Category Archives: Offbeat

Russian electrical vehicle chargers get hacked: “Putin is a dickhead”

Chargers along one of Russia’s most important motorways are not working and are displaying messages like “Putin is a dickhead” and “Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the heroes.”

Image credits: Instagram user Oleg Moskovtsev.

The M11 Motorway in Russia, which connects the country’s two biggest cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg) is one of the busiest roads in the country. But for the few people driving electric cars in the country, it’s become virtually unusable.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the electric car chargers along the motorway were hacked. The Russian energy company Rosseti admitted the problem but claimed it’s not an external hack, but rather an internal one.

Reportedly, some of the main components in the chargers come from a Ukrainian company. A Facebook statement from Rosseti claims the Ukrainian company left a backdoor access to the pumps, shutting them down and displaying the scrolling anti-Putin messages.

“Charging stations installed on the M-11 route were purchased in 2020 according to the results of an open purchase procedure. The chargers were provided by the LLC “Gzhelprom” (Russia). It was later discovered that the main components (incl. A. the controller) are actually produced by the company Autoenterprise (Ukraine), and the Russian supplier produced a open assembly.”

“The manufacturer left a “marketing” in the controller, which gave him the opportunity to have hidden internet access. According to our information, data controllers are widely used on power charging stations exported by Ukraine to Europe.”

AutoEnterprise’s Facebook page re-posted a video showing the pumps, but it’s not clear if they claimed responsibility for this or if they were just happy to see it.

As its troops continue to bomb Ukraine and march in on its main cities, Russia has been increasingly under cybernetic attack, with hackers from all around the world hitting at Russian websites and even television.

The Russian state-funded television was hacked by the activist group Anonymous, displaying anti-war messages and urging the Russian people to act to stop the water. Russian TV channels were also attacked and made to play Ukrainian music and display uncensored news of the conflict from news sources outside Russia.

Ultimately, it’s unlikely that any of these actions will have a major impact on Russia’s military attack, but they could help spread more information inside Russia about the events in Ukraine. Russian authorities are actively censoring the situation and for years, they have tried to censor and control what the Russian people get to hear — not shying away from detaining journalists or even worse.

Cyber attacks will likely continue to escalate on both sides, involving both state and non-state actors. War is no longer fought only on the front lines — nowadays, it’s fought online as well.

Want to live like a Roman? This historical rowing cruise on the Danube has you covered

An unusual ship will set sail in November 2022 on the Danube River in Europe. Well, unusual for our times, at least. A Roman rowing and sailing ship built just like the ones in late antiquity will start its journey in Bavaria, and sail down the Danube all the way to the Black Sea in Romania.

A reconstructed navis lusoria at the Museum of Ancient Seafaring, Mainz.

For centuries, the Romans ruled vast swaths of Europe, Africa, and western Asia. Their maritime prowess was unrivaled and has fascinated historians for centuries. But no matter how many Roman documentaries you watch, it’s still kind of hard to imagine what they lived like, or what a journey would have been in Roman times. Well now, you can experience that firsthand.

Thanks to a project supported by the Donau-Universität Krems, you can embark on a Roman adventure. “Danuvina Alacris”, a modern reconstruction of a “Lusoria” type roman ship, is taking volunteers. Lusoria ships were small military vessels of the late Roman Empire that served as troop transport. They once roamed the Danube River guarding the boundary between the roman empire and the “barbarian” wasteland beyond what the Romans called “barbaricum”.

The ship itself was built with special care as to resemble Roman ships as much as possible. The Lusoria ships were nimble on the river waters, but whenever they couldn’t sail properly, they would also rely on strong rowers. The 2022 Roman Cruise will also require participants to pull in some rowing work when necessary.

“Our ship named “Danuvia Alacris” will cover about 40 km a day which, will be rowed and partially sailed, if possible. The crew, which will consist of about 18-20 rowers and a leadership team of 4-5 people, will have an international composition, so the language on the ship will be English,” the project announcement page reads.

It won’t just be going from point A to point B — the organizers announced a series of events around the cruise. In addition, you’ll be living as close to Roman times as possible.

“The crew will change approximately every second week; they will row in Roman clothes (tunic, shoes, etc.). In addition, there will be smaller to larger festivals and interested visitors at the stops of the ship.”

The organizers are still looking for volunteers that will rotate out of the crew ever two weeks. The project will start on July 15th and is expected to end in October 2022. Registrations are now open, for more information check out the official announcement page.

Would you quit social media for $2,700? Consider joining this experiment

Social media has become a near-ubiquitous part of our lives, up to the point where many are struggling without it. In fact, social media is affecting our mental health and productivity — but most of us would struggle to give it up, even temporarily. To study why this happens, one app wants to pay people £2,000 ($2,700) to quit social media for just two months.

Stop Doomscrolling

Like many things that technology has brought us, there are both benefits and downsides to social media. For many people, such networks can offer people a chance to connect to their friends and freely express their thoughts and hobbies. But as we spend more and more time on social media, we also get more disinformation, polarization, and doomscrolling — the act of spending an excessive amount of screen time scrolling through mostly bad news.

So would be better off just quitting social media? Uptime app wants to explore that.

Uptime is a free app that claims to offer “Knowledge Hacks” from the “world’s best books, courses and documentaries.” The app is looking for an applicant to quit social media for two months. You don’t need to have any predetermined skills and qualifications, just to be a “social media lover,” with profiles over at least four social media networks. The aim is to see whether quitting social media will have a positive effect on the applicant’s wellbeing and productivity.

“The successful applicant will be paid £2,000 to stop using all social media for the eight-week period.  We will also find out how they use their newfound downtime, as well as ask them to record their happiness levels, behaviour and productivity whilst not spending their free time on the platforms they use like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube,” the Uptime blog post reads.

“We will ask the successful ‘social media quitter’ to answer a frequent questionnaire and will be asked to keep both a written and video journal to record their experience. We want to discover as much information as we can about how much time a person could spend improving themselves and their knowledge – alongside their wellbeing and productivity – if they were to decrease their time spent on social media or ‘doomscrolling’.”

It should be said that this isn’t a proper, large-scale study. We won’t know whether social media truly is bad for your mental health and productivity after this. But it could be an interesting experiment and a way to make some money while trying to improve your wellbeing.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, then you can apply here. Applications close on February 21.

A lot of “sea serpent sightings” could actually be whale boners

A sailor’s life is rough. You’re up against the weather, the sea, maybe even sea monsters — or so some sailors used to think. Since Ancient Greece, people have been describing sea monsters of various sorts, but according to one study, at least some of those monsters can be explained by something much more mundane: whale penises.

Copperplate engraving of Egede’s great sea monster. The Naturalist’s Library Sir William Jardine (publisher) Wm. Lizars (principal engraver). London & Edinburgh. Hans Egede (a Lutheran missionary) wrote that on 6 July 1734 his ship was off the Greenland coast. Those on board that day “saw a most terrible creature, resembling nothing they saw before.”.

In one of the more famous sea sighting reports, Danish Lutheran missionary Hans Egede wrote that on 6 July 1734, he and those on his ship saw a terrible sight — a “most terrible creature”, resembling nothing they had seen before. The monster, Egede reported, was longer than their whole ship.

“It had a long pointed snout and it blew [spouted] like a whale [it] had broad big flippers and the body seemed to be grown [covered] with carapace and [it] was very wrinkled and uneven [rough] on its skin; it was otherwise created below like a serpent and where it went under the water again threw itself backward and raised thereafter the tail up from the water a whole ship’s length from the body.”

Egede’s account is notable because he was an educated man and had described several whale encounters previously, and as a man who had seen some things in his life, he wouldn’t be one to be easily impressed. So what did Egede and his mates actually see?

Image credits: Paxton et al (2005).

Three researchers took on the challenge of answering that question. The lead author was Charles Paxton, a man familiar with unusual studies. A few years ago, Paxton was awarded the Ig Nobel award for a study on how amorous ostriches attempt to court humans in Britain — yes, really. The Ig Nobel award is offered to research “that cannot, or should not, be reproduced” and that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think”.

Paxton’s whale study was carried out in 2005, and the researchers looked at all the plausible actions that could fit the description. A key part of the description is the “serpent-like” description.

“Although whales are found, and can survive, without flukes (for example grey whales ), serpent-like or eel-like bodies are not usually associated with the rapid thrust that would be required to rear the whole body high out of the water,” Paxton writes.

So it seems like the monster couldn’t have been a whale. But it could have been a whale… part.

“There is an alternative explanation for the serpent-like tail. Many of the large baleen whales have long, snake-like penises. If the animal did indeed fall on its back then its ventral surface would have been uppermost and, if the whale was aroused, the usually retracted penis would have been visible.”

This seems compelling enough, but it still leaves up the matter of size for debate. Whale penises are indeed impressive, but could they have been bigger than the entire boat? Researchers suspect the answer is ‘no’, but there could be an explanation: multiple whales.

“The penises of the North Atlantic right whale and (Pacific) grey whale can be at least 1.8 meters long and 1.7 meters long respectively and could be taken by a naïve witness for a tail. That the tail was seen at one point a ship’s length from the body suggests the presence of more than one male whale,” the study concludes.

To make the whale erection theory even more compelling, a separate incident from 1875 is even more likely to be a whale penis. Sailors aboard the merchant vessel Pauline reported seeing a “whitish pillar” amongst a pod of sperm whales “frantic with excitement” — a description that very well fits the whale penis theory.

Ultimately, we may never know what Egede saw, and probably not all sea serpent sightings are whale penises (though that would be an interesting study), but it seems to happen quite often, and it’s not uncommon for sea serpents to “appear” in the vicinity of whales, often even attached or “battling” a whale.

There’s even a theory that the Loch Ness monster is a whale penis, though there’s a big hole in that theory, in that Loch Ness is a lake and there are no whales in it. But otherwise, a lot of sea serpent sightings could actually be whale penises.

You can read the entire study here.

Why cats sleep all day?

Why do cats sleep all day?

Famous American poet Rodney Mckuen once said “cats have it all; admiration, an endless sleep, and company only when they want it”. If you have a cat (or more), it’s probably not that hard to relate to these lines. Cats receive a lot of praise only for being cute, and they’re always quick to enjoy a nice (and often lengthy) nap. But why do cats sleep so much? Turns out, there’s a good reason for that.

Image credits: Jacalyn Beales/Unsplash

If you think cats are sleep addicts, that’s not exactly true. Similar to jaguars, ocelots, and some other members of their feline family, cats are actually crepuscular beings — they’re most active between sunset and sunrise (around twilight). The reason is that their prey is often crepuscular — so if you’re a cat and want to hunt something, that’s a good time to go about it. Many years ago (before we started domesticating them), when both cats and their prey lived in the wild, cats had to stay awake and hunt between dusk and dawn in search of food. 

Hunting could be a very energy-demanding process for any animal, and cats can cover impressive ranges in their search for food. So in order to recharge themselves for the next hunt, cats have developed a habit of sleeping a lot during the day — after all, it doesn’t make much sense to spend extra energy. So evolution pushed cats to sleep so much, and particularly during the day, when humans tend to be most active.

Domestication of these furry animals by humans has certainly brought some changes in their behavior and lifestyle and nowadays, house cats at least don’t roam the wild during the night looking for mice and rabbits — but their sleep-wake cycle has remained largely unchanged. This is the big reason why, for cats, daytime (when we regularly interact with them) is for resting, and resting is serious business.

How much sleep is enough for my cat?

Cats usually require around 15 hours of sleep in a day, but this can vary. Kittens and aging cats tend to sleep more, even up to 20 hours. Active cats may sleep as little as 12 hours. Most of the time cats go through a slow-wave sleep (SWP), light sleep, or a catnap during which their nose and ears are in alert mode and they are sleeping in such a posture that they can evade instantly as soon as they sense any danger. A catnap usually lasts between 15 to 30 minutes.

At least 12-14 hours of sleep is required for cats and both REM and light sleep are important for their health because good sleep ensures better energy conservation, muscle repair, good immunity, and the overall well-being of cats. The diet of cats mostly consists of protein (meat, fish, milk, etc) so proper sleep is also needed for complete digestion of their protein intake. 

However, as far as sleep timing is concerned there is no fixed time at which all cats prefer to go to sleep in the day. Cats have the ability to set their sleeping hours as per their feeding pattern, and one research also reveals that some cats adjust their sleep timing as per the activity of their owners.

What do cats dream about?  

Image credits: Gokul Barman/pexels

Only 25% of a cat’s total sleep is deep sleep and this is the time during which your cat may go through REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a unique sleeping phase accompanied with dreams (yes, cats can also dream) and involves increased brain activity, it is also experienced by humans and birds. If your cat’s limbs are twitching or whiskers are showing a slight regular movement during her sleep, it is possible that she might be dreaming. Maybe dreaming about you… but probably not — research suggests they’re likely dreaming about being on the hunt.

However, there’s still a chance that your cat may be dreaming about you from time to time. Professor Dr. Nicholas Dodman from Cumming Vet School, New England told Metro in an interview that cats exhibit many of the physiological and behavioral characteristics that humans also manifest in their dreaming. It’s entirely possible, according to a report, that cats dream of a variety of things, from their prey to other cats to their owner petting them. 

Why cats sleep more when it’s raining?

Factors like weather and temperature also affect a cat’s activity and sleeping pattern, and it has been found that on rainy and cold days, cats spent more time sleeping. If you are a cat owner, you may have noticed your cat often lying near the heating system in winters. This is because cats are warm-blooded animals like us which means that on a cold day they require more energy to keep their internal body temperature balanced.

Also, cats, in general, prefer sunny weather and don’t like the rainy season. Cats and water are rarely good friends, and there’s a good reason for this too: it’s hard for them to stay warm during the wet season, and they also hate the noise that comes from the clouds. Plus, if they do get wet, it’s very hard to dry out and the moisture on their skin and fur can easily make them catch a cold.

Cats also tend to sleep more when they feel safe, and tend to pick sleeping spaces where they feel nothing can disturb them. But more sleep is not always a good sign. If your normal-aged cat is sleeping more than 15-16 hours a day, it is possible that she could be suffering from boredom, physical pain, hyperthyroidism, depression, etc. These disorders occur more frequently in cats that are overweight and you should consult a vet if you notice a sudden change in the sleeping habits of your cat or if it sleeps excessively. Just like humans, cats’ sleep patterns can offer hints about their health.

Just like a good night’s sleep is important for the proper functioning of our body, a good day’s sleep is necessary for a cat’s well-being. So the next time your cat is yawning in front of you as you work, don’t call them lazy. They just have a different sleep setting than yours — and arguably a better one.

Stealth bomber caught mid-flight by Google Maps photo

The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber was designed during the Cold War, featuring technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses. But this bomber may not be so stealthy after all, as one plane was caught flying over farm fields in the Midwest by Google Satellite cameras.

Image via Google Maps.

Photo Bomber

The bomber was first discovered by Redditor Hippowned in the state of Missouri, US, between Kansas City and Saint Louise (some 50 km east of Kansas City). The exact coordinates are 39°01’18.5”,-93°35’40.5” — you can check the spot yourself with this Google Maps link.

The blurry red-green-blue (RGB) halo of the plane is a result of how the image is captured: the satellite cameras first capture the RGB channels separately and then combine them into a single image. As the plane was moving quickly, the integration of the channels is imperfect.

Just 21 of these bombers were ever built. At an average cost of $2 billion, and with a maintenance cost of $6.8 million annually, it’s not hard to understand why there’s so few of them — which makes it all the more impressive that one of them was caught on Google’s cameras.

If you’re interested in spotting your own Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bomber, your best chance is in Missouri, at the Whiteman Air Force Base (the current home of the B-2 Spirit).

The B-2’s first public flight in 1989. Image via Wikipedia.

It’s not the first time an airplane was caught on Google’s Maps imagery. In 2010, an airliner was spotted sporting the same RGB halo effect.

Image via Google Maps.

Google Maps uses satellites and aerial photography to produce an image of the world. Most satellite images are no more than three years old and updated on a regular basis. The Street View feature boasts over 170 billion images from over 10 million miles around the planet.

Over a hundred museums release their collections in the form of coloring books you can download for free

Example of the kind of image you can try your hand at coloring. Image via Smithsonian collection.

In the past few years, adult coloring books have simply exploded. Whether it’s because it’s relaxing, pleasant, or simply an unusual artistic endeavor, there’s no shortage of adult coloring books — from mandalas to mythological creatures, you can try your hand at coloring everything you can imagine.

A group of museums and cultural institutions wanted to make adult coloring even more interesting, and they released some of their collections in black-and-white designs that you can download and color yourself.

Image credits: British Library.

Whether it’s medical oddities, vintage advertising, designs, or anything else they have in their collections, you can now learn as you color with the #ColorOurCollections campaign.

The campaign was first launched in 2018, and now, over 100 participating institutions have joined in. From the lush collections of the Denver Botanic Gardens to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, there’s a lot of coloring diversity at your disposal. Try your hand at the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design or go through the Royal Anthropological Institute’s collection — all for free.

A butter ad featured in the West Virginia and Regional History Center.

The project is meant to spur interest in art as well as museums’ collections. It takes place every year, and the collections are very varied, both in regards to the theme and the artistic style. Even at a quick browse, we came across art collections involving sketches of cities, maps, advertisements, botanical sketches, and biological structures. There seem to be many medical sketches as well, each offering the ability to draw in more or less accurate human bodies.

With museums closed down for so long, artists-to-be can enjoy these striking collections from the comfort of their homes, and make these collections their own by opting for alternative coloring schemes.

Johannes von Cuba, Gart der Gesuntheit: zu latein Hortus sanitatis, Strasbourg: Mathia Apiario, 1536 Boston Athenaeum

You can check out all the #ColorOurCollections here, and if you do end up coloring anything, do share it with us, as well as the institution that uploaded it — I’m sure they’d love to see it.

Here are a few more of our favorites from this year.

Plot twist: Anti-5G bracelet worn by conspiracy theorists is actually radioactive

Undated picture of the “Smiley Kids armband with negative ions” flagged by the Dutch authorities. Image credits: ANVM.

If you thought the 5G conspiracy theories went away — well, they kind of haven’t. Among some groups, such as QAnon believers or anti-vaxxers, the belief that 5G caused the pandemic (or that it’s some form of conspiracy meant to make us ill) hasn’t gone away. Obviously, there’s no scientific evidence to back it up. Still, some go to great lengths to “protect” themselves from 5G.

For instance, some opted for a “magnetic bracelet” with “negative ions” that allegedly protects wearers from the “nefarious” effects of 5G. The bracelet, which can be purchased from a vendor which we will not name nor link towards (to avoid further exposure), was sold for approximately $24. The vendor did not market it as an anti-5G product (as far as we can tell, based on a year-old screenshot of the product page), but it was popularized as such on conspiracy theory groups.

It was still sold as pseudoscientific, spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Here’s what the product description reads:

“Negative ion jewelry is a hot trend theme – many athletes and health-conscious people swear by it. According to the ancient Yin-Yang theory, negative ions can compensate for a surplus of positive ions in our environment.”

Regardless of how it was sold, however, it turns out it’s radioactive, and it’s not the only wellness product sold that was found to be radioactive. The organization for nuclear safety and radiation protection in the Netherlands issued a warning after 10 products they analyzed were found to be giving off harmful ionizing radiation. Wearing them long-term could be harmful to wearers, the warning said.

“The 10 consumer products examined contain radioactive substances…Ionizing radiation can damage tissue and DNA,” the warning says. “The amount of radiation measured on the examined products is low, however in the case of prolonged and continuous wear of these examined products (a whole year, 24 hours a day), the strict limit value in the Netherlands for exposure of the skin to radiation can be exceeded.” This is the full list of the products found to be radioactive.

Conspiracy theories have fueled the emergence of an “anti-5G” market — devices or products that typically have no effect or, as is the case here, are actually harmful. For instance, a simple Amazon search reveals hundreds of “anti-radiation stickers” or “anti-5G” products, and there are plenty more bogus products on the darker corners of the internet. If you’re considering buying these, maybe reconsider.

An 11-year-old graduated from university with a bachelor’s in physics. He wants to make humans immortal

Laurent Simons took a year to complete his undergraduate degree in Quantum Physics after he had dropped out from Eindhoven University in 2019. Simons, who’s only 11, says he wants to use his extraordinary ability to make humans immortal.

Image credits: Laurent Simons.

Simons, who hails from the Belgian city of Ostend, entered school at the age of 4, and finished elementary school at the age of six, before most kids even start. He enrolled at a private high school in Amsterdam, but it wasn’t smooth sailing — he complained that other students were learning too slowly, while the other students complained that Simons was a know-it-all. So he then moved to a grammar school in the Belgian city of Brugge, which organized one-on-one lessons for him.

From a young age, Simons appeared to have the ability to instantly memorize everything he read. After attending several special courses for gifted people, he enrolled in Eindhoven University, in a course in electrical engineering. However, much to his parents’ disappointment, who were hoping he would become the first university graduate under 10, Eindhoven University rejected this possibility. The university argued there were too many exams he couldn’t take, so he dropped out of that university and enrolled in the University of Antwerp, in a quantum physics course.

Now, Simons, 11, is already a graduate with distinction — and he has big plans for the future.

“I don’t really care if I’m the youngest […] it’s all about getting knowledge for me,” said Simons in a  report from the Dutch newspaper De Telegraf. “This is the first puzzle piece in my goal of replacing body parts with mechanical parts. Immortality is my goal. I want to be able to replace as many body parts as possible with mechanical parts. I’ve mapped out a path to get there. You can see it as a big puzzle. Quantum physics — the study of the smallest particles — is the first piece of the puzzle.”

Until that happens, Simons needs to learn a few more things — and he’s already started. He took a few courses from a master’s degree already and is enrolling in a special, international, tailor-made master’s course in Antwerp, in cooperation with universities from Israel, Great Britain, and the USA.

It’s still early days for Simons, and child prodigies don’t always enjoy adult success, but so far, the young man shows incredible talent and appears to have lofty goals. It remains to be seen whether he actually delivers on his promise, but he’s clearly well on his way.

Solar farms are now starting to replace golf courses

Few things scream ‘privilege’ the way playing golf does. Golfing has become a symbol of sorts, reserved only for those rich enough to afford it. The courses themselves have become a symbol: lavish, well-maintained, and large areas where people go about hitting the balls.

But the courses also pose a number of environmental problems. Despite being “green”, they don’t typically contribute to biodiversity, and often actually pose serious problems for local biodiversity, as they’re covered in short grass and frequented by humans. To make matters even worse, golf courses consume a lot of water. In the US alone, golf courses require over 2 billion gallons of water (7.5 billion liters) per day, averaging about 130,000 gallons (492,000 liters per day). However, some see an opportunity here — an opportunity to turn golf courses from an environmental problem into an environmental asset. How? By filling them with solar panels.

Image in Creative Commons.

In New York, a 27-acre that started out as a landfill and then became a golf driving range in the 1980s was transformed into a solar farm in 2019.

“This solar farm is what hope and optimism look like for our future,” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said in a statement. The non-profit had campaigned for the transformation of the golf course. “We know over the next 20 years, the sun will shine, the power will be produced and we will have clean power. We don’t know, and we may not want to know, the cost of fossil fuels.”

The move not only ensured electricity for around 1,000 houses in Long Island but it will also eliminate some of the pesticides and pollutants in the area — pollutants that the golf course used for maintenance. Overall, the move is estimated to generate $800,000 for local authorities.

This type of project is possible because of recent developments in solar panel technology. It seems like almost overnight, solar panels have become incredibly cheap, and it’s not just the panels themselves — a multitude of solar farm components are becoming cheaper, allowing solar energy to compete, even as the fossil fuel industry remains heavily subsidized.

“I think New York is at a critical time in its history,” NextEra spokesman Bryan Garner said. NextEra is the company behind the solar farm. “The state has had really ambitious renewable energy goals, and this is clearly a step in the right direction.”

Next Era itself is not entirely a renewable energy company but drawn in by falling prices, it’s focusing more and more on solar energy.

This is not the only project to turn golf into solar energy, and New York is not the only place where this is happening. Rockwood Golf Course in Independence, Missouri, has also gone through a similar transformation. In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, solar panels were chosen as the “lesser of two evils”, with the alternative being turning the golf course into housing, which would have caused more traffic and more pollution in the area.

“We like the fact that it will be used for solar,” said Chairman Patricia Kerfoot at A meeting ON THE PROJECT. “That is a policy of the town to increase solar as much as possible, that it will keep it open space, which is part of our local comprehensive plan, as much as possible.” 

It’s a perfect fit if you think about it — golf courses cover large areas of open land, which is exactly what solar farms also need. At the same time, the dropping prices of renewable energy make it a more attractive proposition.

These aren’t just isolated examples, a trend seems to be emerging, driven not just by decreasing prices of solar energy, but also by a decrease in the interest in golf. Between 2003 and 2018, golf saw a decline of almost 7 million players, and any hopes of turning the golf industry around were shattered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Halfway through 2021, the National Golf Foundation reported the closure of 60 18-hole courses, several of which have been replaced by solar farms.

But perhaps nowhere in the world is this trend as prevalent as in Japan.

Japan is turning its abandoned golf courses into solar farms

Image in Creative Commons.

Japan even has a national plan to replace some of its golf courses with large solar plants.

This is remarkable because, despite declining costs of solar energy, Japan’s solar power is still far more expensive than the global average — and even so, the country feels like adding more and more solar farms. Renewable energy initiatives are welcome and heavily subsidized in Japan, particularly as the country is looking for alternatives to nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima plant disaster.

Japan’s golf courses were built during the country’s inflated-asset boom in the 1980s but interest continued declining as years passed. This is where solar energy enters the stage.

Solar energy has become a national priority for Japan, and the country has become a leader in photovoltaics. In addition to being a leading manufacturer of photovoltaics (PV), Japan is also a large installer of domestic PV systems with most of them grid-connected.

Naturally, the country also set its sights on golf courses, repurposing several of them for solar installations. The most recent of these, a 100 MW solar plant has begun operation in the Kagoshima Prefecture, becoming one of the largest photovoltaic facilities in the area.

In particular, rural golf courses in Japan were deemed as ideal places or new solar installations. A perfect example is up a mountainous road in Kamigori, in the Hyogo prefecture, where a new solar farm is installed in a former golf course link — generating enough power to meet the needs of 29,000 local households.

Another reason why golf courses are so attractive for solar investments is that the ground has already been leveled, and flood-control and landslide prevention measures are already in place. Essentially, golf courses check all the boxes for what you’d want in a solar farm.

All in all, a tide seems to be turning against some golf courses, and towards solar energy. Innovations on the technical side have made solar plants a cheap and competitive source of energy. The price of electricity generated by utility-scale solar photovoltaic systems is continuously decreasing, but solar plants do more than just offer cheap electricity — as the golf course showed, they have emerged as a space for sustainable innovation.

One of Einstein’s manuscripts is going to auction and is expected to fetch millions of euros

This Tuesday, in Paris, a manuscript of Albert Einstein is going to auction.

Albert Einstein. Image in the public domain.

Christie’s Auctions and Private Sales will be putting the document up to auction on behalf of the Aguttes auction house later this week in Paris. This is probably one of the most valuable manuscripts of Einstein to ever come to auction and is expected to garner a sum fit for its significance: between two to three million euros.

Preliminary work

“This is without a doubt the most valuable Einstein manuscript ever to come to auction,” Christie’s said in a statement, according to the AFP.

The 54-page long manuscript was handwritten between 1913 and 1914 in Zurich, Switzerland by Einstein and Swiss engineer Michele Besso, his colleague and friend. It contains the preparatory groundwork for the theory of relativity, arguably one of the most important contributions to physics of the 20th century. His work earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.

Besso was instrumental in preserving the document, Christie’s adds, as Einstein himself was likely to have seen it as an unimportant working document.

The manuscript offers “a fascinating plunge into the mind of the 20th century’s greatest scientist”, according to the auction house. Einstein died aged 76 in 1955 and is widely considered to be one of the greatest physicists ever. He’s also something of a popular icon, and widely known today.

Schemes that combine working from home and on-site have the most benefits for workers

Although remote working has some obvious benefits, new research explains that it also has drawbacks for workers. According to the report, a hybrid work model, where people come into the office but not every day, may be the best path to take for workers’ productivity, career progression, and quality of life.

Image credits: Thought Catalog.

The findings are based on data from 9,000 employees in the US, part of whom transitioned to a work-from-home model during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the data, there are some advantages to working on-site that those who work from home simply miss out on. At the same time, there are undeniable benefits to working from home. These results were published by ADP Research, a US-based labour market analyst.

As such, the best way forward is likely a hybrid model that combines elements both from on-side and from-home working schemes, the team argues.

Best of both

“On the whole, employees working on-site enjoy crucial advantages over their remote counterparts. […] Given the upsides and downsides of on-site work, a ‘hybrid’ option – working part on-site and part remote – may actually provide workers with most advantageous characteristics of both on-site and remote working,” the report concludes.

Most of the benefits of on-site working schemes flow from an increased level of social interaction in the workplace, a clearer separation between work and home, and greater access to career opportunities, it adds. Workers who employ a hybrid system also report receiving more constructive feedback compared to all of their peers.

Working on-site among colleagues naturally leads to more interactions with them. Roughly 77% of workers in the office reported engaging in spontaneous conversations with coworkers, while only 60% of remote workers reported the same. In this last category, men were more likely to have unplanned chats with colleagues than women.

Despite the availability of resources helping us be more productive with our time, such as online tools to edit documents, connect with our teams, or shared calendars to help everybody sync up, remote workers tend to work longer hours than on-site workers. The demands of home life, including chores or caring for children, can easily disrupt our workflow. According to the report, those who work from home spend one hour longer, on average, to finish their daily tasks.

Previous research has shown that a system of one day per week working from home could boost employee productivity by 4.8%. A bit part of that estimation comes down to workers not having to commute, which helps them save on time. The current report builds on those findings, showing that 67% of hybrid workers also feel they’re more visible and getting better support from their managers under a hybrid model; only 49% of on-site workers felt the same way. Furthermore, 72% of hybrid workers report getting constructive feedback about their efforts and results, compared to only 57% of on-site workers.

While most managers expected to see a drop in productivity as the pandemic forced them to adopt a remote work scheme, experience in the field showed that this transition, or the transition to a hybrid work model, was actually pretty successful and didn’t lead to any drops in productivity. However, the report stresses how important it is to maintain a healthy work culture while going through these changes.

“Ensuring employee well-being is among the key measures undertaken by business leaders looking to effectively shift to remote work,” the authors write. “In particular, 34% of [business] leaders report that they are taking steps to create a sense of community among employees online and looking to tackle the well-being challenges posed by the shift to remote work.”

The report “On-site, Remote or Hybrid: Employee Sentiment on the Workplace” has been published on ADP Research’s page.

Dog pee caused a traffic pole to collapse in Japan. Then things got weird

Authorities were initially baffled when an iron traffic light collapsed in the Mie Prefecture in Kansai, Honshu. The six-meter pole (19 feet) fell on some bushes without harming anyone, but now, the likely culprit has been found

It’s pee. Lots and lots of dog pee.

This type of pole is designed to last around 50 years. This one broke just 23 years after it was installed. In Japan, a country known for its stellar engineering, this doesn’t happen very often, so authorities wanted to see what was the cause. The structure of the pole seemed alright, so why did it break?

A favorite spot

It was the chemical analyses that pointed to foul play; canine foul play, that is. The concentration of urea in the underground foundation of the pole was 42 times greater than in other nearby traffic lights. Around the column edge, the concentration was also 8 times greater.

Since urea is a waste product found in urine, officials started to suspect that it was dogs’ urine that was causing the problem. A brief investigation found that plenty of people walk their dogs in the area, and when a new traffic light was installed, it too became a prized urinating spot for dogs.

A photo of the corroded column

The urine of mammals can corrode metal, as seems to have been the case here. Although it won’t happen overnight, the damage can accumulate year after year.

“Even if the amount of urine is just a little, the repetition over a long period can damage public infrastructure and cause it to collapse,” says officer Takahashi Koji, who serves in the traffic management and control division of the prefectural police.

After this, things got even more bizarre.

Pee at home

Koji called on dog owners to find other places for their pets to urinate — which seems reasonable enough. A tree or a park or something, right? Well, not really. “We want them to look at alternatives, like encouraging their animals to pee before they go for a walk,” Koji said.

As NHK reports, dog owners in the area were very confused, but veterinarian Shibanai Akiko agrees and says it’s time for dogs to start peeing at home.

“Dogs don’t stress out even if they don’t excrete or pee during a walk, or they don’t mark their territory,” she explains. “Also, it won’t cause them to get sick.”

“I recommend that owners discipline their dogs to excrete at home to check their health condition through their excretory substances. This is also to let dogs realize they are members of our society,” she says.

So, uhm, is it time for dogs to start peeing at home, and not just walk on walks? What do you think?

6 of the most bizarre cults you haven’t heard about

There are some 7.7 billion people on the planet, and some of them have a few weird ideas about what’s going on in the universe. Here are some of them.

Universal Medicine — Esoteric breast massages

“Let me cure you by massaging your breasts” seems hard to take seriously, but this is an important part of what Universal Medicine teaches.

The cult was founded by Serge Benhayon, a former bankrupt tennis coach from New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Benhayon has no medical qualifications and claims that while he was on the toilet, he received an “energetic impress” and started the cult as a result.

From there to “esoteric heals everything” was just a step, apparently. The ‘esoteric breast massage’ (EBM) programs are claimed to heal everything from painful periods to breast cancer — claims which, of course, are ludicrous. Here is just one example of their philosophy (which has since been removed from their website):

“The breasts are emanators of a quality of DIVINE TRUTH that begins at the heart. The heart in connection to the pubic bone chakra, which is aligned to the ovaries, brings the emanation of nurturing out for all to have”.

Serge and Natalie Benhayon at Universal Medicine event 2015. Image via Wiki Commons.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the “healers” (and Benhayon himself) are, well… creeps. A NSW Supreme Court jury found that he leads a “socially dangerous” and “socially harmful cult”, “intentionally indecently touched” clients and “is a charlatan who makes fraudulent medical claims”. In a British court ruling, Universal Medicine was found to be “a cult with some potentially harmful and sinister elements”.

Happy Science — Mindfulness, spirituality, and invading China

Happy Science is one of the surprisingly numerous weird Japanese cults. The movement was started in 1986 by Ryuho Okawa, who claims to be the reincarnation of the “Supreme Being” — El Cantare, the “Lord of All Gods”.

Members of the cult believe El Cantare was born 330 million years ago and was worshipped at different times in human history as Odin, Jesus, Osiris, Hermes, Buddha, and the Hebrew Elohim. Okawa’s current wife is thought by believers to be the reincarnation of the goddess Gaia (the Mother Earth), while his previous wife was claimed to be the reincarnation of the goddess Aphrodite, but she has since been expelled from the cult.

Ryuho Okawa, in 2015.

The group claims to have 30 million members, although estimates put the figure closer to a few tens of thousands. Teachings are based on 500 books published by Okawa, most of which are transcripts of his recorded lectures. There are also 15 films based on his teachings.

Happy Science is a weird mixture of things. They believe in the existence of reincarnation, but also angels, demons, and aliens. They only ask believers to have the “aspiration and discipline to seek the truth and actively contribute to the realization of love, peace and happiness on Earth.” But things get a bit weirder when it gets to the group’s stance on foreign policy. They seem to love everyone… except China and North Korea.

Members of the group believe that North Korea and China are plotting to take over Japan using nuclear weapons. So instead, Japan should act preemptively and start an expansion. Happy Science wants to change the country’s constitution and remilitarize as quickly as possible. Their political ambitions are no joke: the Happiness Realization Party, the cult’s official party has 21 local councilors in Japan, and wants much more.

The group’s nationalistic ideas have become better defined in recent years, and they also started media campaigns supporting Donald Trump and the US far-right, working to build anti-China animosities. In the pandemic, the group sold “spiritual vaccines” that claimed to prevent and cure COVID-19 — for a cost, of course.

The August Engelhardt Coconut-Obsessed Cult

In 1902, a man by the name of August Engelhardt set out on a bizarre trip. Armed with inheritance money, a suitcase full of books, and the knowledge he gained by studying physics and pharmacy, he set out to reach the shores of Papua New Guinea. His goal? Establishing a new Edenic order.

August Engelhardt.

He believed that man was a tropical creature, and if ever there is a garden of Eden, it should be inside the tropics, as close to the Equator as possible. He also believed that man was supposed to walk around nature freely — naked, preferably.

Engelhardt had previously engaged in a movement called Jungborn (“Fountain of Youth”), which advocated a return to the natural world, eating off the land, and living nude. The movement eventually fell apart because of legal problems regarding nudism, but Engelhardt didn’t give up on the idea.

He arrived on Kabakon island, a place known for its headhunters. He also seemed to have a weird fascination with coconuts. The main reason appears to be his shape. Engelhardt saw that the coconut was round like the human head and even resembled it a bit — so it must be the ideal fruit for man’s consumption. So central was this idea to Engelhardt’s cult that his diet and that of his followers (though there were only a handful of them) consisted almost entirely of coconuts.

“We can expect from God that he created our food in the shape of our heads,” Engelhardt reasons in one of his writings. They are “vegetal human heads, and they alone are the proper human nourishment.”

The coconut is also the fruit that grows nearest the sun, and Engelhardt also worshipped the sun, so he decided it must be the most perfect food for people. A New York Times article from October 15, 1905 wrote that “His plan was to have his sect worship the sun. He held that man was a tropical animal, not intended to live in caves called houses, but to wander, as Adam did, with the sun beating upon him all day and the dews of heaven for a mantle at night. Living such a life, he believed that the healing and curative powers of the sun would in time render a man so immune that sickness could be overcome”.

But sickness was not overcome.

Engelhardt and his fifteen or so followers would spend their days basking in the sun, swimming in the Pacific Ocean, and eating their coconuts. But life wasn’t easy. Several of his followers didn’t even survive a year on the island. Engelhardt himself became ill after a poor coconut harvest. He recovered but was reportedly very thin and in poor health. His writing became more and more erratic year after year, and he didn’t make it to his 50s.

His cult also didn’t last, but it’s not hard to consider Engelhardt a precursor of the hippie movement, and given the impact the movement has had on the world, he may feel a little vindicated.

Raëlism — possibly the largest UFO religion

So here’s the thing. Humans were created by aliens called the Elohim. The Elohim are not gods, but they are sometimes mistaken to be. The Elohim have also created forty Elohim-human hybrids to serve as providers — including Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and Raël — a former French journalist who founded and currently leads the Raëlian Movement.

That’s the core idea behind Raëlism, but it gets even more interesting. The movement believes that since the Hiroshima bomb of 1945, humans are inching closer to the apocalypse, and if we manage to avoid this and achieve world peace, the Elohim will return to Earth with their technology and begin a utopic age on Earth. They’re even working to build an embassy for the Elohim.

Like any respectable neo-religion, the Raëlian Movement encourages meditation, mindfulness, and sexual experimentation. However, researchers have noted that the movement has a coherent worldview and Raël himself appears to genuinely believe the truth behind his claims. The movement’s beliefs are generally considered as “progressive” and “hedonistic”, although members are advised against using recreational drugs or stimulants.

Raëlians promoting their religion on a street in Japan; one is dressed as an alien character mascot.

The movement, which counts some 60,000 members, is anti-war, but sometimes opts for surprising positions. For instance, they support the introduction of genetically engineered plants, a position opposite to that of most new-age movements.

The John Frum cargo cult — in John they trust

John Frum is a classic example of a cargo cult. To get into the vibe of cargo cults, think of it this way: you’re an indigenous population from some Pacific archipelago. Modern science and technology is largely unknown to you. So when, unbeknownst to you, a global war breaks out (World War II), and some faraway people (mostly the Americans) send planes and other things your way, it’s not hard to see it as a divine wonder.

A John Frum gathering site.

Hundreds of thousands of American troops poured into Pacific islands over the course of WWII, and several cargo cults were spurred. It’s not just the appearance of soldiers and their wild technology, but the locals didn’t know where the strangers’ seemingly endless supplies came from. To some, it seemed like they were magically summoned from some nether place. So cults appeared — especially after the soldiers departed.

Since the indigenous wanted the soldiers to come back (as the soldiers often traded with locals and offered them supplies), they developed rituals. They prayed and built shrines, but that was just the start of it. They would mimic the day-to-day habits of soldiers, patrolling and performing parades. Some even built runways for the planes to return.

For the duration of the war, the soldiers returned — sometimes. So to the locals, it seemed like their rituals were bringing them back. But when the war ended, the soldiers didn’t come back anymore. Like the gods of myth, they disappeared. In time, many cargo cults also disappeared. But others endured, hoping that if they pray hard enough, if they wait long enough, and if they do the right things, their gods will return (does this sound familiar?).

A ceremonial John Frum cross.

Perhaps the most notable such cult is the John Frum, in the islands of Vanuatu. John Frum is depicted as an American WWII serviceman who brings wealth and prosperity to his followers. However, John Frum also seems to live in a volcano, is a spirit, knows everything, and is stronger than Jesus (Vanuatu was swept by Christianity). He wants people to return to their ancestral way of living, and oppose colonizers.

Believers see John Frum on special occasions, or sometimes when they consume kava — a species of the pepper plant and the local narcotic of choice. The island of Tanna, in particular, is where the belief thrives. The men consume kava every night at sunset in a place that is off-limits to women.

In 1957, the movement really took off, when the John Frum movement created the “Tanna army” — a non-violent, ritualistic society that organized military-style parades of men wearing a uniform consisting of white T-shirts that said “T-A USA” (Tanna Army USA).

A local village chief managed to visit the US in 1995. He was impressed by the immense wealth he saw, but also saddened by the pollution and poverty he saw in the country. He happily returned home. We don’t know who John Frum is, or even if he is a real person, and Americans have done little to help Vanuatu in the past 70 years. But if Christians have been waiting for Jesus for 2,000 years, why is waiting for John Frum any sillier?

Missionary Church of Kopimism — code is law

Kopimists have a rather unusual set of beliefs. The main underlying idea is that copying information is a sacred virtue and all information should be freely distributed and unrestricted. The group opposes any form of copyright or information hiding — all information must be freely available, always.

If that sounds a bit like the Pirate movement, well, some suspect the Kopimists of exactly that, especially since the two founders have been involved in online activism before. Some journalists have dismissed Kopimism as “a political adventure”, “a PR stunt”, and “a devaluation of religion” — but the group insists they’re the real deal. Their webpage reads:

A religion is a belief system with rituals.
The missionary kopimistsamfundet is a religious group centered in Sweden who believe that copying and the sharing of information is the best and most beautiful that is. To have your information copied is a token of appreciation, that someone think you have done something good.

  • All knowledge to all
  • The search for knowledge is sacred
  • The circulation of knowledge is sacred
  • The act of copying is sacred.

The group even holds weddings. In 2012, the Missionary Church of Kopimism held their first wedding in Belgrade, Serbia. The holy ceremony was conducted by a Kopimistic Op wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. A computer read the vows and some of the Kopimism’s central beliefs aloud. At the event, the church declared:

“We are very happy today. Love is all about sharing. A married couple shares everything with each other. Hopefully, they will copy and remix some DNA-cells and create a new human being. That is the spirit of Kopimism. Feel the love and share that information. Copy all of its holiness.”

It’s hard to say just how much truth is in that and how much is trolling, but at the very least, Kopimists came up with an idea that pushes the boundary of what religion and doctrine really mean — especially in the 21st century.


These are just some of the unusual groups out there. Of course, there are plenty more that are more dangerous, and others that are just as (or maybe even more) weird. Did we miss anyone that should be on the list? Write in the comments!

Netflix and no chill? Users are increasingly overwhelmed by too many streaming services

We never thought we’d say this, but maybe there are a bit too many options here.

With the world on hold for one pandemic year and with more people than ever forced to stay home and work from home, streaming services were bound to bloom — and that they did.

Streaming services are already mainstream. Already, two in three Americans use their smart TV’s built-in software to access such services, and about half rely on connected devices (such as Apple TV or Fire TV) — which suggests that a significant proportion of Americans use both. In fact, Americans rarely settle for only one streaming service.

According to a recent survey conducted by Verizon Media and Publicis Media, consumers access five services on average, and cord stackers (people who use both streaming services and cable TV) use seven streaming services on average.

With such bewilderment of options, it’s not hard to understand why some users may find themselves confused and uncertain what to opt for. The same survey mentions that 56% of the surveyed users say they are overwhelmed by the number of streaming services to choose from. Granted, this is better than the alternative (and it’s quite a first-world problem to have), but it is becoming a problem — especially since you’re never gonna watch everything that a single streaming service has to offer, let alone half a dozen. As ScreenBinge points out, the educational content on Netflix alone could keep you busy for years.

As Rachel Soloff in PittNews comments, “there are way too many streaming services at this point”. The appeal of the first streaming services was that you could watch your favorite shows when you wanted it. But more and more competing services are popping up and purchasing content from each other, forcing people to subscribe just to watch one or two of their favorite shows (without realizing they don’t care about the other shows on the platform).

As The Guardian explains, these can become quite expensive. In and of themselves, streaming services aren’t really expensive, especially considering the mountain of content most of them offer. But when you add them up (and a lot of people do), the cost also increases substantially. Almost half of the American users are reportedly worried by how much they are paying for streaming.

There’s also little communication between competing services. If you want to see your favorite show, you either have to look up what platform it’s on or just search through all of them. Of the respondents that accessed five or more streaming services, 80% said they wished there was a “universal search” feature.

So where does this leave us? The streaming industry may be at a turning point. Having matured and grown, it’s become more competitive than ever, but unlike other industries, this isn’t necessarily making things better for consumers. A confusing streaming war is making users feel overwhelmed and oversaturated. When it comes to streaming at least, more choice may not be better.

The world’s most remote island is hiring. Here’s how you can apply

Tristan da Cunha is a remote group of beautiful islands strung in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, some 1,732 miles (2,787 km) off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa and 2,487 miles (4,002 km) off the coast of the Falkland Islands — which themselves are some 900 miles (1500 km) from the coast of Argentina.

It’s about as far as you can go from any land surface while still staying on an inhabited island — because Tristan da Cunha is inhabited. The main island, which measures 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) boasts about 250 citizens. Now, this remote British territory is looking to add another inhabitant.

The Job

Scientific monitoring in Tristan da Cunha. Image in Wiki Commons.

A Marine Protection Zone (MPZ) is being designated around Tristan da Cunha. Almost three times bigger than the UK, it will be the largest MPZ in the Atlantic, safeguarding one of the world’s most pristine marine environments and the wealth of wildlife that lives there.

“We got here through the tenacity and vision of Tristan, the support of seven international partners, and 20 years of working together,” the project’s web page reads.

The job is for a 3.5-year project supporting and enabling the Tristanian community as protectors of their rich waters. It will guide the marine protection zone through its infancy stage, creating not just a global beacon of conservation good practice, but also a reason for pride for the small but tight-knit community of Tristan.

The project is expected to last from September 2021 to 2024, though job shares may also be possible. What can you expect on the job? Well, the listing has a number of responsibilities and requirements, but the advert published by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) charity sums it up thusly:

“There are two key ingredients to making this work. Firstly, you need to jump into life on Tristan and try your hand at anything that comes your way. Secondly, the people of Tristan sit at the heart of our work, and building relationships with this community will be the cornerstone of yours and the project’s success.”

“Yes, we do need someone who knows a bit about the marine environment, has worked on similar projects before and can deliver field activities. But a can-do attitude and people skills are absolutely vital.”

So if you’ve got conservation skills and a can-do attitude and are willing to travel to a beautiful, remote island for three years… it doesn’t get better than this. The salary is about £30,000 per year ($40,000), but your expenses are mostly covered so you’ll end up saving a lot of that.

The Island

While truly a once in a lifetime experience, living on the island isn’t always easy. There are no air strips on Tristan da Cunha, which means all trips to and from the island happen by boat: a 6 day boat ride to South Africa.

There is, however, a village, and a supermarket. The village (Edinburgh of the Seven Seas) is home to some 70 families, farmers grazing their animals on common pastures and cultivating crops in patches (especially potatoes). Several houses are reserved for visitors. As Tristan da Cunha is a British territory, there is tea in every one of them.

There isn’t particularly much information about life on Tristan da Cunha. There’s not much going on in the local news section (other than the entire island getting vaccinated for COVID-19, which is another perk), but you get a sense of a warm community on this island.

“As you are likely to be invited to birthday parties whilst you are on island it is worth bringing with you a selection of birthday cards, wrapping paper, and small presents,” the advert’s travel guide notes.

Internet connection is likely to be an issue. There is an internet cafe on the island, but the speed is a very slow 256kbps. We couldn’t find if there’s any wifi on the island, so if you’re looking for a chance to get off the grid, this could very well be it — you may want to stock up on a large ebook library though.

Of course, in addition to its breathtaking scenery, Tristan is also home to diverse wildlife — especially marine wildlife and birds.

It’s definitely not a job for everyone, but it’s a job that has meaning, and it’s definitely a rare opportunity. Think you’re the right person for it? Here’s the advert, it’s open ’til the 9th of May.

This is not a paid job advertisement. We just thought it was cool. We actually reached out to RSPB for comment but they didn’t reply.

sheapshead-fish1

This fish will give you dental nightmares — meet the sheepshead fish

sheapshead-fish1

Lovely set of dentures right there. Could use some brushing, though. Credit: VA Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

We’re used to seeing all kinds of wacky and crazy-looking animals in the wild. The sheepshead fish is no exception, boasting some incredible dentures that bear an uncanny resemblance to those of humans — incisors and molars included.

This isn’t Photoshopped

Common to North American coastal waters, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico, the sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus) can be seen around rock pilings, jetties, mangroves, reefs, and piers. Most of all, they thrive in brackish waters.

It can grow up to around 91 cm (35 inches) in length and weigh up to 9.6 kg (21 lbs).

Bunch of sheepshead convicts. Credit: MENTALBLOCK_DMD; FLICKR

Bunch of sheepshead convicts. Credit: MENTALBLOCK_DMD; FLICKR

It’s sometimes referred to as the “convict fish” due to the black vertical stripes over its body — a nickname which the sheepshead apparently takes very seriously since it’s often seen stealing bait.

A baby sheaphead fish showing off his still growing teeth. (c) Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

A baby sheepshead fish showing off its still growing teeth. Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

The sheepshead, as you’ve most likely noticed, has sharp incisors sitting at the front of the jaw, and molars set in three rows in the upper jaw and two rows in the lower jaw.

Like humans, it makes proper use of these dentures to suit its omnivorous diet consisting of small vertebrate and invertebrate animals, as well as plants.

Its hard and sturdy molars are used to crush the shell of its prey and actually become stronger depending on its environment. If a sheepshead fish lives in a shell-rich environment it will grow larger and stronger teeth than another sheepshead fish.

“There was a significant correlation between increased force production and increased durophagous [shell-crushing] habit. Studies such as this one speak directly to the relationship between maximum functional potential and actual patterns of resource use,” notes L. P. Hernandez from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and P. J. Motta from the Department of Biology at the University of South Florida in a 1997 issue of the Journal of Zoology

It has a psychedelic cousin

The sheepshead is part of an entire family of wacky fish. The Sparidae family includes species that engage in various forms of hermaphroditism, either from male to female, the reverse or unisex. However, the sheepshead is very confident of its sexuality from birth and doesn’t change its sex.

The Salema porgy (Sarpa salpa), another Sparidae fish, has been known for its psychedelic properties for millennia. Some aristocrats from the Roman Empire would sometimes use this fish to get high. The Romans had a rather peculiar sense of partying, however, since the Salema porgy gives you one hell of a trip –  hallucinations and terrifying nightmares that can last for several days.

The sheepshead fish, however, is perfectly edible and a quick google search reveals hundreds of recipes. In fact, the sheepshead is highly sought after by restaurants, thanks to its fine white flesh and mild palatable taste

Image of scientific citations.

A prolific French academic, author of hundreds of papers, doesn’t exist. She’s a form of protest

One of France’s most prolific scientific authors, turns out, is actually a form of protest.

Image of scientific citations.
Image via Wikipedia.

Camille Noûs is one very busy bee. His or her scientific writings span subjects from molecular biology to geography and socio-economics. Needless to say, such an impressive body of work earned them stellar metrics in international rankings, and quite a bit of clout. Which makes the fact that Camille Noûs isn’t a real person just a tad embarrassing.

Fake for a cause

Noûs (which means ‘us’ or ‘we’ in French) is the product of RogueESR, a group of French academics that “work in higher education and research” and “strongly reject the education and research policy pursued by the current government”. The fictitious author was meant to show how easily current research ranking systems can be exploited.

“The dazzling scores of Camille Noûs in the international rankings will quickly illustrate the absurdity of the indicators used to evaluate the research output,” the group explained for Liberation.

Camille has been publishing for around one year now, having co-authored an impressive amount of studies already. It is a “symbolic character” aiming to show that research is a collaborative process, not one where individual ‘stars’ advance fields and ideas on their own.

The existence of Camille is meant to poke holes in the French government’s emphasis on meritocracy (or ‘Darwinism’ in the words of the president of the French National Center for Scientific Research, CNRS) that, the group feels, completely denies this collective process.

“I saw it as an act of protest, a good way to demonstrate the fact that the way in which scientific publishing and scientific evaluation work is [done is] not in line with academic values,” explains Stéphane André, professor at the University of Lorraine and one of the first to put the name of Camille Noûs as co-author of one of his articles.

“The advent of rankings based on the list of published articles pushes researchers to no longer want to advance knowledge but their own number of publications. ”

An independent administrative authority has been set up by the French government — the High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES). In essence, this body is tasked with deciding who is excellent and who is not, and a key metric they use to determine this is (ultimately) how many papers each researcher has published.

For most of us, this isn’t the most consequential piece of news. But in the grand scheme of things, how research is done has a massive impact on our quality of life — it creates the medical devices and techniques we use to stay healthy, produces new and better goods, improves productivity, and so on.

Camille Noûs may be fictional, but the issues that made them necessary are very real. Science is not a perk only some are allowed, it should not be a trapping of the elites. It’s something that affects all of us, and it’s something everybody should get to further and enjoy. It also shows that many researchers are tired with the current academic setting, the monopoly of entities such as journals or councils that decide their fate based on skewed or arbitrary metrics.

Beer, politics and identity – the chequered history behind Namibian brewing success

A concise history of the beer industry in Namibia written by history scholar Tycho Van der Hoog begins with the pithy observation by American singer-songwriter Frank Zappa to the effect that every nation worth its salt needs an airline and its own beer.

As it happens, the first no longer holds true, while beer remains a marker of national and, for that matter, subnational identities.

The brewing industry is today regarded as a source of national pride in Namibia. Windhoek Lager has not merely conquered the domestic market but has made substantial inroads south of the border where South African Breweries held a de facto monopoly for decades.

This is a tale, lovingly told, of an unlikely success built on the most fragile foundations. The early sections of Breweries, Politics and Identity: The History Behind Namibian Beer are, in effect, a careful piecing together of fragments of information about a series of operations that were very small and left little trace.

The history

The nascent breweries relied on the consumption of a very small number of Germans who remained in what was then known as South West Africa after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 under which Germany finally ceded loss of the territory. The territory was part of the German Empire from 1884 until 1915 when it was invaded by South Africa.

The first local brewery was established in 1900. Van der Hoog traces the fierce rivalry between breweries in the “beer triangle,” consisting of Windhoek, Swakopmund and Omaruru. This rivalry culminated in the eventual merger that constituted South West Breweries in 1920 – the company that eventually assumed the current name of Namibia Breweries Limited.

The main rival to South West Breweries from the mid-1920s was the Hansa Brewery. These two companies struggled through the ups and downs of the decades that followed. During World War 2, the breweries were suspected of pro-Nazi sympathies and were placed under close surveillance. The author provides a brief, but fascinating account of the subterfuges that were necessary to acquire German hops, the distribution of which was routed through third countries.

The most satisfying section of the book investigates the relationship between South West Breweries and South African Breweries. Van der Hoog notes that the South African company initially acquired a stake in South West Breweries (which had taken over Hansa Breweries in 1967) and acquired the right to make and sell Hansa Pilsner under license in South Africa. When the two companies parted company, South African Breweries retained the use of this trademark for the South African market.

The author maps a long history of suspicion, and eventually open warfare, between the Namibian brewery and its much larger South African neighbour.

Realities of South African rule

The story after 1919 is intertwined with the realities of South African rule, initially under a League of Nations mandate from 1919 to 1945 and subsequently under occupation in defiance of the United Nations. A ban on the sale of alcohol to Africans was imposed in 1920. This was in conformity with the terms of the mandate and was arguably more restrictive than in South Africa itself.

This changed with the passage of the 1928 Liquor Act, which entrenched racialised prohibition in South Africa, following which the liquor laws seem to have converged. In line with the South African model of control, beer halls were opened by municipalities dispensing an imitation of “native beer” – the proceeds of which financed the administration.

In both countries, illegal brewing and shebeens proliferated in the 1950s. This led to the abandonment of racially exclusive liquor legislation over the following decade. This happened in Namibia in 1969, seven years later than south of the border.

Van der Hoog demonstrates that the escalation of the liberation wars across the subcontinent had an important impact on the beer industry. The north of Namibia, particularly Ovamboland, had been treated as a South African labour reserve and had been isolated from the rest of the territory. No beer could be sold there, in effect, but the author indicates there was a lively trade in smuggled beer from Angola. The civil war that accompanied the messy withdrawal of the Portuguese had an impact on the cross-border trade in the mid-1970s.

South African soldiers, who backed one side in the war in Angola from bases on the northern border, created a demand for South African beer. But there was also an opportunity for South West Breweries to sell its beer into Ovamboland effectively for the first time.

Interestingly, Van der Hoog also reveals that brewing changes were made as late as 1986 to differentiate the products of the company from those of South African Breweries. With a lower alcohol content, Namibian beer incurred lower excise duties in South Africa.

Identity politics

The identity politics surrounding Namibian beer set in soon after. The author points to the elision from beer as a white Germanophone preserve to the embodiment of the newly independent Namibian nation after 1990. Despite a chequered relationship, the author notes that once in power, the South West African People’s Organisation – which led the war against South African occupation and took over running the country after independence – repeatedly blocked South African Breweries from establishing a brewery in Namibia to protect the brewery. This decision was reversed in 2015.

At the same time, Namibia Breweries Limited was able to make significant inroads into the South African market. The creation of a brewery inside South Africa, in tandem with Heineken, positioned the Namibian brewer within a regional struggle for dominance among some of the largest corporate players in the alcohol market.

The book is based on a wide range of archival sources and interviews and is accompanied by some fascinating photographs and examples of advertising material. The writing is understated, and it does not set out to make grand statements – even in relation to the matter of identity. It is also much more about the history of Namibian brewing than of beer consumption per se.

Given the richness of the material, it is a monograph that one feels could have been fleshed out in many different directions. The author has laid down a marker that he, or someone else, will hopefully follow up in the future.


An earlier version of this article appeared in the Journal of Wine Economics.

Paul Nugent, Professor of Comparative African History (School of History, Classics and Archaeology) & African Studies (School of Social and Political Science), University of Edinburgh

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Psychological Importance of Temporal Perception

We often ask ourselves, “Where has the time gone?”. As we watch our parents age and our younger relatives grow up, time can be both painful and redeeming.

Image credits: Lukas Blazek.

Time is a key component of our daily lives, a guiding force for our behavior. Adults seem to obsess over time that has passed swiftly and recall the days of long summers as a child. There is an ever-present nostalgia for being young again – a period when time seemed to move slowly, languorously.

Research suggests that older people underestimate how much time has passed because our dopaminergic levels decrease as we age.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that helps transmit signals between the nerve cells of the brain. This process leads us to perceive time as speeding up as we age.

However, there are several techniques we can use to slow down our perception of time – both practical and metaphysical – to “gain” more time. To be intentional about our perception of time requires learning to be childlike again, engaging in new activities, disconnecting from technology, paying attention to details, and meditating on mortality. 

Learn to be a child again

Our perception of time changes as we adventure and do new things to stimulate the mind. We can learn to be curious again about new ideas. With new experiences, the brain creates new neural pathways, adapts to new experiences and information, and creates new memories. This allows the brain to focus and record memories more clearly, making it feel as if time is moving more slowly.

Because children are constantly dedicating significant neural resources and brainpower to building new mental models, in an attempt to understand how the world works, children are constantly engaged in the moment. However, as adults, we experience similar stimuli daily as we engage in routines. In order to maximize our perception of time, we must learn to be children again; we must attempt to explore new things in this world. We must be eager for adventure, to see and feel all that there is to experience. If we are able to break out of routine and engage the world with a childlike sense of wonder, the reward is feeling as if we have lived longer lives.

Engage in new activities

Imagine a magician hands you a deck of cards. You riffle through and confirm that each card is unique. Now with a tap of the wand, she transforms the deck so every card is the same. This popular illusion is exactly what happens when we cease to invite new experiences into our life. When our days become a carbon copy of one another, we lose the ability to differentiate between them. We look back over the months spent on the same commute, in the same office, and fighting the same problems, with a diminished ability to separate those days in our mind.

Image credits: Arek Adeoye.

Our perception of time feels rushed and condensed. Compare the blur of mechanized work-life to a vacation where every day is distinct and filled with new experiences. You remember exactly what happened, who you were with, and where you went. This is the power of new experiences in shaping our perception of time. 

Dr. David Eagleman’s work examining how we perceive time was recently featured in an article in The New Yorker. According to Dr. Eagleman, the more vivid the details were in memory, the longer that we perceive the moment to have lasted. Eagleman also said “childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing.

The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.” Yet, by being more aware of our surroundings, making note of new experiences, we have the power to make it seem like our lives are longer, and we receive more of our scarcest resource: time.

Dr. David Eagleman believes that even small changes can help us become more aware of what is happening around us; switching your watch to the opposite wrist or taking a different route to work can shake up your neural circuits —anything you can do to keep your brain from switching to auto-pilot. 

Pay attention

When we live through dramatic events, such as near death experiences, research shows that people report time passes in slow motion. The perception of time is connected to the engagement and attention we provide in the moment; the more attention we provide, the more information we process, and the more time we perceive.

Our brain has to speed up its data processing to react. When our bodies sense a serious threat, the amygdala directs our brain’s resources to focus on the current situation. This ability was evolutionarily advantageous as it enabled humans to make quick decisions necessary for survival. This neural clock in the human brain perceives time through processes related to memory and attention, unlike our commonly known perceptions of clocks (the man-made items). So, when encountering something new, try paying close attention to the details and engaging in the moment’s beauty. Reflect on the sun’s rays hitting the leaves in the early morning.

Listen to the birds sing. Almost as if by magic, you may feel time slow down. 

Learn to disconnect

Researchers have discovered that technological advances and modern lifestyle have impacted our experience of time. Increases in the pace of life have been linked to physical and mental health issues. Our interactions with technological devices and systems make it feel as if time flows quickly.

In one study, over 70% of participants reported a dependence on everyday technologies and a considerable amount of time spent on social networking sites. Eighty-three percent of participants using technology reported they felt time moved faster than when they were not using technology.

Individuals who spent more time using technology overestimated the passing of time, while individuals who used less technology were more accurate at estimating time. When we are present to the current experience, we feel as if we “have more” time and as if time moves more slowly.

Meditate on mortality

Most of us don’t spend much of our lives pondering the thought of death and how short life could be. By understanding and being aware of our mortality, we are able to intensify every experience that we have. 

Author Flannery O’Conner was diagnosed with a fatal disease that kept her close to death for many years, and yet, she was able to write over two dozen short stories and two novels while suffering from lupus. The closeness of death showed her what really mattered in her life and how to better appreciate every moment and relationship.

When we continuously find ourselves outside our comfort zone, our awareness of the vivid arises. We gain an enhanced sense of smell, feel stronger emotions, and experience desires to extend the moment.

By “meditating on morality,” we can intensify our life experiences and extend our perception of time. Meditating on mortality is not just a focus on death – it is accepting our nature and refocusing our energy to meet death on our own terms when it comes.

Reflection

Time is our scarcest resource and most of us feel that we do not have enough of it. Yet, how quickly we perceive time to pass is dependent upon our perceptions. In other words, how we live our lives determines whether or not we experience time passing slowly or quickly.

Although we often feel threatened by things that we have no control over, getting more control over our perceptions of time will make it feel that time is not an enemy. When we immerse ourselves in new ideas and experiences, these enhanced efforts to focus on the present can slow our perceptions of time and enable us to derive the most from our scarcest resource in life—time.

Practice slowing down and experiencing the moment at hand. Take a new route home. Turn a fresh, childlike eye on the beauty and wonder that surrounds you in every moment. And finally, embrace novelty and change for what they are – harbingers of a long life.