Author: Allison Guy

european green crab restores salt marshes
Anthropocene

Invasive Crab Restores Damaged Habitat

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.

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akeley hall of african mammals
Fake-for-Real

More than Fake Nature: The Surprising Sociology of Museum Taxidermy

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:

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Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 12.31.26 PM
Anthropocene

Cliff Swallows Are Evolving to Avoid Cars

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…

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early egyptians brewing beer
Augmented-Bodies

Did Booze Make Us Modern?

Psychiatrist Jeffrey P. Kahn believes that beer, far from being an agent of late-night chaos and early morning regrets, is what gave our ancestors modern civilization. Beer, he writes, triggered the leap from rule-bound hunter-gather groups into the creative, complex societies we’ve been enjoying for the last 10,000 years. Is there some truth in this statement, or is it no more solid than a foamy head of ale?

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cow fitted with GPS device to control its behavior
Anthropocene

Bye Bye Barbed Wire: Cow-Mounted GPS Will Enable “Virtual Fencing”

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.

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chips
Food Technology

How Food Scientists Engineer the “Bliss Point” in Junk Food

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.” Read more

retouching models to make them appear fatter
Anthropomorphobia

Reverse Retouching: Fattening Up Too-Thin Models

In a darkly ironic reversal of its normal role, Photoshop is now being deployed to make models look more fleshy than they actually are. In part spurred on by the impossible beauty standards that Photoshop has made commonplace, models have become so adept at self-starvation that magazine editors have to use software to make them look healthier.

Former Cosmo editor Leah Hardy recently described the “reverse-retouching” that occurred under her tenure:

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egyptian-mummy-x-ray2
Augmented Bodies

Did Forks Really Give Modern Humans an Overbite?

The food writer Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork, has put forth a surprising theory about forks and teeth that has received widespread online coverage. According to Wilson, humans had an ape-like bite until relatively recently, with our top and bottom incisors aligned along their edges. With the invention of the fork around 250 years ago, our teeth abruptly switched to the overbite that is common to nearly every human today.

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moss table creates electricity
Bionics

Moss Table Powers Its Own Lamp

When moss photosynthesize, they release nutritious fats, carbs and proteins into their roots to feed colonies of helpful, symbiotic bacteria. In the process of breaking down these compounds, the bacteria release electrons.…

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