The shelter that gives wine to alcoholics

From The Guardian: The shelter that gives wine to alcoholics.

On a grey January morning at 9.15, residents of the Oaks shelter for the homeless started lining up, coffee mugs in hand, at a yellow linoleum counter. At half past the hour, the pour began. The Oaks’ residents are hard-core alcoholics. They line up to get what most people would consider the very last thing they need: an hourly mug of alcohol.

Dorothy Young, the Oaks’ activities coordinator – a stocky, always-smiling middle-aged woman who is part cheerleader, part event planner, part warden, part bartender – stood behind the counter at a tap that dispenses cold white wine. She poured a measured amount of wine into each cup: maximum seven ounces at 7.30am for the first pour of the day, and five ounces each hour after that. Last call is 9.30pm.

The pour is calculated for each resident to be just enough to stave off the shakes and sweats of detox, which for alcohol is particularly unpleasant – seizures from alcohol deprivation can be fatal. The pour is strictly regulated: Young cuts off anyone who comes in intoxicated. They won’t be given another drink until they sober up. [continue]

A natural wonder, lost to a volcano, has been rediscovered

Oh, look what the BBC published today! An article about the “stunning terraces of Lake Rotomahana” and how bits of them can be seen again.

In the early hours of 10 June 1886, Mount Tarawera, a volcano on the North Island of New Zealand, erupted with astonishing force. The explosions may have been heard as far afield as Christchurch, more than 400 miles (640km) to the south-west.

The eruption killed 120 people, most of them Maoris – native New Zealanders – living in small villages in the surrounding countryside. But it is not just because of its high death toll that the Tarawera eruption is firmly lodged in the collective memory of New Zealanders. Most people also remember the eruption because it robbed the island nation of a treasured natural wonder: the Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana.

The terraces were the two largest formations of silica sinter – a fine-grained version of quartz – ever known to have existed on Earth. They were located on opposite shores of Lake Rotomahana, situated six miles (10km) to the south-west of Mount Tarawera. And they were extraordinarily beautiful. [continue]

A one-minute workout?

From Science Daily: No time to get fit? Think again.

Researchers at McMaster University have found that a single minute of very intense exercise produces health benefits similar to longer, traditional endurance training.

The findings put to rest the common excuse for not getting in shape: there is not enough time.

“This is a very time-efficient workout strategy,” says Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster and lead author on the study. “Brief bursts of intense exercise are remarkably effective.” [continue]

How Uber conquered London

From The Guardian: How Uber conquered London.

Every week in London, 30,000 people download Uber to their phones and order a car for the first time. The technology company, which is worth $60bn, calls this moment “conversion”. Uber has deployed its ride-hailing platform in 400 cities around the world since its launch in San Francisco on 31 May 2010, which means that it enters a new market every five days and eight hours. It sets great store on the first time you use its service, in the same way that Apple pays attention to your first encounter with one of their devices. With Uber, the feeling should be of plenty, and of assurance: there will always be a driver when you need one.

When you open the app, Uber’s logo flaps briefly before disappearing to reveal the city streets around you, and the grey, yet promising shapes of vehicles nurdling nearby. The sense of abundance that this invokes can make you think that Uber has always been here, that its presence in your neighbourhood is somehow natural and ordained. But that is not the case. To take over a city, Uber flies in a small team, known as “launchers” and hires its first local employee, whose job it is to find drivers and recruit riders. In London, that was a young Scottish banker named Richard Howard. [continue]

This is a long and comprehensive article; a good read altogether. There are even interesting historical notes!

Do you take Uber? It doesn’t exist in my neck of the woods, though I did try it in London. And I must say, it was just wonderful.

In case you still feel like reading, here’s another, quite different, article about Uber: Capitalism Without the Das Capital: Welcome to Uber’s Gig Economy. That’s from WeMeantWell.com.

A scale of sweetness

Today I was reading up on the two cherry trees I bought, and came across the term brix. Have you heard of that? I hadn’t.

Anyway, people interested in food or gardening might want to check out The 10.0 Brix Tomato Challenge from Jon Rowley’s blog, The Beautiful Taste. Here’s the part that fascinated me:

Brix is a measurement of the percentage of sugars in fruits or vegetables as measured by a refractometer. You can find inexpensive refractometers on eBay for about $30.

The ones I use come from Atago (model Master Alpha) and Vee Gee (model BX-1) in Kirkland. It is a simple instrument. All you do is put a drop of juice on a lens and then look through the viewfinder to get the instant reading. I’m forever befuddled why every farmer, fruit grower, buyer and home cook doesn’t have one.

So what does a Brix measurement tell us? A high brix reading (each fruit and vegetable has a different Brix range) indicates the fruit came from a successful plant and that the farmer has soil, watering, air and sun working together optimally. A plants primary job is photosynthesis. photosynthesis formulaEverything manufactured in the plant uses glucose as a building block. If if a plant has high brix it has more of everything, especially taste.

Moreso than a simple sweet taste, high brix usually comes across as a deeper, more satisfying varietal flavor. [continue]

Miner’s lettuce!

From The Atlantic: Foraging for Miner’s Lettuce, America’s Gift to Salad.

Miner’s lettuce is pleasingly crunchy, mild-tasting, has large leaves, remains tender even when in flower, and is so loaded with vitamins it will cure scurvy. The plant got its name because the Gold Rush miners ate it to stave off the disease, which is caused by a Vitamin C deficiency; they learned this trick from the local Indians, no doubt.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 grams of miner’s lettuce—about the size of a decent salad—contains a third of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 22 percent of the Vitamin A, and 10 percent of the iron. Combine this with stinging nettles and you have everything you need to revive your system from a winter’s worth of heavy meats, dried grains, and roots.

All of these qualities impressed early explorers so much they saved the seeds of Claytonia perfoliata and brought them back to Europe to grow, first as a curiosity, then as a food plant. [continue]

Miner’s Lettuce appeared in my garden, unbidden but welcome. I encouraged it, and now have amazing quantities of the stuff. It’s free, it’s attractive, and it’s yummy. How cool is that?

Viking ship ready for Atlantic voyage

From TheLocal.no: All aboard! Nordic Viking ship ready for Atlantic voyage.

The world’s largest Viking ship in modern times is about to set sail across the Atlantic.

Named after Harald Hårfagre, the king who unified Norway in the 10th century, the ship’s Swedish captain Björn Ahlander was originally supposed to have ordered the great dragon vessel to weigh anchor from Avaldsnes in Norway’s Haugesund on Sunday, but the departure was delayed by bad weather.

And time is of the essence. Following in the historical tailwind of Leif Eriksson, the Viking thought to have discovered America centuries before Christopher Columbus, the ship has a long journey ahead, taking a route via Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland before it finally drops anchor in the United States.

“We’ve got one month because the only gap, if you don’t want to battle low pressure and harsh winds, is May. That’s your chance to make it across,” Ahlander told the Swedish news agency TT on Monday. [continue]

The wood wide web

From The Atlantic: The wood wide web.

In 1999, a team of scientists led by Christian Körner did what thousands of people do every Christmas: they wrapped Norway spruce trees in tubes. Except this was in March, not December. And the trees were 40-metre-tall giants in the middle of a Swiss forest, not 2-metre pipsqueaks in a living room. (The team had to use a crane). And the tubes had no lights or baubles on them. Instead, they had a series of tiny holes, which pumped out carbon dioxide.

For years, the team fumigated five of these wild spruces. They wanted to see how trees will cope with the high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into the atmosphere. But in the process, and almost by accident, they showed that trees of different species exchange huge amounts of carbon via an internet of fungi—a “wood-wide web” that secretly connects their roots. [continue]

How cool is that?

Iceland’s water cure

Every time I read about Iceland, I learn about another aspect of life that is pretty much awesome there. Here’s the latest, from the New York Times: Iceland’s Water Cure.

Every Icelandic town, no matter how small, has its own pool. There are ramshackle cement rectangles squatting under rain clouds in the sheep-strewn boonies. There are fancy aquatic complexes with multilevel hot tubs and awesomely dangerous water slides of the sort that litigious American culture would never allow. All told, there are more than 120 public pools — usually geothermally heated, mostly outdoors, open all year long — in Iceland, a country with a population just slightly larger than that of Lexington, Ky. “If you don’t have a swimming pool, it seems you may as well not even be a town,” the mayor of Reykjavik, Dagur Eggertsson, told me. I interviewed him, of course, as we relaxed together in a downtown hot tub.

These public pools, or sundlaugs, serve as the communal heart of Iceland, sacred places whose affordability and ubiquity are viewed as a kind of civil right. Families and teenagers and older people lounge and chat in sundlaugs every day, summer or winter. Despite Iceland’s cruel climate, its remoteness and its winters of 19 hours of darkness per day, the people there are among the most contented in the world. The more local swimming pools I visited, the more convinced I became that Icelanders’ remarkable satisfaction is tied inextricably to the experience of escaping the fierce, freezing air and sinking into warm water among their countrymen. The pools are more than a humble municipal investment, more than just a civic perquisite that emerged from an accident of Iceland’s volcanic geology. They seem to be, in fact, a key to Icelandic well-­being. [continue]

How 18th century France made the modern media circus

From the History Co-operative: Dangerous Liaisons: How 18th Century France Made The Modern Media Circus.

But rather than compiling all the examples on historical record, instead we should consider a particular time and place: The Old Regime in France, and in particular, Paris around 1750. This particular time period and place was difficult to discover news because the government did not allow what we consider to be news; reading newspapers, profiles of public affairs and prominent figures, simply did not exist.

For the time, to discover what was really going on, one went to the tree of Cracow. A large, leafy chestnut tree, it was the heart of Paris by way of the Palais-Royal Gardens. At the time, no doubt, it had acquired it’s name from the intense discussions that took place underneath its branches during the time of the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1735), and although the name suggests rumors, it was a place of intelligence. News mongers flocked here; spreading information about current events and the goings on of the Crown by word of mouth. They claimed to know such tales from private sources (personal letters, servants, eavesdropping were popular sources of the time) about what was really happening among the powerful of the time. But whether it was immediately true or not, the people in power took them seriously, because the government of France worried about what the Parisians were saying. It was common for foreign agents and informers to frequent the tree, either to pick up the latest news, or to plant it there for spreading. Throughout Paris there were other hotspots so to speak: benches in the Luxembourg gardens, speaker’s’ corner on the Quai des Augustins, cafes and boulevards where peddlers were known for incorporating the latest into song. In Paris, at any given time of the day, to hear the news you simply walked out into the street, and tuned in. [4] [continue]

Left-footed braking?

From The 180 show’s section of the CBC site: Ontario man pitches braking with the left foot, instead of the right.

Trevor Frith is a retired engineer, and he got in touch with us about his campaign to have the government study which foot is safer to use to brake a car.

Driving schools in Canada teach students to use their right foot to brake. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia says you should always brake with your right foot. Safe driving advocates say it’s the safe method.

But Trevor Frith, the man behind leftfootbraking.org, thinks right foot braking could contribute to pedal error, a situation where someone thinks they’re stepping on the brake, but are actually pushing the accelerator. Pedal error can lead to collisions like this one in 2012.

While he doesn’t advocate people switch over immediately, Frith would like provincial governments, or the federal government, to study the issue. [continue]

From the video store years

From vox: I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died.

The independent video store where I’ve worked for 15 years is finally dead. After 28 years in business, we succumbed to the “disruption” of Netflix and Hulu, bled to death by the long, slow defection of our customer base. Once we announced our closing, the few who remained mourned — then we locked the doors. Our permanent collection is gone: boxed up and shipped off to the local library.(…)

I spent 25 years of my life in an industry that no longer exists. Maybe I’m not the most ambitious guy. But that time has provided me with an up-close look at not just how the industry is changing but how people’s tastes, and the culture those tastes create, have changed with it.

Here’s what I’ve learned. [continue]

Meet ‘The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu’

From the Washington Post: Meet ‘The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu’.

In front of you, a mosque built of mud and clay that served as a center of learning in the Middle Ages. Here, scholars once gathered to discuss fine points of jurisprudence and philosophy. Poets set down their verses. Artisans created beautiful manuscripts, original works as well as copies of volumes from faraway times and places.

Now turn around and take in a different scene: a sandy square, where not long ago Islamist extremists meted out severe punishments for playing music and other crimes against Sharia law. Children kick a soccer ball, the dust flies. All around you is an economically depressed, psychologically traumatized city wondering whether it has a future. (…)

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” by Joshua Hammer, vividly captures the history and strangeness of this place in a fast-paced narrative that gets us behind today’s headlines of war and terror. This is part reportage and travelogue (there is a great deal of “setting off” in Land Cruisers, camels and small boats along the Niger River), part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract and part out-and-out thriller. [continue]

Are your chickens talking about you?

From the Boston Globe: Are your chickens talking about you?

On spring days, when normal people are listening to NPR or CDs or music on their smartphones, I listen to the baby monitor.

We don’t have a baby. I got the device to eavesdrop on our chickens’ conversations. [continue]

And maybe, if you have chickens, you should pay some attention to their conversations. You might just find that they have given you a name.

When internet mapping went terribly wrong

From Fusion: How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell.

For the last decade, Taylor and her renters have been visited by all kinds of mysterious trouble. They’ve been accused of being identity thieves, spammers, scammers and fraudsters. They’ve gotten visited by FBI agents, federal marshals, IRS collectors, ambulances searching for suicidal veterans, and police officers searching for runaway children. They’ve found people scrounging around in their barn. The renters have been doxxed, their names and addresses posted on the internet by vigilantes. Once, someone left a broken toilet in the driveway as a strange, indefinite threat.

All in all, the residents of the Taylor property have been treated like criminals for a decade. And until I called them this week, they had no idea why. [continue]

Tim Linhart’s ice instruments

From Good.is: These Ice Instruments Look as Beautiful as They Sound.

Half a world away, in the winter wilds of Luleå, Sweden, American ice sculptor Tim Linhart hand-carves ice instruments. He’s made guitars, drums, banjos, violins and even invented a couple new musical devices. One, the Rolandophone, is giant percussion tool that looks like a pan flute, and another is the Gravaton, a massive 37-string instrument sculpted from 2.2 tons of frozen water.

Linhart’s Ice Music concert series presents around 20 of these instruments to audiences each year. The Ice Music orchestra explores genres ranging from traditional folk to Hawaiian music to rock & roll and classical. It’s avant garde sonic tools draw crowds to Luleåeach year, which is no small feat considering the concert season runs through the city’s subarctic winter. [continue]

That looks like so much fun!

If you’re interested in ice music, check out the links at the end of this Mirabilis.ca blog post from 2008.

Genetically altering ecosystems to save them from climate change

From Nautilus: This Man Is Genetically Altering Ecosystems to Save Them from Climate Change.

On a chilly afternoon last October, at a University of Northern Arizona conference, Thomas Whitham, a plant geneticist, proposed a plan to save hundreds of species from extinction. For the last several years, Whitham said, he and his colleagues had used a series of experimental gardens to study how plants are being affected by warming temperatures—in near real-time—and how their populations might evolve due to climate change.

In these gardens, located in various ecosystems and elevations around the Southwest—from deserts to alpine forests—Whitham planted different genotypes of the same species. This enabled him to identify superior genetic lines, the genotypes that can best handle environmental stresses. The results are the culmination of a thirty-year race against climate change to create ecosystems capable of responding to a warming world.

But Whitham’s work isn’t solely focused on the future. His focus on helping critical species, and the communities they support, to survive climate change has led him to collaborate with some of the largest names in conservation—the Bureau of Land Management, the Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Forest Service. Preliminary results from his experimental gardens, 10 in total, suggest that species have already shifted their range in response to changing temperatures. On the lower Colorado river, Whitham is applying what he’s learned to advise the Bureau of Land Management what tree species to replant after forest fires. “If they get it wrong, and plant trees that can’t handle the increasing heat,” Whitham says, “they’ll lose the whole $626 million [reforestation] project.” [continue]

I hike in the woods every day. Anybody who is trying to preserve the forest has my attention.

The sugar conspiracy

Today the BBC published an article that is awesome on so many levels. It is The sugar conspiracy. The summary:

In 1972, a British scientist sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world’s top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long?

And indeed, how did they?

If you care about health, science, and whether the nutrition advice you’ve tried to follow is nonsense or not, this is worth your time.

Names that break computer systems

This delights me. From the Beeb: The names that break computer systems.

Jennifer Null’s husband had warned her before they got married that taking his name could lead to occasional frustrations in everyday life. She knew the sort of thing to expect – his family joked about it now and again, after all. And sure enough, right after the wedding, problems began.

“We moved almost immediately after we got married so it came up practically as soon as I changed my name, buying plane tickets,” she says. When Jennifer Null tries to buy a plane ticket, she gets an error message on most websites. The site will say she has left the surname field blank and ask her to try again.

Instead, she has to call the airline company by phone to book a ticket – but that’s not the end of the process.

“I’ve been asked why I’m calling and when I try to explain the situation, I’ve been told, ‘there’s no way that’s true’,” she says.

But to any programmer, it’s painfully easy to see why “Null” could cause problems for software interacting with a database. This is because the word ‘null’ can be produced by a system to indicate an empty name field. Now and again, system administrators have to try and fix the problem for people who are actually named “Null” – but the issue is rare and sometimes surprisingly difficult to solve. [continue]

The Hadza

From National Geographic: The Hadza.

I’m hungry,” says Onwas, squatting by his fire, blinking placidly through the smoke. The men beside him murmur in assent. It’s late at night, deep in the East African bush. Singing, a rhythmic chant, drifts over from the women’s camp. Onwas mentions a tree he spotted during his daytime travels. The men around the fire push closer. It is in a difficult spot, Onwas explains, at the summit of a steep hill that rises from the grassy plain. But the tree, he adds, spreading his arms wide like branches, is heavy with baboons. There are more murmurs. Embers rise to a sky infinite with stars. And then it is agreed. Everyone stands and grabs his hunting bow.

Onwas is an old man, perhaps over 60—years are not a unit of time he uses—but thin and fit in the Hadza way. He’s maybe five feet tall. Across his arms and chest are the hieroglyphs of a lifetime in the bush: scars from hunts, scars from snakebites, scars from arrows and knives and scorpions and thorns. Scars from falling out of a baobab tree. Scars from a leopard attack. Half his teeth remain. He is wearing tire-tread sandals and tattered brown shorts. A hunting knife is strapped to his hip, in a sheath made of dik-dik hide. He’s removed his shirt, as have most of the other men, because he wants to blend into the night.

Onwas looks at me and speaks for a few moments in his native language, Hadzane. To my ear it sounds strangely bipolar—lilting and gentle for a phrase or two, then jarring and percussive, with tongue clicks and glottic pops. It’s a language not closely related to any other that still exists: to use the linguists’ term, an isolate.

I have arrived in the Hadza homeland in northern Tanzania with an inter­preter, a Hadza woman named Mariamu. She is Onwas’s niece. She attended school for 11 years and is one of only a handful of people in the world who can speak both English and Hadzane. She interprets Onwas’s words: Do I want to come? [continue]

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