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Grist List: Look what we found.


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Amazing illuminated art installations call attention to urban blight

Luzinterruptus, "Under Nuclear Threat." (Photo by Luzinterruptus.)

Madrid's Luzinterruptus collective's large-scale light installations aren't just haunting and beautiful -- they're also activist. Each piece is designed to call attention to some social or urban ill, from light pollution to nuclear radiation. Sometimes the targets are almost impossibly silly (sanitary napkins?), and sometimes the justification seems to have been reverse-engineered (are Madrid's public sculptures really unapproachable, or did Luzinterruptus just want to cover them with light-up nipples?). But most of the art looks both stunning and effective. Click to embiggen.

Luzinterruptus, "Pharmacy Herbs." (Photo by Luzinterruptus.)

"Pharmacy Herbs" was staged as a protest of Madrid's extra-bright, light-polluting new pharmacy signs.

Read more: Cities

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Here’s a fuel cell that runs on brain juice

Image by Rapoport et al., meninges and vascular anatomy courtesy of the Central Nervous System Visual Perspectives Project, Karolinska Institute, and Stanford University.

Whatever, Google Glasses; I'm holding out for the Google brain implant. And that just got a little more plausible, thanks to new technology for fuel cells that run off of blood sugar. In theory, if you popped one of these babies in your brain, it could get all its power from your own cerebrospinal fluid (the stuff that cushions your brain inside your skull).

Read more: Biofuel, Cleantech

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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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The coolest tiny home we’ve seen recently has a giant hole in the roof

The key to small-space living is not feeling cramped, which makes this Barcelona apartment the pinnacle of the genre. The home uses sliding doors to open the 430-square-foot apartment up for a sense of space, or close it for privacy. But the centerpiece of the house is the hole in the ceiling -- a plant-filled half-outdoor shower that's built like a chimney, open to the sky. (Don't worry -- there are camouflaging plants on top, so the drones will have to work VERY hard to see you naked.)

Read more: Cities, Green Home

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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