We here at FP can get a little obsessed with pandas sometimes. (OK, maybe it's just me.) But here's proof that the environment is getting its panda on, too: The cuddly bears' waste can be recycled into paper. Researchers at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base are looking for a paper mill to take the fiber-rich poo and turn it into scribbling pads. They got the idea after visiting a Thai zoo that recycles elephant dung into paper. The pandas in Chengdu produce two tons of feces every day from their bamboo-rich diet. And, as trend-spotters know, bamboo is quickly becoming the material of choice for eco-aware consumers. Bamboo isn't just panda fodder; the tough, fast-growing wood can be made into furniture, floors, and even bedsheets and clothes.
Think about it ... you could get at nearly the whole life cycle with bamboo. It could go into the tummy of an endangered species, come out the other end, be made into paper that you can write on and then stick in your (bamboo) recycling bin when you're done.
This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community and put the continent on the path to today's European Union. Over the years, many urban myths about meddling "Eurocrats" and their overregulation have circulated among the British populace, who see these Euromyths as outrageous examples of threats to their way of life.
Here are three Euromyths that I found particularly funny.
Myth #1: Curved bananas are banned.
Truth: Commission regulation (EC) 2257/94 states bananas must be "free from malformation or abnormal curvature." Class 2 bananas, however, can have "defects of shape." "Abnormal curvature" isn't defined, although the regulation for cucumbers might provide a rule of thumb: Class 1 and "extra class" cucumbers can curve up to 10 mm per 10 cm of length. It's not clear who, exactly, measures all this produce.
Myth #2: Barmaids must cover their cleavage. (Otherwise, they could get skin cancer.)
Truth: When this story came out in 2005, one newspaper started a "Save Our Jugs" campaign. In reality though, the EU's draft Optical Radiation directive said employers must ensure their staff don't suffer from overexposure to the sun. A final vote by the European Parliament removed that stipulation from the directive and limited protection to employees working with artificial sources of radiation such as infrared lamps and lasers.
Myth #3: Firemen's poles must be removed. (One firefighter could get crushed by the next one sliding down.)
Truth: No EU health and safety legislation even mentions the poles. The UK, however, did transpose some parts of EU legislation into its 1992 Codes of Practice on health and safety at work. This action may have prompted some fire stations to remove poles.
Last week's big viral image on the web was this astonishing photograph of what is known in Chinese as a "nail house"—defined by China blogger Lyn Jeffery as "the residences of urbanites whose neighborhoods have been 'moved' åŠ¨è¿ and who are the last hold-outs--they stick out like nails in an otherwise modernized environment."
According to Chongqing law, says the [China Legal Daily] article, there are three possible ways to compensate owners in this type of situation: 1) provide housing on the same spot; 2) provide housing in another spot; 3) provide a sum of money. The city is only willing to provide Ms. Wu, the resident, with the third option, but she is not willing to accept a sum of money.
Even in quasi Communist China, you see, there are limited protections for land owners. But not many: China ranks 45th in the world in terms of strongest safeguarding of property rights, according to the latest International Property Rights Index (pdf) put out by the Property Rights Alliance, a lobbying group in Washington. (Thanks to Cato for the link.)
The top ten countries are:
The United States shares 14th place with Canada and Ireland. Last on the list of 70 countries? Lowly, land-stealing Bangladesh.
In the current issue of FP, Wilson Center scholar and national security budget expert Gordon Adams takes a look at the spiraling cost of the Iraq war. He projects that in 2007, the United States will spend an average of about $14.7 million per hour on the conflict, or $245,370 per minute.
Others have looked at the numbers and come up with different estimates; artist Chris Jordan went in another direction entirely for his "Running the Numbers" series of massive posters.
For one poster, he assembled 125,000 images of hundred-dollar bills to make a picture of Benjamin Franklin. The result: a $12.5 million image, 8.5 feet wide by 10.5 feet tall, representing the average cost to U.S. taxpayers of just one hour of the Iraq war (Jordan uses a slightly higher figure than Adams calculates for 2006, but the point is the same).
And here's a close-up:
Jordan's artwork was shown last week at the exclusive TED conference in Monterey, California. He says it's better to see the posters in person, so if you're in New York in mid-June and July, you'll be able to check them out at the Von Lintel gallery.
Last week, I blogged about how the lack of robust power grids in the rural areas of developing countries spurred some cell providers to experiment with solar, wind and biofuels to independently power individual cell phone towers.
Of course, this solves the problem of power for the cellular network, but—as Passport reader Bradley Loomis asked via email—if there isn't an electrical grid to power the cell towers, how do cell phone users in these areas charge their cell phones?
The answer lies in a business model that is quickly emerging across the globe, from China to Uganda: charging the cell phone batteries of rural customers in bigger cities for a fee. Check out LunchOverIP’s report on how Chinese businessmen are transforming their charge-for-a-fee service into a potentially charge-for-free ad-supported model (kind of like Google but without the whole Internet part). Jan Chipchase also has a great piece on the subject and some good photos of charging stations in Uganda.
Bradley, thanks for the question! More good comments on Slashdot.
It may not land Turkish blogger Ozgur Alaz the job of his dreams, but his unorthodox resume sure makes for great Tuesday Map fodder:
Inspired from MemoryMaps, i prepared a resume using Google Earth for me. How did i prepare? Firstly, i grouped my googleEarth Cv into six sections. They are; personal, education, work experiences, trend reporting, awards and interests. Secondly, i assign different colours of placemark to each group. Then, i placemarked and add some description to related locations. Final step is exporting my placemarks. That’s all.
(Hat tip: Gizmodo)
Looking for a way to kill 10 minutes at work before 5 o'clock strikes? Check out http://andys.org.uk/countryquiz/ for a fun game. A timer will count down 10 minutes, while you type in as many of the 192 member states of the United Nations as you can.
The site's not perfect, so I'll give you a hint. For the most part, countries are listed as they are commonly known, as opposed to their official names. For example, North Korea is listed as "North Korea," and not as "Democratic People's Republic of Korea." It's a lot harder than it sounds. I got 120, then saw which ones I missed and slapped myself silly upside the head. Remember ... no cheating!
(Hat tip: Kottke)
Will the traffic information be truly useful or just sit idly on Google's servers as a fun novelty item? It probably depends on how detailed the data gets in future months. A quick check of two areas I know well—my current location in Washington, DC and my hometown outside of Orlando, FL—didn't reveal much.
So far, the traffic info looks as if it is only for major highways. As you can see above, in Washington, it showed heavy traffic for the beltway and the highways leading into the city center. For Orlando, it showed heavy traffic on the only highway leading into downtown. No surprises there, but if the data gets more detailed, Google Maps could change the way drivers view the road ahead. I imagine the service could be very useful on web-enabled mobile phones, as Google is already claiming it is.
As venture capital reporter John Cook notes, Google is being coy about its data sources. The likely reason? Microsoft is working some mapping initiatives of its own, and the company could get into the traffic business to compete with Google.
Editor's note: Kyle Spector is a former researcher for FP. He's now finishing his undergraduate degree at the George Washington University, where he serves as the senior opinions editor for The GW Hatchet. Kyle will be guest-blogging for Passport as time allows.
The race for wired global geriatric supremacy is ON! Over the last few months, the media speculated that 93-year-old Don Crowdis of Ontario, Canada was the world's oldest blogger. Then it was supposedly 94-year-old Allan Lööf of Finspång, Sweden. Then came news that Spain's 95-year-old Maria Amelia was given a blog for her birthday by her "stingy" grandson. But now there's someone who's beat them all, and who's likely not to get beat herself.
Olive Riley, who lives north of Sydney, Australia and was born in 1899, just started her blog this month. The 107-year-old great-great-grandmother was born in the British Colony of New South Wales under the rule of Queen Victoria, two years before Australia became a nation. She loves to drink shandy. The latest:
Good afternoon everyone. This is Olive here. First, I want to thank all of you who visited my blob. Gerard says there’ve been 192,000 visits but that can’t be right.
- It’s a blog, Ollie. Not a blob.
- Oh, really?
(Hat tip: my brother Ted)
Is Al Gore hip? Not exactly, judging by the playlist he has co-posted on Apple's iTunes with Melissa Ethridge (is it cool to post your own song?), but at least he's trying:
(Hat tip: Gristmill)
Meet Prince Pickles, the new face of Japan's increasingly active military, known as the Self-Defense Forces for constitutional reasons.
The cute, manga-like cartoon character is intended to construct a non-threatening image of Japan's military. For the past few years, the Japanese military has been seeking a more assertive global role, and will be the platform from which Japan can become a "normal" country in the wake of its strict postwar pacifism.
Prince Pickles is our image character because he's very endearing, which is what Japan's military stands for," said Defense Ministry official Shotaro Yanagi. "He's our mascot and appears in our pamphlets and stationery."
Not surprisingly, the military's efforts to adopt innocuous-looking symbols has raised suspicions that Japan is cloaking darker ambitions, but the government insists that such imaging serves to create cultural understanding and help Japan's efforts in the military theater. In Japan's Iraq mission (where it deployed 600 noncombatant troops in its first military mission since the Second World War), water trucks were decorated with Japan's globally popular cartoon characters, and "everybody loved it," according to Foreign Ministry official Aki Tsuda. Not a single truck was attacked in the two and half year mission, which Japanese officials attribute to the cartoons rather than the fact that the deployment area was largely free of violence.
We've noted before that Danes are the happiest people on Earth. Adrian G. White, a social psychologist at the University of Leicester, has actually made a map of the world in terms of happiness, or, as he calls it, "subjective well being" (SWB). The darker a country, the happier its inhabitants. As you can see, they're dancin' in the streets in Scandinavia, but not so excited about life in Russia and most of Africa:
The top ten in White's list are:
As for the United States, it's number 23. The unhappiest place on the planet, according to White, is the African nation of Burundi.
Where exactly is Bin Laden? No one seems to know! Set in exotic locations around the world the readers' mission in this book is to find Bin Laden in each setting, as well as his accomplices, CIA agents, weapons of (not) mass destruction and many other local characters and things specific to each location. In this tongue-in-cheek picture book there are hours of fun scouring the delightful colour illustrations to find all of the various characters and objects, checking them off as you find them. Good luck with your mission should you accept it.
This, from the Onion archives, is pretty great:
[B]roadcasting giant ESPN, whose programming has long been a staple among male television viewers of all ages, made its first foray into women's sports programming with the introduction of the World's Emotionally Strongest Man Competition Monday. [...]
During the show's premiere, a two-hour special titled "Manhattan Blowout," competitors put their bodies, minds, and spirits to the test in events ranging from the brutal grind of "Enduring Quietly As She Takes Her Hard Day At Work Out On You," to the agility-straining "Throwing A Last-Minute Surprise Party For A Despised Mother-In-Law," to the ultimate combination of strength and finesse, "Helping Her Over The Death Of The Cat That Always Hated You."
The boundaries between the real and virtual worlds are fast blurring. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rapid corporate colonization of Second Life. No self-respecting CEO went to Davos without an "avatar" or online alter-ego, a sure sign that Second Life has entered the mainstream. The likes of Reuters, Nissan and Adidas are buying up virtual real-estate and setting up store fronts. Alan Court at the Financial Times reports that IBM has 1,000 of its employees spending time in Second Life. American Apparel hires cyber sales clerks to test new merchandise before it hits stores in the real world. And there's even a conference coming up next month for Fortune 500 companies who need helping devising a virtual worlds strategy.
Why the rush to a place that isn't even real? It's a chance to test new products and strategies (Starwood runs a virtual hotel), get marketing buzz, even find new talent. Fortune reports that people have already found real life work based on their performance in Second Life. The virtual "Linden Dollars" can also be converted to real cash, so the chance to make money is already there. Above all, this represents a fast growing market and a young demographic. There are already nearly 2 million users in Second Life, and while the virtual world is still way behind more traditional social networking sites like MySpace (see FP's related piece on YouTube, Second Life, and other hot Web 2.0 properties), that number is rising fast.
Most coverage of Second Life has focused on Western brands, but it cannot be long before firms from India or China join them. Like with any emerging market, there will be rising competition and new risks.
And firms won't be immune from criticism for their actions on Second Life (such as running virtual sweatshops). How long before there are calls for codes of conduct for virtual activities? Some firms are jumping ahead and aligning cyber ventures with a responsible image, which is why you can visit Mokitown, where every kid learns to cross the road safely—thanks to the good folks at Daimler Chrysler.
When not busy developing nuclear weapons or purchasing oversized garden animals, Kim Jong Il uses his spare time to cultivate a "robust" animation industry in North Korea. It ain't exactly Warner Bros.—the cartoons are designed to "implant into the minds of children warm patriotism and towering hatred for the enemy," according to official news agency KCNA. I'm not sure if that's also the underlying message in today's Thursday Video, episode 27 of the hit series A Squirrel and a Hedgehog. Politics aside, the technical and artistic skill is pretty impressive for a country that can't even feed itself:
The skill of North Korean animators is so well-regarded, in fact, that South Korean studios often farm out work to them. The industry is one of the few legitimate sources of foreign currency for Kim Jong Il's rogue regime.
Even more advanced computer animation is sometimes done in the hermit kingdom. As early as 2002 North Korea was producing episodes of the popular Lazy Cat Dinga, a Korean series evidently inspired by the American Garfield. The cat's taste for delivery pizza and lazy indulgence mean the show hasn't been broadcast in the North, which of course has neither of those things. But in South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia, Dinga has been the smiling face of one of the few exports of a very unsmiling government:
Take that, Mom!
SINGAPORE, Feb 7 (Reuters Life!) - Video game addicts, rejoice: U.S. researchers have found that playing is actually good for your eyes, and despite all those dire warnings from your parents, it won't make you blind.
A study by the University of Rochester showed that people who played action video games for a few hours a day over the course of a month improved their vision by about 20 percent.
Unfortunately, I don't think it applies to blogging.
How do you sell a car that costs at least $400,000? Networking, according to Rolls-Royce's chairman and CEO, Ian Robertson, in today's Financial Times. Rolls-Royce's target customer base consists of people with liquid assets of at least $30 million, which amounts to around 85,000 people worldwide. So, instead of focusing on "pushing" cars at consumers en masse in the Super Bowl-style of big companies like GM or Ford, Rolls-Royce instead opts for a "soft sell" approach in tailoring to the needs (and idiosyncracies) of the hyper-rich. Through its highly-personalized dealerships, which number just 79 around the globe, Rolls-Royce chooses dealers who "live in the same world, drive the same cars, have the same yachts and aircraft" as its clients.
We're dealing with the children of parents who have had a link with our business for years," [Director of Rolls-Royce London Rodney] Turner says. "We like to make them feel very special."
People who attend Rolls-Royce's meals, he says, often transact millions of pounds worth of business that has nothing to do with cars, but which gives the events added cachet. The dealership holds about four such events a year.
The strategy seems to be working. Last year Rolls-Royce's profits were up 10 percent even though its sales numbers were essentially flat. One client in China purchased a Rolls Phantom decked with a crystal ashtray (for his cigars), a refrigerator for champagne and space for two glass flutes for $2.2 million. In Beverly Hills, dealers sometimes cater to impulse buyers purchasing the cars on credit card.
While only a handful of people possess this kind of personal wealth, it is interesting to note that this handful of exceptionally wealthy people is growing. Forbes finds that the number of billionaires in the world increased from 476 three years ago to a record 793 this year, and for the first time, the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans was made up entirely of people with a billion in the bank. For them, a Rolls-Royce is simply pocket change.
Globalization is all the rage on American movie screens this awards season. Blood Diamond, Babel, The Queen and The Last King of Scotland all tried to bring Hollywood's touch to the far-flung corners of the world and look at the different ways that cultures can interact and collide. Clint Eastwood examined a pivotal conflict for Americans through the eyes of their adversaries in Letters from Iwo Jima. And, of course, Borat showed Americans what their own society looks like from the perspective of a Kazakh. Sort of.
While the interest in the outside world is a healthy change of pace, as film critic Manohla Dargis points out in the New York Times this weekend, something is still lost when looking at a culture or country from the outside, rather than through its own eyes. Fortunately, the rest of the world is getting better at depicting itself on the silver screen. Europe has always had its own movie industry, and India's Bollywood is legendary for its prolific production of interminable song-and-dance extravaganzas. But until recently, most other countries have had little in the way of truly popular domestic film industries. In this week's List, FP takes a look at countries whose movie businesses, each in their own unique way, are coming into their own. Check it out.
Are you the kind of the person who sets a clock forward five minutes in order to trick yourself into not being late for meetings? But then you're late anyway because you'll correct for the error in your head? Meet the probabilistic clock. It's fast, but you don't know how fast it is. At any given time, it could be right on time or 15 minutes ahead of schedule. It's the perfect gift for the procrastinator in your life.
(Hat tip: Lifehacker)
What's Global Cool, you ask? It happens to be the latest, splashiest, star-studded global do-gooder campaign. It aims to persuade one billion people around the world to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions every year for the next ten years in order to combat global warming.
And this really is a campaign for the kids. They've enlisted some of the "biggest names in entertainment," like Sienna Miller, Orlando Bloom, and the Scissor Sisters. (Note: If that last sentence confuses you at all, I'm afraid Global Cool might not resonate.) Global Cool is taking the Live 8 route, planning five simultaneous concerts this summer to raise awareness and inspire the kids to really, you know, care about global warming, especially since Live 8 did so much to eradicate global poverty in 2005.
They do have plenty of useful (albeit recycled) suggestions on how to reduce one's personal carbon dioxide emissions: Turn out the lights, turn the heating down, put the computer on standby (good one)—all things that require little effort, but can have a huge impact when done by millions.
The campaign is a bit corny, but Global Cool is trying hard to make sure that they're taken seriously as an environmental player, and not just seen as padding for some starlet's resume. They're aware that a skeptical public might just tune them out, and they recognize how "tiresome a bunch of rock stars and movie actors can appear when trying to tell the public how to run their lives." And so far, it doesn't appear the campaign has gotten quite the media splash it was designed to receive. I have to say, as much as Global Cool hopes to be a influence leader on global warming, I'm just not sure any strategy involving, as theirs does, the use of the term "ecosexual" is one that is going to get a lot of traction.
The posting of pictures purporting to be from Russian President Vladimir Putin's private jet set off a small furor in Russia today, and somebody may be in big trouble with Vlad's security people. The photos were uploaded to the Livejournal account of somebody nicknamed "hectop," and then later linked by ür-blogger Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing. They show that someone, if not Putin himself, really likes burled walnut paneling and gold accents:
I did some digging to try and verify whether these photos are legit, and here's what I've found so far. Putin's plane, an Ilyushin 96-300, was refurbished back in 2001 by a firm in Bristol in the United Kingdom known as Diamonite Aircraft Furnishings Ltd for £10m. Diamonite's preliminary drawing (pdf) from the time looks an awful lot like the style of the plane's conference room in one of the leaked photos, so they could well be real:
Kommersant, an online Russian daily, reports that after a Russian newspaper's republication of the photos, "Russian special services have shown interests [sic] to the blog which posted the pictures."
The person who posted the snapshots insists that they show Putin’s aircraft. He declined to name the source. Speaking to Kommersant, the man introduced himself as Yury and said he lives in the United States. Yury says that Russian intelligence services have shown interest to the pictures as he has noticed their e-protocols in his blog. “I emailed them to give information about these pictures,” he told Kommersant. “It’s up to them whether to give it to Voronezh Aircraft or not.
Voronezh Aircraft’s director general said the information about “such a top-security objective as the president’s aircraft ought to be closely guarded.”
And we know what happens when Russian special services show interests in individuals. What started out as poking fun at Putin's grotesque taste could well end up getting someone in deep trouble. As for Putin himself, it'll be interesting to see if the Russian public reacts to the photos like some Venezuelans did back in 2002, when they discovered the luxuriousness of Hugo Chávez's own private IL-96-300.
In yet another example of the unexpected consequences of technology, the text message may be evolving into a literary form. Finland, land of Nokia and reindeer, has just produced the world's first novel written exclusively in text messages.
The move should not be a surprise, however, as the nation's leaders have been exploring the emotive force of the medium for some time. Last month, Finnish Prime Minister Matti VanHanen broke up with his girlfriend by text message. The jilted lover was able to exact her revenge through more traditional media—by spilling to a tabloid.
The break-up made big news in the frosty land of over 5 million people. VanHanen had once been dubbed Finland's sexiest man by that great European arbiter of taste, Jacques Chirac. At the time, moreover, the PM was taking his turn as EU President. So, while the text of the message itself has not yet been made public, some bespectacled academic poring through archives in Brussels decades hence may yet stumble upon the PM's thoughts about the exchange in a journal Van Hanen kept at the time, "out of a sense of duty toward historical research."
Sweden is setting up shop in Second Life, the Internet fantasy world whose 3 million users interact with one another through cyber-characters called avatars. The country will be opening a virtual embassy, a 3D copy of the real thing in Washington, where Second Life users can get information about Sweden.
No, the Second Life embassy will not be issuing passports or visas; it'll just tell you how to get them in real life. No word yet on whether virtual Swedish meatballs and lingonberries will be served.
As for Swedish furniture giant IKEA, it seems they're missing a market opportunity here. I don't think it will be long, however, until IKEA follows Sears's lead and opens its own Second Life showroom.
HWACHEON, REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Thousands of South Korean anglers cast lines through holes of the frozen river in Hwacheon, 120 kilometers (72 miles) northeast of Seoul, during a contest to catch salmon trout. The contest is part of an ice festival which has attracted nearly one million visitors.
Here's McDonald's opening yet another outlet in Beijing this week. The company plans to open two stores a week in China all year, with a focus on drive-thru windows at gas stations in order to cater to the country's booming car-driving population.
Last week, the world lost a giant in Bradford Washburn, who died of heart disease at the age of 96. Washburn wasn't well-known outside the insular world of mountaineering, but he was an amazing human being. Sections of his Washington Post obituary read like a real-life version of the Chuck Norris facts website:
In a long and adventurous life, Bradford Washburn ascended mountain peaks, drew complex and complete maps, shot stunning aerial photographs and rebuilt a science museum. He tried to persuade aviator Amelia Earhart to take better radios on her final, fatal flight in 1937. He directed a 1999 effort that revised the official elevation of Mount Everest. [...]
He was the first person to climb seven North American peaks, and he discovered the West Buttress ascent on Alaska's Mount McKinley that has become the most popular route. Several of his maps, some drawn decades ago, remain the best available. His breathtaking, large-format aerial photographs are so detailed that at least one climber said he thinks they saved his life.
The above is a scan of Washburn's Everest map, which he supervised at the ripe old age of 89 (!):
Just seven years ago, he was part of another team of sherpas and scientists who determined, using global positioning system measurements, that Everest's height is 29,035 feet, seven feet taller than previously thought.
For a more personal look at Washburn, read this piece by David Arnold of the Boston Globe.
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JANUARY 10: Palestinian shopkeeper Tareq Abu Dayea stands next to George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden action figures in his store. The figures come complete with nylon hair and various scale weapons.
These aren't the first action figures of their type to go on the market, but at least they're more tasteful than the Saddam hanging doll on sale in Connecticut.
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