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Bird of the Day: Boat-billed Kingfisher (Tawau Hills Park, Borneo)

December 21, 2014

Boat-billed kingfisher bySophie Orzechowski - RAXA Collective

Costa Rican Wildlife Saving Under-vacationed Americans

December 21, 2014

We have many connections with Costa Rica at Raxa Collective, but especially after the inclusion of Xandari in our network. So we were happy to hear that, facilitated by Costa Rica’s Tourism Institute (ICT), the country’s animals have gotten together to try to save overworked Americans by offering them natural habitat and a stress-free paradise to escape to. Or at least that’s what the Save the Americans website declares after you watch the video embedded above. Spinning off statistics like “Americans leave 500,000,000 vacation days unused,” “1 in 4 Americans get no paid vacation,” and “59% of Americans feel vacation deprived,” the initiative’s true purpose is to advertise and inform American travelers about the opportunities for different vacation experiences in Costa Rica.

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Electric Eels Can Paralyze Prey

December 21, 2014

Photo via National Geographic

We’ve seen eel art before, but actually don’t know much about these fish or their biology. Electric eels are even more fascinating for obvious reasons, but of course are also that much more mysterious to us. National Geographic science writer Ed Yong fills us in with the help of Vanderbilt University biologist Ken Catania below:

A fish swims in the Amazon, amid murky water and overgrown vegetation. It is concealed, but it’s not safe. Suddenly, two rapid bursts of electricity course through the water, activating the neurons that control the fish’s muscles. It twitches, giving away its position, and dooming itself. Now, it gets zapped by a continuous volley of electric pulses. All its muscles contract and its body stiffens. It can’t escape; it can’t even move. Its attacker—an electric eel—moves in for the kill.

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Bird of the Day: Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Playa Esterillos, Costa Rica)

December 20, 2014

Cornell’s Nanoscale Carbon-scrubbing Sponges

December 20, 2014

© Provided/Genggeng Qi – A scanning electron microscopy image of a pristine silica support, before the amine is added.

We’ve had posts on this blog about carbon output by consumer technology, motor vehicles, and food. We’ve also posted, including quite recently, on carbon storage, often in forests. Less numerous are our posts on carbon output by power plants, probably because good news on technological advances in the field is infrequent (at least relative to the bad news). But scientists at Cornell have recently developed a nanoscale scaffold of silica that comes in the form of powder and could replace the current method of carbon capture called amine scrubbing. Anne Ju reports for the Cornell Chronicle below:

In the fight against global warming, carbon capture – chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it releases into the atmosphere – is gaining momentum, but standard methods are plagued by toxicity, corrosiveness and inefficiency. Using a bag of chemistry tricks, Cornell materials scientists have invented low-toxicity, highly effective carbon-trapping “sponges” that could lead to increased use of the technology.

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Librarians Fortify The Front Line

December 20, 2014

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Books we love, war not so much. The story told in this book is about books, about librarians, publishers and common folk who believe in books. And who believe that books are important for fortifying people who need heroic capacities.

In an interview with the author, we see publishers and their town square counterparts, librarians, in a light we had not been aware of, showing their contribution to community at a critical moment in history:

…Over the next few years, millions of Americans would leave home to fight in Europe and the Pacific. They had few comforts and little in the way of escape or entertainment — at least not until American publishers got involved.

A soldier reads an Armed Services Edition in monsoon conditions during World War II. Australian War Memorial/Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A soldier reads an Armed Services Edition in monsoon conditions during World War II. Australian War Memorial/Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

“During World War II, American publishers wanted to support the troops,” author Molly Guptill Manning tells NPR’s Renee Montagne. “And so they decided that the best they could do was print miniature paperback books that were small enough that they could fit in a pocket so the men could carry these books with them anywhere.”

Guptill Manning’s new book, When Books Went to War, is a history of these paperbacks, known as Armed Services Editions. They included all sorts of literature — from Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare to mysteries and Westerns — and were the culmination of earlier efforts on the part of American librarians to get usedbooks to servicemen with help from book drives. Well-intentioned though they were, the results of these book drives were mixed, turning up titles like How to Knit and Theology in 1870. So the focus switched to designing and printing books that soldiers actually wanted to read — no easy task since these Armed Services Editions had to be battlefield ready.

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Lady Mondegreen

December 20, 2014

Everyone has done it before, probably by accident or perhaps by malaprop. You’re singing along to a song you like, in the company of a friend, when suddenly they stop you and say, “Wait, what did you just say? You know that’s not the actual lyrics, right?” And you stare at them in disbelief and retort, “No, I think you’re wrong. Bob Marley clearly sings ‘three little birds sitting on my toaster.'”

“Not ‘toaster,'” your friend replies exasperatedly, “why would Bob be talking about a toaster? He says ‘doorstep.‘” And you think about it for a second and then sheepishly come to the realization that your friend must be correct. If you had been talking about Bob Dylan, there might be no guessing what the actual lyrics are without an authoritative reference, but Bob Marley is a lot more straightforward. It turns out that the misinterpretation of lyrics due to a failure to hear the words in a song correctly has a name, coined in the 1950s. One of our go-to contributors for the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova, writes this week about the phenomenon, and you can read some excerpts of her piece below. But before you do so, you might want to listen to pop/country singer/celebrity Taylor Swift, who has a song in her new album 1989 that has elicited many a case of mondegreen during one line in the chorus. It is called “Blank Space,” (you may have heard it on the radio a dozen times already) and to find the mondegreen, you simply have to be primed to hear the word “Starbucks.” Actually, the mondegreen potential is so severe that articles have been written online about it, indicating that you don’t really need to be primed at all.

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