Complaints Choirs / Setting the world’s problems to music

May 22nd, 2017 General Interest

Around the world, choral ensembles have formed for the express purpose of singing litanies of complaints. The result is surprisingly satisfying to listen to.

Snow Crusts / A few words about the surface of snow

May 19th, 2017 General Interest

Are there really dozens of Eskimo words for snow? Maybe or maybe not, depending on how you look at it. But there are definitely at least eight English terms for “snow crust.”

A Perfect Baguette / Daily bread as it was intended to be

May 17th, 2017 General Interest

The best place to buy a fresh, perfectly made baguette is Paris. And of the many fine bakeries in Paris, one with a particularly fine reputation is La Flûte Gana.

Helioseismology / Listening to the inside of the Sun

May 15th, 2017 General Interest

By using a technique somewhat reminiscent of a sonogram, astronomers can study not only the currents of plasma on the surface of the sun, but its interior structure as well.

Eye-to-Eye Video / Solving the eye contact problem

May 12th, 2017 General Interest

Most videoconferencing designs, which put the camera above or to the side of the screen, prevent you from making eye contact with the other participants. Research is underway to give participants true eye-to-eye communication.

White LEDs / How to make a blue light special

May 10th, 2017 General Interest

White LEDs, which are increasingly common in flashlights, headlamps, and even crosswalk signs, produce brilliant white light while using very little current and generating very little heat. But they’re really blue LEDs in disguise.

Grass Photographs / Photosynthetic art

May 8th, 2017 General Interest

Artists are now using living grass as a medium for printing gigantic photographs. By carefully controlling the light that falls on various parts of the grass, they let photosynthesis do the work for them.

Light Pollution / Urban assault on the night sky

May 5th, 2017 General Interest

The excessive or injudicious use of lights at night can lead to several different forms of light pollution. Besides annoying stargazers whose view is obscured, it can cause safety hazards and even be dangerous to your health.

Pastis / The noble successor to absinthe

May 3rd, 2017 General Interest

The most popular aperitif in France, pastis is somewhat of a cultural icon. And yet, it might never have existed if it were not for the untimely demise of its predecessor, absinthe.

Peanut Milk / The magic peanut elixir

May 1st, 2017 General Interest

A San Francisco couple invented a curious beverage consisting mainly of ground peanuts, water, and sugar. Some people think it’s not merely tasty, but a miraculous cure-all.

The Dvorak Keyboard Controversy / Chasing QWERTY

April 28th, 2017 General Interest

The QWERTY keyboard layout is weird and hard to learn. A competitor, the Dvorak layout, may be superior, but arguments on both sides are so full of hype and bias that it’s hard to determine who to believe.

Palais Idéal / The postman’s palace

April 26th, 2017 General Interest

For 33 years in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a postman in rural France worked to build an elaborate palace out of stones he collected during his daily rounds.

Planning Your Own Funeral / Having the last laugh first

April 24th, 2017 General Interest

Even if you’re not expecting to die any time soon, preparing your own funeral in advance can be a lot of fun. Plus, you can arrange to have your ashes sent to Atlantis, or outer space, or made into jewelry for your kids.

Cochineal / Insect-based color

April 21st, 2017 General Interest

That bright red color in your food, drink, or lipstick no longer comes from that scary old Red #2 dye, but very possibly from ground-up bugs. Seriously.

Tiki / The imaginary Polynesian culture

April 19th, 2017 General Interest

You’d probably recognize a Tiki bar if you walked into one, but what is Tiki exactly? This faux Polynesian culture (along with the fruity drinks) is a pure American invention.

Icewine / How a little frost can do wonders for wine

April 17th, 2017 General Interest

No, it’s not wine made from ice or wine on the rocks! This delicious dessert wine is made from the concentrated juice of grapes that freeze on the vine and are pressed while still frozen.

Paris Plages / Bringing the beach to Paris

April 14th, 2017 General Interest

For a month every summer, an artificial beach appears along the bank of the Seine in Paris. It has everything you’d expect from a real beach (crowds, noise, sunburn) without any of that irritating ocean view.

Absinthe / The tale of the Green Fairy

April 12th, 2017 General Interest, History

This legendary beverage has been praised for producing artistic insights and blamed for causing violence and insanity. After being banned in some countries for more than a century, it’s finally making a comeback.

Robots that Smell / Artificial noses and beyond

April 10th, 2017 General Interest

Robots that see and hear are nothing new, but researchers are now developing machines that can distinguish and identify odors. Applications include health care, public safety, and rescue work.

Hikaru Dorodango / Mud balls as art

April 8th, 2017 General Interest

Mud isn’t generally considered a very useful or beautiful substance, but one of the latest trends in art (especially popular among young Japanese children) is making elegant, shiny balls out of ordinary mud.