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Thursday, October 2, 2014

6 SMART INTERIOR AIR QUALITY MONITORS YOU SHOULD BUY FOR YOUR HOME


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6 Smart Interior Air Quality Monitors You Should Buy For Your Home
By Phoon,
Make Use Of, 30 September 2014.

Not sleeping well lately? Poor air quality in your home can negatively impact your sleep, physical energy, and cause cold symptoms like teary eyes or sniffles; not to mention the dreadful words like lung disease or cancer.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Seemingly, the air quality within our homes can be up to eight times worse than outdoors, and on specific occasions - say while repainting a wall - way more than that too. Our need for a more secure and confined environment has somehow contributed to this disparity in air quality between the interior and exterior.

Indoor air quality can deteriorate due to activities like cooking, which introduces smoke and other particulate matter. Cleaning and DIY hobbies can introduce Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs). Home building materials and the furniture may also release these VOCs. In the process of trying to secure our homes by locking doors and keeping the windows shut, we may also inadvertently seal in our expiratory carbon dioxide. Furnaces and other wood-fuelled heaters produce carbon monoxide. High humidity and damp spaces breed mould.

Here, we have six smart indoor air quality monitoring devices that you should consider having at home, and hopefully help you to fill your house with good, clean air.

Each device may tackle some or most of the home air pollutants. They may also have other secondary functions.

1. Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarm (US$99)

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The Nest Protect is an advancement of the traditional smoke alarm. It detects smoke particles and carbon monoxide, and alerts residents of the high CO level with a female voice (before the alarm actually goes off). It also relays the detections to any connected smartphone or tablet. In the centre of the device is a big Hush button which can be used to stop the alarm in cases of false detections, like burned toast. The Nest Protect connects with the Nest Thermostat and other Nest Protect devices through your home’s wireless network. It has a central ring that emits a green light as lights are switched off in the room, to indicate that all systems are running fine. When battery level is low, the light turns amber and the female voice provides a battery replacement reminder when someone walks past, instead of the incessant chirp that traditional smoke detectors emit. This low battery level reminder is also relayed to linked smartphones and tablets.

Interestingly, it also works with Dropcam to record and store video feeds should the alarm go off - an incredibly handy feature, especially in cases of fire.


Currently available from Amazon for US$99.

2. Birdi (US$119)

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The Birdi takes the Nest Protect concept, and improves on it. It comes with extra features like support for multiple languages, open data Air Pollution Index (API) readings, Birdi community alerts during emergencies, plus the ability to remotely reset the alarm via smartphone or tablet in cases of false alarms.

Along the IAQ monitoring path, Birdi tracks dust pollution, pollen, humidity, temperature and carbon dioxide levels. Compared to the Nest which just senses carbon monoxide levels, the Birdi flies way further.

Pre-orders available at US$119 with expected delivery in October 2014.

3. Netatmo Weather Station (US$179)

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The Netatmo Weather Station comes as a pack of two units: indoor and outdoor. The shorter, outdoor station tracks relative humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure and outdoor air quality. All data, plus those from other outdoor stations are analysed with data from local and national agencies. A more accurate weather picture is made available via mobile apps, relevant to that particular location. This aims to help planning of outdoor activities, dressing properly for comfort and choice of the appropriate mode of transportation in real time.

The IAQ monitor is also the home base station. Taller than the outdoor station, it tracks indoor temperature, relative humidity and carbon dioxide levels to give an alternate indoor air quality picture. Netatmo Weather Station also tracks sound or noise levels indoors.

Available from Amazon for US$179.

4. CubeSensor (US$299-599)

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Winner of the TechCrunch Hardware battlefield at CES 2014, CubeSensors track almost everything at home that would affect health and efficiency. It monitors indoor temperature, barometric pressure, ambient light and sound levels, as well as indoor air quality and relative humidity.

Pick up a sensor and shake it. If the light changes colour to red, find out what the alert is about and its recommended solution by accessing the mobile app from a linked smartphone.

Number of cubes required depends on the number of rooms or spaces at home. CubeSensors comes in packs of two, four or six; along with one base station to connect them.

Available now, ships within EU to USA and EU.

5. Alima (US$215, €169)

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Alima is a dedicated indoor air quality monitor. It touts total VOC sensing, detecting over thirty different types of VOCs. It can also monitor carbon monoxide and dioxide levels, humidity, airborne particles up to PM2.5, and of course, temperature.

One unit is supposedly sufficient for a home. It is to be placed on flat surfaces in the kitchen, dining and living area for optimal air quality monitoring. Tracking other spaces like bedrooms is done by flipping the Alima over and back to start a new tracking record at that particular room - yes, it includes an accelerometer.

Immediate visual cues to detections are indicated by colour changes. Sensing results and recommendations are sent to the smartphone or tablet app.


6. Withings Home (US$219.95)

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The Withings Home is a security cum healthy living device that was just announced early September 2014. It has a 135 degree angle HD video camera with “clear” night vision that will intelligently track movement and people. It also supports two-way high quality audio. The Withings Home doubles as a baby monitor that will even play lullabies, or be used as a security camera. The unit records video, which is maintained on the cloud server as a video diary. A magnetic base facilitates placement of the device on any surface.

As for healthy living, the Withings Home monitors humidity levels, temperature and VOCs. The device will light up red upon sensing conditions that are beyond normal healthy ranges. Alerts are sent to linked smartphones.

Announced, but not available yet.

[Source: Make Use Of. Edited. Some links added.]


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

INFOGRAPHIC: CAN YOU TRUST THE INTERNET?


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Can You Trust the Internet?
By KeriLynn Engel,
Who Is Hosting This,  29 September 2014.

How much do you trust the Internet?

If you’re like the majority of Internet users, you’re trusting the Internet with your life.

Think about it: So many tasks are much more convenient thanks to the Internet. You can now manage your bank accounts without ever setting foot in a local branch, pay your utility bills without buying stamps or getting checks lost in the mail, and instantly keep in touch with family and friends around the world.

But there is a trade off: you have to trust that your data will be kept safe. And that’s expecting a lot.

Remember all the information you’ve shared privately online with companies like your bank, utility companies, and other services? There’s also all the personal information you may have shared privately via private email, Facebook messages, Twitter DMs, or social media.

You’ve probably shared your birth date, your address, travel plans, credit card numbers, your income, personal photos, and maybe even personal information like health issues or other things you’d rather remain secret.

Every service you use, from your email provider, to your bank, to social media services, is being entrusted with your information.

Have they earned that trust? Watching the news lately, it’s hard to agree. From the Heartbleed security vulnerability, to hackers targeting businesses, celebrities, and other individuals, it seems like there’s no guaranteed safe place online for your personal data.

And yet with our lives and data increasingly moving to the cloud, security is a more important issue than ever.

Going off the grid completely just isn’t an option for most of us. So what can you do to keep your personal information safe?

Luckily, there are actions you can take to safeguard your own personal information. But it requires being informed. Check out below to find out just how vulnerable your information is - and some tips from hackers on what you can do to protect yourself.

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Infographic courtesy of Who Is Hosting This

Top image via Wallpaper Up.

[Source: Who Is Hosting This. Edited. Top image added.]


8 FRENCH FRIES AROUND THE WORLD


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French Fries Around the World
By Miss Cellania,
Mental Floss, 30 September 2014.

At one time, potatoes were only eaten by Americans. Then Columbus came along, and potatoes spread all over the globe, where people eat them in all manners, but none more than fried. Hot fried potatoes, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, are so universal that they are often just called “fries” in the local language. But once you’ve cooked them and named them, the method of eating them varies from place to place. Of course, in any country there are many different preferences, but tradition and taste fall into different styles in different places.

1. Belgium

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Photograph by Jon Åslund

Belgium is considered to be the birthplace of the fried potato. Belgian fries (frites) are the centrepiece of a meal, not just a side dish. And Belgian chefs are very proud of their fries, competing to serve the best in their chip shops, or frietkotten. They are served hot in cardboard cones to make them easy to eat as you stroll, and a variety of sauces are offered to top them.

2. Netherlands

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Photograph by Flickr user David Kosmos Smith

Fries in the Netherlands are cooked in the manner of Belgian fries, but Americans may be dismayed by the Dutch choice of condiment: mayonnaise. Dutch mayonnaise is a little spicier than American mayonnaise, and Yanks who’ve lived there become used to the flavour on their fries, and often grow to love it.

3. France

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Photograph by Thierry Caro

Although a variety of sauces and dips are available for pommes frites, rémoulade is very popular, not only in France, where it originated, but in Denmark, Iceland, and Scandinavia. Rémoulade has a mayonnaise base, with the addition of pickles, horseradish, curry, anchovies, or other flavourings. It was developed for use on seafood, somewhat like tartar sauce, but is used on a variety of dishes. The flavour and appearance of rémoulade varies by region.

4. Japan

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Photograph by Flickr user Derek A.

In fast food restaurants in Japan, fries (furaido potato) are offered with seasoning powders to sprinkle on top. The toppings come in a variety of flavours made with dried soy or other sauce, ground seeds or seaweed, and spice mixtures. A few fast food outlets will provide a bag in which to shake your fries with the flavouring powder of your choice. This custom is also followed in Hong Kong, Singapore, and other Asian locales where fries are sold in fast food outlets.

5. Philippines

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Fried potatoes in the Philippines are served with banana ketchup. When fried potatoes were introduced to the country by Americans, they were served with tomato ketchup. However, disruption in supplies led to a tomato shortage during World War II. Instead of doing without sauce, Filipinos turned to what they had, which was bananas. Mashed bananas with vinegar, sugar, and spices made for a fine ketchup substitute, which caught on and is still in use today. Why import tomatoes when you have a home grown crop that instils national pride? Banana ketchup is used on other foods as well, like chicken and spaghetti. Those who’ve had banana ketchup says that it is sweet and spicy and tastes nothing like bananas. The red colour is artificial, but you can make homemade banana ketchup without it if you like.

6. Canada

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Photograph by Jonathunder

In 1957, French Canadian chef Fernand Lachance took fries and make them into a heavenly mess called poutine. Hot fries are topped with gravy and cheese curds, all served hot so the flavours will meld. Poutine became a hit, although some call the calorie-laden snack “junk food.” It spread across Canada, and is even served at some fast food chains. There are annual poutine festivals held in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Fredericton, Drummondville, and even Chicago.

7. United Kingdom

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Photograph by Edwardwexler

In Britain, fries are called chips, as in fish and chips, and chips as we knew them are called crisps. Chips are traditionally eaten with a sprinkling of malt vinegar and then salt. Chip shops once served them on newspapers in lieu of paper plates, and today paper is often used instead of boxes or plates. However, as this recent article points out, there are regional differences and a newer tradition of curry chips, due to Indian influence on British food. Some prefer non-malt vinegar or HP sauce. As the thousand+ comments point out, there is no consensus on the matter.

8. United States

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Photograph by Flickr user Robert Terrell

The most common way to eat fries in the U.S. is with ketchup, although that may be because restaurants rarely offer any other choice. There are plenty of other toppings, including cheese, chilli, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, onions, ranch dressing, and the sauces used in other nations. In restaurants, you often have to pay extra for them.

In researching fries in other countries and in the US, a couple of generalities came up again and again. Food critics and chefs agree that the best fries are cooked twice: first frying them at a low temperature or boiling them to make the potatoes tender, and then frying at a hotter temperature to make the outside hot and crisp. And most agree that animal fat makes better tasting fries than any vegetable oil. Enjoy your fries!

[Source: Mental Floss. Edited.]


10 POTENTIALLY PARANORMAL EXAMPLES OF SPOOK LIGHT PHENOMENON


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10 Potentially Paranormal Examples of Spook Light Phenomenon
By Jeff Danelek,
Toptenz, 1 October 2014.

Among the plethora of curiosities that make our world the mysterious place it is, one of the most interesting are so-called “spook lights.” These little balls of light, usually blue in colour, appear at a particular locale and serve as the basis for many a spooky tale. What makes this phenomena so different from other alleged paranormal activity is that these lights appear on a fairly regular basis and have been photographed, filmed, and even studied by scientists. As such, that they exist is not in doubt.

What they are, however, is another story. Some insist that they’re manifestations of paranormal energy, ghosts, UFOs, or some other kind of other-worldly phenomena, while more scientifically-minded people maintain that they’re either examples of ball lightning, swamp gas or simple misidentification of traffic or train lights. Some even suggest that they’re a by-product of plate tectonics, fault lines or some other geological anomaly, making them even more mysterious. Whatever they are, no one can deny their beauty and exotic nature, or the fact that they obstinately defy all attempts to explain exactly what they are.

10. Gurdon Spook Lights - Arkansas, USA

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Drive 75 miles south of Little Rock and turn east onto Highway 67 and you’ll be in the little town of Gurdon, home of the mysterious “ghost lights” that haunt a local stretch of railroad track about two miles out of town. Seen for more than 80 years, some claim it’s the ghost of a man who was brutally murdered near the tracks back in 1931. Others claim it’s the ghost of a railroad employee who fell onto the tracks and was decapitated back around the turn of the century, and that the light is actually his lantern that he’s using while he searches for his head. (This particular tale appears to serve as the basis for various spook lights around the United States, suggesting an urban legend is afoot.)

Killjoys, however, suggest that it may be nothing more than quartz crystals emitting electricity, although they’re not certain exactly how or why it happens. In any case, the lights are best seen on especially dark and overcast nights when, apparently, “ghosts” are most likely to be prowling about. And now you have a reason to visit Arkansas.

9. Silver Cliff Cemetery Lights - Colorado, USA

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First spotted in 1882, these silver-dollar sized bluish white lights are infrequently seen dancing around headstones at the Catholic cemetery on the outskirts of this tiny little town just west of Pueblo, Colorado. What’s interesting about these particular lights is that unlike most ghost lights - which are usually solitary phenomena - these appear in clusters of up to four or five at a time. They’re also considerably smaller than most other spook lights, which tend to be about the size of a basketball.

Like most ghost lights, however, they’re impossible to chase down as they quickly fade and disappear. The lights gained an unusual degree of fame when they were featured in an August, 1969 National Geographic article, giving it something of a scientific pedigree. While various theories have been put forward to explain them, none have stood up under scrutiny, leaving the Silver Cliff Cemetery Lights as unexplained today as they were a century ago.

8. Ghost Lights of the Yakima Indian Reservation - Washington State, USA

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The glowing whitish-orange orb that began appearing to forest rangers and fire watchers near Toppenish Ridge in the late 1960s were at first dismissed by local authorities as just a trick of the light, but all that changed when chief fire-control officer Bill Vogel not only spotted the thing himself, but took numerous photos of it as it danced and raced among the trees. What’s most interesting about the light is that, according to Vogel (who had the chance to observe the phenomena through binoculars for nearly 90 minutes before it finally disappeared) is that it had what appeared to be a mouse-like tail or antenna protruding upward from the top of it.

The antenna, as long as the object itself, was segmented into colours of red, blue, green and white which were constantly changing brilliancy and hue, leading many to assume it was possibly mechanical - or even extraterrestrial - in nature. As a result, it soon came to the attention of the UFO community and was even investigated by none other than the famous ufologist J. Allen Hynek, who concluded that the lights were inexplicable. Today the sightings are far less frequent, suggesting that whomever or whatever is behind the mysterious lights may be growing tired of their little experiments and are content to move on.

7. The Hessdalen Lights - Norway

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First observed in 1981, these strange white lights that appeared periodically in a small valley near the town of Hessdalen, Norway, so concerned residents of the area that they tried to get the Norwegian government involved. Alas, no official within the government was willing to do anything, leading several researchers to organize their own scientific study of the phenomena, which they dubbed the Hessdalen Project. It proved to be successful, unusually so for such ventures - in just one month in 1984 investigators spotted the mysterious lights no fewer than 53 times, making it one of the most reliable ghost lights in existence. The lights are still being observed in the Hessdalen Valley to this day, though their frequency has decreased dramatically. In any case, an automatic measurement station set up overlooking the valley in August 1998 still manages to record about 20 sightings a year.

6. The Hornet Spook Light - Hornet, Missouri, USA

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Travel a short distance west of Joplin, Missouri on Interstate 44 and you’ll find one of the more reliable and unusual spook lights, the famous Hornet Lights. Not only does it appear with some frequency, but it’s unusual in the fact that it not only changes colours, but has been seen to split apart, fly around and even leave a phosphorescent trail. Extensively studied and photographed since its first appearance in 1881, all attempts to explain it away as swamp gas, a luminous fungus, plasma, ball lightning, optical illusions caused by headlights on Interstate 44 and lights flashing off a distant water tower have all been debunked, leaving the mysterious lights as inexplicable now as they were when first spotted.

One of the more common - and romantic - metaphysical explanations is that the light is the spirit of a young Quapaw brave and his bride who plunged to their deaths from a nearby bluff to avoid facing punishment from their tribal chief, who forbid the marriage. On the other hand, it may be nothing more than a firefly with an attitude.

5. Fireship of Baie des Chaleurs - Chaleur Bay, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada

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Instead of appearing as an orb of light, this particular luminous glow appears as an arc, with some people affirming that it takes on the form of a burning eighteenth-century three-masted schooner, making it a full-fledged ghost ship. Since it generally appears just before the arrival of a storm, some have suggested the phenomena may have something to do more with static electricity in the air than the paranormal, although other explanations, from rotting vegetation to undersea releases of natural gas, have also been suggested.

On the other hand, perhaps it has something to do with a little known naval battle between French and British squadrons that took place in the vicinity of La Baie des Chaleurs around 1760; not only did the skirmish result in a French defeat, but one of the small warships the French lost may have inadvertently created a supernatural manifestation in the process.

4. Longdendale Lights - Derbyshire, England

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When a place is known by the locals for centuries as a “haunted valley” it’s a good bet something spooky is going on, and that’s definitely the case for this quaint, remote valley in northern England. Also called “The Devil’s Bonfire,” these eerie, flickering lights have been known for centuries and have been attributed to everything from fairies and witches to torch-bearing ghosts of Roman soldiers. These reports are so persistent that Mountain Rescue teams in the area have turned out on a number of occasions when lights and ‘flares’ have been reported to the police, only to find that the lights fade away as they approach. This particular spook light is also unique in being one of the oldest known to exist, with reports going back to medieval times. In fact, reports have been going on so long that police no longer pass on sightings of mystery lights to unless they feel it’s a genuine sighting of a real distress flare.

3. Naga Fireballs - Mekong River, Thailand

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Each year some 200 to 800 fiery orbs are sighted along a 60 mile stretch of the Mekong River between Thailand and Laos, usually in the late autumn months, and especially in October during a full moon. Local tradition maintains that the fireballs are from the Naga, a serpent from Buddhist legend, though modern science naturally disputes such claims, preferring a more pedestrian explanation such as natural phosgene and methane gas being released from the river. In any case, they generally appear shortly after sunset and are frequently seen by thousands of people each year, making them one of the most witnessed phenomena on the planet.

2. The Peakland Spooklights - Peak District National Park, Derbyshire, England

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The Peakland Spooklights have long been considered by science to be a textbook example of a will-o’-the-wisp (a by-product of methane gas created by rotting vegetable and animal matter bubbling up through the bogs which, when ignited, produces wispy flames which flit about), but studies done in 1980 by a geology professor at Leicester University consistently failed to reproduce a similar flame using methane, phosphine or any other substances suspected as contributors to the chemical soup in marshland. Worse, he couldn’t determine an ignition source, forcing him to conclude the lights were not a product of marsh gas, nor was it the product of other natural electrical phenomena, like St. Elmo’s fire, ball lightning and luminous insects.

This led some to suggest that the lights, which are often observed to move about in a purposeful, even playful manner, were being controlled by some sort of nascent intelligence or were responding to subtle changes in the air, magnetic field or environment. In any case, they’re still being reported to this day and continue to defy easy scientific explanation.

1. Brown Mountain Lights - Burke County, North Carolina, USA

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First observed in the eighteenth century by local settlers, these reddish orbs of light have been seen by thousands of people over the years and are considered to be perhaps the best known spook lights in the world. They were so famous that they were even investigated by the US Geological Survey back in 1922, who determined the lights to have been misidentified automobile or train lights, fires, or mundane stationary lights.

Interestingly enough, however, shortly after the report a massive flood swept through the area, knocking out all electrical power and washing out a number of railroad and highway bridges, thereby making access to the area impossible and eliminating all other light sources (with the exception of open fires such as the type that moonshiners might create). You guessed it: even after that the lights continued to be seen, leading some to wonder about just how reliable that government assessment really was. You can still visit them today, and there’s even an observation stand set up for that purpose along Highway 181 near Morgantown. The best time of year to see them is reportedly September through early November in case you’re planning a trip anytime soon.

Top image: Brown Mountain Lights, via World UFO Photos and News.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]


6 LAKES AROUND THE WORLD THAT ARE RAPIDLY DISAPPEARING



Lakes Around the World Are Rapidly Disappearing
By Patrick J. Kiger,
Discovery News, 29 September 2014.

The Aral Sea, that once-magnificent body of water, which stretched for 26,300 square miles, now appears bone dry, except along the edges. But it is just one of several iconic inland bodies of water across the world that are now receding drastically.

1. Aral Sea - Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

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Before: The Aral Sea in 1964.

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After: The Aral Sea in 2014. The black lines depict how far the lake’s waters extended in the 1960s.

A few days ago, NASA posted startling satellite pictures of the Aral Sea in Central Asia, once the fourth biggest lake on the planet, which over the past 50 years has been virtually drained as a result of an ill-advised Soviet-era effort to create farms in the desert.

The lake began to recede after Soviet engineers began diverting Amu Darya and the Syr Darya - the region’s two major rivers - to irrigate farms being created in the desert in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of the water ended up being soaked up by the parched ground and wasted. "This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times," Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University and an Aral Sea expert, told NASA’s Earth Observatory web page.

2. Poyang Lake - China

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In China, Poyang Lake, that nation’s largest freshwater lake, also is gradually receding due to drought and water being diverted by the Three Gorges Dam. China Dialogue reports that as the waters vanish, wetlands that provide winter grounds for 87 different bird species, including 98 percent of the population of Siberian cranes, face an uncertain future as a result.

3. Lake Oroumieh - Iran

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In Iran, Lake Oroumieh, which once was among the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk by 80 percent over the past decade due to climate change, expanded irrigation for farms and dams erected on the rivers that supply it. Salt-covered rocks that were once at the bottom of the lake are now exposed on dry desert, the Associated Press reports.

4. Dead Sea - Jordan, Israel and Palestine

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Photo: jimmyweee/Wikimedia Commons

The Dead Sea, bordered by Jordan, Israel and Palestine, is in bad shape too, according to Slate. Sink holes are developing around the lake, due to factors including diversion of the Jordan River for drinking water and chemical companies removing valuable minerals from the water, causing surface levels to recede by 30 to 40 percent.

5. Cachuma Lake - California, USA

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Photo: John Wiley/Wikimedia Commons

In California, Cachuma Lake, a major source of water for people in the Santa Barbara area, also is rapidly shrinking, due to the effects of drought and water demand, the LA Times reports.

6. Lake Waiau - Hawaii

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Photo: USGS

In Hawaii, Lake Waiau has declined to only 2 percent of its normal water level over the past five years, according to the USGS. Scientists are still searching for an explanation.

More:


Top GIF image of the drying up of the Aral Sea by .Mic.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Some images and links added.]


COOL ANIMATED TECHNICAL ILLUSTRATIONS SHOW HOW ANIMALS FLY


Cool animated technical illustrations show how animals fly
Cool animated technical illustrations show how animals fly
By Jesus Diaz,
Sploid, 30 September 2014.

Science illustrator and animator Eleanor Lutz has created these cool animated technical drawings of flying animals in motion. I would love to paths the wings draw in 3D.

Cool animated technical illustrations show how animals fly

Eleanor Lutz is a designer in Seattle who has a bachelor on molecular biology from the University of Washington. You can follow her on her site, Twitter, and Tumblr.

[Source: Sploid.]


10 ANCIENT SETTLEMENTS THAT WERE ABANDONED FOR MYSTERIOUS REASONS


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10 Ancient Settlements That Were Abandoned for Mysterious Reasons
By  Debra Kelly,
Urban Ghosts Media, 29 September 2014.

Civilizations rise and fall in the blink of a cosmic eye. When we rediscover their ancient settlements decades, generations, or centuries later, sometimes we find that they were abandoned after a terrible disease or famine, or that they were wiped out by war. Other times, we find simply…nothing.

10. Catalhoyuk

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Image: Szwedzki, cc-sa-3.0.

Catalhoyuk is one of the most ancient of all settlements ever found. After a few false starts, it’s in the process of being excavated - but that excavation is taking a very, very long time.

In the meantime, archaeologists are fascinated by the sheer wealth of information that the settlement is yielding. To call it a mere settlement is a little misleading, and it’s actually a massive, complex city that was once home to about 10,000 people at any given time and sprawled over about 24 acres. Currently, it’s one of the earliest Neolithic civilizations ever found, and it’s the first that shows a definite departure from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a society based on agriculture.

It’s estimated that the society was active for around 1,400 years, and came to an end 7,500 years ago. (For some perspective, that’s about 5,000 years before the Egyptians were just starting to think about building the pyramids.)

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Images: Stipich Béla; Roweromaniak, cc-sa-4.0.

Archaeologists working on the dig have discovered some truly amazing things. The society didn’t seem to have much in the way of familial ties, oddly. Houses didn’t have doors like we typically expect to see, instead, they were built into the ground and accessed by ladders that went through the roof. And under the floors…that was a handy place to bury the dead. Each of the city’s 10,000 homes were found to have 30 or so bodies buried beneath them, and that’s also how they’ve been able to determine that family ties weren’t really a big deal. Only a handful of the bodies have been shown to have been related by blood, and instead of biological ties, it’s thought that the more important thing was an organizational system based on tools and trade.

What remains elusive is what happened to the civilization after hundreds of years and hundreds of successful, thriving generations. The team currently excavating the ruins of the city suspects that it might have had something to do with a cold snap that happened around the same time the city was abandoned, but it hasn’t been confirmed that Turkey was vastly impacted by the weather change. It’s also been surmised that their reliance on agriculture has something to do with the demise of the city, but proof has been elusive.

9. Petra

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Image: Bernard Gagnon, cc-sa-3.0.

Anyone who’s seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is, of course, familiar with Petra. In the movie, it stands in for the final resting place of the Holy Grail; the truth of the city is much, much more amazing than the movie gives it credit for.

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Image: Berthold Werner; cc-sa-3.0.

The beautiful carved stone that you see in the movie is actually only the front entrance, and there’s a whole city to go along with it. Visitors and one-time residents pass through a mile-long, 10-foot-wide tunnel beyond the famous sandstone front in order to reach the main part of the city. Once one of the richest, most prosperous cities in the world, Petra was built and occupied about 2,000 years ago, its citizens contemporaries with a flourishing Greek and Roman civilizations. Its architects managed to direct valuable water from the surrounding desert oasis and what valuable rainfall there was into the city; it’s estimated that every day, the massive water systems of Petra carried about 12 million gallons of water into the city for its 20,000 residents.

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Image: Bernard Gagnon, cc-sa-3.0.

There’s also massive, many-columned courtyards, open-air theatres, and tombs carved from the solid rock. Their convenient location meant that they were at the crossroads of area trade routes, bringing a wealth of goods into the city from all corners - along with caravans and traders that they allowed to stop in the city - for a price.

Petra’s inhabitants, a group called the Nabateans, defended their city against Alexander the Great and were sacked by the military captains that came after him. They spoke a form of Arabic, left behind almost no written records, were incorporated into the Roman Empire during the period of Pax Romana, and saw the rise of Christianity.

And then they left.

It’s thought that their exodus from their magnificent city had something to do with ever-changing trade routes and dwindling commerce, but nothing’s ever been shown for sure. There’s a distinct lack of personal artefacts in the city, suggesting that whatever reason people had for leaving the city, it was one that allowed them to take their time, collect their belongings, and leave in a rather orderly fashion.

8. Cahokia

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A massive civilization, a city that was home to thousands and thousands of people, and one that happened almost overnight in a sudden blossoming of a city that archaeologists have dubbed the “big bang.” Houses, burial mounds, ceremonial and ritual sites…sounds like it’s someplace exotic, right? Maybe the jungles of South America, a forgotten part of the world in southeast Asia, perhaps?

It’s in Illinois, near the intersection of Routes I-55 and 70.

Cahokia is part of a bizarrely, massively overlooked piece of very, very early American history, only brought to the attention of archaeologists when Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to build part of his famous highway system through it. Several other nearby sites dating from the same time period have been destroyed, but Cahokia is now a part of an archaeological preserve as massive as it is.

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Cahokia is somewhat misleading, as we’re not actually sure what the people who lived there called themselves. We’ve found ceremonial burial mounds, including one that has a bigger footprint than the largest of Egypt’s pyramids. We know little about them - we think that the suddenly blossoming city happened not long after corn was adopted in its full importance, and we know that this particular settlement was many, many times larger than surrounding settlements. Archaeologists argue over how big the settlement was, with population estimates ranging from 10,000 to 15,000 for the main hub of the city, with another 30,000ish people settling in what was essentially the suburbs.

It was established around 1050 with surprising speed, and it was completely abandoned by the time Columbus made landfall in the New World. The city shows signs of being rebuilt several times between 1100 and 1275, but beyond that…no one knows why so many people left. Climate change and crop failure have been put forward as guesses as to what happened to the city’s population, but at the end of the day, no one really knows.

7. Gonur

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The remains of Gonur sit in what was long thought to be the wasteland of Turkmenistan; with the excavation of this 4,000 year old city, it’s been found that’s not the case.

Gonur flourished for only a couple hundred years, and in its heyday, it was impressive. There were thoughtfully laid out streets with temples for the living and elaborate, well-cared-for cemeteries for the dead. There was an extensive irrigation system and canals channelling water into the city’s fields and orchards, and the citizens enjoyed a highly profitable trade from cultures to their east and to their west. Their city was protected by high, thick walls, and inside those walls, archaeologists have found treasure hoards of gold and jewellery, samples of exquisite metalworking and massive water basins.

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Then, they disappeared. Excavations have revealed that while some of the city shows signs of fire damage, it certainly wasn’t extensive enough to cause the large-scale abandonment of the city. It’s not even known whether or not the city’s residents travelled after leaving their city, as it’s still up for debate on how much of their culture - including building techniques - spread throughout the area.

6. Great Zimbabwe

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Great Zimbabwe was already in ruins by the time it was discovered by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Although the area was occupied back to the 3rd century, the city itself was only built an estimated 100 to 300 years prior to its Portuguese discovery; it was the largest stone ruins south of the Sahara Desert. Covering 1,800 acres and home to an estimated 18,000 people at its height, there are more questions than answers associated with the ruins. The mystique of the place wasn’t helped by early explorers who insisted that it had been built not by native people but by either white settlers or Arab travellers; it’s not known how much information about the civilization was suppressed or destroyed in the process of excavating the ruins in order to keep up the ruse.

The settlement was carefully positioned to take advantage of the landscape; it was a place for raising cattle and growing grains, and it was even out of the reach of the potentially deadly tsetse fly, too high for them to be a nuisance. The raw stone needed for buildings was nearby, and its height provided a valuable vantage point. Signs of trade have been found, dishes and pottery from China lying alongside the gold, silver and ivory of kings.

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Image: Jan Derk, public domain.

Sometime between the 15th and 16th centuries, the city was abandoned. It’s thought that there was a drastic shift in trade routes, and perhaps that had something to do with the people turning their backs on the city. Other theories include the population growing too large to be supported by the surrounding countryside, which forces historians and archaeologists to ask the question of why it had been built there in the first place? Certainly it could sustain some civilization, but growth was limited, and the land around the city would have suffered from overuse very, very quickly. It’s also been suggested that scarcity of salt was a driving factor in what made the city’s people leave, but it’s never been confirmed just how they came to power and why they left in such a short time.

5. Palenque

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Image: Jan Harenburg, cc-3.0.

A fairly recently discovered ruined city lying in the protective embrace of the Mexican jungles, Palenque is one of the most breathtaking of all Mayan ruins. Known for its intricate carvings and as the resting place of Pakal the Great, the city was once a thriving metropolis between 500 and 700 AD and was home to somewhere around 6,000 people at its height.

The site was only uncovered in the 1950s, and since then it’s been opened to tourists. Now, visitors can get a look for themselves at the massive stone structures, decorated with beautiful carvings, that were once the stomping grounds for one of the Maya’s greatest kings. So intricate - and so cryptic - are the carvings that some people look at them as proof that the builders had help from a rather questionable source - extraterrestrials. Carvings depicting bizarre symbols have alternately been interpreted as astrological or religious symbols, or symbolism implying the use of a space ship by the deceased on his way to the next world.

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Now a World Heritage Site, only a portion of Palenque’s estimated 1,500 structures have been excavated. Among those that have been thoroughly explored include Pakal the Great’s tomb, and the Temple of the Red Queen. The latter yielded the knowledge that the Maya painted the bodies of their deceased nobility a bright red - the same red that would have been used to paint many of the buildings. For the Maya, red was the colour of blood and the colour of life.

Palenque was abandoned by 1000, left to be enveloped by the jungle and preserved by the same wilds that were once cut back from it. There’s plenty of theories about why people left the city, from famine caused by drought to a shift in political power. The last date that we know the city was occupied was November 17, 799 - the date carved on a vase.

4. Skara Brae

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This Neolithic village in the upper reaches of Scotland was abandoned around 2,500 BC. It’s about 5,000 years old, and unlike the others on this list, it isn’t a massive, sprawling city complex that was home to tens of thousands of people. There are only 10 houses, and it was probably home to only about 100 people at any given time. But its uniquely well-preserved state provides an invaluable look into our Neolithic lifestyle.

The stone houses had stone beds and stone dressers, and were connected by alleyways that suggest a very close, communal relationship between the home’s occupants. Archaeologists have found stone tools as well as pieces of pottery and jewellery, although much of their day-to-day life remains a mystery. While most of the houses are very clearly homes that were used by numerous generations, there are a couple mysterious buildings.

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The so-called “House Eight” is devoid of all the stone furniture that’s found in the other houses, but what it does have is a number of small recesses built into the walls and patterns carved into the walls - no one knows what it was really used for, though some think it may have been a workshop.

And “House Seven” is equally as strange, the only house to contain the remains of two adult women, along with jewellery. It was also the only house to show signs of a door that latched and locked from the outside, and dating the contents of the room has suggested that it was the last to be abandoned.

And just why Skara Brae was abandoned has long been up for debate. Some suggest that the storms that rage off the coast of the settlement’s island were encroaching on the houses, to the point where the soil was unable to support life and the settlements themselves were deluged with sand. Nothing left behind points to a sudden, hurried abandonment or a gradual one, and it’s unlikely to ever be known.

3. Gobekli Tepe

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This ancient city in Turkey truly brings new meaning to the word “ancient”. It’s approximately 11,000 years old (that’s about 6,000 years older than Stonehenge), and it’s thought to be one - if not the - earliest example of an organized, permanent settlement built on the cusp between mankind’s migration between a hunter-gatherer society and an agricultural one. It’s most notable for its implications that we’ve gotten the whole “evolution into an agricultural society” thing all wrong. It’s long been thought that the development of agriculture gave civilizations the luxury of staying in one place for a long period of time - opening the door for ancient people to start building things like temples and massive, massive structures. Findings at Gobekli Tepe, however, suggest that the structures came first, and it was out of the necessity of supporting large teams of builders and their families that people finally began farming for food.

Gobekli Tepe is also notable for its rather bizarre stages of abandonment. Excavations have discovered that there were a series of enclosures that were built, used, then purposely covered with dirt and completely buried. Other structures were built on top of that, repeating the cycle over and over again. Structures got smaller and smaller, until the entire thing as abandoned around 8000 BC.

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Religious symbolism is all over the ancient ruins, most noticeably in carvings of the animals whose bones were also found at the site. Not long before the original construction of Gobekli Tepe, a massive climate change struck the earth - thought to be a parting gift from a comet that disintegrated over the planet’s atmosphere. Those now digging at Gobekli Tepe suspect that the massive project was originally undertaken in hope of protecting the earth from another catastrophe - and that as attitudes shifted (and perhaps as the memory of the event drifted farther and farther from recent memory), the pillars and enclosures built for protection simply lost their meaning, and people moved off in search of more fruitful land, but no one knows for sure.

2. Amaru Muru

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Image: Jerry Wills, public domain.

The story of Amaru Muru is as much legend as it is history, partially because there’s absolutely no traces of any sort of abandoned city or settlement, save a massive, mysterious doorway. According to conventional archaeological theory, the 23-square-foot doorway with the 6-foot alcove that’s chiselled into the side of a huge, flat rock on the border of Peru and Bolivia was probably an abandoned Incan building project.

Other theories are much, much more fun:

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Local residents call it the Gate of the Gods, and many refuse to go near it. There’s stories of mysterious lights appearing in the doorway, and of people who have gotten too close to it and disappeared. Whatever’s beyond the doorway is said to have a particular fondness - or appetite - for children. Older legends say that it’s a doorway that only opens for the greatest of heroes, when it’s time for them to pass on from the land of the living to the land of their gods, and other legends say that it opens for anyone with the wisdom to know how to access it. The name Amaru Muru is said to be that of an Incan priest who was in possession of a sacred Incan relic and fleeing from Spanish pursuers. The gate appeared and opened for him, keeping the relic safe.

Legends aside, there’s absolutely no real evidence of who built - or started building - the project and why it was abandoned. There are said to be six other very similar gates that, when connected, form an intersection at Amaru Muru. Supposedly the site of glowing spheres, bright lights, and mysterious images, how little we know about it is absolutely obscured by legend and myth.

1. Gedi Ruins

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According to one of the earliest archaeologists to work on excavating the ruined city of Gedi, he always had the unnerving feeling that something was watching him from the surrounding jungles. It wasn’t watching out of malice or benevolence, he said, but he had the eerie feeling that it was simply watching what it knew would inevitably happen…and it was waiting.

Buried deep in the Kenyan jungle, Gedi was only really discovered in 1927, and it was made a protected national park in 1948. Dating back to the 13th century, it’s a masterful display of architecture with houses, tombs, a mosque tiled in coral and even a royal palace. The palace itself sprawls over an entire acre, complete with plazas, tunnels, and secret rooms thought to be used for storing valuables. Buildings were fitted with indoor plumbing, and there was an elaborate well and cistern system. Many of the homes and buildings were clearly designed with comfort in mind; sunken rooms and thick earthen walls were made to keep the heat out and the cool, comfortable air inside.

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Before it was abandoned in the early 16th century, Gedi was a hotspot for trade. A number of valuables have been found among the ruins, from a Ming vase to ironwork from Spain and beads from Italy. Home to somewhere around 2,500 people, theories on why the city was abandoned range from an attack from neighbouring people or from Portuguese explorers, or a water-borne illness that spread through the population. Safe houses and treasure hoards that had once been used to store valuables were found emptied but undamaged, leading to the assumption that whatever happened, residents left of their own accord.

Top image: Palenque, México. Credit: Carlos Adampol, cc-sa-4.0.

[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited.]