February 25, 2013 1:49 pm
Over the weekend, a mural thought to be painted by famed street artist Banksy—who Smithsonian Magazine profiled recently—was set to go up for auction, expected to fetch a price between $500,000 and $700,000. The mural, says Reuters “was painted on a building occupied by Poundland Stores, a British retailer that sells various items for only a pound,” in a North London neighborhood.
The work, titled “Banksy: Slave Labour,” shows a young boy kneeling at a sewing machine with Union Jack bunting.
The mural appeared in 2012 during Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrating her 60th year on the throne. The Poundland chain was a focal point of controversy in 2010 because of allegations it sold goods made by Indian children as young as 7.
Though Saturday’s auction was to include two Banksy pieces, both were pulled at the last minute amidst public controversy. The whole spectacle, says PetaPixel, raises interesting questions over the ownership of public art.
The auction house, reports the BBC, “says that it was acquired legally, and it will be sold legally.” Frederic Thut, the owner of the auction house, told the BBC that “the work was painted on the private wall, and the owner of a private wall can do whatever he wants with his own wall.”
If the Banksy sale does go through and end up fetching a sizable figure, we may soon find many other examples of famous street art installations being ripped out of their original “canvases” and sold to private art collectors.
In this instance, however, says the Associated Press, the local council “will now try to bring the artwork back to the community.”
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February 22, 2013 2:12 pm
From anxiety medication to birth control, pain killers, nutrient supplements and blood thinners, the remains of what we put into our bodies pass through the other end, off to the waste control centers that need to deal with our mess. Getting pharmaceutical leftovers out of the water so that it can be safely passed back into the environment is a costly and tricky task, and conventional waste water treatment techniques aren’t up to the task.
The introduction of drug remnants to the environment has even been found to affect the behavior of fish, says Smithsonian‘s Surprising Science blog:
Over the past decade, researchers have repeatedly discovered high levels of many drug molecules in lakes and streams near wastewater treatment plants, and found evidence that rainbow trout and other fish subjected to these levels could absorb dangerous amounts of the medications over time. Now, a study published today in Science finds a link between behavior-modifying drugs and the actual behavior of fish for the first time. A group of researchers from Umeå University in Sweden found that levels of the anti-anxiety drug oxazepam commonly found in Swedish streams cause wild perch to act differently, becoming more anti-social, eating faster and showing less fear of unknown parts of their environment.
The way to stamp down on any possible ecological effects of accidentally medicating the world’s waterways, they suggest, is to devise technologies to skim them out. Scientists are trying to do this, through reverse osmosis and ozone treatment, says science journalist Jill Adams for Ensia, but it’s really expensive.
An affordable and environmentally friendly alternate path to getting pharmaceutical waste out of the water, says Adams, can be found in a fifty-year-old approach—one that’s been on display for more than a decade at a small wastewater treatment plant in western New York. In the village of Minoa, she says, sits “a weedy lot measuring 100 by 200 feet.”
Beneath plants and rocks, an artificial wetland, brimming with bacteria, “hold[s] the ability to do what few other water treatment systems can: remove pharmaceuticals, environmental pollutants of increasing concern in wastewater streams around the world. Fill this well with up to 130,000 gallons of drug-laced water and the next day it will come out clean enough to put into a nearby stream.”
The 18-year-old constructed wetland may seem simple, but there’s a lot of science and hard-earned experience behind the drug-removal process. Bacteria living in the wetland do the muscle work of breaking down organic compounds, and different species have different specialties, says Chris Nomura, a biochemist at SUNY-ESF.
The artificial wetland costs less than traditional wastewater treatment equipment, and “has almost no operational costs, Doelle says — no chemicals and no electricity.”
On the flip side, it takes a lot of land and can’t process waste nearly as quickly as a regular plant.
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February 13, 2013 9:05 am
That dreaded phrase of signal-searching—”Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?”—threatens to invade U.S. national parks, which are one of the last places still off the digital grid. Under pressure from telecommunication companies and disgruntled visitors, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks announced plans to consider network coverage, Reuters reports. And no doubt, other parks will follow if Yellowstone and Glacier opt to forge ahead with digitizing. Reuters:
That prospect has given pause to a more traditional cohort of park visitors who cherish the unplugged tranquility of the great outdoors, fearing an intrusion of mobile phones – and the sound of idle chatter – will diminish their experience.
But the world, some point out, has changed. Technology is part of daily life, and future visitors may be deterred from paying homage to the country’s wilderness if cell phones and email cannot be a part of that experience.
The agency’s mission statement requires it to protect park resources and the visitor experience, but each individual experience is unique, said Lee Dickinson, a special-uses program manager for the Park Service.
“I’ve had two visitors calling me literally within hours of each other who wanted exactly the opposite experience: One saying he didn’t vacation anywhere without electronic access and the other complaining he was disturbed by another park visitor ordering pizza on his cell phone,” Dickinson said.
The decision to offer cell service is up to each of the system’s 300 individual parks, monuments and other sites under the National Park Service’s purview. Verizon argues that a proposed 100-foot tall cell phone tower in Yellowstone would be an asset for visitor safety by providing them means of reaching out for help in an emergency. Verizon also points out that cell phone apps can enhance experiences by providing maps, plant and animal guides and the ability to instantaneously share memorable moments with others.
Members of the opposite camp argue that others yammering or fidgeting with phones would be annoying, and that cell phones may give backcountry adventurers a false sense of safety in the wilderness that may lead to reckless behaviors.
The problem is that some people don’t appreciate the difference between a national park and a theme park. It’s one thing to use your cellphone to warn your pals that the line at Space Mountain is two hours long. It’s another thing entirely to tweet the coordinates of a baby moose sighting.
People who can’t live without their cellphones aren’t just the wrong demographic for Yellowstone. They’re the very demographic the rest of us go to Yellowstone to escape. Let’s not encourage them. The call of the wild doesn’t need a ring tone.
But really it seems only a matter of time before networks are welcomed to the parks. Yellowstone, for example, already offers limited coverage in select areas, and park officials there say they regularly field complaints from many of their 3 million annual visitors who find the lack of coverage disconcerting.
Those left behind may also benefit from coverage, according to Reuters.
Park spokesman Al Nash said he routinely fields calls from anxious relatives of Yellowstone visitors unable to contact their loved ones.
“They say, ‘My gosh, my niece, daughter or parents went to Yellowstone, and we haven’t heard from them for three days,’” he said.
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February 11, 2013 10:57 am
Hey, you, reading this on the computer screen, you’re hurting your eyes. In fact, just by being inside all the time, you might be helping to create a population full of nearsighted people. The rate of nearsightedness has increased constantly in the past decades, Science News writes, and it might be because we’re always indoors:
Studies first uncovered a link between myopia and limited outdoor time during childhood just a few years ago. At the time, many researchers were taken aback. The notion that child’s play might promote normal eye growth seemed almost magical.
Eyeballs, which develop mostly in infancy, with some changes continuing through adolescence, can be all sorts of shapes. People with myopia have eyeballs that are slightly longer, which keeps images from being focused neatly on their retinas. To a certain extent, nearsightedness is genetic, but kids who stay inside a lot also might wind up with longer eyeballs, since they never have to look out into the distance. One study found just that—kids who spent more time indoors were more likely to become nearsighted during elementary school than those who played outside.
It’s not actually clear, though, that playing outside can help stop nearsightedness, says Jeremy Guggenheim, an optometrist who talked to Science News about myopia:
It’s tantalizing to think that time spent outdoors early in life might fend off the need for eyeglasses, contact lenses or laser surgery in many people. But, Guggenheim notes, it is not yet clear to what extent outdoor exposure can cut risk or how it does so. Some scientists say the benefit could come from exposure to natural light, a relaxation of the eye gained from viewing things at a distance or the visual tableau that reaches the eyes’ peripheries while outdoors. Or it could be a mix of all those factors.
As with basically everything ever, there’s probably no single cause for nearsightedness. Genetics, environment and habits all have something to do with it. That means that fixing myopia isn’t easy, especially as, Science News points out, most eye doctors don’t see kids until an eye test at school reveals a problem. At that point, more time outdoors won’t necessarily help them.
And kids are often getting really important benefits, like school or safe playtime with friends, out of their inside time. No one is saying children should be released onto the world to roam about like feral cats for the sake of their eyesight. But if they do wind up needing glasses in the future, all those minutes at the computer might have had something to do with it.
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February 4, 2013 2:51 pm
With 13:22 left to play in the third quarter of last nights Super Bowl, about half of the lights in the stadium went out. Confusion ensued, along with anger and frustration from the Ravens, whose momentum was noticeably halted when play resumed. But what actually caused the power outage in the 73,000 seat Super Dome? Well, it’s unclear.
CBS News says that “officials revealed that an ‘abnormality’ in the power system triggered an automatic shutdown, forcing backup systems to kick in. But they weren’t sure what caused the initial problem.”
And it wasn’t just the lights that dropped out. Escalators in the stadiums stopped working, credit card machines dropped, and communication between coaching staffs, powered by radio, stopped working.
The company that provides power to the stadium, Entergy New Orleans, said in a statement that their feeders were working just fine, but that their system, which is set up to detect some sort of abnormality, automatically shut down. The best information right now has it that the problem “appeared to originate where Entergy’s line and the Dome’s electrical system meet.”
The Atlantic says that the blackout shouldn’t really be a surprise. There are lots of reasons why a Super Bowl might overload a stadium’s electrical capacity:
Here’s the thing: NFL football games drink up a lot of electricity, and blackouts during games are not unheard of. Just two years ago, a game between the 49ers and the Steelers was delayed twice due to power outages, after a transformer exploded just outside of the stadium. It sounds like that there was a similar overload at the Superdome this year. “This is a situation totally out of our control. We have been told that there was a blown transformer,” said presenter Mike Chapman. “The safety lights are on but our cameras are now up and running again.” A few minutes later, the lights flickered back on, and the teams started getting ready to start the game. More details trickled in that suggested it was indeed an “outside power surge“ that caused the power outage. By the time game play started over half an hour after half the Superdome went out, it remained unclear what caused the surge. It could’ve been lightning, but again, the weather was nice in New Orleans. More likely, is that the many very high-power electrical devices in the stadium switched on or off, sending a surge of electricity through the wires, overloading a circuit or exploding a transformer. The compressor of the Superdome’s climate control system or Beyoncé’s light-heavy halftime show, for instance, could cause such a surge.
Some businesses cashed in on the darkness, taking the opportunity to advertise their products further. Like Oreo, who Tweeted a picture of a cookie saying “you can still dunk in the dark.” Here’s NPR on the markting move:
New Orleans, once a frequent Super Bowl host, had a lot riding on the logistical success of this game. ESPN writes:
New Orleans was once a regular in the Super Bowl rotation and hopes to regain that status. Earlier in the week, the host committee announced it will bid on the 2018 Super Bowl, which would coincide with the 300th anniversary of the city’s founding.
The 38-year-old Superdome has undergone $336 million in renovations since Katrina ripped its roof in 2005. Billions have been spent sprucing up downtown, the airport, French Quarter and other areas of the city in the past seven years.
Since the 49ers’ come-back flagged and the Ravens still won out, this won’t be remembered as the infrastructure problem that swung a Super Bowl. And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has already said the outage won’t hurt the city’s chances when it bids for the 2018 game. But if the city does host another big game that year, officials will certainly want to take extra measure to ensure that New Orleans doesn’t become the city that can’t make it through a Super Bowl without blacking out.
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