CA Freeways Will Soon Generate Electricity

Cars, Piezoelect, SoCal, EcoWatch_com

Energy conservation is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about freeways jammed with idling vehicles.

But in California, which has some of the most congested freeways in the country, that’s about to change. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved a pilot program in which piezoelectric crystals will be installed on several freeways.

No, these aren’t some kind of new-agey crystals with mystical powers. Piezoelectric crystals, about the size of watch batteries, give off an electrical discharge when they’re mechanically stressed, such as when a vehicle drives over them. Multiply that by thousands of vehicles and it creates an electric current that can be harvested to feed the grid.

In fact, scientists estimate the energy generated from piezoelectric crystals on a 10-mile stretch of freeway could provide power for the entire city of Burbank (population: more than 105,000).

“I still get stopped on the street by people who ask what happened to the idea of using our roads to generate electricity,” said Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles assemblyman, in a press release announcing the program. “California is the car capital of the world and we recycle just about everything. So why not capture the energy from road vibrations and put it to good use?”

Piezoelectric-based energy‐harvesting technology is already being used in other countries. Since 2009, all the displays in the East Japan Railway Company’s Tokyo station have been powered by people walking on the piezoelectric flooring. Italy has signed a contract that will install this technology in a portion of the Venice-to-Trieste Autostrada. Israel is already using this technology on some highways, which is how Gatto got the idea for the pilot program in California. A friend returning from a trip to Israel raved about a road that produced energy …

Piezoelectric technology has been used for years in electric guitars and sonar. The crystals are “in effect the reverse of sonar: a vibration comes in and an electric pulse comes out,” according to the press release …

“Thirty years ago, no one would have believed that black silicon panels in the desert could generate ‘solar‘ power,” Gatto stated. “Piezoelectric technology is real and I am glad the state has finally acknowledged its potential in becoming an energy source.”  read more, see video –>…

Best Detergents for Smelly Workout Clothes

Olympic Hurdler, ConsumerReports_org

Before arriving at the Olympics, the athletes underwent years of training and produced piles of sweaty workout clothes. But you don’t have to be a world-class athlete, or the parent of one, to appreciate the benefits of a top-performing laundry detergent. Across the country kids are coming home from camp with duffel bags full of smelly clothing and, at the same time, pre-season sport camps are ramping up for the beginning of school. Time to break out one of the detergents that medaled in Consumer Reports tests.

Top of the podium is Persil ProClean Power-Liquid 2in1, 25 cents per load, which beat out our long-time champ, Tide. But Tide held steady with two varieties tied for second, liquid Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release, 25 cents, and Tide HE Plus Bleach Alternative, 23 cents, a powder. All three are intended for front-loaders or high-efficiency top-loader washing machines and are superb at removing grass and blood stains and ring-around-the-collar. The trio also aced our cold-water washing test.

Bargain Buys
Paying top dollar for Persil and Tide can add up in a hurry if your washer is running nonstop to keep up with a small team’s worth of workout clothes. Sam’s Club members should consider Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean, which can be used in high-efficiency or conventional washers. It costs just 12 cents a load, and was tough on grass and ring-around-the-collar. Costco shoppers can consider Kirkland Signature Free & Clear liquid detergent, a good choice at 11 cents per load. And if you don’t shop at Costco or Sam’s Club, opt for Wisk Deep Clean at 14 cents per load.

Convenient If You’re Careful
While we stopped recommending single-dose detergents because of the poisoning danger they pose to small children, they are still a good option for grownups on the go because you can throw a few in your gym bag. Tide Pods Plus Febreze tops our tests of pods and packs but at 33 cents per load costs almost twice as much as the runner-up, All Mighty Pacs Oxi, which is only 17 cents per load. Just make sure to keep any pods away from children who might mistake them for candy.

Laundry Tips
Whichever laundry detergent you choose, it’s important to follow best practices, especially when you’re dealing with large, smelly loads. Sort by colors as well as fabric types—jeans and heavier items in one load, and T-shirts and lighter fabrics in another. Don’t overload the machine with workout clothes, or you’ll probably have to wash them a second time. And follow the manufacturer’s measuring directions for large or very dirty loads. You might be tempted to add even more detergent, but this can leave residue in your machine and on your clothing.

courtesy of:…

Stubby Purple Squid Just Chillin’ Off SoCal Coast

Scientists try to maintain their composure when conducting research. But researchers aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus couldn’t help but get excited when they happened upon a goofy-looking, googly eyed purple squid while mapping the seafloor off southern California last week.

The creature was a stubby squid, Rossia pacifica, a species that lives in the Pacific ocean from Japan to southern California. The creature was just sitting out in the open on the sea floor when the crew spotted it. “It looks so fake,” one of the researchers says in a video of the encounter. “It looks like some little kid dropped their toy.”

The creature does look strange, like its eyes were painted on its bright purple body by a child. But Samantha Wishnak, a science communication fellow aboard the E/V Nautilus, tells Kacey Deamer at Live Science that things only get weirder from there. “They actually have this pretty awesome superpower, they can turn on a little sticky mucus jacket over their body and sort of collect bits of sand or pebbles or whatever they’re burrowing into and make a really nice camouflage jacket,” she says. “When they go to ambush something and prey on something, they’re able to sort of turn off that mucus jacket.”

The researchers were lucky, says Wishnak, to see the little squid out in the open since the nocturnal predator typically hides in the sediment in its jacket waiting for prey. She also says most of the scientists watching the feed from the ROV were geologists and ecologists unfamiliar with deep sea species, so they were much more excited to see the crazy-looking creature than seasoned marine biologists. Biologists watching the video feed on shore identified the little squid … just gotta’ see what this stubby purple squid looks like?  Click here to read more, watch video —>…

You’ll Be Glad to Know What Possums Eat!

Posssum Diet, Ticks, OffGridQuest_com

At night, when you catch sight of an opossum in your car headlights, you are allowed to think, “That is one ugly little animal.”  But what opossums lack in looks, they make up in originality.

They’re America’s only babies-in-the pouch marsupial.  They’re a southern species — proper name Virginia opossum — that’s adapted to New England winters.

They’re one of the oldest species of mammal around, having waddled past dinosaurs.

They eat grubs and insects and even mice, working over the environment like little vacuum cleaners.

“They really eat whatever they find,” said Laura Simon, wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Humane Society.

And they’re an animal whose first line of defense includes drooling and a wicked hissing snarl — a bluff — followed by fainting dead away and “playing possum.”

“They are just interesting critters,” said Mark Clavette, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

And now ecologists have learned something else about opossums. They’re a sort of magnet when it comes to riding the world of black-legged ticks, which spread Lyme disease.

“Don’t hit opossums if they’ve playing dead in the road,” said Richard Ostfeld, of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.

Ostfeld is forest ecologist and an expert on the environmental elements of infectious diseases like Lyme disease.

Several years ago, scientists decided to learn about the part different mammals play in the spread of the ticks and the disease.

They tested six species — white-footed mice, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums and veerys and catbirds — by capturing and caging them, and then exposing each test subject to 100 ticks.

What they found, is that of the six, the opossums were remarkably good at getting rid of the ticks — much more so that any of the others.

“I had no suspicion they’d be such efficient tick-killing animals,” Ostfeld said.

Indeed, among other opossum traits, there is this: They groom themselves fastidiously, like cats. If they find a tick, they lick it off and swallow it. (The research team on the project went through droppings to find this out. All praise to those who study possum poop.)

Extrapolating from their findings, Ostfeld said, the team estimated that in one season, an opossum can kill about 5,000 ticks.

What ecologists are learning is how complex the interaction of ticks and mammals can be.

For example, foxes probably serve as a host for ticks seeking a blood meal. But foxes are great at killing white-footed mice — the species in the environment credited with being the chief reservoir of the Lyme bacteria.

Likewise, Ostfeld said, opossums, waddling around at night, pick up lots of ticks. Some ticks end up getting their blood meal from the possum. But more than 90 percent of them ended up being groomed away and swallowed.

“They’re net destroyers of ticks,” Ostfeld said.

For Simon, of the U.S. Humane Society, the Cary Institute research is a welcome justification to just leave opossums be.

“People are so hard on them,” she said.

That’s in part because people think oppossums might be rabid when they drool and hiss and carry on when threatened. In fact, opossums are resistant to rabies.

Meanwhile, they are not particularly pretty. People who “ooh” and “aah” over fawns and bluebirds may not extend the same love to pokey animals with triangular heads, white faces and naked tails.

“I tell people ‘We can’t all be beautiful,’ ” Simon said.

courtesy of, see video:


What Happens When a Chameleon Looks in a Mirror?

Chameleon, NatGeo-crop

Female in the Mirror 

Females change color to communicate their sexual status to males, Hughes says. Female Mediterranean chameleons, for example, display yellow spots to signal sexual receptivity, according to a 1998 study.

Female social signals may be fewer “because they choose and males are competing to be chosen.”

And if she sees herself in a mirror? It would likely be more subtle than the male reaction, Hughes says—although there isn’t enough knowledge of female chameleons to know for sure.

“Female-female communication in chameleons is generally not well understood,” he says, and may be less obvious than interactions between males.

Color us humans envious of an animal who looks in a mirror and sees little that needs changing.

Male in the Mirror 

Chameleon colors aren’t just camouflage, says Eli Greenbaum, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Texas at El Paso—they also change due to temperature shifts or emotions.

And males get emotional when they see other males that could be rivals for females or habitat.

“Male chameleons will, in most cases, immediately change colors in response to seeing another male, and in this instance, to itself in a mirror,” says Daniel F. Hughes, a doctoral candidate in Greenbaum’s lab. (Related: “What Do Animals See in the Mirror?“).

To illustrate his point, he referred us to a YouTube video of a male panther chameleon, a species native to Madagascar, doing that very thing.

A male chameleon that sees a “rival” would get excited and change from its camo green to noticeable hues of yellow, orange, or even red, says Michel C. Milinkovitch, a biophysicist at the University of Geneva … read more –>…

Meteor Shower of the Decade Tonight! Thur, 8/11 + Fri, 8/12/16

Meteor Shower, Perseid, PopularMechanics

Astronomers predict next week’s meteor shower will have twice as many meteors as normal.  If you find yourself outside during the night next Thursday, don’t forget to look up.

On August 11 and 12, the biggest meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, will be lighting up the night sky, and this year the Perseids promise to be the best shower of the decade.

The Perseids typically peak in mid-August every year, when the Earth intersects with the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Debris from the comet impacts the Earth’s atmosphere and streaks across the sky, creating shooting stars.

Typically, the Perseids’ peak features about 100 meteors per hour. But this year, we may see twice that many thanks to an “outburst,” which occurs when the Earth runs into leftover debris from past orbits of the comet as well as debris from the current year. The extra material combines to create a truly spectacular meteor shower.

This year, the Perseids are expected to contain meteors from comet trails laid down in 1862, 1479, and 1079. This means that some of the meteors that will impact Earth’s atmosphere next week broke off from the Comet Swift-Tuttle nearly a thousand years ago.

If you’re planning to watch the Perseids, it’s best to be prepared. The optimal time to see the meteor shower is from late at night on Thursday August 11 to early Friday morning on the 12th, before sunrise. Be sure to get plenty of rest if you’re going to stay up late to watch the show.

Pick a spot that’s far away from city lights that brighten the sky. The darker the sky, the better the viewing, so you may have to drive into the countryside. This tool can help you find a dark sky location nearby. Remember to give your eyes at least 20 minutes to adjust to the dark.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself and have fun! Meteor showers are always better with people, so bring some friends or loved ones along, and keep your eyes on the sky.

courtesy of:

What Is Your Clan?

Teepee, Crow, NatGeoWhat is your clan? What is your Indian name? Who named you?

When anthropologist Aaron Brien puts these questions to a group of Crow Indian students gathered in the community of Crow Agency, Montana, most of the hands tentatively go up.

“My name is Emily Not Afraid. I am a Whistling Water and a child of the Newly Made Lodge. My Crow name is Baasshuushe isitccheesh, which means ‘Likes to tobacco dance.’ I was named as a baby by one of my clan mothers, Clara Big Lake.” …

… This, says Brien, is what makes the Crow—or Apsáalooke in their native Siouan language—different from any other tribe on the planet:  their clan system.  But it’s one that’s in danger of disappearing …

… To put the Crow Reservation’s size in perspective, it’s physically larger than Delaware and about a million acres shy of equaling the size of Connecticut. One of seven reservations in Montana, its largest town is Crow Agency, home to around 1,500 of the 13,000 or so enrolled tribal members … two decades ago, it was rare to hear conversations in English, and the clan system was practiced as part of everyday life. Now, in a single generation, the opposite is true. Both the Crow language and the idea of the clan system is quickly becoming a casualty on the battlefield of pop culture …

Ashammaliaxxiia, the word for the Apsáalooke clan system, translates to “Driftwood Lodges.” As the name implies, just as pieces of driftwood band together in turbulent waters, so do the Apsáalooke people to provide spiritual and material support to clan members. The Crow clan system is unique not just among Plains Indians but also among all tribes and nations. At its simplest level, the mother’s clan is responsible for the physical and emotional health of the clan member, while the father’s clan is responsible for spiritual support.

“The clan system creates a respect between people,” Brien says. “It’s a kinship system. It needs to be an everyday thing.” …  read more –>…

Did You Know? Friday Was International Tiger Day

Tiger, Sumatran, NatGeo-crop


We have lost 97% of all wild tigers in a bit over 100 years.

Sumatran tigers are the last of the so-called island tiger subspecies, having outlived the Bali tigers (Panthera tigris balica) and the Javan tigers (Panthera tigris sondaica) that once roamed the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java, respectively.

Although more than a thousand Sumatran tigers are thought to have lived on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra in the 1970s, their numbers have declined by roughly half due to poachers and deforestation.

read more –>…

Discovering New Berardius In 2016

Whale, Beaked, New, Unknown, NatGeo

This whale washed up dead on Alaska’s St. George Island in June 2014.  Scientists say it is a newly discovered species of beaked whale.
Photograph by Karin Holser

Like many good mysteries, this one started with a corpse, but the body in question was 24 feet (7.3 meters) long.

The remains floated ashore in June of 2014, in the Pribilof Islands community of St. George, a tiny oasis of rock and grass in the middle of Alaska’s Bering Sea. A young biology teacher spotted the carcass half-buried in sand on a desolate windswept beach. He alerted a former fur seal researcher who presumed, at first, that she knew what they’d found: a Baird’s beaked whale, a large, gray, deep-diving creature that occasionally washes in dead with the tide.

But a closer examination later showed that the flesh was too dark, the dorsal fin too big and floppy. The animal was too short to be an adult, but its teeth were worn and yellowed with age.


It’s just so exciting to think that in 2016 we’re still discovering things in our world—even mammals that are more than 20 feet long.

Phil Morin | NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center

It turns out, according to new research published Tuesday, that this was not a Baird’s beaked whale at all, but an entirely new species—a smaller, odd-shaped black cetacean that Japanese fishermen have long called karasu, or raven.

“We don’t know how many there are, where they’re typically found, anything,” says Phillip Morin, a molecular geneticist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “But we’re going to start looking.”

It’s rare to uncover a new species of whale. Advances in DNA research have helped scientists identify five new cetaceans in the past 15 years but two were dolphins and most were simple category splits between fairly similar species. This animal, in the genus Berardius, looks far different than its nearest relative and inhabits an area of the North Pacific where marine mammal research has been conducted for decades … read more –>…


Mysterious Purple Orb?

Purple Orb1, New Unknown, NatGeo

Researchers Find Mysterious Purple Orb in the Channel Islands

Channel Islands National Park is a popular day trip from Los Angeles; hundreds of thousands of people make the venture every year. But the eight-island chain, dubbed the Galapagos of the North, still holds plenty of mysteries. In fact, during a recent trip to map the surrounding waters, the team aborad the Nautilus exploration vessel found a strange bright purple ball that looks like an unhatched Pokémon.

When the team stumbled on the blob, which is only a few inches across, they weren’t sure what to make of it. In a video recording of the find, one researcher speculates that it is a new type of tunicate, also known as a sea squirt. Other options include some type of sea slug or cnidarian, the group which includes jellyfish and coral …

… The team used a vacuum system to slurp up the creature. Once aboard the ship, it began to unfold into two distinct lobes and looked like it could be a new species of nudibranch, according to the team’s website. Known for their brilliant hues, nudibranchs are a type of sea slug that inhabit a range of environments.

The orb wasn’t the only awesome find from the trip. While surveying deep reefs in the Sanctuary to identify “essential fish habitats,” the Nautilus crew also found whelks building their unusual egg towers, groups of Pacific octopuses protecting their eggs, as well as interesting corals, sea stars and sea fans.

There are likely many more creatures to discover in this region. Less than half of the sea floor has been mapped within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, which encompass 1,470 square miles of water around the islands. The Nautilus Exploration Program plans to peer into more of these nooks and crannies, mapping the area and collecting biological samples along their route. The goal is to pay particular attention to the deep sea habitat and deep coral beds in the area. The purple blob was found on their latest venture, which took place July 3 to July 21.

It may be a while before scientists figure out what the odd spiky orb truly is. But in the meantime, there’s so much more to find lurking in the ocean depths.

see video –>


Oldest Non-Human Stone Tools Outside Africa

Monkey, Capuchin, Tool, NatGeo

A capuchin monkey in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park cracks open nuts with a stone tool. Only a handful of non-human primates use stone tools.

An archaeological site in the Brazilian savanna has revealed the oldest record of non-human stone tool use found outside of Africa: centuries-old stone hammers and anvils wielded by hungry capuchin monkeys.

The rocks show that for at least 700 years, bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus
) in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park have smashed fresh cashews to peel off their caustic, unappetizing husks. The find confirms the behavior’s longtime importance to the area’s capuchins—which seem to have used the technique for a hundred generations—and adds vital nuance to the history of tool use in non-human primates …

What Does It Take to Become a Stone Tool User?

The trove of tools, described on Monday in Current Biology, also stands to help scientists understand the bafflingly scattershot distribution of tool use among primates. Only a handful of non-human primate genera use hand tools—including chimpanzees, bearded capuchins, and long-tailed macaques—and scientists have yet to identify exactly why those species, and not others, took up tools … read more –>


A Fish Recognizes Human Faces?

Fish, Archer, Recognize Faces, Smithsonian

Though many may mock a fish’s short memory, the creatures can still learn some astounding things. Researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of Queensland recently discovered that the small tropical archerfish can be taught to accurately recognize human faces, Arielle Duhaime-Ross reports for The Verge.

In the study, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers describe training the archerfish. While it would be hard for most fish to communicate what they see, the archerfish has a nifty trick up it’s gills: the ability to spit little jets of water from its mouth.

The researchers displayed images of two faces side-by-side on a screen dangled above the fish’s tank—one familiar, one unknown. The fish was then supposed to spit water at the correct image for a treat.

81 percent of the time, the archerfish could recognize the same faces in color but were even more accurate with black and white images.

“I think it’s really fascinating that they have these supposedly simple brains,” study author Cait Newport tells Victoria Turk for Motherboard. “But they’re still able to use them for really complicated tasks, and we probably just don’t give them enough credit.”

The researchers hope that these little fish can help uncover how humans pull off this complex neurological trick.

There are currently two major ideas for how human brains recognize faces, writes Turk. Some believe the credit goes to complex, specialized circuitry that the brain evolved over time, but others think that humans simply learned the skill.

“We wanted to disentangle these two ideas and see if we could use another species to figure out if we do in fact need really specialized cells, or if maybe something else that doesn’t have these specialized cells can learn this task,” Newport tells Turk. “That’s why we turned to fish, because they have no evolutionary need to recognize human faces, and they lack this entire section of the brain—the neocortex.”

This isn’t the first time that Newport and her team have taught fish to recognize faces. Last October, she and her team published a similar study that demonstrated a coral reef fish called the Ambon damselfish can distinguish between individuals of its own species. In that case, the fish were aided by their ability to see ultraviolet light. While damselfish appear yellow to the human eye, their faces are actually speckled with unique facial patterns that appear under UV light, Mary Bates reports for National Geographic.

“Categorical perception is thought to allow animals to make quick decisions about an image or stimulus,” study author Ulrike Siebeck told Bates. “In nature, this could be the vital decision about whether an approaching animal is classed as a predator or a harmless animal.”

These studies suggest that the ability to recognize faces does not rely on complex neurological pathways. Facial recognition is either a less difficult task than believed or can be accomplished using more basic parts of the brain. These findings could also be applied to refine facial recognition computer programs, Turk reports.

“It [raises] the question as to why the human system is so complicated if a really simple system can do it,” Newport tells Turk.

courtesy of:…

Bog Butter Anyone?

Bog Butter, Smithsonian

Recently, Jack Conway was “cutting turf,” the term for digging up blocks of moss in Emlagh peat bog in County Meath, Ireland, when he discovered a 22-pound lump of butter. The find, believed to be 2,000 years old, according to the Irish Times, isn’t an unusual occurrence in Ireland, where every year, people digging up peat moss to heat their homes encounter chunks of the dairy.

The discoveries, which are called Bog Butter, can be thousands of years old. In 2009, a 77-pound, 3,000-year-old oak barrel of the stuff was found in County Kildare. In 2013, a turf cutter in County Offaly found a 100-pound, 5,000-year-old chunk. Many examples of the butter are found in Irish museums, including the place dedicated to the golden spread, Cork’s Butter Museum.

So what is Bog Butter? It’s exactly what it sounds like—butter made from cow’s milk, buried in a bog. What makes it special is its age. After spending so much time in the cool, damp peat, it starts to take on the appearance and consistency of paraffin wax. According to a study on bog butter by researchers from the University of Bristol, some of the chunks are non-dairy. When analyzing carbon isotopes in nine samples of the butter, they found that six of them were indeed dairy products, while the other three were from animals, perhaps tallow (rendered fat) stored for later use.

In a paper published in the Journal of Irish Archaeology, Caroline Earwood explains that bog butter is usually found in earthenware pots, wooden containers, animal skins, or wrapped in bark and takes on a pungent, cheesy odor. Looking at over 274 instances of bog butter from the Iron Age to medieval times, Earwood concluded that early Celtic people probably sunk the butter in the bog simply to preserve it or protect from thieves. The cool, low-oxygen, high acid environment of the bog made a perfect natural refrigerator. Seeing as butter was a valuable commodity and was used to pay taxes, saving it for times of drought, famine, or war would have been a good idea … read more –>…

Milan Creates World’s First Vertical Forest

Vertical Forest, Milan, OffGridQuest_com

In an age where harmonious innovation is becoming more celebrated, sustainable designs to preserve the Earth and contribute to wellbeing are being implemented at a rapid rate. One such innovation to recently be accepted for development is a vertical forest designed by Stefan Boeri Architects.

The first ever vertical forest will soon be the greenest building in Milan. Because the average household in a city produces approximately 25-30 tons of CO2 per year, implementing greener architecture in highly populated areas cannot come soon enough.

“This stunning development is part of a vision presented by BioMilano which promises to incorporate 60 abandoned farms into a greenbelt surrounding the city. Part of the mission is to create a vertical forest building which boasts a stunning green façade planted with dense forest systems to provide microclimate and to filter out polluting dust particles. According to Inhabit, there are two buildings currently under construction.”

The greener architecture will help absorb CO2, oxygenate the air, moderate extreme temperatures, and lower noise pollution. The bio-canopy is not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but it helps lower living costs.

In the vertical forest building, each apartment balcony will feature trees that will provide shade during the summer months and drop their leaves in winter and allow more sunlight. An estimated 900 trees are planned for planting between the two new buildings being constructed.

“A grey-water filtration system (which is used water which has gone down the sink or shower) will ensure the trees are adequately watered. Additionally, photovoltaic power generation will help provide sustainable energy to the building.”

Merging the hottest sustainable technologies with revolutionary design will not only help the environment, but help bring human beings and nature back into harmony.

courtesy of:

Amazon Tribe Creates 500-page Traditional Medicine Encyclopedia

Medicine Man, Matses, Brazil

In one of the great tragedies of our age, indigenous traditions, stories, cultures and knowledge are winking out across the world. Whole languages and mythologies are vanishing, and in some cases even entire indigenous groups are falling into extinction. This is what makes the news that a tribe in the Amazon—the Matsés peoples of Brazil and Peru—have created a 500-page encyclopedia of their traditional medicine all the more remarkable. The encyclopedia, compiled by five shamans with assistance from conservation group Acaté, details every plant used by Matsés medicine to cure a massive variety of ailments.

“The [Matsés Traditional Medicine Encyclopedia] marks the first time shamans of an Amazonian tribe have created a full and complete transcription of their medicinal knowledge written in their own language and words,” Christopher Herndon, president and co-founder of Acaté, told Mongabay in an interview (in full below).

The Matsés have only printed their encyclopedia in their native language to ensure that the medicinal knowledge is not stolen by corporations or researchers as has happened in the past. Instead, the encyclopedia is meant as a guide for training new, young shamans in the tradition and recording the living shamans’ knowledge before they pass.

“One of the most renowned elder Matsés healers died before his knowledge could be passed on so the time was now. Acaté and the Matsés leadership decided to prioritize the Encyclopedia before more of the elders were lost and their ancestral knowledge taken with them,” said Herndon.

Acaté has also started a program connecting the remaining Matsés shamans with young students. Through this mentorship program, the indigenous people hope to preserve their way of life as they have for centuries past.

“With the medicinal plant knowledge disappearing fast among most indigenous groups and no one to write it down, the true losers in the end are tragically the indigenous stakeholders themselves,” said Herndon. “The methodology developed by the Matsés and Acaté can be a template for other indigenous cultures to safeguard their ancestral knowledge.” … read more –>…

Cats Are Adorable Physicists

Cat, Yarn Ball, Smithsonian

String theory—feline edition. (Tommy Hemmert Olesen (Flickr/Creative Commons))

Beneath that fluffy exterior lies a shrewd understanding of how the world works. 

They may be fluffy and cute, but behind the eyes of your favorite feline friend lies something that’s far more than catnip and cuddles—a sharp brain for physics.  As the BBC reports, the latest in cat research reveals that the adorable animals seem to have a basic grasp on both the laws of physics and the ins and outs of cause and effect.

According to a new study published in the journal Animal Cognition, cats seem to be able to predict the location of hiding prey using both their ears and an innate understanding of how the physical world works.

In what could be the most chaotically cute experiment, Japanese researchers taped 30 domestic cats reacting to a container that a team member shook. Some containers rattled; others did not. When the container was tipped over, sometimes an object fell out and sometimes it didn’t.

It turns out that the cats were remarkably savvy about what would happen when a container was tipped over. When an object did not drop out of the bottom of a rattling container, they looked at it for a longer period of time than they did when the container behaved as expected.

“Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects,” lead researcher Saho Takagi says in a press release. The researchers conclude that cats’ hunting style may have developed based on their common-sense abilities to infer where prey is using their hearing.

Scientists have delved into this idea with other endearing creatures: babies. Like cats, babies appear to engage in what’s called “preferential looking“—looking longer at things that are interesting or askew than things they perceive as normal.

When babies’ expectations are violated in experiments like the ones performed with the cats, they react much like their fuzzy friends. Psychologists have shown that babies apparently expect their world to comply with the laws of physics and cause and effect as early as two months of age.

Does the study mean that soon, cats will grasp the ins and outs of quantum mechanics and string theory? Maybe—if the string is a ball of yarn. Okay, so cats may not be the next physics faculty members at America’s most important research universities. But by demonstrating their common sense, they’ve shown that the divide between cats and humans may not be that great after all.

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What Happens in the Brain When Music Causes Chills?

Music Chills, Turntable, Smithsonian

The brains of people who get chills when the right song comes on are wired differently than others
For some people it’s David Bowie. For others it’s Franz Liszt. But regardless of the genre, when the right chords combine, many people will get goose bumps or a chill up the spine.
Somewhere between a half to two-thirds of the population have this reaction, yet scientists have long debated why. Past research has shown that when experiencing “the chills,” the neurotransmitter dopamine floods through the body. But a new study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience details what happens in the brain when the soprano hits the high note, reports Ian Sample for The Guardian.
These reactions are known as frissons—an aesthetic chill also sometimes called a “skin orgasm,” Mitchell Colver, doctoral student at Utah State University, writes for The Conversation. Though they are usually associated with listening to music, some can even get the willies while looking at art or watching a movie.
To investigate what happens in the brain during the chills, a group of researchers from Harvard and Wesleyan University selected ten people who claimed that they regularly experience a frisson while listening to music. He also selected ten subjects who never experienced the phenomenon.
The researchers then looked at the brains of the test subjects while they listened to chill-inducing music using a method called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which shows how well regions of the brain are interconnected, reports Sample. The choices ranged from Coldplay and Wagner to marching band music from the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps.
The researchers found that the brains of individuals who occasionally feel a chill while listening to music were wired differently than the control subjects. They had more nerve fibers connecting auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound, to their anterior insular cortex, a region involved in processing feelings. The auditory cortex also had strong links to parts of the brain that may monitor emotions.
So why do so many get the chills when the music is just right? “The chills is a sensation we get when we’re cold. It doesn’t really make sense that your hair would stand on end, or that you’d get these goosebumps in response to music,” Matthew Sachs, an author of the paper, tells Sample. “We think that the connectivity between the auditory cortex and these other regions is allowing music to have that profound emotional response in these people. It’s very hard to know whether or not this is learned over time, or whether these people naturally had more fibers. All we can say is there are differences that might explain the behavior we see.”
Colver, who has also studied the phenomenon, says that previous research shows that the ability to experience a frisson is related to a personality trait called Openness to Experience. But his research suggests that those who experience the chills while listening to music weren’t always those having a deep emotional connection. Instead, his study showed that people engaged in the music more intellectually, like trying to predict the melody or putting mental imagery to the music, were more likely to get a shiver when the music deviated from their expectations in a positive way.
But not everyone is so enthusiastic about the idea of discerning beauty from brain scans. Philip Ball writes for Nature News“Although it is worth knowing that musical ‘chills’ are neurologically akin to the responses invoked by sex or drugs, an approach that cannot distinguish Bach from barbiturates is surely limited.”

King Tut’s Dagger

King Tuts Dagger, Smithsonian-crop

X-ray spectroscopy lays a decades-long metal mystery to rest

When archaeologists discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb, they were stunned by the riches contained within. One of the weirder artifacts of the tomb was a dagger that confused scientists, sporting a blade seemingly impervious to rust and age. Now, reports The Guardian’s Alan Yuhas, the secret of the blade’s timelessness has been uncovered:  It was made from a meteorite.

New research published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science  confirms that the blade was made with materials from a meteorite.  Scientists performed X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, a method used to learn more about the elements the object is composed of. In this case, they found iron, nickel and cobalt—materials found inside chunks of space rocks that survive their fall to Earth.

The discovery not only brings closure to a decades-long debate about whether or not the dagger was made from a meteorite, but it also gives insight into the culture of Ancient Egyptians. Aside from the obvious cool factor of owning a dagger made from a material from space, King Tut’s craftsmen appear to have realized that meteoritic iron was a long-lasting and tough material. The researchers write that their find shows that Ancient Egyptians placed a high value on what they called “iron of the sky” and that they knew about the off-Earth origins of the material.

It turns out the king may have had a thing for meteorites; it’s thought that other blades in the tomb and King Tut’s headrest may also have been made of “iron of the sky.” If King Tut did lay claim to Ancient Egypt’s most precious metal, he would not be alone:  In 2013, researchers discovered that a group of 5,000-year-old beads were made of meteoritic iron, too.

There’s something magical about metal that falls from the sky—not only do the mysterious stones have their own hall in the American Museum of Natural History, but they’re thought to contain clues to the origins of the solar system. No wonder they were a material fit for a king.

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New Museums in 2016 – National Blues Museum

National Blues Museum (St. Louis, Missouri)
Open April 2, 2016Museum, Blues, Smithsonian

Celebrate the origin of nearly every modern form of popular music with a visit to the new National Blues Museum. The finished museum will have 15,000 square feet of exhibit, theater, and classroom space devoted to all things blues and will develop and show traveling exhibits, too. Want a preview? The museum’s radio station is already live, sharing updates and songs from a roster of well known and under-the-radar blues musicians.

Even with all that exhibit space, artifacts aren’t the focus of the new museum. Instead, technology-driven interactive features are designed to tell the story of the genre, following it from its Delta roots and tracing its many influences on modern music.

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Five Lost Native American Languages Rediscovered in Massachusetts

Native Amer Fish Knife, Smithsonian
A club from Massachusetts in the shape of a fish, probably Atlantic sturgeon, dates to about 1750. The area was previously thought to have only one language at the time of European contact, but new research reveals there were five Native American languages were spoken in the Connecticut Valley of central Massachusetts. (National Museum of the American Indian, catalog 202196).

American history has just been slightly rewritten. Previously, experts had believed that the Native Americans of central Massachusetts spoke a single language, Loup (pronounced “Lou,” literally meaning “wolf”). But new research shows that they spoke at least five different languages.

“It’s like some European families where you can have three different languages at the dinner table,” says Ives Goddard, curator emeritus and senior linguist in the department of anthropology at the Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of Natural History. “There was probably a lot of bilingualism. A question that is raised by there being so many languages is ‘how did that work?’ How did they manage to maintain five different languages in such a small area?”

The lost languages were re-discovered by taking another look at several manuscripts written by French missionaries who were also working as linguists in the late 1700’s. While working on her master’s thesis at the University of Manitoba, Holly Gustafson compiled a list of verb forms found in one of the manuscripts. Goddard noticed some contradictions in the compilation.

“In the course of doing this [Gustafson] sometimes says there’s this set of forms that is this way and another set of forms another way,” says Goddard. The fact that there were three different words recorded for beaver was also suspicious. “And I looked at this and thought there is too much difference. That made me think that there was more than one language involved,” he says … read more –>

Unknown Nuns Mapping Little Known Stars

Nuns Mapping Stars, Smithsonian

Sisters Emilia Ponzoni, Regina Colombo, Concetta Finardi and Luigia Panceri mapped the positions and brightness of 481,215 stars. (On Being (Flickr))

The history of astronomy is riddled with underappreciated women who looked to the stars long before their scientific contributions were recognized. But the constellation of early women astronomers is glowing brighter, writes Carol Glatz for Catholic News Service, with the recognition of four once nameless nuns who helped map and catalog half a million stars in the early 20th century.

Glatz reports that the nuns, Sisters Emilia Ponzoni, Regina Colombo, Concetta Finardi and Luigia Panceri, were recruited by the Vatican to measure and map stars from plate-glass photographs. They cataloged the brightness and locations of a whopping 481,215 stars during their years of diligent work. Photos of the nuns had appeared in books about the history of astronomy, but the identity of the women was not known—and their accomplishments not recognized—until now.

Their years of labor were finally acknowledged when Father Sabino Maffeo, a Jesuit priest who works at the Vatican Observatory, found their names while organizing papers for the archives. Today, the project to which the nuns contributed is as obscure as the nuns themselves, but at the time it was one of the largest scientific undertakings in history.

In April 1887, 56 scientists from 19 countries met in Paris to embrace a new discipline: astrophotography. Their plan was a bold one—use 22,000 photographic plates to map the entire sky. The work was split up among institutions across Europe and the United States, including the Vatican Observatory. Each institution was given a particular zone of the sky to map and categorize.

At the time, male astronomers often relied on women to serve as their “computers.” The men would direct the project, but behind the scenes, women did the labor-intensive processing, cataloging and calculating for low wages. Famously, Harvard Observatory director Edward Charles Pickering hired “Pickering’s Harem,” a group of bright young women, to do HIS share of the star cataloging. Also known as “the Harvard Computers,” these women, formidable astronomical minds in their own right, were only recently acknowledged for their contribution to science.

And what a contribution— the project resulted in the Astrographic Catalogue, a 254-volume catalog of 4.6 million stars. The star atlas called the Carte du Ciel was only halfway finished by the time astronomers stopped working on it in 1962. Though the atlas project was destined to fail, the catalog became the basis of a system of star references that is still used today.

Though the women didn’t end up counting all of the stars, perhaps one day history will do a better job of counting the women whose diligent work helped map out the starry skies.

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Happy Bear Awareness Week!

Bear Chart, FB

Bear Awareness Week is the 3rd Week in May … There are eight species ranging from the largest, the impressive polar bear, to the smallest, the lovable sun bear. Sadly, only two bear species are stable. Almost all are vulnerable and the iconic panda remains endangered.

The Diamond Sutra is the World’s Oldest Dated Printed Book

Sutra, Diamond, Smithsonian

Printed over 1,100 years ago, a Chinese copy of the Diamond Sutra at the British Library is one of the most intriguing documents in the world.
No one is sure who Wang Jie was or why he had The Diamond Sutra printed. But we do know that on this day in 868 A.D.—or the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong in Jie’s time—he commissioned a block printer to create a 17-and-a-half-foot-long scroll of the sacred Buddhist text, including an inscription on the lower right hand side reading, “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents.” Today, that scroll is housed at the British Library and is acknowledged as the oldest dated printed book in existence.

Chances are you know a little something about the Gutenberg Bible, the first book made with moveable type, which came along almost 600 years later. Bibliophiles might also have a working knowledge of other famous manuscripts like the Book of Kells, The Domesday Book, and Shakespeare’s First Folio. Well, The Diamond Sutra should be in that pantheon of revered books, as well. Here’s why:


The text was originally discovered in 1900 by a monk in Dunhuang, China, an old outpost of the Silk Road on the edge of the Gobi Desert. The Diamond Sutra, a Sanskrit text translated into Chinese, was one of 40,000 scrolls and documents hidden in “The Cave of a Thousand Buddhas,” a secret library sealed up around the year 1,000 when the area was threatened by a neighboring kingdom.

In 1907, British-Hungarian archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein was on an expedition mapping the ancient Silk Road when he heard about the secret library. He bribed the abbot of the monastic group in charge of the cave and smuggled away thousands of documents, including The Diamond Sutra. The International Dunhuang Project is now digitizing those documents and 100,000 others found on the eastern Silk Road.


The Diamond Sutra is relatively short, only 6,000 words and is part of a larger canon of “sutras” or sacred texts in Mahayana Buddhism, the branch of Buddhism most common in China, Japan, Korea and southeast Asia. Many practitioners believe that the Mahayana Sutras were dictated directly by the Buddha, and The Diamond Sutra takes the form of a conversation between the Buddha’s pupil Subhati and his master.

Why is it Diamond?

A full translation of the document’s title is The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion. As Susan Whitfield, director of the Dunhuang Project explains, the sutra helps cut through our perceptions … We just think we exist as individuals It’s difficult to translate the sutra word for word and still catch its meaning. But this passage about life … adapted to English, is one of the most popular:

So you should view this fleeting world—
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.