• An attempt to master a new garlic-peeling technique Photo of garlic by JMacPherson

    Helen Rosner writes a witty post about becoming intrigued by a new garlic-peeling technique that moves at rapid-fire pace, and her attempt to master it.

    I won't spoil the … ending. It's a short piece, go read it.

    Rosner's description:

     The video shows a pair of hands using the point of a knife to stab each clove from an intact head of garlic and pop it from its skin. There doesn't seem to have been any special soaking or pummelling first; just a strategic marriage of blade and pressure. The video is hypnotic: the garlic seems almost to want to be peeled, its cloves bursting outward in a jubilant, efficient cascade, like an Esther Williams diving sequence. I watched the twenty-five-second sequence on repeat, enraptured by the soothing, steady rhythm of the stab and twist and pull. The appeal is akin to the pleasure some people find in watching videos of bubble wrap being popped, bubble-tea pearls bursting, or the crust on a crème brûlée being shattered—a rat-a-tat of tension and resolution that, for the viewer, fires off delicious little microsurges of dopamine.

    The technique itself:

    (CC-2.0-licensed photo of garlic courtesy the Flickr stream of JMacPherson)

  • Artist makes gorgeous quilts while travelling in an Airstream Laura Preston designing a quilt next to her Airstream trailer

    Laura Preston was a painter who, in 2013, set off on what was supposed to be a one-year trip with her partner, in an Airstream. She discovered that painting on the road was too cumbersome, so she switched to making quilts.

    Years later, she's still traveling around, and has an Etsy shop full of her work. It's fantastic — there's a sort of modernist/digital chunky vibe going on that I really dig, and which is of course cyclical and original to quilting: Digital and modernist technique borrowed from the centuries-old aesthetics of quilting and stitching.

    In this Etsy podcast, Preston talks about how a lot of her visual ideas come from being so frequently outdoors, and building quilting patterns based on things like sea- and skyscapes.

    Go check out her store here! A few of my favorites; these photos all come Preston's shop …

  • Racing pigeon from Oregon shows up in Australia, and now faces a death sentence Racing pigeon

    A racing pigeon recently showed up in the backyard of someone's house in Australia, looking super worn out. The owner of the home fed it, and discovered that it had an identification leg-band.

    Turns out the bird was owned by someone in Alabama, and had disappeared during an Oct. 29 pigeon race in Oregon.

    Did it … fly across the ocean? Probably not: Pigeon experts suspect it stowed away on a cargo ship. Pretty remarkable journey either way!

    But, it turns out carpetbagging pigeons from Oregon violate the animal-import laws of Australia, and authorities are probably going to have to kill the pigeon:

    The Agriculture Department, which is responsible for biosecurity, said the pigeon was "not permitted to remain in Australia" because it "could compromise Australia's food security and our wild bird populations."

    "It poses a direct biosecurity risk to Australian bird life and our poultry industry," a department statement said.

    In 2015, the government threatened to euthanize two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they were smuggled into the country by Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard. [snip]

    Turner said there were genuine fears pigeons from the United States could carry exotic diseases and he agreed Joe should be destroyed.

    "While it sounds harsh to the normal person — they'd hear that and go: 'this is cruel,' and everything else — I'd think you'd find that A.Q.I.S. and those sort of people would give their wholehearted support for the idea," Turner said, referring to the quarantine service.

    (That photo above is not of the lost pigeon — it's a just a rando, but is CC-4.0 licensed via Wikimedia.)

  • Gorgeous black-and-white images of plants Photos of plants by William Arnold

    Photographer William Arnold got intrigued by the botanical life while on walks during his lunch breaks in Truro, Cornwall. He began gathering plants and making images of them using the Victorian-era technique of silver gelatin printing.

    The result is his latest book, Suburban Herbarium — a stunning series of ghostly, mesmerizing, monochrome photos of plants. I've just ordered my copy from the publisher, Uniformbooks.

    You can see more these photos at Arnold's Instagram account or his web site, and I've reprinted a few of my faves below, with his permission.

    As Arnold describes his technique:

    To produce the works in this series, the living specimens are collected and identified, then taken to the darkroom to be projected, enlarged and logged as a unique pure form-study in silver-gelatin prints.  While the process in many ways harkens back to Victorian life-sciences and the work of English botanist and pioneering photographer Anna Atkins, this method of projection, in effect using the specimen as lantern slide, reveals a razor-sharp, almost sculptural detail. Once the moment of printing is passed, no further copies can be made.

    Recorded in this way the flora that we normally walk past in our hedgerows and kerb-sides, or eradicate as weeds, command our full attention. Isolated from their original environment and elevated to a more rarefied status, we are allowed to study the lines and systems of their veins; marvel at the delicacy of their stems and the arrangement of their petals.

    My head is aswim with thoughts as I look at these photos; they're a series of visual and conceptual shout-outs to scientific history. The Victorian period was crackling with amateur botany, including discoveries made via precisely Arnold's method of meandering around one's neighborhood and just sort of noticing stuff. The eerie monochromaticism of the photos — how they resemble ultradetailed sketches — makes me think, too, of the tradition of scientific illustration that flourished up to the age of photography. (Many thought photography would render scientific illustration obsolete, and partly has, but not entirely; an illustrator can filter details with a granularity and abstraction difficult to achieve with photography.)

    Meanwhile, the stark contrast and lighting of the images make the plants look almost translucent, evoking the advent of xray technology in the final years of the Victorian period; but they also evoke photocopy-prints, and the many ways artists have used the freaky level of contrast to make black-and-white photocopy art.

    There's also an unsettlingly alien quality to Arnold's photos, as Mark Cocker notes in his foreword to the book:

    As I look more generally at the whole collection, I am reminded of the words of two great philosophers. The first are from the French poet Paul Valéry, who once wrote "To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees". What I assume he meant was that if we look hard and long enough at something then the physical processes of that genuine seeing will triumph over any presumed familiarities with an animal or plant. The organism will cease to be known and ordinary. The tired sheath of language in which we have trapped the subject will fall away and it will be revealed afresh in a new and radiant light. That is exactly what Arnold has achieved. He has made us see the plants as if for the first time.
    From the sublime to the ridiculous, I'm also reminded of those comic words of Dr Spock. As always, Captain Kirk would turn to his first lieutenant on the USS Enterprise for answers, and Spock would comb the air around the mysterious object with his weird whirring box thing, and then announce to his boss: "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it."

    Here are some more images!

  • "Movie Critic Matchmaker" figures out which critic aligns with your tastes Screenshots of

    Here's a fun project by @EleanorClarinet — the "Movie Critic Matchmaker": It gives you a bunch of movies to rate, swiping right or left, and then tells you which movie critic most closely — or most distantly — matches your taste. It's a web site but only works on mobile; those are three screenshots I stitched together, above.

    Totally cool idea! Apparently I have 100% agreement with Scott Foundas over at Variety, but only 33% with Peter Howell, former movie critic for the Toronto Star.

  • CityQ, a four-wheeled midpoint between bike and car Photo of the CityQ electric bike

    In the pandemic, all forms of smaller-than-car transportation have boomed—cycling is way up, as people try to get around without using ride-hail services or public transportation. What's more, sales of ebikes are way up too, as the quality and price of electric gear for bikes has dramatically improved in recent years. I haven't seen figures on this yet, but my sense—from having seen an increased number of folks whizzing by on electric scooters and electric skateboards—is that in cities, there's been an uptick in the popularity of any form of smaller-than-car transportation that's been electrified.

    A year ago, I wrote a piece for Smithsonian about the birth of cycling in the 19th century—bikes were quite controversial back then—that also tackled the fights over electric scooters today. The first generation of escooters were pretty flimsy and often outright dangerous to ride, with tiny wheels that could easily be thwarted by potholes. (I interviewed people who'd sustained brain injuries after taking a header off a rented escooter.) But the second and third generation of scooters were getting bigger and bulkier, the better to safely withstand city streets.

    One bike-history I interviewed, Carlton Reid (author of the terrific Roads Were Not Built For Cars) pointed out that the same evolution took place bicycles back in the 19th century: They started out incredibly flimsy, and gradually became bulkier and more roadworthy. He predicted the same thing would happen to forms of "micromobility" like electric scooters, electric skateboards, and the like. They become a bit safer and more amenable to everyday riders by moving in the direction of automobiles, as it were—biting off a bit of the car's ruggedness, while retaining the smaller-ness of the original mode of transportation.

    One can see this happening to ebikes themselves, too, right? There's a whole category of them that lean into the bulkier design of mopeds and motorcycles, like Rad Runner, or the Scorpion, or the Roadster.

    Which brings me, finally, to the CityQ, pictured above. It fairly looks like the apotheosis of this trend—perhaps its logical absurdity, something you'd get if you trained a generative AI only pictures of bicycles and cars, and had it output the chimerical midpoint.

    I can't say whether this thing is even vaguely practical, sturdy, or usable! I can't even say whether it'll make it outta vaporware status. But the design direction tracks this larger trend fascinatingly.

    Certainly the idea of being more-protected from the elements is nice, and easily carrying passengers is similarly so (much as taxi pedal-cycles are in use worldwide). The fact that it's chainless—that you pedal the front wheels as you would the front wheel of a tricycle—is also interesting, and probably reduces its mechanical complexity. Since it's legally rated for bike lane in Europe, I can imagine it causing some bitter fights with regular cyclists, who already frequently loathe ebikes and think they should be banned from bike lanes.

    Designboom describes it a bit more here:

    CityQ has been developed to make bicycling more comfortable for everyone, even in the winter season, and in bad weather. it has a window, roof and rotating side doors with the ability to be semi or fully enclosed. it measures only 87 centimeters and weights around 70 kilograms. it is aligned with european regulations for ebikes and 3-4 wheel cargo ebikes. the driver has to pedal, and motors are limited to 250W and the max speed is 25kmh. with two batteries, it has a range of 70-100km.

    'CityQ is an ebike with the comfort and technology of a car and with the benefits of a bicycle,' comments morten rynning, founder of CityQ. 'you can cycle two children and luggage door to door without having to worry about bad weather, car traffic or parking issues. nor do you have to worry about hassle with mechanical gears and chains – as these have been replaced with a software-managed drivetrain – like you find in electric cars. that is why we call CityQ a car-eBike.'

    CityQ has no chain or gears. like an electric car – these mechanical parts have been replaced by software. this enables programming a range of convenient drive modes like reverse, cruise control, regenerating breaks, heavy cargo mode, and automatic gearing. as part of this software platform, CityQ includes an app to open/lock, track and even rent the car-eBike.

    I've been meaning for some time to report a big story about this chimerical trend in micromobility—I need to get off my butt and do it.

  • A $40 cast-iron pot for baking perfect bread Picture of cast-iron pot by Lodge

    Bread-baking took off during the pandemic, a trend in which I participated. When COVID-19 first hit, I wondered if there might be short-term runs on various foods, so—feeling faintly like some neophyte denizen of a phpbb prepper board—I bought a bag of flour and some yeast.

    Turned out to be a good idea! In my neck of Brooklyn, panic-shopping emptied out the supplies of bread, and those shelves remained bare for a week or more. So I started baking bread for the first time, and like many who did so, enjoying the heck out of it—to the point where I keep it up today, despite bread being in regular supply at the local stores.

    My bread is… okay? It's fine. Not superb or anything. The sheer freshness of the loaves seems to compensate for any lack of art in their crafting. (Though as Gabe Meister quipped to me on Twitter when we discussed my Loaf, "BREAD: Even When It Sucks, It's Great!")

    Anyway, my experiences made me extra attentive to this piece by Joe Ray in Wired: a thumbs-up review for an inexpensive cast-iron pot, which Joe heard about from Francisco Migoya, the head chef Modernist Cuisine.

    Recently, I called Francisco Migoya, and it turns out that he loves the combo cooker as much as ever. He brings up a classic bread-making approach where you can use a baking stone or steel to make bread in a home oven, but encasing it in the Lodge is a "vast improvement," particularly when it comes to heat transfer.

    "It's dense and black, which means it can absorb and radiate heat better than lighter colors," he says, favorably comparing it to the beige interior of many (often much pricier) Dutch ovens. He also likes the particularities of its form when cooking a one-kilo loaf.

    "The round, tapered bottom cradles it," he says, explaining how it helps perfect the finished loaf's shape, as opposed to the more squared-off bottoms of other pots. He also loves how using the skillet side as the bottom makes getting the dough in and the loaf out much easier than with a high-sided Dutch oven.

    I'm ordering one now!

  • Behold IceBot, a robot made from ice Screenshot of video of IceBot

    What happens when you send a robot probe to another planet — or asteroid or comet — and it breaks? Space agencies have been pondering this problem for years, and one idea is obviously to fabricate a new part on site.

    Since a lot of the celestial bodies we're exploring these days are freezing cold, a group of scientists recently had idea that is — pun very much intended — pretty cool: Why not make the probe out of ice? That way, if any part breaks, you could make a replacement part out of ice in the ambient environment!

    Behold, in that video above, their first prototype: IceBot.

    They wrote up a paper about it here, with some fascinating findings. One is that when it come to making parts, it was easiest to drill or cut the ice, then plop the electrical components — like motors or actuators — into the holes, where they'd freeze into place. They also tried to use flame (a blowtorch) to shape the ice, but the runoff water goes places you don't want.

    Another finding: Robot wheels made of ice tend to melt during the friction that inheres when wheels do work. When they tested the robot on a rubbery surface in freezing cold room, they got some slippage, so they had to add more weight to compensate. Ultimately, though, IceBot was able to roll up an incline of 2.5 degrees, and could nudge light obstacles out of its way.

    I am thoroughly charmed by this concept! It also has some potential ecological benefits, too, I'd imagine. If a big chunk of your bot is made from frozen water gathered on its ice planet, when you're done with the bot you can let the water return to its natural state, hopefully minimizing the ecological impact of a probe.

    The possibilities for self-repair also enticing, as one of the project's leaders notes in this Q&A at IEEE Spectrum:

    When I think of an arctic (or planetary) exploration robot that incorporates self-modification or repair capabilities I envision a system with two types of robots—the first explores the environment and collects materials needed to perform self-augmentation or repair, and the second is some sort of manipulator/manufacturing system. We can envision the exploration class of robot returning to a centralized location with a request for a plow or some other augmentation and the manufacturing system will be able to attach the augmentation directly to the robot. Similarly with repair—if, for example, a robot recognizes a crack, the manipulator would be able to patch the crack using an ice band-aid of sorts, sealing the crack and preventing it from propagating further.

  • Short-legged "Corgi" giraffes discovered Photo of short giraffes

    Scientists have recently been discovering extremely short giraffes that look, as Gizmodo notes, like adorable Corgi versions of a regular tall giraffe. They spotted one in Uganda, then another in Namibia.

    What's up? They're not sure, but suspect the giraffes have skeletal dysplasia, or what's more popularly known as disproportionate dwarfism. Interestingly, their stature doesn't appear to have harmed their survival — they both appear to have lived past one year, and that first year is when giraffes are most vulnerable to predation.

    The scientists wrote up their findings in this un-paywalled paper here (the photos above are from it.) Gizmodo talked to them, and they were pretty astonished at their discovery:

    "We get to know the giraffes, and these populations, rather intimately," said Brown. "Giraffes have unique coat patterns, and we are able to identify them as individuals using some pattern recognition."

    So when he and his team watched a distinctly short male giraffe strut out across the plain looking like a hasty Photoshop job in the flesh, it caught their attention.

    "The [park] ranger we were working with and I, we looked at each other sort of to confirm that we were seeing the same thing," recounted Brown.

  • Our centuries-old use of "they" as a singular pronoun Public-domain photo of dictionary definition of the word

    Discover has an excellent short history of the old and venerable use of "they", in English, to refer to a single person.

    The use of "they" as a singular pronoun has recently been part of a culture war, but as the linguists quoted here point out, we've been doing it for hundreds of years. Beginning in the 1500s, grammarians began to lobby for using "he" as a universal generic pronoun, but usage of "they" still persisted — not just in everyday language but in the prose of novelists like Jane Austen. "They" has survived — and, now, resurged — because it's a pretty useful linguistic strategy, basically.

    The piece is great (go read it all!) and here's a snippet:

    The word has a long, complex history, and today it exists in several nuanced forms. Evan Bradley, a linguist at Penn State Brandywine, says that "not all singular 'theys' are the same." And they enjoy varying levels of acceptance. Some are so common that most people find them unremarkable. Imagine that a random driver swerves in front of you while cruising down the road. You might respond, "They cut me off!" in reference to the singular driver. Or, perhaps you find a billfold with no identification inside? It's natural to say, "Somebody lost their wallet."

    The oldest kind of singular "they" appeared in writing around 1370, and certainly showed up earlier than that in speech. Shakespeare used it frequently around the turn of the 17th century ("And every one to rest themselves betake"), and Jane Austen in the 19th ("No one can ever be in love more than once in their life"). In these examples, the antecedent — the noun to which the pronoun refers — is generic, meaning it doesn't indicate a specific person, or gender for that matter.

    Despite these precedents, grammarians steered the generic antecedent in a different (and more masculine) direction. In the mid-1500s, William Lily declared in his Latin textbook that "the masculine gender is more worthy than the feminine, and the feminine more worthy than the neuter." (He was speaking in the context of grammatical gender, rather than biological sex or socially-constructed gender roles in humans. And notably, English as a language is mostly without grammatical gender). Lily's book stood as the foremost Latin grammar guide for centuries, and his gender rule, transferred to English, lived on in the axiom that "the masculine embraces the feminine."

    That thinking gave rise to the generic "he," a longstanding linguistic scourge upon feminism. These days, most writers who can't stand singular "they" at least sprinkle their writing with generic "she" as well as "he." But for a long time, the masculine version was ubiquitous, pervading all writing up to and including the Constitution of the United States of America. Article II, Section 1, in laying out the president's powers, states that "He shall hold his office during the term of four years."

    (That photo of the dictionary definition of word "they" is by me and is issued using a CC public-domain license, so you can download it here)

  • Earth's rotation sped up in 2020, we may need a "negative leap second" Screenshot of video of Superman reversing time, from the first Superman movie

    Another weird thing about 2020: The planet sped up.

    The planet's rotational speed often drifts around slightly, depending on changes in wind, ocean currents, or the sloshing around of the Earth's molten core. But for the last few decades, generally this produced a microscopic slowing of the rotation. The upshot of that is that every year and a half (or so), we've needed to add a "leap second" to the atomic clock.

    But in 2020, the opposite happened — we had the 28 fastest days on record since 1960. This sped up the planet's rotation so much that the Time Lords in charge of clocks on our planet are considering adding a "negative leap second": They will remove time.

    Not quite Tenet, but I'm super excited nonetheless. As Live Science writes:

    "It's quite possible that a negative leap second will be needed if the Earth's rotation rate increases further, but it's too early to say if this is likely to happen," physicist Peter Whibberley of the National Physics Laboratory in the U.K., told The Telegraph. "There are also international discussions taking place about the future of leap seconds, and it's also possible that the need for a negative leap second might push the decision towards ending leap seconds for good."

    Screenshot of Superman reversing time, above.

  • Brooklyn man creates "Snatchelator" to grab plastic bags from city trees Screengrab from YouTube video with Taylor Mali showing off his

    Behold the "Snatchelator", an invention of the Brooklyn resident Taylor Mali.

    Two years ago, Mali and his wife saw that a plastic bag had been snared in the tree outside his apartment window. He bought a long painter's pole to remove the bag from the branches. Then he realized he could improve upon the snatching qualities of the pole by attaching several metal L-brackets bent at erratic angles.

    Thus was born the fearsome Snatchelator. Soon, Mali was tripping all over town, removing bags from trees in his spare time, and fielding requests from folks around town as word spread of his bag-snatching.

    The New York Times wrote a fun profile of him today …

    On a warm December morning, Mr. Mali found himself staring up at a defiant deli bag on Warren Street. He had driven over with the Snatchelator lodged between the seats of his Tesla Model X, and the procedure was over in less than a minute: a quick extension of the pole, a jab of the metal braces, a delicate twist like the wrapping of a strand of spaghetti around a fork. A rustle of dead leaves, and victory. A tiny branch came down, too, and Mr. Mali murmured a quick "Sorry" to the tree.

    "The greatest and worst thing about plastic," Mr. Mali noted, "is that it won't biodegrade in a thousand years. People think, If I don't do something about it, I'll see that for the rest of my life." [snip]

    He estimates that he has "a 99 percent success rate, as long as they're within reach." When asked if he keeps them as trophies, he laughed. "I wear them on my belt to scare away other bags," he said. He has also pulled down sneakers, an errant garden umbrella and a number of Mylar balloons.

    BTW, Mali is also a poet — work he does full time, giving traveling workshops — and has a shop of his work online; I quite dug the poem he offers in letterpress format, "My Deepest Condiments"

    Photo of poem "My Deepest Condiments" by Taylor Mali

    … as well as the "Metaphor Dice" he designed, which look like a gas …

  • Awesome video of longboard dancing in Guanabara Screenshot of longboard-dancing video

    The Guanabara Boards Longboard School in Rio de Janeiro issued this amazing video — shot by storied skateboard filmmaker Brett Novak — of four women doing fab longboard-dancing maneouvers.

    As the school describes it …

    This film features an all-female group of skateboarders and represents an important part of our purpose as a longboard school – to make skateboarding inclusive for all.

    We witness incredible longboard dancing manoeuvres combined with a level of flow and style that few male or female skateboarders in the world can muster.

    Shot amongst the breathtaking views of Rio de Janeiro, where our skate longboard school was born, the film immerses into the vibrancy of Brazilian carnival.

    This film is an ode to the liveliness and creativity that makes Rio de Janeiro one of the most unique places on the planet, and where we are proud to call our home.

    I first saw this vide over at Kottke, where, as Jason notes …

    The video showcases a style of riding where their wheels stay mostly on the ground, harkening back to skateboarding's "history of freestyle flat-land skateboarding in the 70's-80's and the footwork that longboard surfers sometimes use".

  • National Museum of American History wants your tales of 2020 for a time capsule Photo of time-capsule marker by Matt Brown

    The National Museum of American History is creating a "digital time capsule" of 2020, and is inviting folks to submit their recollections of this Annus horribilis.

    They have a form here for submitting stories up to 500 words, and up to five photos and one video.

    As they write …

    We're assembling a digital time capsule filled with messages to future generations about life today, and want to hear your story, big or small.
    Share a story with the future: How did your life change during these times?
    For example,
    How did you experience protests in your town?
    How was your daily life changed by the pandemic?
    What does the "new normal" at work look like?
    What memory of quarantining with your family will most stay with you?
    How did the events of this year lead you to see your community differently?
    What object will always make you think of these times?
    What do you think will happen next?

    As for one of their questions above — "What object will always make you think of these times?" — for me, that one's easy:

    The disposable surgical mask.

    (The CC-2.0-licensed photo of the — unrelated! — time capsule above comes courtesy the Flickr stream of Matt Brown)

  • You can rock fruit flies to sleep with gentle vibrations Photo of Drosophila

    A bunch of scientists figured out that you can rock fruit flies to sleep, just like sweet little babies.

    This adorable finding is reported in a recent edition of Cell Reports. It's long been known that rocking helps many animals sleep, because — as the framework in this paper hypothesizes, anyway — when you're rocked your system gradually screens out stimulus, which reduces our arousal, and leads to sleepiness.

    But does this work with … insects? To test it on fruit flies, they used loudspeakers to gently vibrate the wee creatures.

    Sure enough, it made the flies more likely to sleep during the day. (It had less of an effect at night, which is an interesting finding that needs more study!)

    As the scientists write:

    Our data establish that as in humans and mice, gentle mechanosensory stimulation can promote sleep in Drosophila. [snip] Our results demonstrate that sleep during vibration is associated with reduced arousability, which suggests that vibration promotes deep sleep.

    (That CC-4.0-licensed photo of Drosophila is courtesy Sanjay Acharya via Wikimedia)

  • Cracking the secrets of the super-efficient "blue whirl" flame Image of a

    A couple of years ago, some scientists were experimenting ways to clean up oil spills in the ocean by using flame. They accidentally created something they'd never seen before — a "blue whirl" flame, which consumes all its fuel and burns soot-free.

    Since then, scientists have been trying to figure out what sort of physics and chemistry are going on inside this thing. It'd be cool if we could harness it intentionally; a soot-free flame is super efficient, and thus useful. But they'd be hard to use safely, because they begin in a highly volatile and dangerous "fire whirl" state, before settling down into the "blue whirl" formation.

    Some tantalizing hints are emerging, though. Recently, some scientists created a computer simulation that closely tracked the actual blue whirl's behavior. What they found is that a blue whirl is actually three flames combined together: An invisible outer flame, where there's more oxygen than fuel, and two internal flames where there's more fuel than oxygen, which are visible.

    Not enough info yet to deduce how to route around the unstable "fire whirl' state, but a cool first step.

    As they note in their paper writing up the experiment:

    The blue whirl is at least a curious phenomenon that has many intriguing aspects. The most curious aspect is that it evolves spontaneously and presents itself as a stable state persisting until all of the fuel is burned. The second curiosity was that it is laminar and burning soot free, whereas the initial state was sooty, turbulent, and noisy. A third curiosity was that, in the experiments, it was not burning a gas, but a liquid hydrocarbon sitting on a water surface. Further experimentation revealed more features, such as its averaged temperature profile and its sensitivity to the boundary layer. Added to all of this was that it was very beautiful, both in its stable state, as a spinning blue top-like flame, and when it went slightly unstable, perhaps revealing some of its inner structure. The route to its formation and its transient unstable states implied its relation to the fluid phenomenon of vortex breakdown and the various states that evolve from this instability.

    A recurring question, however, was whether the blue whirl could be useful in any way for efficient combustion with no soot formation. This involves questions such as: Can it be formed under controlled conditions more directly and without going through the fire whirl state? Can the size be controlled? Can it be made larger or smaller? Is there a scaling that can be used? Other, perhaps more far out questions, were: Can it be made without the confining walls? Can multiple blue whirls be made and work together? Could it be part of a combustor or a propulsion device? The lure of being able to burn any liquid hydrocarbon efficiently and cleanly is extremely attractive.