heaters, we can think of a couple more kinds of skin-to-skin contact that would make the bus stop downright steamy. (Kissing's been done, so next time let's raise the bar on awkward human contact.)

Read more: Cities, Living


Un till: An Iowa farmer finds that less (plow) is more (profit)

Nate Johnson- Grist-11a

In writing about the next steps needed to build a more sustainable food system, I’ve been focusing on local and regional agriculture. But if we’re interested in sustainability, we should also be interested conventional farming. Because conventional ag is conventional -- that is, the norm -- improvements there have a big and immediate effect. So when the Iowa Soybean Association invited me to come talk with farmers in Des Moines, I got on a plane to see what people in that part of the world were doing to improve the environment.

On my first day in Iowa, I drove to the small town of Jefferson to meet David Ausberger, who has taken a special interest in conservation. Ausberger met me at the door of his three-story Victorian with a pair of ski pants and a bulky Carhartt jacket to supplement my thin California layers.

Ausberger grew up on the farm, but he had no obvious affinity for farming.  “I was never one of those guys wearing seed-corn hats and playing with tractors,” he told me, as we rumbled out of town in his big black truck, between fields of broken cornstalks patched with snow.


Americans respond to climate change by yawning at it, poll finds

climate change is boring

An outbreak of climate-related yawns appears to be afflicting the country that's done more than any other to warm the planet.

The results of a Gallup survey reveal just how little climate change raises Americans' anxiety levels. The research firm called 513 Americans last week and asked them how much they worry about 15 problems facing the nation. When it came to climate change, half said "a little" or "not at all."

Read more: Climate & Energy


Wanna buy a Tesla in New Jersey? “Fuhgettaboutit,” says Christie

Tesla and Chris Christie
Concavo Wheels / Gage Skidmore

When it’s time to make another sequel to “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” Gov. Chris Christie (R) of New Jersey may get a cameo. The Associated Press reports:

[New Jersey] State motor vehicle officials have approved a regulation that would require all new car dealers to obtain franchise agreements to receive state licenses, a move critics say will hurt the electric-car industry's attempts to expand.

The regulation, adopted Tuesday by the state's Motor Vehicle Commission by a 6-0 vote, effectively prohibits companies from using a direct-sales model.

Tesla, which makes electric cars and sells them directly to consumers, will be forced to shut down its two New Jersey showrooms. Teslas are not carried by regular auto dealers, so New Jerseyans will now have to travel out of state to test drive or buy one. By cutting out the middleman of an independently owned auto dealership, Tesla has been able to make its cars more affordable. (Electric cars cost more than conventional ones -- Teslas in particular -- but some of the difference can be recouped over time with savings from not having to buy gasoline.)


Death toll from East Harlem gas explosion rose to seven overnight

Aftermath of East Harlem gas leak explosion

The leak-prone system that delivers natural gas to homes and power plants has claimed at least seven lives, with emergency workers continuing to search rubble in East Harlem for survivors of a building-leveling gas explosion.

More than 60 people were hurt and more were still missing Thursday morning after an apparent gas leak exploded and leveled two apartment buildings at Park Avenue and 116th Street in New York City.

The buildings erupted in a nightmarish urban conflagration at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, 15 minutes after Con Edison received a call about a suspected gas leak. Its inspectors arrived after the buildings had been enveloped in flames.

"It was very dark," survivor Elhadj Sylla told USA Today. "There was smoke, dust. ... I thought it was the end of the world. I thought my life was ending."

Read more: Climate & Energy


Ask Umbra: Is it OK to reuse biodegradable plastic spoons?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. We get cute, colorful, (supposedly) biodegradable plastic spoons at a local frozen yogurt joint. They would be perfect to reuse for my 2-year-old son, except that I'm worried about the chemicals they may be releasing, especially in response to the high temps of the dishwasher. Should I steer clear or is it OK to reuse this biodegradable product?

Jess W.
St. Louis, Mo.

A. Dearest Jess,

Read more: Food, Living