When Silence Is Golden


It is not a principle of branding, per se, that silence is golden; just the opposite normally, since getting the message out is the point, and messages seem defined by noise, however subtle or clever. But Finland, by way of this article in Nautilus, has had me thinking, in the couple days since I read it, about alternative views on the value of silence, on messaging, on branding:

One icy night in March 2010, 100 marketing experts piled into the Sea Horse Restaurant in Helsinki, with the modest goal of making a remote and medium-sized country a world-famous tourist destination. The problem was that Finland was known as a rather quiet country, and since 2008, the Country Brand Delegation had been looking for a national brand that would make some noise.

Over drinks at the Sea Horse, the experts puzzled over the various strengths of their nation. Here was a country with exceptional teachers, an abundance of wild berries and mushrooms, and a vibrant cultural capital the size of Nashville, Tennessee. These things fell a bit short of a compelling national identity. Someone jokingly suggested that nudity could be named a national theme—it would emphasize the honesty of Finns. Someone else, less jokingly, proposed that perhaps quiet wasn’t such a bad thing. That got them thinking. Continue reading

Green Rooftops


Source Pinterest.com

According to the Population Reference Bureau, since 2008 more than half of the total global population lives in urban areas. What does this mean for farmers and the food industry? It means that as cities expand, farmland is receding farther away from the markets that supply the city consumers. In effect, the food has to travel longer distances, which increases their cost and environmental impact. However, there is good news for those with a green thumb (or pinky!) and creative mind (here are some examples we’ve written about previously). Continue reading

New Zealand Plans to Eliminate Invasive Mammals

Illustration of a Brown Kiwi chick. A History of the Birds of New Zealand. 2nd ed. by W.L. Buller (London, 1888). page 326 via WikiMedia Commons

It is not surprising that one of the nations that stands to lose the most from invasive mammals is also the first country in the world to announce its ambitious plan to remove them all by 2050, but the islands of New Zealand have a lot of work ahead of them to eradicate animals like rats, stoats, and possums – around nineteen and a half million US dollars worth of work, which will be the government investment in a new public-private joint venture called Predator Free New Zealand Limited . And now that deforestation has been controlled better, it’s time to protect the country’s wildlife another way. The kiwi illustrated above, for example, is one of five species in New Zealand, all of which are threatened or endangered, or critically endangered, thanks to predation by invasive mammals that the flightless birds can’t avoid.

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Slothy Sloths


Source news.wisc.edu

Sloths are my favorite arboreal folivore, which is just the short, scientific way of saying an animal that lives in trees and feeds only on leaves. Observing this placid-looking creature was and still is quite a novelty for visitors (and locals, like me) to Costa Rica given that its sluggish nature is uncommon for a arboreal vertebrate…and its adorable fuzziness is simply too cute not to stare at. To understand the rarity of this type of animal (arboreal folivores) better, a group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin traveled to Costa Rica and began to investigate the sloth’s adaptation to a slow lifestyle. Continue reading

Farm-to-Car Research by Ford Motor Co.

Photo of an agave plant by Stan Shebs via WikiMedia Commons

Plant-based plastics and the circular economy are both concepts that we like but have not seen enough of since their introduction into the discourse of sustainability and the collective fight against climate change. Below, Lauren Hepler from GreenBiz reports on Ford’s continued research in “farm-to-car” materials like soy-based foam and car parts reinforced by castor oil byproducts, rice husks, and other recycled waste, but we can’t forget that despite the carbon and petroleum saved by these changes, the use of gasoline as fuel is still the biggest problem:

With thick, spiky leaves that can grow up to 7 feet tall, so-called “blue agave” is a hearty plant that grows in high-altitude desert climates. The succulent’s claim to fame: being the essential ingredient in authentic Mexican tequila.

Luckily for distillers such as Jose Cuervo, agave grows well when cultivated in arid regions such as Southern Mexico. Still, with a processing volume of 200-300 tons per day, the company is often left with considerable waste from the 90-plus-pound plants — which is exactly what appealed to the company’s unlikely new business partner.

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Hydrogen Derived from Grass, Sunlight, and Nickel

A type of fescue grass in the UK, photo by T. Voekler via WikiMedia Commons

Another research university, another new chemical conversion. Yesterday we shared an innovative prototype system from Cornell to generate electricity, and today we learned via Eurekalert.org, “the global source for science news,” that hydrogen, a source of renewable energy, can be produced by the cellulose found in fescue grass during a chemical reaction with sunlight and a metal catalyst such as nickel, according to researchers from Cardiff University and Queen’s University in the UK:

It is the first time that this method has been demonstrated and could potentially lead to a sustainable way of producing hydrogen, which has enormous potential in the renewable energy industry due to its high energy content and the fact that it does not release toxic or greenhouse gases when it is burnt.

Co-author of the study Professor Michael Bowker, from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said: “This really is a green source of energy.”

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What’s the Longest Living Animal?

Some sea sponges can live for centuries, and are indeed animals. PHOTOGRAPH BY JAD DAVENPORT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

That’s a question National Geographic reader Mohamed Larbi Bahou asked the columnists of “Weird Animal Question of the Week,” and a question we hadn’t asked ourselves. Liz Langley answers Mohamed’s question – thanks to both of them for these interesting facts:

Some days it feels like it might be me.

Kidding aside, humans these days live pretty long lives: The average global life expectancy of someone born in 2015 is 71.4 years.

That’s not bad compared with some adult female mayflies, which live for under five minutes—just long enough to mate and lay eggs. Talk about speed dating.

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Cornell Research on Capturing Carbon to Generate Electricity

Architectures of metal/CO2 electrochemical cells as capture systems. (A) Secondary metal/CO2 electrochemical cell where CO2 is concentrated by recharging. (B) Primary metal/CO2 electrochemical cell where captured CO2 is concentrated or converted to Cn (n ≥ 2) valuable products. Image and caption from Science Advances, W.I. Al Sadat and L.A. Archer

Several of our contributors have a Cornell background, and this new technology that can convert carbon dioxide to electricity through a simple series of chemical reactions is the product of a couple researchers at the School of Chemistry and Biomolecular Engineers. Prachi Patel reports for Conservation Magazine:

A new technology offers a one-two punch against carbon pollution. Researchers have made an aluminum-based battery cell that captures carbon dioxide and simultaneously generates a large amount of electricity. That means a way to mitigate carbon emissions while meeting increasing demand for energy.

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Must-see Aerial Insectivores in the Greater Antilles: Part 3/5

Antillean Palm-Swifts in flight as well as entering and exiting nests located within the hanging fronds of palm trees, Jamaica. (photos by Justin Proctor)

This post is part of a series; visit Part 2 here.

Antillean Palm-Swift (Tachornis phoenicobia)

This is going to be the most noticeable and easy to identify swift out there. However, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a really good look at one right away. They are fast, and they are small. Luckily they are gregarious and colonial nesters, which means that you will usually come across them in large numbers as they forage or move into and out of their nests – which, amazingly, are a blend of saliva, plant fibers, and feathers attached to the undersides of dead, hanging palm fronds.

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UK Starbucks to Trial Actually Recyclable Cups

© frugalcup

It turns out that only one in four-hundred paper coffee cups are recycled in the UK; the rest of the 2.5 billion cups used every year are thrown in landfills or turned into greenhouse gases via incineration. The main problem, apart from people simply not throwing the cups in recycling bins, is the plastic lamination on the paper that makes the cups more waterproof. A new cup being released this week, made by a company called Frugalpac uses a thinner film that can be more easily removed to recycle the paper, which itself is less chemically treated than conventional cups.

Starbucks in the UK has announced that it will trial these more easily recycled cups, and hopefully they’ll stick with it. Rebecca Smithers writes for The Guardian:

The cups will feature in a forthcoming television investigation by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. For his next War on Waste documentary, which airs on BBC1 on 28 July, the chef and campaigner has challenged major coffee shop chains to explain why more cups are not recycled and consumers not given better information about environmentally friendly disposal. But Starbucks, one of the UK’s largest coffee chains, is set to be the first retailer to test the product, saying it will trial the Frugalpac cup in some branches.

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Pinocchio in the Forest


Source: BBC.com

Eccentric and alien-like creatures abound on Earth, but often times these species are found in very remote and small areas. The Ecuadorian horned anole, also known as the “Pinocchio lizard,” is a species that would likely appear in Discovery Channel’s TV series Life (if it has not done so already).  This curious lizard with a long, malleable nose was found in the Mindo cloud forests of Ecuador’s Pichincha Province in the 50’s. Aside from its peculiar nose, what makes the story more intriguing is that it ‘disappeared’ from human research world for almost 40 years until it was rediscovered by a group of birders (hurray birders!) in 2005. The purpose of the horn and how it moves are still a mystery, but Jason Goldman has written an article for the BBC Earth website that elucidates some of the rare reptile’s habits:

Lucas Bustamante carefully aims his laser pointer at a small branch some 50ft (15m) above the ground. The green spot of light is clearly visible, but I just cannot see the lizard he has spotted: just branches, leaves and moss.

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Honeyguide Relationship can Include Talking

Greater Honeyguide specimen used in Cornell’s Ornithology course (photo and handling by a teaching assistant)

When I took Cornell’s course in ornithology, we learned about all the bird families in the world to varying extent, often based on the number of species within each family or how interesting they were to our professor. One family that we did not cover with great depth, but which was considered a “cool” example of evolution that could either make for a fascinating science experiment or just good cocktail-party chatting––we were gently reminded that the latter shouldn’t always revolve around weird bird things––was Indicatoridae, or the honeyguides.

While not all members of this family are literally guides to honey, one species in particular, the Greater Honeyguide, is well known for actually showing (or indicating) the way to beehives, where humans can harvest honey and the birds can eat larvae and wax. In this week’s edition of Science, researchers from Cambridge University and University of Cape Town published a paper revealing that the wild birds can actually be better guides when they receive a certain signal from the human honey-hunters. Nicola Davis reports:  Continue reading

Ants & Agriculture


Tiny nurse ants tending to white ant larvae are dwarfed by the queen ant in the upper right. All the ants feed upon protein-rich food produced by a white-grey fungus that they cultivate underground. (Karolyn Darrow)

Thanks to the folks at Smithsonian for this one:

Were Ants the World’s First Farmers?

A new study shows that a group of ants have been conducting a subsistence type of farming since shortly after the dinosaurs died out

By Jackson Landers

Humans have been practicing agriculture for about 10,000 years. But the attine ants of South America (which include the well-known leafcutters) have us beat by a long way.

According to a new paper co-authored by entomologist Ted Schultz, curator of ants at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, attine ants, which farm on an industrial scale similar to humans, have been carefully cultivating gardens with a complex division of labor to grow an edible fungus. Schultz’s team found that the ants have been doing this far longer than previously believed—up to 65 million years—and that we have much to learn from them. Continue reading

Library Law’s Legacy


The National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague. Credit Pavel Horejsi for The New York Times

If you search this site for topics written about frequently, library might be among the top 10 topics, for reasons that many of those earlier posts would make clear. Today, a lovely short item from Eastern Europe, that makes us wonder:

Why Libraries Are Everywhere in the Czech Republic


PRAGUE — In the age of Amazon and the internet, the idea of going to a public library to borrow a book may seem ever more quaint and old-fashioned in many parts of the world, but one country, at least, is clinging to it tenaciously: the Czech Republic. Continue reading