Category Archives: How To

A beginner’s guide to naming species in Latin

Every living thing on earth needs a name to identify it. There are many common names for animals (almost a different in every language) so that gets confusing quickly. For example, the house sparrow is called Haussperling, Town sparrow, Huismossie, Domovoy Vorobey, 家麻雀, Gorrión común, and so on. The Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus solved this problem in 1753 by creating a universal code to identify any species.

This code is called binomial nomenclature because it has two parts. The first word is the genus which identifies a group of closely related species, the second word is to distinguish a particular species. This combination is unique for each living organism. Latin was the language of science in Europe at the time, which is why most of the words are Latin (though Greek is also used). The species name is always italicized when it appears in text. The genus name is capitalized while the species name isn’t. For example, the human species is called Homo sapiens.

Carl Linnaeus invented the naming system for species that we use today. Image credits: Nationalmuseum press photo.

The endings for the names are specific to gender, for example –us is masculine, -a is feminine, and –um is neutral. The suffix –is can be masculine or feminine and –e is neutral. Endings might vary around a core word. Therefore, actual species names may be a bit different from the forms listed below. Sometimes the words can be used on their own or as a prefix/suffix.

Whoever names a species (usually a biologist or scientist) can decide what they would like to name it. The most typical names are where the species originates from, a trait, a person, or miscellaneous origins.

Where they come from

One common way to name a species is by where they are found. This is, of course, an important trait that can differ between members of a genus.


Often species are named after the country/continent that they come from. Some are self-explanatory, like africanus, brasiliensis, europaeus, madagascariensis, and americanus. Some are a little less intuitive, such as indicus referring to species from India, japonica and nipponensis to Japan, and sinensis and chinensis to species from China. Aedes aegypti is the yellow fever mosquito from Egypt. Species can also be named after a more local area, such as a river, cave, or town.

This hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, lives in Europe. Image credits: Lars Karlsson.


Living organisms could also be named for the habitat that they are from.

agrestis: from the field

alpinus: from the alps or alpine region

aquaticus: found near water

arena: having to do with sand

hali-, halio-: related to the sea or salt

hortensis: from the garden

The broad-leaved anemone, Anemone hortensis, is named such because it is very easy to cultivate. Image credits: Alexandre P.

pallidus: from the marsh

silvestris: from wood or the forest

domesticus: from the house, domestic

troglodytes: a cave dweller

tropicalis: from tropical regions


Additionally, species can be named after a cardinal direction that they are found in. Borealis refers to the north, while australis or notos- refers to the south. Occidentalis refers to the west while orientalis refers to the east.

The oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis), is originally from around the Caspian and Black Seas. Image credits: gailhampshire.

A notable characteristic

One of the most common ways to name a species is based on some special characteristic that they have. For example, their colour, size, shape, or anything else that is noteworthy. They are many different possibilities and combinations, so here are a few of the most common.


Pigmentation is distinctive and can often be used. Interestingly, many of the names for colours in Latin aren’t so similar to their English counterparts, though some you may know from other languages or names.

albus: white

argentum: silver (you might know this from argent in French)

aurantius, aurantiacus, cirrhus: orange

aureus: gold

The golden jackal, Canis aureus, is named after the colour of its coat. Image credits: Prabukumar8 .

caeruleus: blue (you might know this from cerulean)

canus: grey

crocos: yellow

cyano: blue-green (you might know this from cyanobacteria)

erythro, ruber, rubr- , rufus: red

flavus: golden, yellow

fuscus: dark-coloured, dark brown

leuco-, leuc-: white (you might know this from leucocytes)

mauro-, melano-, niger: black, dark

purpureus: purple

Size & Shape

The way an organism looks, such as its size or shape can also be a way to distinguish it.

giganteus: giant

parvus, micro: small

tenuis-: thin slender, fine

Slender rush, Juncus tenuis, is named for its thin stem. Image credits: USDA.

angustus: narrow

crassus: thick

brachy-, brevi-: short

dolicho: elongated, long

longi-: long

platy-: flat

Other features

There are many different features that can set a species apart. They can have to do with appearance, texture, smell, taste, and so on. There are many, many possibilities so this is just a little taste of what is out there.

lineatus, striatus: striped

barbatus: bearded

brady-: slow

dulcis: sweet

The almond, Prunus dulcis, is called so because of it flavour. Image credits: antcaesar.

echinatus: prickly

floridus, flor-: flowery

hirsutus: hairy

laevis: smooth

maculatus: spotted

pallidus: pale

virosus: poisonous

volans: flying

mephitis: bad odor

For example, the striped skunk is called Mephitis mephitis (Smelly smelly). Image credits: USFWS Mountain-Prairie.

Many of these characteristics can be used in conjunction with a noun to offer more description. For example, it could be used with folium or phyllus which mean leaf, such as Eriophorum angustifolium, narrowleaf cottongrass. Other examples that often have descriptors attached are noton which means back and odon which means tooth.

An important person

Another popular choice to name a species is after a person. Here there is a lot of leeway. It could be the original discoverer of the organism, someone who has contributed a lot in the field, a celebrity, or even a husband/wife or another family member. Sometimes species are named after notable figures due to admiration or resemblance. They can help to attract media attention to the species. For example, a moth was recently named Neopalpa donaldtrumpi because its scales on the top of its head resembled Mr. Trump’s hairstyle. On the other hand, Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist and documentarian, has been honoured with the most species (9) named after him in recognition for his work. They include the plesiosaur, Attenborosaurus conybeari, a wingless beetle Trigonopterus attenboroughi, and the flower genus Sirdavidia.

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, do you see the resemblance? Image credits: Dr. Vazrick Nazari.


There is an assortment of other types of names that species are given to identify them. Some are simple, and actually their name in Latin, like canis (dog), arctos (bear), corax (crow, raven), ulmus (elm), and felis (cat).

Some organisms are named after mythological figures. For example, one genus of dung beetles is named Sisyphus after a king who was eternally damned in Hades to roll a heavy boulder uphill, to have it roll down every time. The wolf fish (Hoplias curupira) is named after Curupira, a character in Brazilian legends that protects the forest in the form of a small child with feet facing the wrong way so that it is hard to track. The fish got this name because it was extremely difficult to obtain enough material to describe it and it took almost 18 years.

This Sisyphus is also required to roll an object indefinitely. Image credits: Thomas Huntke.

Pop culture can also be inspiring. There are a number of species named after Star Wars and Harry Potter, including a mite with a resemblance to Darth Vader called Darthvaderum greensladeae, and a spider species named after its resemblance to the sorting hat, Eriovixia gryffindori. A crab was named doubley after the fantasy series, Harryplax severus as “an allusion to a notorious and misunderstood character in the Harry Potter novels, Professor Severus Snape, for his ability to keep one of the most important secrets in the story, just like the present new species which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected” as the authors wrote in their paper. A snapping shrimp was named after the rock band Pink Floyd, Synalpheus pinkfloydi, for its loud sound, hot pink claw, and the researchers love for the band. There are other interesting names as well.

These are just a taste of the species names out there, but knowing the meaning or origin of them can help remembering them.

How to turn your smartphone into a functional microscope

Microscopes are too bulky and expensive for the average person, but you can still explore the intriguing world right below your nose. You can examine cells, see creatures too tiny to be viewed with the naked eye, and see how salt crystals are shaped like minuscule pyramids… and so much more!

Problem solved: it’s easy to turn your smartphone into a microscope for a fraction of the price! The bonuses here are that it is super mobile and you can take photos.

1. Get crafty

For an easy home-made microscope, you can buy a laser pointer and take it apart so that you remove the lens. By attaching it to your phone camera with sticky-tack or as in the video below, you can magnify anything that you want on the go. You can also create a mini-lab at home to view tiny organisms living in a puddle of water with the instructions here.


If you’re feeling inspired, you can make yourself a 10$ stand which can magnify up to 375X. With this magnification, it’s possible to see plant cells and their nuclei.

Or find a friend with a 3D printer for 1000X for 1$ of material costs.

2. Buy an attachment

If you’re not the crafty type, there are portable microscope attachments for smartphones available for purchase, as thin stickers and thicker plastic stick-ons.

Happy microscope-ing!


How to make your compost – easy, cheap, and sustainable

Composting can make a big difference for the soil in your garden – or why not, even in your flower pots. If more people composted then we’d enjoy better soils, more productive gardens and better food. It’s a surprisingly simple practice which can go a long way.

What compost is

Compost is sustainable and easy to make. Photo by normanack.

Composting is simply the breakdown of organic materials by microorganisms. Any organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as soil fertilizer can be called compost, although of course different composts have different qualities.

This means that all you need in order to compost is some organic matter, water, air, and space. It’s the ultimate ingredient for rich, healthy soils. Compost is a key ingredient in modern organic farming and gardening, but people have been doing it for centuries. Of course, today’s know-how can aid the process, but you don’t need technology to make the compost at all.

So compost is simply decayed organic material used as a fertilizer for growing plants. Making compost is a natural process, you end up with a natural product, and as we’ll see soon, a very effective one at that.

Why compost

Some 20% of the waste in an average household can be composted. That’s useful organic matter we’re throwing away which could be composted. For the soils, this could make a huge difference. Compost contains a spectrum of essential plant nutrients – and that’s just for starters. It acts as a soil conditioner, a natural pesticide, and a fertilizer.

Composting within agricultural systems capitalizes upon the natural services of nutrient recycling in ecosystems. Bacteria, fungi, insects, earthworms, bugs, and other creatures dig and digest the compost into fertile soil. The minerals and nutrients in the soil are recycled back into the production of crops. Photo by Antônio Cruz/ABr

The advantages it brings are threefold: chemical, physical, and biological.

At a chemical level, compost:

  • brings the pH level close to neutral, for both acid and alkaline soils.
  • offers both macro- and micronutrients not present in most synthetic fertilizers.
  • releases nutrients slowly and steadily — again, as opposed to synthetic fertilizers.
  • it’s highly absorptive, retaining other fertilizers better.

At a particle level, compost:

  • loosens particle cohesion, so roots can spread further and grow stronger.
  • changes the soil structure, making it more resistant to erosion.
  • prevents nutrients and fertilizers from washing out, keeping them soil-bound for more time.

For the biological life in the soil, compost:

  • contains bacteria which break organic matter into easily available nutrients
  • generally contains beneficial insects and worms
  • suppresses some diseases and soil pests.

So your soil will be healthier and will support a healthy biota. These, in turn, will support healthier plants, and if you’re into gardening – a higher and tastier yield. It’s not a time-consuming process, you just do it once every few months.

How to compost

You can make large or small-scale compost, it doesn’t matter. Photo by F Moreau Lille3.


Every compost contains three things, best remembered as:

  1. Browns (carbon-rich) – Fallen leaves, twigs, and branches
  2. Greens (nitrogen-rich) – Usually grass, but also vegetable or fruit waste and coffee grounds
  3. Water – Having the right amount of water is vital for proper compost.

You should make sure to have equal parts of Browns and Greens, providing water for moisture to help break down the organic matter. If possible, also try to alternate layers of organic materials of different-sized particles.

Now, you can compost lots of things, but not everything. It’s very important to avoid composting:

  • diseased plants
  • any type of meat and fish
  • any type of dairy
  • any cooked food
  • pet litter
  • napkins
  • ashes
  • some perennial weeds (such as bindweed)

The composting area

A typical compost bin. Photo by Doro002.

You need some space for composting. Most people compost in bins, which means they can do indoor as well as outdoor. Outdoor is preferred, if possible. You can also compost out in the open air, it’s just that the bin keeps it nice and tidy. Some people build special composting spaces (something simple, like a big container) while others simply make a pile. Bins less than 1 cubic m (1.3 cubic yd) in size are much less effective than larger ones.

Ideally, choose a dry and shaded place for the compost. It also helps if it’s covered (the bing helps again), otherwise, the rain might mess up your water content. If it’s too sunny, then the water can also evaporate. Now, this isn’t too extreme, you just have to make sure that the compost isn’t subjected to extreme weather or humidity.

If you use a bin on the soil, an earth base can encourage drainage, which is a good thing. If the bin is placed on a hard surface, then add a bit of soil on the bottom of the bin, for the same reason – to facilitate drainage.


Don’t let one of your Browns or Greens dominate the compost – try to put equal parts and alternate them. Start by putting the woody material at the bottom to help with air circulation and layers of different materials at least 30cm thick. Make sure to shred large items so that they decompose more easily. Don’t let the kitchen waste on top, it will attract flies.

The bin/pile will heat up – don’t worry. This is a normal process associated with decay. After a few weeks it should cool down, and then you can have a look at it and try to turn it around, this will help with the process. Add more water if needed. Generally, compost should be ready within 2-4 months but if you don’t shred the big things, it can take much longer.

Common problems during composting

Composting is really easy and you’ll get a feel for it quite quickly, but if you’re a first-timer, then you should know how to identify the most common problems:

  • Compost is wet, slimy and smells bad. This means that there’s too much water and too little air. Cover the pile up to stop the rain from coming in and add a bit more chopped browns to suck up the water.
  • Compost looks dry, fibrous, and starts to rot. This is the opposite problem – there’s too little water and too many browns. Add some more greens and water.
  • Flies in my compost. This is caused by kitchen waste – cover it with more garden waste. Make sure there’s not too much water.

So there you have it! Making compost is easy, doesn’t take much of your time and it can do great things for your garden – we really recommend trying it out.


24 Vintage (but extremely useful) Life Hacks from the Early 1900s

In the early 1900s, cigarettes were living their golden years – something which millions of lungs regretted. But you can’t charge the smoking industry of not being creative. Back in the day, manufactures used to insert stiffening cards into their paper cigarette packs, to make them more sturdy and last more; not long after that, companies started printing all sorts of quotes, trivia, artwork, and… life hacks. In the early 20th Century, Gallaher’s Cigarettes printed a special series of 100 “How to do it”, and they included some tips which are really useful even today.

There are 100 cards in total in the New York Public Library’s George Arents Collection which was recently digitized. Here are some of our favorites:

How to light a match in the wind

Also, on the backside, they had a small explanation like this one:

The familiar difficulty of lighting a match in a wind can be to a great extent overcome if thin shavings are first cut on the match towards its striking end, as shown in the picture. On lighting the match, the curled strips catch fire at once; the flame is stronger and has a better chance.

How to cut new bread into thin slices

tips bread

The difficulty of cutting new bread into thin slices can readily be overcome by the following expedient. Plunge the bread knife into hot water and when thoroughly hot wipe quickly. It will be found that the heated knife will cut soft, yielding new bread in the thinnest slices.

(I’ll just add the text from here on as it’s a bit easier to read)

How to make a fire extinguisher

Dissolve one pound of salt and half a pound of ammoniac in two quarts of water and bottle the liquor in thin glass bottles holding about a quart each. Should a fire break out, dash one or more of the bottles into the flames and any serious outbreak will probably be averted.

How to keep a saucepan lid’s raised

tips saucepan

A useful article for keeping a saucepan’s lid raised can be made out of ordinary clothes peg. Drive a tack into the top part of the peg and then fix the peg over the edge of the saucepan as if it were the clothes line. The lid rests on the tack and is thus open.

How to extract a splinter

A splinter embedded in the hand is very often painful to extract. A good way to accomplish this is to fill a wide-mouthed bottle with hot water nearly to the brim, and press affected part of hand tightly against mouth of the bottle. The suction will pull down the flesh, and steam will soon draw out the splinter.

How to prevent eye glasses steaming

tips glasses

The moisture which collects on eye-glasses causes a great deal of trouble but if the glasses are daily rubbed with soap and very well polished afterwards, a very thin invisible film of soap remains, which has the effect of preventing the condensation of moisture on the glasses.

How to engrave on glass with emery powder


Cut a stencil of your design out of a sheet of paper same size as the sheet of glass. Glue this to the glass and affix the glass to the bottom of a box with drawing pins. Pour in shot and emery powder. Put lid on and shake well with a circular motion. The shots will cause the powder to engrave the stencilled pattern indelibly on the glass.

How to light a cigarette with a piece of ice

cigarette ice

A very astonishing trick based upon the chemical property of combustion of potassium on contact with water. Place a small piece of potassium in the end of the cigarette; on touching with a piece of ice, the resulting flame will ignite the cigarette, much to the astonishment of your friends.

How to clean bottles

To clean the interior of bottles, a little sand and water should be well shaken inside of them. This will have the effect of cleansing every part, and the bottles can then be washed and dried.

How To Keep a Paint Brush Handle Clean

To do away with the annoyance of a wet and sticky brush handle, which is so unpleasant to the amateur painter, get a piece of card or tin and make a hole in it through which the handle can be forced, as shown in the picture. This prevents the paint from running down.

How To Clean New Boots

New boots are sometimes very difficult to polish. A successful method is to rub the boots over with half a lemon, allow them to dry, after which they will easily polish, although occasionally it may be found necessary to repeat the application of the lemon juice.

How To Carry a Heavy Jug

The picture gives a useful hint on carrying a heavy jug. The correct way to hold the jug is shown in the right-hand sketch. This prevents the weight from pulling the jug down and so spilling what it contains, as it is likely to happen if carried the other way.

How to remedy loose shoes

loose shoes

A pair of loose shoes can be made to fit comfortably by fixing (with glue) a piece of velvet or velveteen inside the heel as shown in the picture. Care must be taken to see that no wrinkles are left in the velvet.

A hint when boiling potatoes

To make potatoes dry and floury when cooked, add to water when boiling them a pinch of sugar as well as salt. When potatoes are done, water should be poured away and the saucepan replaced over the fire for a short time, shaking the saucepan to ensure equal dryness of potatoes.

How To Cool Wine without Ice

If no ice is available for cooling wine, a good method is to wrap the bottle in flannel and place it in a crock beneath the cold water tap. Allow the water to run over it, as shown in the picture, and in about ten minutes the wine will be thoroughly cool and ready for the table.

When Boiling Cracked Eggs

To boil cracked eggs as satisfactorily as though they were undamaged, a little vinegar should be added to the water. If this is done, it will be found that none of the contents boil out.

How to increase lung power

tips lung

Stand erect on the balls of your feet and with the head held well back. Then inhale deeply until the lungs are fully inflated, gradually exhale, allowing the chest to sink first, followed by the lungs. Repeat exercise several times both morning and evening.

How to pack choice flowers

tips flowers

When sending choice flowers a long journey by post or otherwise, an excellent way to keep them from fading is to insert end of stalks into small holes or slit-cut in raw potato. This will keep the flowers fresh for a week or more. The flowers should be also supported by paper or cotton wool.

How To Test Butter

A good way of testing butter is shown in the picture. Rub a little of the suspected compound upon a piece of paper and set the paper alight. If it is pure butter, the odour will be dainty and agreeable, while the presence of Margarine is made known by an unpleasant smell.

How To Clean Real Lace

To clean real lace, lay the lace on a sheet of blue or white tissue paper, and well cover with powder of calcinated magnesia. Cover with more paper and place under a weight for a few days. The lace will be found to be quite clean after shaking the powder, and the most delicate texture remains uninjured.

How to preserve eggs

tips eggs

Eggs for preserving must be new laid, and by simply putting these into a box or tin of dry salt – burying the eggs right in the salt and keeping it in a dark place – it is possible to preserve them for a very long period. No air whatsoever must be allowed to reach the shells.

How To Revive Cut Flowers

To revive choice blooms that have faded during transit, plunge the stems into hot water and allow them to remain until the water has cooled. By that time the flowers will have revived. The ends of the stems should then be cut off and the blossoms placed in cold water the usual way.

How To Draw a Circle Without a Compass

tips circle

Twist one end of a piece of wire round a pencil and leave the other end straight. Sharpen the point of the wire and use it like the point leg of a pair of compasses. The wire can be bent and the points of wire and pencil adjusted to make any size of circle.

How To Remove a Tight Ring from the Finger

We’ll end with a classic: To remove a tight ring from the finger without pain or trouble, the finger should be first well lathered in soap. It will then be found that unless the joints are swollen, the ring can be easily taken off. If, however, the finger and joints are much swollen, a visit to the jeweler is advisable.


How to make vodka, with science!

Chemistry gets an undeserved bad reputation and it all starts in school — “mix an acid with a base and you get water and salts” is useful, sure, but not really catchy. People just aren’t that big on either water or salts. So can we nudge them to change their view of what is an undeniably awesome field of science? Is there a way to make chemistry a part of their life that they hold dear?

I say yes. The answer is one of its most useful known abilities — that of turning boring old food into booze. And we’re here to tell you how to make vodka — so you can get hammered, all in the comfort of your home. With science!

Brewing it up

While there are as many different processes as there are drinks, making any type of alcohol boils down to fermenting sugars. Vodka is awesome because it, along with moonshine, is probably the simplest spirit to make. The process discards all of those fancy steps such as aging; it can be made with virtually anything that ferments, and packs quite a punch. It also looks cool under a microscope. What else do you need? Let’s get down to it.

Image via vimeo

What you’ll need

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”The short version” footer=””]Foodstuffs to ferment, yeast, some containers and a still.[/panel]

Something to ferment — called the “mash.” This can be anything that contains sugar or starch. Potatoes, grain, or fruit all work; one distillery even figured out how to use wine. Depending on what you make your mash from (i.e. the starch and sugar content of the mash), you might have to add either enzymes (to break down starches into sugars) or sugar to the mix. Malted grains don’t require any added enzymes (as they’re already synthesized by the plant) and you can mix them into any mash as a source of enzymes.

Malted grain.
Image credits Wikimedia user Pierre-alain dorange.

Yeast — these are single-cell fungi that will be doing the heavy lifting. They will turn the sugars from the starting mixture into alcohol.

You can buy yeast in almost any grocery store, or brewer’s yeast in homebrew shops and online.
Image via flickr user terren in Virginia.

Containers, an airlock, water, a still, and some bottles — you’ll need either a big pot or several smaller ones in which to mix the mash with water and heat it, and a fermenting container to hold the resulting mixture. The airlock is a mechanism that allows fermentation gases to escape the container but doesn’t allow fresh air (and oxygen) to enter. You can buy one or make it yourself but it has to be solid enough to resist the pressure generated during fermentation. After fermentation, you’ll need to distill the liquid, and that’s where the still comes in.

Traditional Ukrainian vodka still.
Image credits Wikimedia user Arne Hückelheim.


[panel style=”panel-success” title=”The short version” footer=””]To make alcohol you need sugar. Starchy foods need to be boiled and require enzymes to break down starch chains. Don’t boil the enzymes or the yeast.[/panel]

The first step is preparing the mash. You can either start with molasses (or just sugar), fruit, or fruit juice. The latter ones are pricier but don’t require any preparing. Grain and potatoes are the cheapest option, but you’ll need to cook their starches into sugars. Starch is made up of polysaccharides, and while dogs have adapted to digesting it yeast has not — it needs monosaccharides to ferment.

 Beer mash being mixed in a brewery vat. Image via flickr user epicbeer.

Beer mash being mixed in a brewery vat.
Image credits Flickr user epicbeer.

For a grain mash (wheat, barley, maize, or a combination of them) take a metal pot with a lid, fill it with water, and heat it up to around 165° F (74° C). As a rule of thumb, for a 10 gallons (38 l) pot you should use around 6 gallons (23 l) of water and 2 gallons of dry, flaked grain (7,6 l), then stir.

Too much heat will destroy the enzymes, so let the mix cool to between 155° F (68° C) and 150° F (66° C) then mix in one gallon of crushed grain malt. At this thermal point, the starches pass from the grains to the liquid which will become viscous or gelatinize. Let it rest for two hours, stirring occasionally. During this time the starch breaks down into sugars — as starch is basically made of long chains of simple sugars fused together, you should see the mash become less and less viscous as this happens. Before fermenting, let the mixture cool to 80° – 85° F (27° – 29° C), but don’t let the temperature drop too much below 80°F as this can spoil the mash.

Potatoes aren’t readily usable for making alcohol because they mostly store starch, not sugars. The plant’s roots also don’t produce the enzymes required to break starch down into sugars. So, for a potato mash, you’ll need to heat-treat the spuds before fermentation. Clean the tubers (you don’t need to peel them) and boil them for about one hour, until the mixture gelatinizes. Throw away the water, mash the potatoes, mix them with fresh tap water, and boil them again. For 10 pounds of potatoes, around 3 gallons of water will do. From here on, the process is exactly like the one above: Let the mixture cool to between 155° F (68° C) and 150° F (66° C), add either two pounds of crushed malted grains or store-bought enzymes, stir periodically over two hours, and let it cool overnight, keeping it at around 80° – 85° F (27° – 29° C).

You can even make a mixed mash (which is used in most brands of commercially-available vodka,) as long as you take care to heat-treat the mixture accordingly. Vodka doesn’t carry much flavor from the mash to the final brew, so you can choose any base for your drink and it won’t affect the taste that much.


[panel style=”panel-success” title=”The short version” footer=””]Strain the mash and place it in a fermentation container, which you need to keep at 80° – 85° F (27° – 29° C). Don’t seal the vessel, it could explode.[/panel]

This is the part where alcohol actually gets produced. Through fermentation, the yeast will eat up all the sugar in the mixture, breaking it down for energy and churning out CO2 and alcohols.

It’s recommended that you sterilize the container before fermentation so that there’s only your yeast left to metabolize the mix. You can use unsterilized containers, but the process will be messier — resulting in unwanted flavors and alcohols being produced by the action of other yeast stains and bacteria. You can buy sterilizing compounds in homebrew stores or online. You can also do a decent job sterilizing equipment by placing it in boiling water.

Strain your mash with a fine mesh strainer and pour the liquid part into the vessel. Try to splash it around while you do this so that it aerates — the yeast initially needs some oxygen to grow before producing alcohol. Hydrate the yeast with the appropriate amount of water and mix it into the vessel (use a sanitized spoon). Higher quality yeasts (called distiller’s’ yeast) will ferment more cleanly and produce a relatively low amount of unwanted alcohols.

Ok, so you’ve got your fermentation container all set up, time to seal it. You can use store-bought stoppers or make your own — lids or drilled rubber stoppers all work. Just be careful not to completely seal the vessel as the yeast will generate a lot of CO2, building up pressure in the container — it might even explode. So fix an airlock to lids or stoppers.

Bubbly, foamy, boozy explosion. Image via flickr user James Cridland.

Or things might bubble out of hand.
Image credits Flickr user James Cridland.

Keep the liquid at around 80° – 85° F (27° – 29° C) during fermentation for the best results. If you’re gonna use an airlock, you should see it bubbling during active fermentation, which will reduce or even cease as the sugars in the mix get broken down to alcohol.


[panel style=”panel-success” title=”The short version” footer=””]Place the fermented liquid in the still, and heat to 173° F (78.3° C), but keep it under 212° F (100° C). Throw away the heads and tails of your vodka, as they contain harmful substances. Drink the body.[/panel]

After fermentation, the liquid (called the “wash”) basically fills all the criteria for booze — but it’s not really palatable, or safe to drink. Siphon it out of the fermentation vessel into a clean, sterilized container. Leave the yeast residue behind, or it will scorch and clog up your still. You can filter the wash before distillation if you want.

A still is a device that can separate liquids with different boiling temperatures. The basic idea is to heat the mixture above the boiling point of alcohol while keeping it under the boiling point of water. Some water will still evaporate, but as the vapors condense a large part of it trickles back into the boiling chamber, and a higher-alcohol content liquid is produced.

A (very fancy) swan-necked pot still.
Image credits Wikimedia user Bitterherbs1.

There are two types of stills you can use: pot and column stills. Both work using the principle above, but column stills are more efficient (also more complex and expensive). The main difference between the two is that column stills have a longer condensation/distillation chamber directly above the boiling vessel, so a larger part of unwanted vapors trickle back down and not in the final brew. Pot stills, however, are easier to build (they’re basically pressure cookers with tubing attached to them) and need less cooling as the distillation chamber can be completely submerged in water.

Fun fact: column stills are very similar to the installations oil refineries use in cracking or fractional distillation — the process by which petrol, diesel, lamp oil, and other finished products are created from crude oil. In fact, the same principles that go into distilling vodka are used to make these products.

The Coffey still, a (very tall and fancy) still for making high-proof spirits.
Image via Wikimedia user HighKing.

So you bartered, begged, or bought your way to a still. You have your wash all washy and ready. Here’s what you have to do:

Heat the wash to 173° F (78.3° C), but keep it under 212° F (100° C) or the water will also start to boil. Liquid will start to steadily drip from the still throughout distillation, but you don’t want all of it. Throw away the “heads,” the first resulting brew, as this is very rich in harmful volatile chemicals such as methanol. For 5 gallons (19 l) of wash, the heads are the first 2 ounces (30 ml) of brew (throw away a bit more just to be on the safe side).

Next comes the “body” which is the distillate that contains ethanol (the nice kind of alcohol), water, and other compounds. If using flowing water to cool the still, you can adjust the flow to control the speed and quality of distillation. Aim to get around two or three teaspoons every minute from the still for the best quality results. You can make it faster but you’ll get more impurities in your drink. This is, in fact, vodka. Bottle it up!

Over time the temperature in the boiling chamber will slowly rise towards 212° F (100° C) no matter what you do. The body of the brew will be distilled by now, and the process will result in the “tails,” which are again harmful and should be discarded.


Congratulations! You now know how to make your own vodka, and are a bit of a fledgling chemist. You can add your own little touches to the process — toy a little with the composition of your mush, filter your vodka using carbon filters, or even distil it again to get a stronger brew. Explore, experiment, innovate.

And at the end of the day, you get to enjoy a nice shot of vodka.

Or a bowl-full.
Image via Wikimedia.

Here’s what happens when you put marshmallows into vacuum

Did you ever wonder what happens when you put marshmallows in a vacuum? Well, probably not – and neither did we – but Youtuber CrazyRussianHacker did. With the aid of a vacuum-forming Tupperware box, he sucked out all the air from around and inside marshmallows, with the results you see below:

Marshmallows are airy sugar-based confections consisting of sugar, water and gelatin whipped to a spongy consistency. To give marshmallows the characteristic fluffiness, air is pumped into them. But when the vacuum is created, not only is the air outside of them sucked out, but so is the air inside of them.

It’s a pretty neat trick you can use to impress your friends, or if you want to taste un-fluffy marshmallows

Free phone app identifies plants from just a picture

It’s like Shazam for plants – PlantNet is a free app that can help you identify plants based on just taking a picture.

Photo: YouTube/InriaChannel

Most people think that science is something abstract, disconnected from the day to day reality of life, but I really don’t think that’s the case. If you want to encourage the scientist inside, observing and understanding the nature around you is a great way of doing so. No matter where you live, you’re bound to have some plants around you… but how many can you identify and understand them? To be honest, I can only work out the common ones from my area, and this type of app seems like it could be very useful.

The app collects data from a large social network that uploads pictures and information about plants. It’s also useful to learn more about plant morphology and biology. It also does another thing, though more subtle: it makes you interact more with nature. Let’s face it, we all pass by trees and plants every day, but we pay little attention to them; most of the time, we don’t even notice them. With a bit of practice, you could identify plants as you’re walking past them and not only keep your brain entertained, but also appreciate your surroundings more.

From what I tested it, it seems to work quite fine, but the data base is still a work in progress (especially from North America). Many plants are common between the temperate areas of Europe and North America however, and you can make deductions based on that, so you should be able to manage.

This also works really well in tandem with another app, Leafsnap, that identifies trees based on leaf shape. It’s also not the only app of its kind – I was surprised to see there’s quite a number of apps that helps you identify flowers and trees. So, now you can go out and identify that rosebush… or is it a dahlia?


You shouldn’t forget about recycling bathroom items

When home recycling is concerned, the kitchen reigns supreme. Here is where most of the waste gets disposed and where all the recycling bins can be found, but there’s another important center filled with recyclable items in your home: the bathroom. Research shows that even among families that are consistent recyclers, only 20% of Americans recycle bathroom items. It’s not certain why most people overlook bathroom items, like containers and packaging and other materials that can usually be recycled, but what’s important to note is that these items comprise a healthy chunk of your entire recyclable waste.

What bathroom items can you recycle


Photo: Care to Recycle

1. Shampoo, bodywash and mouthwash bottles. These bottles are typically made of plastic of various quality, and can be either opaque, as most shampoo bottles are, or transparent, like bodywash bottles. Opaque bottles are usually made of #2 plastic (High Density Polyethylene, or HDPE), which is accepted by most recyclers. Number 2 plastics can be recycled into building materials like lumber or fencing, office supplies like pens, or more bottles. Clear bottles are made of #1 plastic, also known as PET, which is the most useful plastic for recycling. Number 3 plastics aren’t accepted by most recycling vendors.

2. Pill and Medicine containers. These come in many shapes and size, as well as different materials. Whether these containers are meant for prescription pills or liquid medicines, you’ll notice that manufacturers use a variety of materials, most common being: #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5 plastics. As read above, it’s best you only collect #1 and #2 plastics, but you might as well check the bottom of your containers, see what kind of plastic it’s made from and check with your local hauler. Also, don’t forget to take the caps off and dispose of them separately.

3. Cardboard packaging. Bathroom items, especially beauty-care products, are marketed extremely aggressively to consumers and most of the time come in much larger packaging than they have to. Consequently, you might find your 5″ soap wrapped in a 10″ cardboard box. Cardboard is cardboard, and any hauler will take them in. Aren’t you forgetting something? Yup, the tube that your toilet paper and paper towels came on – recycle those too!

4. Plastic films and wrappers. There’s packaging and there’s packaging for packaging. Remember to dispose of the plastic wrap that your cotton balls, toilet paper, diapers and other products come in a special container. Thing is, these will most likely be rejected by local curbside program, but chances have it you can find drop-off locations that accept plastic wraps by searching online.

5. Toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes. These are among the hardest to recycle products, but there are organizations that will collect hard-to-recycle household items like toothbrushes.

Get in the habit of recycling bathroom items

The hardest thing is starting, but once you’re in the habit of it, recycling household waste, be it from the kitchen or bathroom, becomes a breeze. Here are some tips to help you off:

1. Add a recycle-bin to your bathroom. I’m not saying you should litter your home with sorted recycle bins, but from experience having a recycle bin in your bathroom will cut you a lot of slack and will make recycling easier and handy. The more convenient, the easier it will be.

2. Post reminders. A simple post-it stuck to your bathroom bin or even on the corner of your bathroom mirror reminding you to use the bin whenever you want to throw something away will help you a lot. This way, you create mental anchors that aid in meeting your recycling goals.

3. Buy easy to recycle items. Check the back of the products you want to buy for your bathroom – are they easy disposable plastics? Once you find products you like, with packaging that’s recyclable, keep restocking with those specific products so that you won’t have to keep checking if they’re recyclable.

4. Involve friends and family. Most likely, you’re not living alone, so make sure your spouse, kids, relatives or roommates are aware of your recycling wishes.


How to make your own spectacular bismuth crystals

Bismuth is a brittle metal with few remarkable properties – but if you’ve ever seen it crystallized, the odds are it blew your mind. But now, thanks to Youtube user NightHawkInLight, we can make our own bismuth crystals, with no special equipment, at home.

What you need:

  • bismuth (cheap, online)
  • safety goggles
  • protection gloves (preferably leather)
  • a stove
  • a pot (will be damaged)
  • a fork

Basically, aside from the bismuth, you don’t need anything special, and you can easily buy bismuth ingots online (for example on Ebay) for under $50. You can do this on a simple stove, as bismuth has a much lower melting point than other metals at 271.5 °C (​520.7 °F) – but you still don’t want to expose your skin to that.

You just need to place the bismuth ingot in a small, stainless steel saucepan – preferably one that you don’t cherish too much, because it will be almost impossible to clean, and you don’t want to cook stuff on bismuth remains. In a few minutes, the bismuth will melt completely becoming liquid; simply turn off the fire and clean the surface with a fork. Then, as it starts to solidify, gently raise it a bit so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.

If the results aren’t satisfying, you can always melt again and create new crystals.

“At first, the crystals appear only silver, but a layer of oxidation quickly adds colour, the shade of which is determined by what temperature the crystals are when they first contact the air,” says NightHawk.

Image credits: NightHawkInLight (Youtube).

The video also shows how to make bismuth crystal geodes, but that’s a bit more advanced.

Wooden alternatives to green up your Christmas Tree

I’ve already written an article about the best ways to green up your Christmas tree, so I really recommend you start from there. But if you want some more creative, out of the box eco-friendly alternatives, this is the place for you! Just in case you’re wondering why I’m against ‘traditional’ artificial trees: they’re made from PVC, which is polluting and non-recyclable, and they often contain lead which keeps the PVC together – you don’t want to breathe next to them.


PossibiliTree wooden trees are a natural alternative to live and artificial Christmas trees. They’re light, compact, portable, and they also have an awesome name. They come in three sizes: 2ft ($190), 3ft ($230) and 6ft ($460). The price tag is certainly no joke, but it provides an eco-friendly, light alternative – and you get to save money on the decorations.

Oh, and they look awesome – Christmas or not. The suspended tree is a real show-stopper, but the others work just as fine; and they can be used throughout the year for various occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, and other celebrations.

The FestiveTree(s)

This small, innovative company from New Hampshire provides several lovely alternatives. Their mission is to cut down on the holiday-related consumerism, and offer a simple, sustainable option. Therefore, they’ve created environmentally friendly, reusable, and versatile trees. They provide four different options:

The People’s tree. $350.

Scandinavian style melds old-world charm with modern lines to transpose the warm, genuine artistic design of these trees.

The Norwegian. $350.

Again, the price is no joke, but just like with the possibiliTree, the trees are pretty sturdy and you can use them with every occasion. But they offer some cheaper options as well:

The Puzzle Tree. $195.

The Little Swede. $75.


Jubiltree Wooden Tree

Jubiltree. Price: $475.

The Jubiltree brings a surprising mix of traditional and modern that you can easily customize to adapt to your home’s decor. Personally, I find the price a little too high for my preference (at least compared to some of the other things I’ve found), but I do feel that this could be the perfect fit for a modern office or meeting room.

Cardboard trees

Buying a cardboard Christmas tree is a much the best route you can take, when it comes to cheap, eco-friendly alternatives.

Three Piece Cardboard Christmas Tree. $99.

Norfolk Island Pine

Most Christmas Trees don’t do that well indoors, and you have to plant them or at least put them somewhere outside so they can survive, as I explained here. However, if that’s not an option, you should know that there are a few species who thrive indoors – among then, the Norfolk Island Pine, which you can currently get for only $4.99 at Amazon. Decorate it for the holidays, admire its beauty the rest of the year.


Don’t limit yourself to just pine trees – who says the Christmas tree has to be a pine or a fir? For the more exotic, the Christmas tree can be something else, like for example… a rosemary tree! Not only is it really nice to look at, but it also smells nice, and it gives you tasty, healthy herbs for the entire year. What’s not to like? You can get them at any local supermarket or specialized shop.

Yes, that’s a rosemary tree. Via Inhabitat.

Another small tree that really works well with this idea is the bonsai – exotic looking, the bonsay is a pleasure to look at throughout the entire year. Just like with the rosemary, you can find them on Amazon or at any local market.

HOW TO: Green Your Christmas Tree

Christmas is just around the corner, and the good old Christmas tree is one of the most enjoyable traditions of the holiday season. Thankfully, more and more people are starting to realize that cutting a tree and ultimately throwing it in the street or in the dump is not the way to go! But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an awesome holiday – here are the some of the best eco-friendly tips to have the greenest and most awesome Christmas tree ever!


Go for a living tree!

Image Source: Design Mom.

Living trees produce oxygen, suck up carbon dioxide, and are a pleasant sight all year round, even without the Christmas decorations. You don’t have to kill a tree, and you get to keep that natural tree look and smell year after year. These living Christmas trees are usually pretty small, but you can use that to your advantage: you don’t need so many decorations, and you can put one (or why not, 2 or 3) in each room.

There is one thing you have to be careful about though – they don’t really thrive indoors. Most varieties don’t survive more than two weeks indoors, so you have to either:

– plant then in a garden or on your lawn
– store them outside on your porch/balcony.

They can deal with the cold temperatures and snow – no problem; they also do well in almost any soil, so you shouldn’t worry about that – just be sure that you get them outside after 7-14 days. This is probably the best option for a truly green Christmas tree – not only are you not doing any damage to the environment, but you’re also helping, and you get to enjoy the real deal.


Try a rosemary tree!

Image Credits: Flower fast.

Who says it has to be a pine or a fir? If you just want a small Christmas Tree, rosemary is just perfect ! You can find these cute little trees pretty much everywhere, even online like on Amazon. They look Christmasy, they smell great, they thrive indoors, and they provide healthy, tasty herbs throughout the entire year! What more can you want?


Rent a (potted) Tree

Again, living trees emit oxygen, and they improve the air quality, making us feel better. This also ensures that the trees aren’t killed just so that we can enjoy them for a meager period. These trees are typically planted somewhere, cared for all year round by the company, and just placed in special pots when they are delivered. You also don’t need to do anything, avoiding the rush and crowd that always seems to accompany Christmas tree shopping – the trees are delivered to your doorstep.

This may or may not be an option – depending on where you live, but Google’s your friend here! Virtually all major American cities have this service available, and the trend is also rising in Western Europe. Just type ‘Rent Christmas tree [city where you live]’, and you should be good to go.


If you buy a cut tree, at least recycle it!

There’s nothing sadder than putting a Christmas tree to waste after the winter holidays are over! So if you really want to buy a cut tree, there are still somethings you can do to recycle it.

The best thing would be to plant it. If you have a garden or a backyard, it’s perfect! If you’ve got the space for it, getting a tree with roots and replanting it is obviously the most eco-friendly solution. If that is not an option, then there are some things you can do, like recycling it into compost. Most cities offer this options (or host companies which do this for you); the tree is still killed, but at least the timber won’t go to waste. In isolated cases, you can also stuff it in a private pond – it offers refuge to fish and provides a nice addition to their ecosystem. Just be sure that it hasn’t been sprayed with damaging chemicals.

If you’re stuck with no backyard, no pond, and no compost recycling, you really shouldn’t buy a cut tree in the first place.


Decorate an outside tree!

Image Credits.

Sure, it may not be traditional and you won’t get the Christmas tree smell in your living room, but the cheapest option is to simply decorate an outdoor tree for Christmas. You’ll have more money for decorations, and it will make for a pleasant sight for all the people passing by – truly a great way of sharing the Christmas spirit. If you decorate a tree that you can actually see from your window, you’ll feel like it’s actually inside your home!

Tip: be extra careful if you’re doing this in a stormy area, the decorations might fly or fall over.


If you’re thinking about a fake tree… think again!

An artificial Christmas tree might seem like the greener option, but that’s rarely the case. They’re typically made from PVC, which is hard to recycle; as Grist puts it: “No vinyl, ever! We are boycotting vinyl to the greatest extent possible”. Furthermore, most of them also contain lead, which is commonly used to stabilize PVC products. But that doesn’t mean we should take faux trees out of the question, just that we have to be a touch more creative.

Try cardboard! Skip the cheap, impersonal made in China or Taiwan PVC lead Christmas trees and go for a more pleasant and interesting cardboard tree, or a plywood tree, or just let your imagination fly! I’ll have another article ready soon discussing other creative options.


Make your own tree from branches and cones!

Image Credits.

This is another ultra-cheap, green way to have a nice, eco friendly Christmas. You can use a couple of small branches, cones driftwood – just get creative. This is a great idea to try with your children – just let your imagination fly while having quality time with your little ones and teaching them healthy environmental values at the same time!

BONUS: use LED lights

No Christmas celebration is complete without multi colored lights. LED Christmas lights consume 90% less energy than incandescent lights, they’re made with less polluting substances and the LEDs never get broken (unless you smash them or something) – so there’s no reason not to use them instead of the traditional lights.

Image Credits.

Here’s to a Green Christmas!

Windows 10 tends to eavesdrop quite a bit, but here’s how you can put a lid on that

Microsoft’s recently unveiled OS, Windows 10, is the company’s make-or-break version of what is the most used OS franchise in the world. Reviews of it are pretty good up till now, with Techradar saying “Feature-wise, Windows 10 is the new Windows 7. It’s robust, pleasant to use and free,” and PcAdvisor naming it “[…] the best Windows OS yet. Windows 10 is free for most people and offers plenty of new features and apps.”

There is a hook, though – it may send over some private information to Windows.

windows 10 information

Yarrr! – there’s a hook 
Image via

Windows 10 and information sharing

Windows 10, by default, has permission to report a huge amount of data back to Microsoft. By clicking through “Express Settings” during installation, you allow Windows 10 to gather up your contacts, calendar details, text and touch input, location data, and a whole lot more. The OS then sends it all back to Microsoft so that it can be used for personalisation and targeted ads.

This isn’t exactly unusual. More recent versions of the Windows family, unless explicitly told not to, share some kind of personal information with Microsoft’s main servers. Windows 10 definitely goes one (or quite a few more, actually) step further though, primarily thanks to Cortana (which ideally needs to be personalised/optimised based on your voice inputs, calendar, contacts, etc.) and other “cloudy” features that somewhat necessitate the collection and squirting of personal data back to Microsoft.

It’s not a deal-breaker. The information shared by Windows does help make your experience with the OS that more fluid and more relevant. However, if you’re (like me) not that bit a fan of sharing parts of your life with Microsoft, here’s a few steps you can take to dam the flow of data back to them.

Just be warned that there are quite a few toggles that need to be turned off, and you’ll lose some functionality as well (Cortana won’t work, for example). You win some you loose some, as the saying goes.

windows 10 customize settings

The first page of settings to be customised. You can turn all of these off.
Image credits Jonathan Porta.

Nip it in the bud

The easiest and fastest way to turn off Windows 10’s eavesdropping privileges (various data logging, personalisation, and telemetry functions) is to turn them off during the installation or update process.

During installation, do not press “Use Express settings” but opt for the “Customise settings” button. The first customisation page has settings for personalisation, targeted advertising, and location tracking. If you’re trying to maximise your privacy, go ahead and disable everything on this first page.

windows 10 customize settings

Except for SmartScreen at the top, you can turn the rest of these off.
Image credits Jonathan Porta.

This second page has a somewhat useful option at the top, but the others—predictive Web browsing, connecting to open Wi-Fi hot spots, and Wi-Fi Sense—can be turned off.

Another way of sharing less data with Microsoft is to use a local account rather than log in with a Microsoft account. The “Create a new account” and “Sign in without a Microsoft account” buttons are your best two friends for this and you should click on them with confidence. Keep in mind that this will prevent any of your settings/data from automatically propagating to any other Windows devices that you own.

The next steps need to be done from within a fully installed Windows 10 system.

The Privacy button does just what it says

windows 10 privacy

The Privacy applet in Windows 10. You can probably turn all these off too.

Head to the new Settings app and click the Privacy button. You can toggle all of these settings to “Off,” though you may choose to keep SmartScreen Filter enabled. Most of these may already be disabled if you turned everything off during installation.

At the bottom of the Privacy applet, click Feedback. From here, you can set the Feedback frequency to “never,” which may prevent Windows 10 from reporting some data back to Microsoft. Note, however, that “Feedback options” cannot currently be disabled; it can only be set to “basic.”

Disable agent Cortana

windows 10 cortana

From this window you can disable Cortana.

Hit the Start button. Type a few letters and the Start screen will be replaced by a grey search window. Click the cog icon to reveal Cortana’s settings pane (pictured right) and then triumphantly slay her by flipping the toggle to “Off.” If you’d rather keep Cortana turned on but with some of her other abilities curtailed, they can be configured here as well.

That should be about it: you are now reporting very little data back to Microsoft.

We’ve showed you how you can make your Windows 10 experience more private, but the question you have to ask yourself is if the gain in privacy is justified, given the loss in funtionality? For some it will be, for others it will be not. Disabling personalisation definitely makes sense from a privacy perspective, but it could significantly dent voice recognition accuracy and the usefulness of certain OS features like Cortana. On the other hand, there aren’t many good reasons for keeping your advertising tracker ID turned on.

And even though this guide will mostly stop Windows 10 from sending personal data back to Microsoft, there are still a few other mechanisms and services that continue to report back unless you dig into the registry and group policy editor.

But, you should now have a rough idea of how best to protect your data, and choose what you share of it to the guys at Microsoft.

So you’ve come face to face with a bear; what should you do to bear through this?

They find puns unbearable.
Image via:

A Montana family came perilously close to a grizzly bear near Yellowstone Park in the US when it jumped on the hood of their car. The family stayed in their car, kept the windows closed, and eventually the bear got bored and wandered off. But what happens if you don’t have the safety of a vehicle?

Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Pay attention to your surroundings and make a special effort to be noticeable if you are in an area with known bear activity or a good food source, such as berry bushes. Groups of people are noisier and have a more powerful smell and bears can detect them at longer distances. They are also more intimidating to the animals, so try to hike in groups if possible.

If you come close enough to a bear that it notices you, and starts paying attention to you, help the bear recognize you as a human and not a pray animal. Slowly wave your arms and calmly talk to it. Most bears don’t want to attack you, but they are quite curious. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.

Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by woofing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won’t be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal. Do not drop your pack, use it to protect your back, and do not allow the bear access to your food.

Bear attacks are rare; most bears are only interested in protecting food, cubs, or their space. However, being mentally prepared can help you have the most effective reaction. So what should you do when you come close enough to a bear you can high-five it? (Disclaimer: ZME Science strongly advises against high-fiving bears unless you are attended by one of our authors).

We’re trained for survival in the wild. And for awesome.
Image via:

“Most bear encounters end without injury. Following some basic guidelines may help to lessen the threat of danger. Your safety can depend on your ability to calm the bear,” the NPS writes.

Always face the bear comrade, slowly back away and move sideways. You shouldn’t run, as this could trigger a chase response – and bears run fast. Climbing a tree is also a bad idea as most bears will simply follow you.

When the animal charges with its head low and ears pinned back, that is defensive aggression. It may see you as a threat to its cubs or it may be protecting food. A defensive bear will stop attacking once it feels the threat – namely, you – has been removed.

If the bear stalks you, persistently approaches, and is focused on you, with its head up and ears cocked forward, that is typically curious behavior, but may be indicative of predatory intent.

This bear is quite interested in whatever you are doing. And maybe in how tasty you are.
Image via:

Should the bear charge you during a surprise encounter, stand your ground and fight back with bear spray, sticks or rocks. Make sure you know how to properly use the spray. Always fight back if a bear attacks you in your tent or stalks you and then attacks. This last kind of attack is very rare, but can be serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and sees you as prey.

If you are attacked by a brown or grizzly bear, play dead. Leave your pack on and lay flat on your stomach. Clasp your hands behind your neck and spread your legs to make it harder for it to turn you over, and remain still until the bear leaves the area. If the attack persists, fight back vigorously. In the case of black bears, do not play dead! Try to escape to a safe place, such as a car or building. Only fight back if escape is not possible, using any object available.

Should you fight a bear, focus your blows on the animal’s face and muzzle.

Bears are solitary creatures for most of the year, and they just want to be left alone to eat. If you see the bear from afar, take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Try to always leave the bear an escape route, and never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The risk of an attack escalates quickly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs, or if the animal feels cornered.





DIY Edible and Fully Functional Jelly LEGOs

If you like gummy candy and if you like LEGOs… then this is definitely something you want to try at home. By following this really simple tutorial, you can create delicious jelly LEGO bricks – they’re fully functional, you can stack and build with them… and of course, you can eat them.

Basically, all you need is the right mold, and then you can make your pieces with corn syrup (or even sugar), Jello, and gelatin. Just keep in mind that these aren’t exactly the healthiest things to eat, so even if they’re really fun, don’t go overboard with eating them!

Watch: The surprising chemical reaction between Coke and Milk

Watch the video all to the end – it starts off a bit slow, but it gets pretty rad towards the end. I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen… but it clearly wasn’t this:

Image credits: Steve Spangler.

So what’s happening here? Well, it’s plain to see that a bunch of dark particles precipitate at the bottom of the bottle, while the rest of the remaining light liquid rises to the top. But why? Well, the chemistry behind it is actually quite interesting: there is a reaction between the phosphoric acid in the Coke and the milk, especially the proteins in the milk. The phosphoric acid attaches itself to the proteins in the milk, they become heavier, and sink to the bottom, while the rest of the liquid, stripped of its heavier elements, rises to the surface.

You can easily replicate this experiment at home. Here’s what you should do:

  • Get a small bottle of brown soda – coke works great, but basically any dark soda works fine. Throw away just a bit of it.
  • Fill the rest of the bottle with milk – any milk works here, be it whole milk, skimmed milk or something in the middle
  • Mix them gently and wait.
  • Observe the chemistry in action.

I wouldn’t recommend drinking the mix, but if you do conduct this experiment, upload it to Youtube and share it with us in the comment section! We’d be more than happy to share your take on this milk and soda experiment.