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The Precious Kashmiri Saffron

Several places from the Middle East all the way to India have the best agricultural land for various plants, herbs, and spices. They are a diverse region and a fertile one at that. In Kashmir, India, the best spice that they have is saffron, which is considered the sweetest spice in the world. Of course, India is not the only place that grows saffron but there are distinct features to those growing on their land that makes their variety all the more desirable. Read more about it on Eater.

(Image credit: Vikar Syed/Eater)


Digital Privacy & The Stories Our Data Tells

Smartphone apps and other online services make our lives super convenient. Just think about navigating through a city you are not familiar with when you go traveling around the world. It would be a tremendous help to find directions with just one click on your phone. Of course, we can always do it the traditional way, by asking people for directions. But sometimes it would save much more time if you can get the answers right away. For all their usefulness, there is something that most people probably don't realize. The more they use these apps, the more data is stored and sent to companies who operate those apps. And the more concerning part of this is what they can do with our data.

For example, data about a mobile phone’s past location and movement patterns can be used to predict where a person lives, who their employer is, where they attend religious services and the age range of their children based on where they drop them off for school.
These predictions label who you are as a person and guess what you’re likely to do in the future. Research shows that people are largely unaware that these predictions are possible, and, if they do become aware of it, don’t like it.

(Image credit: Jens Johnsson/Unsplash)


The Popular Science Literature Boom of the Enlightenment Era

Knowledge is something that all individuals seek in one way or another. We have this innate desire to improve our rationality and see the truth that exists in the world. But since we don't understand many things, somebody needs to essentially translate it for us. Scientists, who have the gift of being able to understand complex concepts in nature and the world, may not always speak in the language of the layman until the French philosopher Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle published his Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds in 1686.

Humans are naturally curious and want to learn more about the world. With this book, Fontenelle popularized science by communicating it in a way that would be digestible for an ordinary person. That essentially caused a boom during that time, it was a thirst for knowledge and people were seeing scientific research discussed and shown in newspapers and street performances. Several writers followed in his footsteps and that further accelerated the growth of science and rationality in the 18th and 19th centuries.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Beer, The Divorce Alternative in 19th Century England

When your relationship has gone sour, we have a convenient legal device that provides for couples to go on their separate ways. That's divorce. However, a couple of centuries ago, divorce was illegal in different parts of the world, including England. Since couples had no way of splitting up without being chastised for it, they had to resort to other measures. Instead of going through a divorce procedure, men sold their wives for beer.

This wasn’t an unusual scene. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, English wives were “sold” for a variety of payments. Prices varied—“as low as a bullpup and a quarter of rum” all the way to “forty [British] pounds and a supper,” the North-Eastern Daily Gazette reported in 1887.
Half a gallon was the total sale price for a 26-year-old known as Mrs. Wells, purchased by a Mr. Clayton in 1876, as reported by The Sheffield Daily Telegraph. Clayton approached Mr. Wells, professed his love for the man’s wife, and asked if he could marry her. Wells shrugged—for the last two years, his wife had lived with Clayton, and he didn’t care what she did anymore. He told Clayton he could have her “for nowt” (or “nothing”), but Clayton insisted he name his price—he did not want her “so cheaply.” Wells countered with a half-gallon (four pints) of beer, and the three of them went off to the pub. After buying Wells his beer, Clayton also offered to adopt the Wells’s daughter—Mrs. Wells was rather attached to her—and when Mr. Wells accepted, Clayton bought him another pint. Mrs. Wells was so pleased with the arrangement that she purchased an additional half gallon of beer, which the three drank together.

(Image credit: George Cruikshank/Public Domain)


Talking Science Through Our Native Tongues

Many indigenous cultures in the world find it difficult to talk about science through their native tongue. As a result, people are unable to understand the concepts that would be vital to their own knowledge, enrichment, and development because of the language barrier. To exasperate the issue, scientific discussions have markedly been done from the Western perspective, making it less accessible to more obscure languages of the world.

Non-Western languages do not have the flexibility and historical breadth in order to describe various scientific concepts, since these originated from the West. Language structures may also hinder how these concepts would be translated into the language. For example, in my native tongue, it would be difficult to describe genetics because the concept either has never existed in the language or has been lost due to colonization. The only ways for these words to be included in the vocabulary is either to borrow from existing English or other Western concepts or to create words that would refer to those concepts. The latter would be more favorable to widen the horizons of one's own language but one would have to traverse a deeper path into the history of one's language in order to find new ways to modernize it.

But there are scientists and science journalists who are attempting to bring ownership of science to their culture by finding ways to incorporate scientific concepts into their language. These are groundbreaking efforts because this could allow further development of science and technology in far-flung areas that have access to a treasure trove of scientific finds. One example is in South Africa, where journalist Sibusiso Biyela, has tried to tell stories of scientific finds like dinosaurs in his native language, isiZulu. Despite the obvious struggles, he and many others are finding ways to navigate this previously uncharted terrain in the field of science and journalism. Read more on his efforts and discussion on science writing at The Open Notebook.

(Image credit: Viktor Radermacher)


Rare Black Leopard Photographed in Africa

What we know as panthers, such as Bagheera from The Jungle Book, are big cats, usually jaguars or leopards, that have a gene mutation affecting color. While 11% of leopards have this melanism, most of them are in Asia (like Bagheera). You may be surprised to learn that the last confirmed evidence of a black leopard in Africa was in Ethiopia in 1909! That is, until now. Reports of a black leopard sighting in Kenya drew scientist Nick Pilfold of the San Diego Zoo to investigate. He took along a team of biologists and wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, who long dreamed of capturing images of a black panther.

"For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful," he posted on his blog. "For many years, they remained the stuff of dreams and of farfetched stories told around the campfire at night. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either."

Burrard-Lucas said he shot the images at Laikipia Wilderness Camp using a Camtraptions Camera, which focuses on wildlife photography and footage. The cameras were placed near animal trails, and water sources such as pools and natural springs. They were left on 24 hours a day in most places but were only turned on at night in public places, according to the African Journal of Ecology.  

Read more about the mission to document the panther at CNN. See more pictures of the black leopard in Will Burrard-Lucas' Instagram gallery. -via The Root


Lucas The Spider in I'm Starving

The last time we saw Lucas the Spider, it was right before Christmas, and he had made a new friend. The fly had one request:"Don't eat me!" Lucas wouldn't do that, but he does want to share food with his new buddy. In this video, they go over their choices of food available in the house. -via Tastefully Offensive


The Emotional Vocal Map

People don't need words to vocalize emotions. Wordless sounds will do just fine in many cases. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have catalogued these vocalizations that convey emotion.  

To start things off, the researchers asked 56 people, some professional actors and some not, to react to different emotional scenarios. From these reactions, the team recorded more than 2,000 vocal bursts. Next, they used Amazon Mechanical Turk, a website that enables you to outsource tasks you can’t relegate to computers, to recruit more than 1,000 people to listen to the recordings. As the recruits listened, the researchers had them rate the vocalizations based on the emotions and tone (positive or negative) they thought the clips conveyed.

Previous studies had pegged the number of emotions we can express with vocal bursts at around 13. But when the UC Berkeley team analyzed their results, they found there are at least 24 distinct ways that humans convey meaning without words.

You can read more about the research here. But what's really fun is to listen to those vocalizations in an interactive map. Moving your mouse over a colored spot will produce that vocalization, so sweeping across many will fill your speakers with emotional crowd noises. Have fun, but heed my advice and don't stay too long in one region without venturing to the others, because some of these vocalizations can make you feel things. -via Metafilter


Accordion Repo Man

The weirdest job you ever had is no match for what Weird Al Yankovic used to do when he was young. But then, this is Weird Al, so being an accordion repo man may not have been his weirdest job. Still, it was weird enough for him to imagine Accordion Repo Man as an action hero in a movie. A very weird movie. -via Laughing Squid


How the Brain Puts Timestamps on Memories of Past Events

Imagine that you witnessed a gruesome crime or a terrible accident. The police identify you as a witness to the act and you are taken in for interrogation. You try to piece together the events that happened in a somewhat chronological manner. But, unless you have an eidetic memory, you won't necessarily remember all the tiny details of what happened. Instead, you associate certain sensory perceptions and experiences to the memories of the event. But how does the brain actually do that, you wonder? Well, that was the topic of Mark Howard, a cognitive neuroscientist, and his postdoctoral student, Karthik Shankar. They wanted to figure out how the brain plots the points of the past on a timeline. This is what they came up with.

(Image credit: Ashley Mackenzie/Quanta Mag)


A Lesson on Arctic Peoples: They're Not Called Eskimos

There are different people groups that inhabit the arctic regions of Canada, Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland. And none of them refer to themselves as "Eskimos". It's an outsider term which may be considered "racist" or "offensive". Rather the proper name for these people groups is "Inuit" though there are also various Arctic groups apart from the Inuits such as the Aleut, Nunavut, and Yupik. So where does the term "Eskimo" come from and why has it been used to refer to people who live in the Arctic regions? Read more on Popula.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Ancient Creatures That Burrow Into The Ground Discovered

How early were organisms able to gain the ability to move? Mobility is one of the evolutionary adaptations that early organisms needed to have in order to survive and the earliest known organisms are said to have existed 600 million years ago. But researchers have unearthed fossils of the earliest mobile organisms that roamed the earth, more than 2.1 billion years ago. They seem to resemble tubular structures that some marine organisms make when they tunnel into sediment. Read more on The Scientist.

(Image credit: The Scientist)


The Pistachio Seed That Started America's Pistachio Industry Boom

Pistachios are very difficult to grow. They favor extreme weather conditions so finding the right place to plant them is a big challenge for anyone who wants to mass produce these lovely nuts. One of the best places that provide the perfect environment for growing pistachios is in Iran and they are the top producer and exporter of pistachio nuts. This fact became problematic when the US had some political issues with Iran. But the silver lining to that was how the US managed to grow their own pistachios and the industry exploded, becoming the second largest pistachio producer and exporter in the world.

(Image credit: Joanna Kosinska/Unsplash)


Megalith Carnac: The Mother of All Rock Monuments

It might sound like an exaggeration to say that all ancient rock structures originated from these rock formations in Brittany but studies suggest that the megalith building culture first started with this group of people in northwestern France. The Carnac structures are estimated to date back around 3300 BCE and as early as 4500 BCE.

The origins of the megalith builders have haunted Bettina Schulz Paulsson since she excavated her first megalithic monument in Portugal nearly 20 years ago. Early on, most anthropologists thought megaliths originated in the Near East or the Mediterranean, whereas many modern thinkers back the idea they were invented independently in five or six different regions around Europe. The major hurdle, she says, has been sorting through the mountains of archaeological data to find reliable dates for the 35,000 sites, including carved standing stones, tombs, and temples.

But what everyone said was impossible, Schulz Paulsson did. Sifting through mountains of data, she was able to pinpoint the earliest megaliths in Europe, the Carnac stones.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


How a Heart-Shaped Candy Box Came to Stand for Love

Flowers, cards, jewelry, and dinner out are standard romantic gifts, but nothing says Valentine's Day like assorted chocolates in a heart-shaped box. But why? Chocolates are appreciated by the receiver, but other treats would be, too. And how did a heart-shaped box become standard? Why do we even associate love with a shape that doesn't much resemble the heart, anyway?

This has not always been the case. Eric Jager, the author of The Book of the Heart and a medieval literature professor at UCLA, traces the link back to the 13th and 14th centuries. “[People at that time] thought of our hearts” — the physical ones — “as books of memory, a place where God’s commands are written, and [believed] feelings for the beloved were somehow written on your heart,” he told Time. There are stories about female saints, whose hearts, cut open after death, were literally inscribed with professions of love for God.

But then where did the shape come from? It’s not, one might note, quite similar to what human hearts look like, although, as cardiologist and medical illustrator Carlos Machado told Time, it isn’t all that different either. Really, he says, the shape is closer to a bird or reptile heart, which makes sense, given that the medieval study of anatomy was based on animal bodies rather than human ones.  

The story of the heart-shaped box of chocolates requires a separate history for the heart, the chocolates, the box, and Valentines day itself. These varying stories intersected in the mid-1800s, in a tale you can read at Vox.  -via Digg

(Image credit: Chrys Omori

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