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Grist List: Look what we found.


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Giant smiley measures a city’s mood

The Fühl-o-meter (Feel-o-meter), also known as the Public Face, is an art installation, which is probably good because if it were an official civic amenity it might be a little Orwellian. But as art it's cool! The idea is that cameras scan the faces of people passing through the city, and analyze their expressions to assess the prevailing mood. Then the Public Face reflects that mood -- happy, sad, or indifferent -- with its changeable mouth shape. Here's a video of it in action in Lindau, Germany, where it appeared last year: This brings to mind Bhutan's "gross national happiness" …

Read more: Cities

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Germans turn nuclear power plant into Disneyland

The "nuclear renaissance" is here, only it looks like a whirling swingset ascending the interior of a massive cooling tower at what used to be a 327-megawatt fast breeder reactor in Germany. Business is so good at the park -- 600,000 visitors a year -- that its owner is working on a "winter annex" inside the reactor building itself. There's no danger kids will turn out like that mutated bad guy at the end of RoboCop, however, because this reactor was never active in the  first place. Protests and construction issues prevented it ever receiving fuel, much less being switched …

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Feds approve Shell’s plan to spill oil in the Arctic

The Obama administration just approved Shell Oil's plan to drill for oil in the Arctic, and even though it got its way, the company is still whining about "unwarranted restrictions" attached to this approval (it can't drill when winter ice is present, boo fucking hoo). Drilling for oil is challenging even under "normal" circumstances, so it's pretty much inevitable that in the extreme conditions presented by the Arctic, some of this stuff is going to escape, and there might even be a catastrophic spill. What's that going to look like? It might look a little like Russia, i.e. fucking terrible. …

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Heavy metal sucks; this device eliminates it

Heavy metal, as in the music and the cartoon movie with all the boobs, is still cool. (YES IT IS.) But heavy metals, as in heavy metals, are not very popular on account of being toxic. Luckily engineers at Brown are also cool (YES THEY ARE), and have devised a new way to remove heavy metals from Superfund sites and developing countries. In experiments, the researchers showed the system reduced cadmium, copper, and nickel concentrations, returning contaminated water to near or below federally acceptable standards. The technique is scalable and has viable commercial applications, especially in the environmental remediation and …

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Insane Disney WWII propaganda video boosts Big Ag

Ever wonder why U.S. agriculture gets such huge subsidies for things like corn and wheat? It turns out it's because we're trying to smother Nazis under flour drifts and build a corn bridge from London to the Black Sea. At least, that appears to be the contention of Disney animators in 1942. This video illustrates the might of American agriculture with increasingly nutso analogies, ranging from a loaf of bread the size of Red Square to a Great Wall of Butter. That's right, we've got amber waves of grain and they're pointed at YOU, Adolf!

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Here’s a parking garage that doubles as an urban farm

Even the most utopian visions of a low-carbon world include cars, and even if they're fueled on electricity or ethanol, cars need places to park. But if parking structures have to exist, at least they can double as urban farms. In Vancouver, a company called Valcent Products is building a high-density "VertiCrop" farm on the roof of a parking garage. The farm will be super high-tech, with motorized conveyors moving layers of plants into position for optimum sun, watering, and easy harvesting. Valcent says the farm will produce as much as as a 16-acre field in California. Plus, nobody likes …

Read more: Cities, Smart Cities

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Russia spills as much oil as Deepwater Horizon every two months

Russian oil spills come in drips and trickles, instead of dramatic explosions. But the Associated Press reports that oil companies there spill at least 1 percent of all oil produced every year — "equivalent to one Deepwater Horizon-scale leak about every two months," the AP says. Why have you never heard about this? Well, for one, the Russian government has no data on oil spills and doesn't impose penalties unless an individual spill is over eight tons. But, as the AP explains, these slow-roll spills are rarely dramatic enough to cross that threshold, so the companies get off scot-free. Oil …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Oil

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Critical List: Keystone XL decision should come in two months; NIH stops chimp research

The president will most likely have to make a final decision on Keystone XL within two months. Brace for the imminent lobbying fight. Democrats are already pointing out that issuing permits two months from now is impossible, because that timeline wouldn't leave room for required environmental reviews. Germany got a fifth of its power from renewables in 2011. The National Institutes of Health will soon face strict limits on chimpanzees as research subjects, which will rule out chimp research in the vast majority of studies. Half of the world's land will have a different mix of plants by 2100, after …

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Endangered lemurs becoming ‘bar snacks’

For who knows how many generations, the natives of Madagascar did not eat lemurs because they thought their ancestors forbade it. Now, and I am not making this up, they are praying to their ancestors to lift the ban, reports Sara Reardon at Science Now. Mostly because their kids, who are not big on ancestor worship, have already started munching on the tasty primates in the form of "bar snacks." The thing is, lemurs aren't just squirrels with hands. They're prosimians, which means they're descendants of the last of our ancestors who weren't primates. They live in matriarchies, making them …

Read more: Animals

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Death of ‘lightbulb ban’ greatly exaggerated

Congresscritters who love inefficiency, waste, and air pollution -- or at least the money that comes from industries that do -- attached a rider to the spending bill yesterday evening that will reverse an earlier law to phase out crappy old-style lightbulbs. The crazy thing is that the ban is still in effect, and the new legislation just means it can't be enforced in 2012. For "give me incandescents or give me death" types to win, Congress will have to either reverse the law entirely or keep passing resolutions to stop enforcing it, year after year. Sounds like a great …