Virtual Tudors

Grab a cup of coffee, my dears, and head over to Virtual Tudors. The site introduces itself with this:

When Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, sank in 1545 almost 500 people drowned. Now, almost five hundred years on, scientific analysis of their skeletons is providing new insights into Tudor history. This digital resource enables researchers around the world to join the project and study virtual 3D reconstructions of ten skulls belonging to members of the crew. Once fully developed, this technology can be applied to many more historic objects, bringing them to an even wider community of researchers while preventing damage to the original remains and artefacts.

You can View the 3D models, and learn about the Mary Rose.

London ‘alight’ for Great Fire retelling

Wow! From the BBC: London ‘alight’ for Great Fire retelling.

A giant wooden replica of 17th century London has been set ablaze on the River Thames in a retelling of the Great Fire of London 350 years ago.

Crowds gathered on the banks of the Thames to watch the 120-metre long model go up in flames. [continue]

This is spectacular. You’ve got to go see the photos!

The app that gives Oslo’s children a direct say over their own road safety

How cool is this? From the Guardian: The app that gives Oslo’s children a direct say over their own road safety.

With €347,000 (£290,000) in funding from the city, the Research Council of Norway and consultancy Capgemini, Rørholt needed to find ways to create an environment where parents would feel that it was safe enough for children to walk to school. “I was supposed to make a traffic report on all roads in Oslo. That’s a big job,” she comments. “So I thought, why don’t we ask the children how they feel on the street?” The best way to do that, she says, was to turn to gamification. Using a smartphone app, with the idea of users being “secret agents” for the city, children can send immediate reports on their route to school when they come across, for example, a difficult crossing on the street or an area of heavy traffic. Their location is tracked using GPS, so researchers can pinpoint exactly where these hazards are. [continue]

Secret tunnel may solve the mysteries of Teotihuacán

From the Smithsonian Magazine: A Secret Tunnel Found in Mexico May Finally Solve the Mysteries of Teotihuacán.

In the fall of 2003, a heavy rainstorm swept through the ruins of Teotihuacán, the pyramid-studded, pre-Aztec metropolis 30 miles northeast of present-day Mexico City. Dig sites sloshed over with water; a torrent of mud and debris coursed past rows of souvenir stands at the main entrance. The grounds of the city’s central courtyard buckled and broke. One morning, Sergio Gómez, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, arrived at work to find a nearly three-foot-wide sinkhole had opened at the foot of a large pyramid known as the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, in Teotihuacán’s southeast quadrant. (…)

And as far as he was concerned, there wasn’t anything beneath the Temple of the Plumed Serpent beyond dirt, fossils and rock. Gómez fetched a flashlight from his truck and aimed it into the sinkhole. Nothing: only darkness. So he tied a line of heavy rope around his waist and, with several colleagues holding onto the other end, he descended into the murk.[continue]

Your legacy on earth may be a plant

From Nautilus: Your legacy on earth may be a plant.

Most people don’t realize how easy it is, when it comes down to it, for almost all signs of their existence to be wiped from the landscape. Fields turn into forests in less than a generation, if properly neglected. Houses are overtaken with creepers and birds’ nests and their roofs grow mossy and sag groundward after enough heavy rain. Within ten minutes’ drive of our house, there were no fewer than five home sites that had gone to seed, and sometimes to earth, with nothing left but a foundation and thousands of daffodils.

This last detail turns out to be a telling sign of former habitation. “If you find daffodils in a wild area, you can usually find chimneys,” says Robert Warren, an ecologist at Buffalo State University. Warren lived for years in North Carolina, another place where daffodils are thick where there used to be homes—the flowers just keep going on their own, for decades after they’re no longer tended. The old residents “got them through the Sears-Roebuck catalog—the bulbs,” says Warren. When he goes hiking, he likes to try to read the landscape, looking for signs of an area’s history in the vegetation. [continue]

Wow, what a cool article.

On browsers, and the future of the internet

Oooh, this matters. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Save Firefox! post explains how an important organization has made a terrible decision that will affect the future of the web.

We need competition; we also need diversity. We need the possibility that young, game-changing market entrants might come along. We need that idea to be kept alive, to make sure that all the browsers don’t shift from keeping users happy to just keeping a few giant corporations that dominate the Web happy. Because there’s always pressure to do that, and if all the browsers end up playing that same old game, the users will always lose.

We need more Firefoxes.

We need more browsers that treat their users, rather than publishers, as their customers. It’s the natural cycle of concentration-disruption-renewal that has kept the Web vibrant for nearly 20 years (eons, in web-years).

We may never get another one, though.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), once the force for open standards that kept browsers from locking publishers to their proprietary capabilities, has changed its mission. Since 2013, the organization has provided a forum where today’s dominant browser companies and the dominant entertainment companies can collaborate on a system to let our browsers control our behavior, rather than the other way. [continue]

A cull to save the kelp

Ah, kelp. It’s an amazing seaweed, which is supposed to grow in profusion all over the place. (Well, I don’t know about your part of the world, but certainly in mine.) In recent years people who care about the ocean environment have been alarmed at the decrease in kelp. What is up with that? Apparently there are a number of causes, and many community groups are working to change the situation and encourage kelp growth.

If you’re not familiar with kelp (or even if you are!) you might want to see Lost Coast’s page on kelp. That has a good photo, and a lot of fascinating facts about the plant.

Now on to this article from Hakai Magazine: A cull to save the kelp.

Terry Herzik has been diving for red sea urchins in Southern California for more than 40 years. He supports his family by selling the spiny invertebrates’ gonads as the sushi delicacy uni. Yet over the past century, Southern California’s giant kelp ecosystems—the red urchin’s home turf—have been under assault. Spurred on by human-induced environmental degradation, a booming population of voracious, kelp-munching purple urchins has helped turn these once-lush forests into barren wastelands. In such a diminished habitat, the red urchins’ numbers (and their gonads) have shrunk.

So, three years ago, Herzik joined an ambitious project spearheaded by the nonprofit The Bay Foundation to restore Southern California’s kelp forests, and he’s been killing purple urchins in droves ever since.

“We go down with geology hammers and smash them,” Herzik says. Their approach isn’t particularly high tech, but it works.

To date, Herzik and the other project participants (including biologists, fishers, and community volunteers) have killed 3.3 million purple urchins, clearing 142,000 square meters of seafloor of the animals. As a result, the kelp has bounced back. [continue]

I hadn’t heard of this approach. On the west coast of Canada, we have a number of groups working to restore kelp beds. The strategies I’ve heard them talk about are things like re-seeding kelp beds, encouraging boaters to not use motors in kelpy areas (because propellors slice through kelp), and so forth. But sea urchin smashing? Who knew that would work?

Ethiopian farmers made a desert bloom again

From Grist: Ethiopian farmers made a desert bloom again.

In the steep fields of Ethiopia’s highlands, when rain falls on the parched, overworked land it runs downhill, carrying soil with it. Farmers commonly lose 130 tons of soil per hectare a year, comparable to the worst erosion documented on U.S. farms in recent history. Then, because the water has all rushed downhill, instead of seeping underground, wells go dry. Without water, crops wither, and that exposes bare soil to further erosion.

This cycle turned a watershed in Adisghe County, Ethiopia, into a near desert, prompting the government to consider moving the farmers. Instead, they decided to try to rescue the land. With the help of an international project called Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING), they began building dams, terraces, and recharge ponds. They planted trees on hilltops and planted cover crops on degraded areas. [continue]

The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback

From the Guardian: The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback.

Manzar, who is 48, had spent much of his life working to help Indians get online, and now one of the biggest tech companies in the world had thrown its weight behind his cause. “The power of Facebook as a platform, how it has motivated people to come online, generate content, get even the non-literate to become literate … I am a great fan,” he said.

But Manzar’s optimism soured when he saw what Internet.org actually looked like: a threadbare platform that only allowed access to 36 bookmarked sites and Facebook, which was naturally the only social network available. There was one weather app, three sites for women’s issues, and the search engine Bing. Facebook’s stripped-down internet was reminiscent of old search engines that listed the early web on one page, when it was small enough to be categorised, like books in a library.

Crucially, Facebook itself would decide which sites were included on the platform. The company had positioned Internet.org as a philanthropic endeavour – backed by Zuckerberg’s lofty pronouncements that “connectivity is a human right” – but retained total control of the platform. “Their pitch about access turned into mobilisation for their own product,” Manzar said. [continue]

Facebook is not your friend, kids.

How a 15-year-old discovered an ancient city. Or not.

From the BBC: How a 15-year-old discovered an ancient city.

What was your biggest achievement at the age of 15? Well, a Canadian teenager has outshone the experts after discovering a lost Mayan city. William Gadoury, from Saint-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec, made the discovery by comparing star charts with satellite images. The new city, discovered in a Mexican jungle, is thought to be the fourth biggest Mayan city, and has been named ‘Mouth of Fire’ by the teenager. [continue]

So that’s what appeared in the news. This comment, posted by Xnipek on reddit, is quite fine.

Continue reading

Water meadows

Caught by the River has a lovely post on water meadows.

In his excellent book The History of the Countryside, Oliver Rackham describes four ways in which we lose our landscape: the loss of beauty, of freedom, of wildlife and vegetation, and of meaning. There’s also a fifth way in which we can lose our landscape: by forgetting.

Water meadows – true water meadows that is – were found alongside many rivers in England, but it was the chalk rivers of the South that lent their unique qualities particularly well to the creation of what has been called the pinnacle of intensive farming before the industrial revolution. In a historical context intensive is a term which, when compared to the mechanised, economically driven farming that holds sway over much of our countryside today, rather pales into insignificance. True water meadows were not just meadows alongside rivers that were flooded in times of high flows, but meadows that were purposely flooded or drowned – the men carrying out the flooding were called drowners – using an artificially dug channels. They ranged from simple gravity fed systems to a complex plexus of sluices, hatches, drains, mains, carriers and channels. The idea was not to flood the meadows with standing water which would kill the grasses, but to have a constant stream or trickle of water flowing into, across and then out of the meadow. By drowning at particular times of year, and preventing frosts, Spring growth on a water meadow occurred earlier. Livestock would benefit from the ‘early bite,’ and a harvestable hay crop also occurred earlier. [continue]

How breakfast became a thing

From priceonomics: How breakfast became a thing.

You’ve probably heard that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

What you may not know is the origin of this ode to breakfast: a 1944 marketing campaign launched by Grape Nuts manufacturer General Foods to sell more cereal.

During the campaign, which marketers named “Eat a Good Breakfast—Do a Better Job”, grocery stores handed out pamphlets that promoted the importance of breakfast while radio advertisements announced that “Nutrition experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” [continue]

OxyContin’s 12-hour problem

From the LA Times: ‘You want a description of hell?’ OxyContin’s 12-hour problem.

The drugmaker Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin two decades ago with a bold marketing claim: One dose relieves pain for 12 hours, more than twice as long as generic medications.

Patients would no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night to take their pills, Purdue told doctors. One OxyContin tablet in the morning and one before bed would provide “smooth and sustained pain control all day and all night.”

On the strength of that promise, OxyContin became America’s bestselling painkiller, and Purdue reaped $31 billion in revenue.

But OxyContin’s stunning success masked a fundamental problem: The drug wears off hours early in many people, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. OxyContin is a chemical cousin of heroin, and when it doesn’t last, patients can experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug.

The problem offers new insight into why so many people have become addicted to OxyContin, one of the most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history. [continue]

I liked this article for the understanding it gave me of just how somebody might wind up addicted to opioids. And oh, those drug-making companies, how they often do annoy me.

Toronto gets its own free encrypted mesh network

From Motherboard: Toronto gets its own free encrypted mesh network.

Meshnet networks, or meshnets, are a form of intranet that doesn’t require a central router point. Instead of emitting from a single point, they’re distributed across an entire system of nodes. Accessing one is free—and doesn’t require the services of a telecom. [continue]

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]