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Meet the fish that happily live in the lake that turns birds to stone

Perhaps you have recently heard about Tanzania's Lake Natron, a body of water that has become famous on the Internet over the last couple of days because of the work of artist Nick Brandt, who took some eerie, posed photos of the calcified corpses of birds that he found along the lake's shore.

Natron, the stuff for which the lake is named, should also sound a bit familiar to you. That's because it's the mineral salt the ancient Egyptians used as part of their mummification rituals. (In fact, they used to harvest it from dry lake beds — Lake Natron isn't the only lake in Africa that's home to large quantities of naturally occurring natron.) It's both a serious drying agent and anti-bacterial, so immersion in natron can suck all the moisture out of a dead body while simultaneously preserving it against the ravages of microorganisms. As far as I can tell, that's what you're seeing in Brandt's creepy photos — birds and bats that look like Tim Burton's garden statuary, but are actually just mummified (and then propped up for artistic purposes).

Which brings us back to the video above. If Lake Natron mummifies birds, how do the fish survive?

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How To: Regrow a coral reef

I'm totally fascinated by this photo that the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program posted to their Facebook page. It shows little branches of staghorn coral growing on a "tree" made of PVC pipes. Harvested from wild coral colonies when they're only 5 cm long, these samples will double in size every two months while attached to the tree. Once they've put on enough heft, they're transplanted to new homes on damaged coral reefs, where they grow into the surrounding environment and help to restore ecosystems that could otherwise be lost. I'd heard about coral restoration before, but had never seen pictures of the process. At the RJD website, you can see a series of photos that take you through it step-by-step. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it looks a lot like underwater gardening — similar to grafting fruit trees.

Are you a pessimist or an optimist when it comes to giant snakes?

Tired of measuring your relative pessimism/optimism by half-empty and half-full glassware? Try this new method, courtesy herpetologist Michael Dorcas. Read the following quote, then decide — is this fact comforting or distressing: "We’ve walked right past a 15-foot python without seeing it." Also potentially relevant to your interests: PBS' 2012 documentary about dissecting a giant python. Maggie

Postmortem on the Daily

Writing on Reuters, Felix Salmon has a good postmortem on the demise of the Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only, $30,000,000 subscription-based newspaper, which folded yesterday. Among other things, he writes about print media's enthusiasm for iPads, and the inability of closed ecosystems to out-iterate the open Web:

When the iPad was first announced, there were lots of dreams about what it could achieve, and how rich its content could be. But in hindsight, it’s notable how many of the dreamers came from the world of print. Web people tended to be much less excited about the iPad than print people were, maybe because they knew they already had something better. The web, for instance, doesn’t need to traffic in discrete “issues” — if you subscribe to the New York Times, you can read any story you like, going back decades. Whereas if you subscribe to a publication on a tablet, you can read only one issue at a time...

Similarly, when the iPad launched, it allowed people to do things they could never do with a print publication: watch videos, say. But at the same time the experience was still inferior to what you could get on the web, which iterates and improves incrementally every day. The iPad then stayed still — the technology behind iPad publications is basically the same as it was two years ago — even as the web, in its manner, predictably got better and better.

I was skeptical of the iPad for this reason from the start:

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who'll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of "content" isn't just that they can get it for free, though: it's that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targetted more narrowly than the old media ever managed.

The impossibility of tablet-native journalism (via Making Light)

From the Toilet to the Tap

Cloacina was the ancient Roman goddess of sewers. Think about that for a minute. To the Romans, the ability to take vile, disgusting wastewater and just get it the heck out of Rome was such a miraculous feat that they created a whole deity to watch over and protect the pipeline.

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