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- Next Nature Researcher
Over at the New York Times Magazine, there’s a fascinating long read about the quest to find the “female Viagra”. Calling it Viagra is a bit disingenuous, as these treatments don’t necessarily address female sexual response, but desire. Contrary to what evolutionary psychologists have been telling us for years, women grow bored more quickly than men in long-term relationships, and may be more inclined to promiscuity than ever expected. Using pills to flip lust on and off, as we now do with erections, depression, and concentration, would have fascinating ramifications:
“Gaining control of their reproduction in the ‘60s affected not just women’s sex lives but also everything from their social standing to economic empowerment. What might it mean for conventional structures if women could control, with a prescription, the most primal urge? So many things, personal and cultural, might need to be recalibrated and renegotiated, explicitly or without acknowledgment. The cumulative effect of all those negotiations could be hugely transformative, in ways either thrilling or threatening, depending on your point of view.”
Read the full story here. Image via She Knows.
Are sloths mythical animals? This status update reads like a snapshot from our post sixth-extinction future, when most of the earth’s megafauna has quietly shuffled off to the realm of dragons and other legends.
In a fortuitous mixture of old and next nature, park officials in Kaziranga National Park in India are now deploying aerial drones to monitor the critically endangered one-horned rhinoceros. Poaching is a serious issue in the 480 square kilometer park, where illegal hunting took 22 rhinos last year, and another 16 in the first three months of 2013. This uptick in poaching triggered mass upset in Assam State as the animal is a source of local pride and much-needed tourism revenue. Drones have already been used in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal, where rhino deaths have been drastically reduced. Drones in parks? Further proof that the noosphere is expanding by the day.
We often bemoan the design issues with skeuomorph prosthetics: Why make a weak re-creation when you can make aesthetic or functional improvements on the original? The Alternative Limb Project takes this philosophy to heart by creating gorgeous new limbs that call attention to their artificiality with jewels, hand-painted flowers, and see-through anatomy.
Above, Jo Cranston wears the Snake Arm. Click through for more photos.
Across Paris, bees and their keepers have been taking advantage of the city’s pesticide-free parks, gardens and flowerbeds to produce pricey honey. The otherwise unused rooftops of many Parisian landmarks are now home to hundreds of thousands of bees. The exclusivity of the real estate shows in the cost: The world’s most expensive honey – E 15 for 150 grams – comes from the roof of Palais Garnier, the city’s grand opera house.
Image: A keeper fumigates the hives atop Saint-Denis. Story via Skyscraper City. Thanks to Wessel de Jong for the tip.
Did an algorithm write this blog post? If it did, you’d likely never know it. Chicago-based Narrative Science is producing smart software that writes stories for parents of Little Leaguers all the way on up to media giants like Forbes. You might expect stilted, formulaic prose from a robot, but the result is surprisingly lively:
“Friona fell 10-8 to Boys Ranch in five innings on Monday at Friona despite racking up seven hits and eight runs. Friona was led by a flawless day at the dish by Hunter Sundre, who went 2-2 against Boys Ranch pitching. Sundre singled in the third inning and tripled in the fourth inning … Friona piled up the steals, swiping eight bags in all …”
Kristian Hammond, cofounder of Narrative Science, predicts that in 15 years, 90% of all news will be auto-generated in this manner. The company’s software may someday be programmed to spit out snark, wry commentary, or philosophical reflections on the effable beauty of a spring day. As Big Data mines every minute aspect of our lives, the time is ripe for a writer – human or otherwise – to transform these reams of data into stories.
Read more about Narrative Science at Wired.
In Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, the cordgrass salt marshes have been mysteriously dying off for decades. Now, some of the marsh is just as mysteriously beginning to grow back. This die-off and regrowth has finally been traced back to two little crabs and, of course, to human error.
Green: It’s the color of spring leaves, little frogs and, apparently, health. According to a new study, consumers overwhelmingly rated candy bars with green nutrition labels as healthier than those with red labels, even when all the data remained the same. While green is perceived as a “green light” to go ahead and eat a sugary snack, the color green is also heavily pushed in biomimicmarketing to imply a product is wholesome and natural – and therefore better for you.
Via the Washington Post.
Opened in 1942, the Akeley Hall of African Mammals in New York’s American Museum of Natural History is perhaps taxidermy’s crowning achievement. But, as an excellent essay from Lapham’s Quarterly recounts, the hall is more than mere artistry. It’s also drenched in the egos of presidents and industrialists, men who were just as eager to preserve the memory of disappearing landscapes as they were to shoot and skin the last vestiges of it. The hall is an emblem of the American attitude towards nature and conservation:
Cliff swallows, as their name suggests, like to build nests on cliffs and other rocky outcroppings. They also like building their nests on bridges and overpasses, and sunbathe on warm roads. This puts them in the path of traffic, and adds thousands of swallows to the nearly 80 million birds killed by cars each year in the US. Swallows in the state of Nebraska, however, appear to be getting wise to the ways of the highway – or at least their genes are.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska have been collecting swallow bodies along several highways for the last thirty years. Not only have the total number of fatalities decreased over this time, but the wing length of the birds has also been decreasing. The swallows, it seems, are evolving to become more nimble. Shorter wings makes it easier to take off vertically or to quickly maneuver around vehicles. Time to add “vehicular selection” to the sub-categories of “natural” selection.
Psychiatrist Jeffrey P. Kahn believes that beer, far from being an agent of chaos, is what gave our ancestors modern civilization. Beer, he writes, triggered our leap from rule-bound hunter-gathers into the creative, complex societies we’ve been for the last 10,000 years. There’s certainly evidence to back up his claims. Grain may have been domesticated to satisfy our craving for alcohol rather than for bread. In fact, brewing does appear to predate baking by 3,000 years. There’s no doubt that dense towns and cities flourished on fermented beverages when plain water was too dangerous to drink. And, as Guinness likes to point out, beer has certain nutritional benefits, not to mention that it’s high in calories.
Kahn’s argument, however, extends far deeper than beer ‘s early role as a safe drink and easy source of calories. What Kahn identifies as humanity’s five core social tendencies – codependence on our tribe members, hierarchy, responsibility, fear of offending others, and conveniently dying when we get too old to be of use – were vital but rigid. According to Kahn, humans needed booze to shake off these instinctual strictures in order to become more expressive, creative, and experimental. No beer, no art. No wine, no democracy. But is tipple really that vital, or is something deeper at play?
China’s biggest e-commerce website plans to virtually transform 1,500 vacant lots around the country into augmented reality supermarkets. It’s a cheap and near-instantaneous way to use dead space in cities. Each one of Yihaodian‘s AR supermarkets will take up 1,200 “real” square meters, and have about 1,000 products each. Customers will wander around using their smart phones as an interface to buy items, and get their purchases delivered at home.
Unlike Korea’s AR shopping on subway platforms, Yihaodian’s stores seem to require that shoppers go out of their way to look for items that could just as easily be purchased online. Because of this, we’re a little skeptical about the life of this idea beyond its novelty as a marketing stunt. To really draw the crowds to empty areas, AR pop-ups would have to offer something exclusive: products, art, or checkpoints in a city-wide game that sends people swarming over the streets to earn discounts.
Via Pop Up City
Along with drowning polar bears and melting glaciers, global warming is enacting another astonishing change on the arctic landscape. The vegetation at the earth’s northernmost latitudes now resembles that found 250 to 430 miles south. ”Ecologically off limits” only a few decades ago, an area the size of the continental United States is now green with new vegetation.
While the northwards march of lower-latitude ecosystems may seem great at first glance, it’s actually contributing to what’s called an amplified greenhouse effect. Darker forests absorb more energy from the sun than white snow, while the melting of the permafrost releases methane and CO2, two major greenhouse gases. Good news for anyone looking to invest in Arctic farmland, bad news for everyone else.
Courtesy of our friends at the Ja Natuurlijk exhibition in The Hague, we are happy to offer a new book in the Next Nature store: Yes Naturally: How Art Saves the World. Yes Naturally sets out to explore what is “natural”, and who or what gets to define what is natural and what is not. With essays and artworks that offer new insights into the relationshop with between humans and the environment, Yes Naturally is an excellent addition to any next natural library.
The exhibition runs until August 2013. We’ve very happy that our controversial Rayfish Footwear shoes were selected as part of the catalog.
Vast and sparsely populated, the rangeland in the western US is managed on horseback, on ATVs, and with thousands of miles of barbed wire fencing. Fencing is both a vital and imperfect technology. In the arid regions that stretch from Texas to Idaho, grass that is thick and green one week might be dust and tumbleweeds the next. Patches of poisonous plants come and go. Endangered birds might nest along a lush river for only a few weeks out of the year.
Put into widespread use in the late 1870s, the barbed wire fence destroyed one quintessentially American “technology” – that of the cowboy. It may now be time for a new technology to usurp the reign of barbed wire. Using GPS and a “bovine interface”, Dean M. Anderson, a scientist at the US Department of Agriculture, is hoping to transform the way we manage cattle, and by extension, the entire ecology of the American West.
One of the many arguments for high-wattage storefronts, streets and parking lots is that bright lights deter crime. Since neighborhood thugs lurk in the shadows, the reasoning goes, it’s best to make sure there are no shadows at all. This commonsense conclusion has been called into doubt by findings that show no correlation between crime levels and lighting.
So why is this finding great news? It gives us all an excuse to turn off the lights. Artificial lighting at night wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythms, leaving us at risk for obesity, depression, even cancer. It’s also bad for wildlife, from birds to turtles and flying insects. Light pollution is even unhealthy for our sense of awe: Eight in ten kids born in the United States today will never see the Milky Way outside of a planetarium.
The end of bright, pushy electric lights might also make way for more humane nighttime lighting. Imagine navigating canals by bioluminescent bacteria, or walking down side streets illuminated with gentle bacterial glow. Or, just plant the whole city with rows of bioluminescent trees.
A new study from the marine conservation group Oceana reveals that a full one-third of seafood across the US is mislabeled. Not surprisingly, the most expensive fish is also the most lied-about. Tuna was anything but tuna 57% of the time, while red snapper was another species in a whopping 87% of all cases. While cheaper, harmless species like tilapia are often substituted for the real deal, there’s at least one health threat on record: “White tuna” might actually be escolar, a tasty fish that nonetheless causes oily, explosive diarrhea.
As with the horse meat scandal, it’s astonishing how few consumers can tell the difference between species the we assume to be wildly different. It all comes down to marketing that treats fish like brands – just as that Nike swoosh is more important than the shoe itself, the words “bluefin tuna” matter far more than the actual taste.
Image from Flickr user Whologwhy.
Over at the New York Times, a recent article exposes the clever and surprisingly immoral ways the food industry manufactures foods to rival hard drugs for their addictive potential. Well worth the read, the article discusses “designer sodium”, the genesis of the ideal kid’s lunch, and the search for the morphine-like “bliss point” in soda. One scientist’s description of Cheetos, in particular, highlighted the extraordinary detail that goes into what we see as a normal, familiar food:
“This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”
Nearly all widely available foods, from Cutie clementines to the dozens of Pringles flavors, have been exquisitely manufactured to appeal to our primal need for salt, fat and sugar, and for our just-as-ancient yearning to get the most calories for the least amount of labor. We’re all hungry and lazy. Anyone looking to introduce new and untested food – in-vitro meat, for instance – would do well to remember that food science has already perfected the art of hooking consumers on whatever they care to feed us.
Photo via Flickr user Bunches and Bits.