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Grist List: Look what we found.


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



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


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


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


The best, fastest, CRAZIEST urban cyclists in the world

Okay, I cannot say this enough: DO NOT ATTEMPT ANYTHING IN THIS VIDEO.

Read more: Biking


How to use a broken cell phone to survive in the wilderness

If your nature hike goes seriously awry, your cell phone will probably be your best chance of survival -- if you can get signal, you can let people know where you are. If you can't get signal, well, it is basically a hunk of metal. But, it's a hunk of metal that can (if absolutely necessary) be busted up and used to make a signal mirror, a compass, a spear, a fire-starter, and a fishing lure. Saved by the cell!

The Art of Manliness has instructions on how to make all these survival necessities out of cell phone bits (plus a snare for small game, if you happened to have headphones with you when you get lost).

Read more: Living


Smarter than a Smart car: A Smart e-bike

Quick, what's smarter and cuter and more awesome than a Smart car? We're going to go with a Smart bike, the tiny car’s even-tinier electric bike sibling.

The bike's won all kinds of design awards, and it's no surprise. It actually still resembles a bike, instead of a cyborg bike with a tumor-looking motor attached, like some e-bikes we could name. It's maybe not that fastest e-bike in existence, but we're betting it will get you up hills. And it doesn't need to be charged too often.


Why GMOs aren’t romantic

Today's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is a VERY REALISTIC AND SCIENTIFICALLY ACCURATE cautionary tale about genetically modified organisms.

Read more: Scary Food


Swarms of robots could replace tractors on farms

Photo by David Dourhout.

Most farm machinery right now consists of huge machines. But in the future, farm machinery could be "a swarm of planting, tending, and harvesting robots running game theory and swarm behavior algorithms to help optimize every inch of arable space in a given field," Popular Science reports. That's one Iowan's vision, anyway, and he's created a prototype of a farmbot. It's named Prospero.