In a country with a population of just 315,281, it turns out it's not very hard to accidentally hook up with a close relative.
"Everyone has heard of (or experienced) it when someone goes all in with someone and then later runs into that person at a family gathering some other time," writes the website News of Iceland.
Now, there's an app for that.
Three enterprising entrepreneurs have used the information from Íslendingabók -- a website with a geneological database of more than 700,000 Icelanders, past and present -- to make an Android app that allows users to bump phones and find out if their genes are a little too close for comfort before an encounter goes any further (slogan: "Bump the app before you bump in bed").
As the Global Post noted back in 2011, sexual encounters are becoming more anonymous as Iceland becomes increasingly urbanized. Íslendingabók began as a geneological website but has since taken on the additional role of helping couples search for common roots. Presumably, having the site available in app form will make it a bit easier to conduct these incest checks in, say, a bar or at one of those famous volcanic hot springs (couple on the right, above: take note!).
Of course, in Iceland, the question is not whether you're related -- it's how closely. The new technology leaves up to the user the decision about whether hooking up with a third or fourth cousin is too much. But here's hoping for a few less awkward Icelandic family reunions this summer.
OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images
There aren't many surprises in the new WikiLeaks document dump -- the organization is calling the collection of 1.7 million documents dated from 1973 to 1976 "The Kissinger Cables" -- but there are a few interesting finds. For example, there's the request from Morocco's King Hassan II for any information the United States had on an unidentified flying object spotted along the Moroccan coast in the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 1976.
Four days after the incident, the commander of Morocco's gendarmerie requested a meeting with the U.S. defense attaché in Rabat. In their meeting, the Moroccan officer noted that there had been reports across the country of an object sighted arcing across the night sky, and that the king had taken a personal interest in following up on the incident.
"Reports from these widely separate locations were remarkably similar, i.e., that the object was on a generally southwest to northeast course, it was a silvery luminous circular shape and gave off intermittent trails of bright sparks and fragments, and made no noise," the U.S. defense attaché wrote in his cable to Washington. The next day, the attaché met with another gendarmerie officer who had actually seen the UFO. The officer "described the UFO as flying parallel to the coast at a relatively low speed, as if it were an aircraft preparing to land. It first appeared to him as a disc-shaped object, but as it came closer he saw it as a luminous tubular-shaped object."
"I frankly do not know what to make of these sighting, although I find intriguing the similarity of the descriptions reported from widely dispersed locations," the attaché wrote to Washington on Sept. 25. "In any event, I wish to be able to respond promptly to King Hassan's request for information, and would appreciate anything you can do to assist me in this."
One week later, on Oct. 2, Washington cabled back with the terse message: "Hope to have answer for you next week. Regards." Three days later, the secretary's office followed up. "It is difficult to offer any definitive explanation as to the cause or origin of the UFOs sighted in the Moroccan area between 0100 and 0130 local time 19 September 1976," the cable began, before suggesting that, based on descriptions of its trajectory and appearance, it "could conceivably be compatible with a meteor, or a decaying satellite," though U.S. officials noted that "the [U.S. government] is unaware of any US aircraft or satellite activity, either military or civilian, in the Moroccan area which might have been mistaken for such sightings."
Despite their appearance in WikiLeaks' new cache of documents, the cables aren't exactly breaking news. They were quoted at length in a 1990 book titled The UFO Cover-Up: What the Government Won't Say, in which the authors speculated that the 10-day delay between the initial cable from Rabat and Washington's reply was to allow time for secret briefings, and refuted the official narrative:
Is it impossible for a bright meteor to have been responsible for the sightings? Not really, if one examines the information very generally. A silvery, luminous object giving off a bright trail and sparks is not unlike a description of a meteor. However, the sightings were reported over a span of about an hour. The UFO, according to some witnesses, traveled at a slow speed, like an aircraft about to land. And the southwest to northeast course of the UFO would have brought it in the general direction of Iran, where other activity was ongoing. Coincidence?
Well, yes. It was a coincidence. In October 2012, Canadian amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan (who was profiled by the New York Times in 2008) posted on a satellite interest site that the trajectory and timing of the incident matches the re-entry of a piece of space junk -- specifically a Soviet booster engine from a rocket launched two months earlier -- in July 1976. While it's true that the UFO was not of U.S. origin, it appears the cable from the State Department was either misleading or not fully informed about the incident. The Soviet rocket debris was tracked by U.S. Strategic Command and cataloged in its Space Track database, where Molczan eventually found the record. So there you go, mystery solved -- 35 years later.
(Hat tip to @arabist.)
Iran may have just scored a massive, albeit largely symbolic, victory in its cold war with the United States. And it is a very cold war -- because the battle being waged is over ice cream.
On Monday, the Iranian ice cream company Choopan appeared to unseat Baskin-Robbins as the reigning Guinness World Record holder for the largest tub of ice cream. In celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Choopan made a five-ton batch of chocolate ice cream in a carton more than six feet wide and five feet tall. Representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records were on hand to observe the occasion but have yet to announce whether the Iranian company officially beat Baskin-Robbins's 2005 record of four tons of vanilla.
The Iranian state news outlet PressTV was on hand to record the achievement. "I'm here with my family to see the biggest ice cream in the world in Iran, and Iran is making it, and I think everyone is having fun," one woman told a reporter. "First, I came to this event because it gives me national pride for our achievement, and of course I love ice cream," said another.
When reached for comment, Baskin-Robbins issued a statement to FP saying, "While we understand another company is vying to break this record, we remain focused on serving our guests around the world our delicious variety of ice cream flavors, custom ice cream cakes and frozen treats, and wouldn't rule out trying to break another record in the future."
This is just the latest battle in the long-churning U.S.-Iranian ice cream war, and it was previously fought on the proxy battlefield of Baghdad. In December 2010, as the United States wound down its commitments there while still trying to maintain its influence, Liz Sly reported in the Washington Post that an Iranian ice cream franchise was investing where American companies wouldn't.
[Ice cream parlor co-owner Ali Hazem] Haideri says he did not deliberately site the outlet near the embassy, and indeed seems somewhat anxious about the store's proximity to rockets aimed at Americans.... Yet there's something brazen about the Green Zone location of a franchise whose Web site declares that its goal is "to exalt the name of Iran and reinforce Iranian identity."
With no immediate plans from American companies to try and retake the record, the ice cream war could melt away before it has a chance to morph into a large-scale culinary conflict like the great Lebanese-Israeli hummus war.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Unless you have been aboard the International Space Station (or maybe its Russian predecessor, Mir), you haven't seen the world like this. This is what the earth looks like from the window of the only inhabited outpost in space, 250 miles above the planet's surface.
As long as there's been space travel, astronauts (and cosmonauts and taikonauts) have taken pictures from orbit, but none has been as prolific or as accessible as the current commander of the International Space Station (ISS), Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. (Stephen Quick, director of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, has characterized Hadfield as "the spaceman from next door.") Hadfield makes videos about life in space and the experiments aboard the station and uploads them to the Canadian Space Agency's YouTube page, while posting photos taken from the ISS's observatory window to his Twitter feed and Tumblr page. Dr. Thomas Marshburn, the flight engineer on the current ISS expedition, is also posting his photos to Twitter.
The Canadian Centre of Geographic Sciences, meanwhile, has collected the astronauts' pictures in an interactive map, "Our World from the ISS," which can be accessed online here. The images are stunning, from Washington, D.C., at night, to the Euphrates River winding through Ramadi, Iraq, to natural features like Mt. Fuji in Japan and the bizarre Richat Structure in Mauritania. Check out some of the images below:
Euphrates River, Iraq
Mt. Fuji, Japan
Richat Structure, Mauritania
NASA/Chris Hadfield via Twitter
When a 10-ton meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Friday, Feb. 15, it injured more than 1,500 people, caused $30 million in damage, and sparked nearly 3,000 financial aid applications from residents. Now, it seems, Russians -- including government officials -- are trying to get that money back, using the very rock that caused the losses in the first place.
This week, authorities in Chelyabinsk announced a design contest for a memorial to mark the "interplanetary visit," and also unveiled plans to develop a logo that entrepreneurs can slap on calendars, magnets, booklets, and other souvenirs. The region's geography and history museum, meanwhile, has already opened an exhibition on the meteorite that will include photos, videos, and meteorite fragments. "The authorities say they will try to make the memory of last Friday's event a great tourist attraction," the Voice of Russia reported.
Then there's the mayor of Chebarkul, who has himself tried to dig up some meteorite fragments by sending divers into the town's lake, where the meteor crashed. And he recently tried to galvanize his constituents by launching a competition for business ideas that would allow Chebarkul to profit from the global attention. The window may be closing fast, though, since Russian scientists say the fragments will soon be covered by snow or blown away by the wind.
Efforts to capitalize on the meteor strike got underway almost as soon as the extraterrestrial stone blew up, spewing tiny fireballs that buried themselves just inches deep in the ground and quickly cooled into little collectibles. Residents rushed to the scene of the explosion and began to dig up bits of meteorite that were often no larger than a centimeter. Apparently enough people were eager to see the meteor that some locals started taxiing them over for a steep price.
Many of the fragments have made their way onto the Russian classified ad website Avito.ru, where prices range from 500 to 300,000 rubles ($16 to $10,000), though the size of the fragments doesn't vary nearly as much. But meteorite aficionados beware: Many of the space particles for sale are raising some eyebrows, and Chelyabinsk police have already looked into a local man who has sold a few chunks for 15,000 rubles ($492) apiece that they believe could be fakes. Given the uncertainty, you might be better off with a good old-fashioned souvenir.
This morning, Russians in Chelyabinsk, an industrial city 950 miles east of Moscow, were jolted awake when a meteor exploded in the sky, producing shockwaves that shattered windows, set off car alarms, and injured at least 500 people. The meteor was traveling at 19 miles per second, according to Russian authorities, before exploding mid-air, likely as a result of the immense heat generated as a large object speeds through the atmosphere.
On the ground in Chelyabinsk, Russians witnessed a scene that must have seemed ripped out of an apocalyptic film, as a bright, flaming object suddenly appeared in the sky, streaked across the horizon, and unleashed a bone-rattling shockwave. The extraordinary developments were captured on video, in part through the automobile dash-cams that are nearly ubiquitous in Russia.
Below, we've compiled a selection of some of the best videos of the meteor shower, along with translations of the reactions of the stunned Russians on the ground.
At 1:40, the speaker says that there was an extremely bright flash going across the sky. Once the blast can be heard he says, "What the hell? ... Something fell. Do you hear? You know what that was? It was supersonic. It must have been an asteroid, and that's the blast wave." At 2:38, the speaker exclaims, "What the fuck?" They look at the broken windows and say it's like something out of the war. Then, another speaker says, "It must have been a rocket or something." While they're cursing up a storm, one of his friends says, "It must have been the Chinese!"
The video below gives a sense of the magnitude of the blast's shockwave.
This video, shot across the border from Kazakhstan about 200 miles from Chelyabinsk, shows how far from the city the meteoroid could be seen.
The blast blew out windows in Chelyabinsk. The closed-circuit video below gives a sense of how many Chelyabinsk residents likely experienced the meteoroid.
This video of a street in Chelyabinsk, which doesn't capture the direct path of the meteoroid, shows how the meteoroid lit up the street, casting a veritable klieg light on an entire city block.
This video compilation shows how residents experienced the meteroid across the city, and includes footage from a Chelyabinsk school right after the explosion was felt on the ground.
Reddit was once a site by, for, and about the concerns of "internet people." But in the past year, it has seen its popular AMA (ask me anything) sub-forum has become a popular way for celebrities, scientists, politicians and others to gain legitimacy with the online masses. Even President Obama did one.
The latest aspiring leader to allow Reddit users to ask him anything is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a long-shot candidate for the Iranian presidency. Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers who left Iran for the United States in 1975 because of the political situation. He registered as a candidate for the 2005 presidential election but allegedly was disqualified by the Guardian Council for his joint U.S. citizenship.
Here are some of the highlights from yesterday's session:
In 2005, I put my name down as a candidate, but it was not really serious. I entered the race about one month before the election day and my purpose was not really to stay the course, but rather to make a statement. Much of Iran's intelligentsia was boycotting that election and I was afraid that by boycotting, we are going to get someone elected that will not be hospitable to democracy and human rights. History proven me right.
In my administration there will be no restriction on any type of media. I believe in free speech.
The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and laungages. I can easily build trust between the two countries. particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years.
Why is he doing this? Well according to Amirahmadi:
At this point, no candidate (not me, not Messrs. Ghalibaf, Velayati, etc.) is allowed to publicly campaign in Iran. In that sense, all candidates are in the same boat. No candidate can publicly campaign until he gets the approval of the Guardian Council, which will be delivered in late-May. So far, my campaign has been very active campaigning in the United States, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. We will be travelling to Iran in March, but not for public campaigns. With your help, we want to take our message of peace around the world.
Several Iran watchers, expatriates and Iranians (using proxies to gain access to Reddit) came out claiming that many of Amrahmadi's proposals aren't even within the scope of presidential power, even if he manages to obtain permission from the Guardian Council to run. They're still waiting for a response.
Amirahmadi has promised another AMA on February 12 starting at 6 PM EST. Iran's election is scheduled for June 14, 2013. I suppose an Ahmadinejad AMA might be too much to hope for.
Stealthy? Yes. Fashionable?
Well, what do I know.
Citing a desire to explore "the aesthetics of privacy and the potential for fashion to challenge authoritarian surveillance," New York artist Adam Harvey will be unveiling a line of "drone-proof" clothing next week designed to help those seeking an escape from the all-seeing eyes.
The four-piece line, dubbed "Stealth Wear," as reported by RT, includes an anti-drone scarf and an anti-drone hoodie, designed to throw off the thermal imaging systems often used by unmanned planes, a shirt with a shield that protects the wearer's heart against x-ray radiation, and an accessory Harvey has called the "Off Pocket," which lets the user "instantly zero out" a phone signal to protect against GPS tracking.
It's not Harvey's first time using art to investigate ways to shake off big brother: his master's thesis at NYU looked at ways to interfere with facial recognition software. The clothing line is a response to the growing use of domestic surveillance drones (there are expected to be as many as 30,000 in U.S. skies by 2020) but still, it's not hard to think of some people outside the U.S. who might be interested in acquiring some anti-drone wear. No word yet on how much an anti-drone scarf will cost.
Stealth Wear will be unveiled at a London studio next week along with videos explain the technology behind the garments.
South African tech company Unlimited IT was so frustrated with the slow Internet speeds provided by Telkom, one of South Africa's biggest internet providers, that it hired a pigeon named Winston. As the Times of South Africa reports, Winston carried a 4gb memory card from one branch of Unlimited IT to another, far faster than Telkom's transfer speed:
The 11-month-old pigeon flew 80km from a call centre in Howick, outside Pietermaritzburg, to a head office in Hillcrest, Durban, to prove a bird is faster at transferring data than Telkom’s ADSL lines.
Winston made his delivery in 2 hours 6 minutes and 57 seconds, beating Telkom’s estimated download time of up to two days. By the time the memory card, carrying company data, had been collected from Winston and downloaded by midday, the ADSL download had managed 100MB of data.
The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Balduf, based in Johannesburg, explains why the story is more significant than just good publicity for Ultimate and Winston:
Africans pay some of the highest prices for some of the least reliable Internet service in the world. And if a country like South Africa – relatively prosperous and developed – can't solve this problem, then it's going to need a lot more pigeons.
Telkom has since responded to the South Africa Press Association and denied responsibility for Ultimate's Internet connection woes.
Here's why you should never bet against Japanese innovation.
At right, Japanese Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe feeds himself with the assistance of "My Spoon" during a demonstration of healthcare robots in Tokyo on Nov. 10. People with disabilities can operate a joystick with their jaw, hands, or feet to direct My Spoon to their mouth.
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Approximately 2,500 sheep took to the streets of Marseille, in southern France, on Nov. 9 as part of a demonstration of breeders and shepherds who are protesting the crisis in the ovine sector and demanding more government assistance.
The banner reads:"Barnier, go to the end …; Sarko, think about us!!" (Michel Barnier is France's agricultural minister, and Sarko, of course, refers to President Nicolas Sarkozy.)
The above is an aerial view of a humongous portrait of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, sculpted in gravel and sand by American artist Jorge Rodriguez Gerada on a Barcelona beachfront, on Nov. 3. The project is called Expectation, and it required a civil engineering firm, a topographer, machinery for clearing the area, and gravel as a filler, among other things.
Information provided with the photo says:
The outsize scale allows the artist to allude to the global impact on the eve of his [Obama's] election. It both embodies the immense sense of hope felt by Barack Obanma's [sic] supporters and raises a mirror to reflect the source of that hope.
Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Here are some fun findings I came across while playing with the site, which proudly announces "Search 1,326,920,000 web pages":
ForeignPolicy.com. At the time I searched, there was an AIG advertisement at the top of the screen that declared, "The greatest risk is not taking one." (I guess bailed-out AIG took that statement to its extreme.)
What kind of antique jewels have you come across while playing with the 2001 Google? Feel free to comment below.
If global warming, weapons of mass destruction, or an asteroid eliminate human life on Earth, all will not be lost. Stephen Colbert's DNA will be there to save the human species.
Next month, a digitized copy of Colbert's DNA will be sent to the International Space Station as part of "Operation Immortality," a project of video game designer Richard Garriott. In the event that humans cease to exist, aliens can use the DNA to resurrect Homo sapiens.
Colbert, the satirist who was the winning write-in candidate in FP's "World's Top Public Intellectuals" poll, says he is now even closer to his "lifelong dream" of being the floating fetus at the end of the 1968 science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
If you've ever had a burning desire to have your voice projected through a megaphone in Norway, today is your last chance.
This summer, a group of artists erected a 23-foot-tall, wind-powered "telemegaphone" on top of a mountain in western Norway that overlooks the village of Dale and a scenic fjord. Dial 47 90 369389, and your voice will be projected through the telemegaphone and across the scenic Nordic landscape. Sing, yell, yodel, pontificate. Better yet, play a concerto.
Today's the last day, however. Tomorrow, Sept. 6, the telemegaphone is being turned off -- deer season is commencing.
Six months ago, Passport wrote about how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict struck the board game Monopoly, which at the time was having an online vote to determine the 22 cities to include in its world edition.
Today, the world edition of the game officially goes on sale, with 22 worldwide cities selected through a process that included more than 5.6 million online votes. The city with the most expensive rent? Montreal! Its partner in the dark blue property group -- the most expensive in the game -- is Riga, the capital of Latvia. The two cheapest properties, the brown group, are the write-in cities of Taipei and Gdynia, Poland, which isn't too far from Riga.
Oh, and the controversial Jerusalem did make it onto the board, in the yellow group with Hong Kong and Beijing.
A new BBC series called Britain From Above looks absolutely stunning. Using satellite technology, the producers have created interactive, dynamic maps of the country's modern migrations -- everything from watching a sped-up version of the hundreds of ships that pass through the English Channel each day to tracking the routes of London taxis through GPS signals. The resulting dance -- around one another, off crowded thoroughfares -- is fascinating to watch. Check out the teaser below.
Bhutan -- Land of the Thunder Dragon -- is on the cutting edge when it comes to postage stamps. It has a stamp on a CD-ROM, roughly 4 inches in diameter, seen in this image. The CD plays a video on the history of the country's kings. Other philatelic highlights from Bhutan include 3-D stamps and scented stamps, as well as stamps printed on steel, silk, and extruded plastic.
Want to buy the stamp? Check out the "Marketplace" tent at the 42nd annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, held through June 29 and again from July 2 to 6. In addition to its exhibition on Bhutan, the event has programs on NASA ("Fifty Years and Beyond") and Texas ("A Celebration of Music, Food, and Wine").
This cork-filled life preserver from the Titanic, which sunk in 1912, will be sold at auction house Christie's annual ocean liner sale in New York next Wednesday. The life preserver, one of only six known to exist, had been kept by a family in Nova Scotia since it was found -- allegedly by a farmer at the Halifax shoreline soon after the tragedy. Christie's expects it to go for 30,000 to 40,000 pounds ($59,000 to $79,000); the auction house sold another one last year in London for 61,000 pounds ($120,000).
This just might be the coolest vending machine of all time:
Michael Keferl of CScoutJapan reports:
Pushing the button on the vendor won’t exactly pop out a car, but it does dispense a branded tube containing pamphlets on the new models, dealer information, and a sheet of Smart Car stickers featuring the available colors.
Not quite as cool as an actual car vending machine, but ingenious nonetheless. I'm still waiting for MIT's Media Lab to roll out its long-hyped stackable cars, though.
(Hat tip: TreeHugger)
Behind doors on the tombstone that can be locked is a QR code -- a square code read by mobile phones that can link to Web addresses. Grave visitors can use the code to access images and photographs of the person while they were alive. [...] In addition to images of the deceased, people can view a greeting from the chief mourner at the funeral and browse through the guest book. They can also make entries using their cell phones.
Here are a couple photos:
In the United States, the Oreo cookie is a classic. Millions of American children have enjoyed dunking the sweet treat -- white cream sandwiched between two round, crisp, chocolate cookies -- in milk as an afternoon snack.
Kraft Foods, makers of the Oreo, introduced the cookie to China in 1996. But the Chinese didn't exactly take to them. So starting in 2005, the Wall Street Journal reports, Kraft engaged in a classic case of adapting a product to suit local tastes. The Chinese found the cookies too sweet, so Kraft reduced the sugar in them. China was developing a thirst for milk -- a product that traditionally hasn't been a Chinese dietary staple -- so Kraft launched a campaign, complete with Oreo ambassadors, to "educate" the Chinese on how to dunk the cookies in milk.
The most radical change was in the shape. Noticing that sales of wafer cookies were increasing faster than those of traditional biscuit-like cookies, a new version of the Oreo was created: a long, narrow, layered stack of crispy wafers and vanilla and chocolate cream, all coated with chocolate. Whoever said Oreos have to be round?
Of course, amid rising food prices and increased demand for chocolate (whose consumption in China has nearly doubled in the past five years), the success of the Chinese Oreo brings to mind the broader question of "Can the World Afford a Middle Class?," a topic recently addressed in FP and one that fans the flames of Chinese frustrations with the West.
(Meanwhile, Oreos have been trying to colonize British biscuit tins, the BBC reports.)
Roman Abramovich, the Russian dropout turned oil tycoon, recently invested $160 million in the 19-meter-wide drill, outdoing the previous recordholder by a good four meters.
Not only has Abramovich set the record, but his colossal purchase just happens to coincide with rumors that President Vladimir Putin will propose the construction of a physical link between
Abramovich has denied that his purchase has any connection to Putin's plans. But seriously, but what else is he going to do with a drill that can bore a hole wide enough for a four-lane highway?
Rumors of the tunnel come at a precarious time in U.S.-Russian relations, currently strained by the Kosovo decision, the proposed U.S. missile shield, and George W. Bush's renewed NATO membership push for former Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine.
Hopefully, all this Cold War nostalgia won't stand in the way of a great bicontinental highway. Just imagine the road trip possiblities -- you could park your RV in Red Square.
With the race for the Democratic presidential nomination entering the homestretch, more and more people are talking about superdelegates, who may be crucial in determining whether the party's choice will be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But what are these superdelegates? Who gets to be one? Are you as confused about them as I am?
Rick Klau, an employee at Google, took on a personal project to help clarify things. He set up SuperDelegates.org, a wiki-style Web site that not only tells you how the Democratic Party's superdelegate system was developed, but also lists who all 795 of them are and whether or not they've pledged their vote to Clinton or Obama. Even cooler, Klau has done an overlay on Google Maps, so you can see where they're from and whether they're still undecided or are leaning toward one of the candidates. Check it out here.
The artist is Icaro Doriaa, a talented young Brazilian with the magazine Grande Reportagem in Portugal.
UPDATE: Tim Ogden of Beyond Philanthropy writes in with some questions about the data behind these flags:
I thought the flags were really cool too -- then I started thinking about the numbers behind them. While I have not doubt that some are accurate several flags caught my attention as being dubious:
1) Brazil: the flag indicates that a huge percentage of the population is living below $10/month, which would be well below the $1/day threshold. According to Globalis sourcing the "UN Common Database (WB)" the population of Brazil living at that level in 2001 was 8.17%. Since Brazil has experienced quite rapid growth since then, one can only presume that this figure has fallen since then. The flag would indicate that the figure would be above 30%.
2) Burkina Faso: According to the WHO, the under-5 mortality per 1000 live births is 192. A tragically high number to be sure, but nowhere close to the figures that one would guess at from the flags. [...]
Just looked up the numbers for Angola to determine that there really is a problem:
According to WHO, malaria infections is 2002: 1.5 million
According to UNAIDS, HIV infections in 2005: 240,000
According to flags, 1.5 million = 240,000
It's still a cool idea, though.
RUD14ME? That's the question people in the United Arab Emirates who covet the vanity license plate with the single digit "1" must be asking themselves. The "1" license plate is going up for auction and is expected to end up as the world's most expensive license plate. The number "5" has already sold for a record $6.75 million. I guess those willing to plunk down millions for a vanity plate have the philosophy that U LIV 1S.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has just officially unveiled its plans to build the world's first carbon-neutral city. Situated on Abu Dhabi's desert outskirts, "Masdar City" is designed from the ground up to be the first completely environmentally sustainable city and a hub for renewable energy research. The UAE's rulers hope Masdar will eventually house at least 1,500 businesses and 50,000 people, powered by solar and other renewable energy sources.
Residents will be able to get by on foot, despite the region's blistering climate, thanks to architectural techniques that promote shading and help generate cooling breezes. Stops for the city's solar-powered "personalized rapid transport pods" will be no further than 200 meters apart. Lord Norman Foster, the founder and head of the architectural firm in charge of the Masdar development, said the project "promises to set new benchmarks for the sustainable city of the future." Is he right? Is the project even viable?
Ann Rappaport, an urban and environmental policy specialist at Tufts University, spoke with FP about the project a while back. She seems to share Foster's optimism:
[F]or almost everything, it's easier to do it right the first time. That's true of a new building versus renovating an old building, [so] why shouldn't it be true of [building] a new city, [rather] than transforming an old one? ...
[Y]ou can think about spatial patterns, you can think about their notion of creating walkable spaces... shading—all these things that we now understand to be very important to our carbon budget. We just weren't thinking about that hundreds of years ago when our major world capitals were developed. So that's exciting.... [Your first reaction may be that this is] a city in the middle of a place that others might define as a desert. On the other hand, I think that climate change is challenging us all to think about where the good locations are for human development.... When many of the world's foremost cities were developed, we were looking at transportation access by boat, and now that means that these cities are really vulnerable to sea level rise... [T]he prospect looks attractive, and perhaps the devil's in the details, but it’s not a ludicrous concept.
No country needs this type of innovative thinking about the environment more than the UAE, designated by the World Wildlife Fund as the country with the world's worst per capita ecological footprint. Obviously, one project is not enough to exonerate the country's wasteful and unsustainable practices. But at least it's a start.
Just about every newspaper, magazine, and website has published a holiday gift guide. And inevitably, their lists include lots of eco-friendly products, such as bamboo bowls or bamboo clothes. But how about a bamboo computer? Cashing in on the green trend, Taiwan's Asustek Computer has developed a laptop encased in bamboo. Most laptops are encased in plastic that contain toxins like polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, whereas bamboo is a fast-growing, durable natural grass. Sadly, though, you can't buy it. Asustek has only unveiled a prototype. Maybe it'll hit the market by next year's holiday season.
Based on the famous London Underground map, this map contains the major cities of the world that have underground transportation. It also has the same fun distortions that the Tube map has to make everything fit. For example, to get from Tehran to Dubai, one must go through Haifa. And Pyongyang appears to be south of Tokyo, when in fact the opposite is true. The map also cleverly reflects what's actually going on in certain parts of the world. Most of Africa is "Under Construction" and Siberia is a giant wasteland for public transportation.
Too bad this map isn't available for purchase. I'd rather have this for Christmas than the actual book it's promoting, although that looks pretty cool too.
(Hat tip: BKNY 2.0)
We've all heard about cars powered by wacky biofuels, including switchgrass and leftover French fry oil. Now, two British men who love the environment are trekking from Britain to Timbuktu in a truck whose fuel comes from cocoa butter extracted from waste chocolate (as in, like, misshapen Easter bunnies).
The vehicle is a Ford Iveco cargo truck, and as it travels 4,500 miles to Timbuktu, it will burn 2,000 liters of biodiesel originating from 4,000 kg (8,800 lbs.) of misshapen chocolate. That's enough of the sweet stuff to make 80,000 chocolate bars.
On Friday, the chocomobile crossed the English Channel by ferry, and after a sweet ride through France and Spain, it will hop onto another ferry to Morocco. Once it vrooms through Mauritania, it will plow through Mali's deserts until it arrives at Timbuktu, the city once regarded in the West as being at the ends of the Earth and which today is in a region that is being buried under sand.
The two Brits behind this stunt are, of course, trying to bring attention to biodiesel, a renewable resource that generates lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels. It seems unlikely that fueling vehicles with cocoa butter could be achieved at a large scale—that would require a tremendous amount of chocolate or, perhaps, tanning oil—but if the men's journey makes more people aware of the benefits of biofuels in general, that would be a sweet success.
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