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The Tradition of a Most Dangerous Game

July 8, 2015

The Calcio Storico is an ancient form of football from 16th century Italy, which originated from the ancient Roman ‘harpastum’, and is played in teams of 27, using both feet and hands. Sucker-punches and kicks to the head are prohibited but headbutting, punching, elbowing, and choking are all allowed

Welcome to Calcio Storico, a centuries-old competition in Florence with very few rules and the sort of human wreckage generally associated with the gladiators. Dating back to 16th century Italy, today’s calcio storico (see photos from The Guardian here), or historic soccer, may be both the most violent form of soccer in the world. It is played only in Florence, Italy, where four 27-man teams representing four historic Florentine neighborhoods—Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito, and San Giovanni—face off to beat each other to a pulp, every June. Kicks to the head are forbidden. So are fights of two or more against one. Everything else goes, making the goal of moving a leather ball from one end of the field to another seem like a side note to the bloody proceedings.

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Big Fish, Small Fish

July 8, 2015
Encouraging consumers to eat fish such as herring, mackerel, and butterfish might, ironically enough, be the best way to save those species. PHOTO: Nutritional Thinking

Encouraging consumers to eat fish such as herring, mackerel, and butterfish might, ironically enough, be the best way to save those species. PHOTO: Nutritional Thinking

From the beginning of time and until relatively recently, little fish had only big fish to fear. Since the middle of the twentieth century, however, some little fish—forage fish, to be precise—have faced radically increased threats from humans, and, by extension, from the pigs and chickens that the fish are increasingly being fed to. Forage fish are now threatened worldwide, which has potentially troubling implications for the entire food chain. In conservation circles, the suggestion lately is that encouraging consumers to eat small fish might, ironically enough, be the best way to save them.

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Bird of the Day: Crested Kingfisher (Mandal, Uttarakhand)

July 7, 2015

Making Solar Follow Through

July 7, 2015
Part of a completed solar project on an old golf course in the Miyazaki prefecture. (Kyocera)

Part of a completed solar project on an old golf course in the Miyazaki prefecture. (Kyocera)

In Japan, country club memberships famously went for millions of dollars in the late 1980s. Then, too many courses were built in 1990s and 2000s during a real estate boom. Now the nation faces the question of what to do with its abandoned golf courses. Meanwhile, Japan’s energy strategy in the aftermath of Fukushima calls for roughly doubling the amount of renewable power sources in the country by 2030. It is already building solar power plants that float on water. Perhaps inevitably, then, the nation has turned to building solar plants on old golf courses.

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A Scooter That Charges Faster Than Your Phone

July 7, 2015
Ather Energy's e-scooter - S340 - is powered by a battery that charges within an hour

Ather Energy’s e-scooter – S340 – is powered by a battery that charges within an hour

India is the world’s second largest market for two-wheelers, and more than 14 million two-wheelers were sold last year. But electric scooters, so far, aren’t too big a part of that pie. When electric two-wheelers were first introduced nearly a decade ago, companies were betting big. They had a brief honeymoon period between 2008 and 2010, with sales more than doubling during that time. But all that dwindled once the government slashed its Rs22,000 ($346) subsidy for lithium battery packs in 2012. From selling 100,000 units two years ago, sales plunged to 21,000 units by 2014. But Ather Energy is bent on revising the trend.

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Bird of the Day: Juvenile White Ibises in Flight (Pinckney Island NWR, South Carolina)

July 6, 2015

Travel Made Easy Through Air

July 6, 2015
An upcoming aerial ropeway might be the solution to Kolkata's traffic congestion issues

An upcoming aerial ropeway might be the solution to Kolkata’s traffic congestion issues

No, we are not talking flying here. But the Curvo, the world’s first non-linear aerial ropeway for second tier urban commutation. Pollution and traffic-free, the service, operational on electricity, would be on steel frames spreading at a distance of around 90-100 m running through the existing arterial and other roads to avoid congested streets of the city. There will be elevated stops at every distance of 750 m and the cars would be able to gain speed of about 4.25 m per second (12.5 km/hour) with the ability to carry an estimated 2,000 people every hour. Curvo is expected to be introduced in 18-24 months. The cabins will have an accommodation capacity of 8-10 persons.

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Can GPS Be Replaced?

July 6, 2015
A new geolocation system is helping people get around in places where the streets have no name. PHOTO: Mapcode

A new geolocation system is helping people get around in places where the streets have no name. PHOTO: Mapcode

Rely on numbers to get around the neighbourhood? Then this one’s for you. A nonprofit called the Mapcode Foundation, has designed a system that assigns a unique and easily remembered address to any spot on the planet, without reference to landmarks or street names. Mapcodes consist of between four and nine digits and letters, which correspond to a five-square-metre patch on land or sea. Vowels have been eliminated from the system—so that mapcodes would not look like words, and because “O”s and “I”s cause confusion—but the remaining Latin consonants can be replaced with characters from the alphabets of most major languages. And the addresses are largely sequential: take a few steps in any direction and you’re in another square with a similar mapcode.

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Bird of the Day: Warbling Vireo (Herman, Nebraska)

July 5, 2015

There, There, the Insects Feel You

July 5, 2015
Are insects conscious beings, asks a new study. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Are insects conscious beings, asks a new study. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A recent survey suggests that, for most of us who have ever had a pet companion, it’s a no-brainer that mammals and birds are emotional creatures, sharing emotions with multiple species and not just their own. Yet despite the thousands of YouTube videos and hundreds of recent scientific studies presenting easily accessible evidence and examples, not everyone thinks so. It was only in 2012 that scientists finally agreed that nonhuman animals are conscious beings. It has only just been discovered that dogs display immensely complex, human-like emotions like jealousy, and that cows express positive emotions through the whites of their eyes. But what about insects?

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What’s the Real Price of Fish?

July 5, 2015
In 2010, environmental NGO Oceana ordered studies of fish in 14 major metropolitan areas and found that roughly one third of the fish found in restaurants and markets was mislabeled . PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, environmental NGO Oceana ordered studies of fish in 14 major metropolitan areas and found that roughly one third of the fish found in restaurants and markets was mislabeled . PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The efforts of the government to regulate Big Fishing and all its known and unknown evils often have the adverse effect of undercutting people for whom the ocean is something more than mere industry. The realities on the docks aren’t always as legislators understand them, says this first installment of the Medium‘s  inaugural episode of Food Crimes: The Hunt For Illegal Seafood.

The United States imported as much as 90 percent of its fish in 2013, up from 54 percent in 1995, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In fact, the United States has tripled the dollar amount of fish it imports, to more than 5 billion pounds of fish worth $18 billion. Couple these figures with the staggering estimate that between one quarter and one third of all fish sold in the United States is illegal, and you’re an equation or so away from going vegan.

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Bird of the Day: Striated Laughingthrush (Bhimtal, Uttarakhand)

July 4, 2015

Striated Laughing Thrush by Dr. Eash Hoskhote - RAXA Collective

Dear Cocoa

July 4, 2015
The world is running out of cocoa farmers. Younger generations no longer want to be in cocoa. Older generations are reaching their life expectancy. PHOTO: Herbcraft

The world is running out of cocoa farmers. Younger generations no longer want to be in cocoa. Older generations are reaching their life expectancy. PHOTO: Herbcraft

Think comfort food, think chocolate. Much has been written and debated about cocoa’s health properties. Many are the ones who swear by the uplifting power of cocoa at the end of forgettable days. But the ones who grow the beans hardly find any comfort in them, says the Cocoa Barometer. Some of them haven’t even tasted chocolate. Cocoa continues to be among the few crops that are hand-harvested but it doesn’t hand its cultivators a fair deal, says research.

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Goodbye Styrofoam

July 4, 2015

Dunkin’ Donuts is debuting a new cup made of polypropylene, and is slowly being rolled out in New York city’s more than 500 stores. PHOTO: New York Daily News

The city still runs on Dunkin’, just a little bit differently now. Dunkin’ Donuts is debuting an eco-friendly coffee cup in New York that will keep their steamy java hot, but won’t violate the Styrofoam ban that took effect on July 1. The new cup is made of polypropylene and is slowly being rolled out in the city’s more than 500 stores. It features a slimmer-looking design and — unlike the old containers — can be recycled in the city’s system with plastics.

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Bird of the Day: Ring-tailed Pigeon (Cockpit Country, Jamaica)

July 3, 2015

For the Love of the Beautiful Game

July 3, 2015
Even in late June, ice clotted Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit, where teams from across Nunavut met to compete in a soccer tournament.PHOTO: Ian Willms for The New York Times

Even in late June, ice clotted Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit, where teams from across Nunavut met to compete in a soccer tournament.PHOTO: Ian Willms for The New York Times

Sports, like most aspects of life, are not easy in the Canadian Arctic. But a major youth tournament recently revealed soccer’s importance to the area. Sports, like everything in the Arctic, demand constant, patient improvisation. Nunavut makes up about 20 percent of Canada’s land mass and is more than twice the size of Texas, but it has only an estimated 36,000 inhabitants, predominantly Inuit. There are no roads connecting the 25 communities in this vast territory. Every trip requires a snowmobile, a dogsled, an all-terrain vehicle, a boat or an airplane. Contingencies must be made for immense distance, mercurial weather, extravagant costs and geographic paradox. Soccer is best played on plush grass, but nearly all of Nunavut is tundra. So the sport has adapted.

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Cycling’s Best Week Is Here

July 3, 2015
Associated Press' photographer, Laurent Cipriani, shifts the focus from cyclists of Tour de France to bystanders in his series titled 'Along the Road'

Associated Press’ photographer, Laurent Cipriani, shifts the focus from cyclists of Tour de France to bystanders in his series titled ‘Along the Road’

Welcome to the best three weeks in professional cycling. The Tour de France is the world’s most popular and grueling cycling race. It is a 23-day journey throughout France — and occasionally other European countries — comprising 21 stages, and the route is different every year. The first edition of the Tour was in 1903. The 2015 edition of the Tour will run July 4-26, beginning in Utrecht, Netherlands and ending on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

If photographing the Tour de France doesn’t sound difficult enough, imagine doing it while riding on the back of a motorbike travelling up to 60 miles per hour. Laurent Cipriani has been doing that for the Associated Press since 2011, part of a team of photographers, editors, and drivers—what he refers to as “a travelling theater.” While Cipriani’s focus is on the cyclists, what initially made an impression on him was the amount of people lined up along the streets watching the race.

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Bird of the Day: Green Heron (Pinckney Island NWR, South Carolina)

July 2, 2015

The Incas and their Hand-built Roads

July 2, 2015
An exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian concludes that the ancient Incas were great environmentalists. PHOTO: BBC

An exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian concludes that the ancient Incas were great environmentalists. PHOTO: BBC

The Inca Road is one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering in the world. By the 16th Century it had helped transform a tiny kingdom into the largest empire in the Western hemisphere. And to the envy of modern engineers, substantial parts of the 24,000-mile (39,000-km) network survive today, linking hundreds of communities throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Incredibly, it was constructed entirely by hand, without iron or wheeled transportation. A new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC shows why the Incan kingdom built a lasting infrastructure.

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Repel, Trap and Steer Light

July 2, 2015
Photonic crystals can manipulate light in the same way that a semiconductor like silicon can steer electrical current. PHOT: Eli Nablonovich

Photonic crystals can manipulate light in the same way that a semiconductor like silicon can steer electrical current. PHOTO: Eli Nablonovich

The US physicist who first discovered “photonic crystals” which can repel, trap and steer light is to receive the Newton Medal, the BBC has revealed. This is the highest honor given by the Institute of Physics in London. Prof Eli Yablonovitch of the University of California, Berkeley, proposed and created the crystals in the 1980s.  Photonic crystals are periodic dielectric structures that have a band gap that forbids propagation of a certain frequency range of light. This property enables one to control light with amazing facility and produce effects that are impossible with conventional optics. Butterfly wings and the colorful plumage of peacocks and some parrots all contain examples, which were only understood after Yablonovitch and his fellow physicists fully described photonic crystals in the 1980s.Even the chameleon was recently shown to produce – and control – its color using the shape of photonic crystals.

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