Hunting the source of the mysterious Windsor Hum

The Windsor Hum is a weird thing — a low-frequency buzzing that drives some people in Windsor, Ontario crazy and, yet, doesn't seem to be heard by the Americans who live closest to its source, an island crowded with industrial facilities. As part of a new feature exploring environmental mysteries, Kim Tingley looks at how grantees of the Canadian government are attempting to identify the exact cause of the Windsor Hum, and how an American company is getting away with banning them from the island.

Restart Project: helping people fix their broken devices

David sez, "The Restart Project is a London-based social enterprise and charity aiming at changing our relationship with information technologies by empowering people to repair and reuse their electronic devices. The Restart Project's vision is one based on collaboration and creativity -- combining online knowledge sharing and cooperation with tangible activities in real life. One of the main such activity have been 'Restart Parties', community repair events, where all kinds of electronics are taken apart and repaired by owners together with volunteer repairers (Restarters). The aim is to promote increased lifespan, share repair skills and promote sustainable and informed consumption of information technologies. The Restart Project just celebrated its first birthday. In one year, it has thrown 27 Restart Parties, involving and empowering over 500 Londoners of all ages, backgrounds and groups and saving an approximate 393 kilograms of electronics from waste, which is roughly the weight of a polar bear."

the restart project | repair, don't despair! towards a better relationship with electronics (Thanks, David!)

Utah wants to tax power consumed by the NSA's massive, illegal data-processing facility

Remember the gigantic data-center that the NSA is building in Utah in order to (illegally) process the electronic communications of the whole world? Turns out that the state of Utah plans on taxing the titanic amounts of electricity it will consume at 6%. The NSA is pissed.

"We are quite concerned [about] this," Harvey Davis, NSA director of installations and logistics, wrote in the April 26 email, obtained through a Utah open records law request.

In a follow-up email Davis sent 31 minutes later, he explained: "The long and short of it is: Long-term stability in the utility rates was a major factor in Utah being selected as our site for our $1.5 billion construction at Camp Williams. HB325 runs counter to what we expected."

HB325, which Herbert signed into law April 1, benefits the Utah Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA). It allows the entity, which was set up to put select military properties on the public tax rolls, to collect a tax of up to 6 percent on Rocky Mountain Power electricity used by the Utah Data Center.

In surprise to NSA, Utah Data Center may pay tax on electricity [Nate Carlisle/The Salt Lake Tribune]

(via /.)

First vatburger is ready to eat

After spending $250,000 worth of anonymously donated money, Mark Post from Maastricht University is ready to go public with his first vat-grown hamburger, which will be cooked and eaten at an event in London this week. Though they claim that it's healthier than regular meat, one question not answered in the article is the Omega 3/6 balance -- crappy, corn-fed, factory-farmed meet is full of Omega 6s and avoided by many eaters; the grass-fed, free-range stuff is higher in Omega 3s.

Yet growing meat in the laboratory has proved difficult and devilishly expensive. Dr. Post, who knows as much about the subject as anybody, has repeatedly postponed the hamburger cook-off, which was originally expected to take place in November. His burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue “tastes reasonably good.” For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.

But the meat is produced with materials — including fetal calf serum, used as a medium in which to grow the cells — that eventually would have to be replaced by similar materials of non-animal origin. And the burger was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000, provided by a donor who so far has remained anonymous. Large-scale manufacturing of cultured meat that could sit side-by-side with conventional meat in a supermarket and compete with it in price is at the very least a long way off.“This is still an early-stage technology,” said Neil Stephens, a social scientist at Cardiff University in Wales who has long studied the development of what is also sometimes referred to as “shmeat.” “There’s still a huge number of things they need to learn.”

There are also questions of safety — though Dr. Post and others say cultured meat should be as safe as, or safer than, conventional meat, and might even be made to be healthier — and of the consumer appeal of a product that may bear little resemblance to a thick, juicy steak.

Engineering the $325,000 Burger [Henry Fountain/New York Times]

(via /.)

How clay water filters for Ghana are made

Gmoke sez, "Susan Murcott and her team's factory making clay filters for Pure Home Water in Ghana. Over 100,000 served, so far."

They're shooting for 1,000,000.

Pure Home Water, Ghana: AfriClay Filters

Timelapse of beautiful, ancient, endangered red pine forest in Ontario

Here's a beautiful timelapse video of an endangered, uniquely significant red pine forest in Ontario. The Ontario government has just renewed the mining licenses for the territory around it:

Wolf Lake is surrounded by the largest ancient red pine forest in the world - an endangered ecosystem that remains in only 1.2% of its former extent. The government of Ontario promised protect the ancient forest, but 13 years later it is still open to destructive mining and mineral exploration.

Save Wolf Lake (Thanks, Jon!)

Inside a mile-deep open-pit copper mine after a catastrophic landslide

For the past few months I’ve been reporting a big story on the copper industry for Pacific Standard. It takes a broad look at how the global economic boom of the past decade, led by China and India, is pushing copper mining into new regions and new enormities of investment and excavation.

Read the rest

ExxonMobil, FAA, Arkansas cops establish flight restriction zone, threaten reporters who try to document Mayflower, AR spill

Expect to see a lot fewer images of toxic sludge creeping through small communities, thanks to the hard work of ExxonMobil. The company could have used its prodigious resources to make its oil pipelines more secure, preventing town-destroying leaks like the one that hit Mayflower, Arkansas. But they figured out that it would be cheaper to just corrupt the local law to chase reporters out and get the FAA to establish a Temporary Flight Restriction zone over the spill. Problem solved!

Michael Hibblen, who reports for the radio station KUAR, went to the spill site on Wednesday with state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. McDaniel was in the area to inspect the site and hold a news conference, and Hibblen and a small group of reporters were following him to report on the visit. Upon arrival, representatives from the county sheriff's office, which is running security at the site, directed the reporters to a boundary point 10 feet away that they should not pass. The reporters agreed to comply. But the tone shifted abruptly, Hibblen told Mother Jones on Friday:

It was less than 90 seconds before suddenly the sheriff's deputies started yelling that all the media people had to leave, that ExxonMobil had decided they don't want you here, you have to leave. They even referred to it as "Exxon Media"…Some reporters were like, "Who made this decision? Who can we talk to?" The sheriff's deputies started saying, "You have to leave. You have 10 seconds to leave or you will be arrested."

Hibblen says he didn't really have time to deal with getting arrested, since he needed to file his report on the visit for both the local affiliate and national NPR. (You can hear his piece on the AG's visit here.) KUAR has also reported on Exxon blocking reporters' access to the spill site.

Reporters Say Exxon Is Impeding Spill Coverage in Arkansas [MotherJones/Kate Sheppard]

(via Kadrey)

Citizen science project: Tracking cicadas on the East Coast

You can build your own cicada detector and help Radiolab track the movements of a once-every-17-year cicada swarm expected to invade the US East Coast this summer.

Evolution can happen faster than you think

I'm contributing to Voice, a new group column on environmental science at Ensia. My first piece is about those swallows in Nebraska that seem to have adapted to highway traffic and what they can teach us about the speed of evolution and the way invasive species adapt to new homelands.

Ocean scientists say 19-year-old's "realistic" plan to clean up the ocean isn't actually realistic

Earlier this week, Jason told you about a TEDx talk in which 19-year-old Boyan Slat presents a plan to remove plastic from the world's oceans. Lots of people are excited about this, which is reasonable. Particulate plastic in the ocean is a big problem that has, thus far, evaded any reasonable clean-up plans. There's just so much of it, it's so tiny, and the ocean is, you know, kind of huge. If a kid can come up with a plan that works, it would be fantastic. Unfortunately, the ocean scientists at Deep Sea News say Slat's system isn't as simple and practical as he thinks it is. Among the many problems: Slat's plan would catch (and kill) as many vitally important plankton as pieces of plastic, and it calls for mooring plastic-collecting ships in the open ocean where the water is 2000 meters deeper than the deepest mooring ever recorded. Here's a mantra to remember: TED Talks — interesting if true.

Why architects should stop drawing trees on top of skyscrapers


Vanessa Quirk Tim De Chant argues that the practice of drawing trees on top of skyscrapers in architectural renderings should stop. First, because pretty, high-altitude foliage is the first thing that cost-conscious developers jettison when the actual building is underway; but secondly, because trees can't really survive at that altitude:

There are plenty of scientific reasons why skyscrapers don’t—and probably won’t—have trees, at least not to the heights which many architects propose. Life sucks up there. For you, for me, for trees, and just about everything else except peregrine falcons. It’s hot, cold, windy, the rain lashes at you, and the snow and sleet pelt you at high velocity. Life for city trees is hard enough on the ground. I can’t imagine what it’s like at 500 feet, where nearly every climate variable is more extreme than at street level.

Wind is perhaps the most formidable force trees face at that elevation. Ever seen trees on the top of a mountain? Their trunks bow away from the prevailing winds. That may be the most visible effect, but it’s not the most challenging. Wind also interrupts the thin layer of air between a leaf and the atmosphere, known as the boundary layer. The boundary layer is tiny by human standards—it operates on a scale small enough that normally slippery gas particles behave like viscous fluids.

Bottom line: if we're going to have skyscrapers, let's build them without the illusion that they'll harbor high-altitude forests.

Can We Please Stop Drawing Trees on Top of Skyscrapers? (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Images: “Le Cinq” Office Tower / Neutelings Riedijk Architects, Rendering by Visualisatie A2STUDIO, Pentominium / Murphy/Jahn. Image courtesy of Murphy/Jahn.)

Canadian "pipeline" game enrages humourless oilpatch blowhards


Adam Young sez,

A developer made a game that's a spin on the old "waterworks"/"pipe mania" type game with an oil pipeline theme... complete with pixel-art anti-pipeline protesters. Like most indie developers, they were eligible and applied for funding from a variety of sources. They are donating a portion of the proceeds to the David Suzuki Foundation.

Apparently this made some blowhards angry, who think that "tax dollars funded the game" and shouldn't fund a game about blowing up pipelines, and that the developer donating to a non-profit charity somehow constitutes an ethics violation, having received so-called "tax-dollar funding". Tax breaks and grants and things are available to all sorts of content and media producers in Canada. Game development and film production and the like are industries that are very active here. It's also not illegal to donate proceeds to non-profit charities.

Pipe Trouble

Why "cancer clusters" are so hard to confirm

This excerpt from the new book, Toms River by Dan Fagin, has me instantly intrigued. The book is about one of the rare places where scientists were able to prove that not only was there a cluster of cancer cases, but that those cases could be linked to a cause. The excerpt explains why this is such a rare thing. Turns out, just because it looks like a town has more cancers than it should, doesn't mean that's always what's going on.

Surviving a massive wildfire

In 2011, the Pagami Creek Fire burned through 92,000 acres of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area. At Outside magazine, Frank Bures tells the story of two kayakers caught in the inferno. Includes some amazing photos taken by one of the kayakers.