The Strange, Sci-Fi Sounds of Skating on Thin Black Ice

This gives new meaning to "skating on thin ice." In Sweden, a filmmaker named Henrik Trygg likes to take his chances skating on pristine sheets of black ice, measuring only five centimeters/two inches thick. It's a risk. A natural thrill. It's also quite a sensory experience. Just listen to the "high-pitched, laser-like sounds," of which sci-fi films could be made.

Watch Trygg's film, "The Sound of Ice," above. And, below, a version annotated in English by National Geographic.

via The Kids Should See This

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Discover the Japanese Museum Dedicated to Collecting Rocks That Look Like Human Faces

It says something about the human brain that we so often see the shape of human faces in inanimate things — and that we feel such amusement and even delight about it when we do. If you don't believe it, just ask the 618,000 followers of the Twitter account Faces in Things, which posts images of nothing else. Or go to Chichibu, Japan, two hours northwest of Tokyo, where you'll find the Chinsekikan, a small museum that has collected over 1,700 "curious rocks," all 100 percent organically formed, about a thousand of which resemble human faces, sometimes even famous ones.

"The museum’s founder, who passed away in 2010, collected rocks for over fifty years," writes Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft. "Initially, he was drawn to rare rocks, but that evolved into collecting, well, strange rocks — especially unaltered rocks that naturally resemble celebrities, religious figures, movie characters, and more.




These days, the founder's daughter keeps the museum running, and it has been featured on popular, nationwide Japanese TV programs." It has also, more recently, become a subject of CNN's internet video series Great Big Story, which highlights interesting people and places all around the world.

The Chinsekikan stands in walking distance of a local river rich with rocks, where we see the museum's proprietor Yoshiko Hayama performing one of her routine searches for wee faces staring back at her. "To find rocks, we walk step-by-step," she says. "If we walk too fast, we won't find them." She explains that a proper jinmenseki, or face-shaped stone, needs at least eyes and a mouth, reasonably well-aligned, with a nose being a rare bonus. Only decades of adherence to these standards, and hunting with such deliberateness, can yield such prize specimens as a rock that looks like Elvis Presley, a rock that looks (vaguely) like Johnny Depp, and a rock that looks like Donald Trump — though that one does benefit from what looks like a pile of thread on top, of a color best described as not found in nature.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The 1883 Krakatoa Explosion Made the Loudest Sound in History–So Loud It Traveled Around the World Four Times

Think of ourselves though we may as living in a noisy era, none of us — not even members of stadium-filling rock bands known specifically for their high-decibel intensity — have experienced anything like the loudest sound in history. That singular sonic event came as a consequence of the explosion of Krakatoa, one of the names (along with Vesuvius) that has become a byword for volcanic disaster. And with good cause: when it blew in modern-day Indonesia on Sunday, 26 August 1883, it caused not only 36,000 deaths at the very least and untold destruction of other kinds, but let out a sound heard 3,000 miles away.

"Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is," writes Nautilus' Aatish Bhatia. "If you’re in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you’re probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we’re talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Traveling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about four hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history."




Anyone who writes about the sound of Krakatoa, which split the island itself, struggles to properly describe it, seeing as even jet mechanics lack a comparable sonic experience. Bhatia quotes the captain of the British ship Norham Castle, 40 miles from Krakatoa when it erupted, writing in his log that "so violent are the explosions that the ear-drums of over half my crew have been shattered. My last thoughts are with my dear wife. I am convinced that the Day of Judgement has come." Krakatoa's reverberations – not heard, but felt and recorded as changes in atmospheric pressure – passed across the whole of the Earth not once but four times.

The sound of the explosion aside, "the rest of the world heard such stories almost instantly because a series of underwater telegraph cables had been recently laid traversing the globe," writes the Independent's Sanjida O'Connell. "This new technology meant that Krakatoa also generated the first modern scientific study of a volcanic eruption." A Dutch scientist named Rogier Verbeek turned up first to gather details for a detailed and pioneering report, followed by geologists from London's Royal Society, whose 627-page The Eruption of Krakatoa and Subsequent Phenomena you can read at the Internet Archive.

Since nobody would have got the explosion on tape in 1883, such verbal descriptions will have to suffice. Not that even today's highest-grade recording technology could withstand capturing such a sound, nor could even speakers that go up to a Spinal Tap-level 11 reproduce it. And no other sound is likely to break Krakatoa's record in our lifetimes – not if we're lucky, anyway.

via Nautilus

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How the Japanese Practice of “Forest Bathing”—Or Just Hanging Out in the Woods—Can Lower Stress Levels and Fight Disease

When the U.S. media began reporting on the phenomenon of “forest bathing” as a therapy for mental and physical health, the online commentariat—as it will—mocked the concept relentlessly as yet another pretentious, bourgeois repackaging of something thoroughly mundane. Didn’t we just used to call it “going outside”?

Well, yes, if all “forest bathing” means is “going outside,” then it does sound like a grandiose and unnecessary phrase. The term, however, is not an American marketing invention but a translation of the Japanese shinrin-yoku. “Coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982,” writes Meeri Kim at The Washington Post, “the word literally translates to ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’ and refers to the process of soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting to promote physiological and psychological health.”




So what? We already have the examples of thousands years of Buddhist monks (and Thich Nat Hanh), of Henry David Thoreau, and the saints of the Sierra Club. But the oldest and most useful ideas and practices can get carelessly discarded in the frantic pursuit of innovation at all costs. The pushing of hi-tech outdoor gear, wearable activity trackers, and health apps that ask us to log every movement can make going outside feel like a daunting, expensive chore or a competitive event.

Forest bathing involves none of those things. “Just be with the trees,” as Ephrat Livni describes the practice, “no hiking, no counting steps on a Fitbit. You can sit or meander, but the point is to relax rather than accomplish anything.” You don't have to hug the trees if you don't want to, but at least sit under one for a spell. Even if you don't attain enlightenment, you very well may reduce stress and boost immune function, according to several Japanese studies conducted between 2004 and 2012.

The Japanese government spent around four million dollars on studies conducted with hundreds of people "bathing" on 48 designated therapy trails. In his work, Qing Li, associate professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, found “significant increases in NK [natural killer] cell activity in the week after a forest visit… positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.” Natural killer cells fight viruses and cancers, and are apparently stimulated by the oils that trees themselves secrete to ward off germs and pests. See the professor explain in the video above (he translates shinrin-yoku as taking a "forest shower," and also claims to have bottled some of the effects).

Additionally, experiments conducted by Japan’s Chiba University found that forest bathing lowered heart rate and blood pressure and brought down levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can wreak havoc on every system when large amounts circulate through the body. Then there are the less tangible psychological benefits of taking in the trees. Subjects in one study “showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores” after a walk in the woods. These findings underscore that spending time in the forest is a medical intervention as well as an aesthetic and spiritual one, something scientists have long observed but haven’t been able to quantify.

In their review of a book called Your Brain on Nature, Mother Earth News quotes Franklin Hough, first chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry, who remarked in a 19th century medical journal that forests have “a cheerful and tranquilizing influence which they exert upon the mind, more especially when worn down by mental labor.” Hough’s hypothesis has been confirmed, and despite what might sound to English speakers like a slightly ridiculous name, forest bathing is serious therapy, especially for the ever-increasing number of urbanites and those who spend their days in strip malls, office complexes, and other overbuilt environments.

What is a guided forest bathing experience like? You can listen to NPR's Alison Aubrey describe one above. She quotes Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, the certifying organization, as saying that a guide "helps you be here, not there," sort of like a meditation instructor. Clifford has been pushing health care providers to "incorporate forest therapy as a stress-reduction strategy" in the U.S., and there's no question that more stress reduction tools are sorely needed.

But, you may wonder, do you have to call it “forest bathing,” or pay for a certified guide, join a group, and buy some fancy outerwear to get the benefits hanging out with trees? I say, consider the words of John Muir, the indefatigable 19th naturalist, "father of the National Park System," and founding saint of the Sierra Club: In the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you. The quote may underestimate the amount of risk or overstate the benefits, but you get the idea. Muir was not one to get tangled up in semantics or overly detailed analysis. Nonetheless, his work inspired Americans to step in and preserve so much of the country's forest in the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe the preventative medicine of "forest bathing" can help do the same in the 21st.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch “The “Art of Flying,” a Short Film Capturing the Wondrous Murmurations of the Common Starling

In the tradition of Andrew Sullivan's Dish, we start the week--before it even gets a bit hectic--with a Mental Health break. Above, watch The Art of Flying, Jan van Ijken's short film that captures the mysterious flights--or murmurations--of the Common Starling. A blurb accompanying the film adds a bit more context:

It is still unknown how the thousands of birds are able to fly in such dense swarms without colliding. Every night the starlings gather at dusk to perform their stunning air show. Because of the relatively warm winter of 2014/2015, the starlings stayed in the Netherlands instead of migrating southwards. This gave filmmaker Jan van IJken the opportunity to film one of the most spectacular and amazing natural phenomena on earth.

Also, over at janvanijken.com, you'll find a longer seven-minute version of this film, featuring "wonderful close-ups and a spectacular final scene." The €2,99 fee for watching that full-length film goes toward supporting van Ijken's work as an independent filmmaker.

Enjoy.

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Beautiful & Outlandish Color Illustrations Let Europeans See Exotic Fish for the First Time (1754)

Whether in the tanks into which we gaze at the aquarium or the CGI-intensive wildlife-based gagfests at which we gaze in the theater, most of us in the 21st century have seen more than a few funny fish. Eighteenth-century Europeans couldn't have said the same. The great majority passed their entire lives without so much as a glance at the form of even one live exotic creature of the deep, and most of those who have a sense of what such a sight looked like probably got it from an illustration. But even so, some of the illustrated fish of the day must have proven unforgettable, especially the ones in Louis Renard's Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes.

First published in 1719 with a second edition, seen here, in 1754, Renard's book, whose full title translates to Fishes, Crayfishes, and Crabs, of Diverse Colors and Extraordinary Form, that Are Found Around the Islands of the Moluccas and on the Coasts of the Southern Lands, showed its readers, in full color for the very first time, creatures the likes of which they'd never have had occasion even to imagine. The book's 460 hand-colored copper engravings depict, according to the Glasgow University Library, "415 fishes, 41 crustaceans, two stick insects, a dugong and a mermaid."

The specimens in the first part of the book tend toward the realistic, while those of the second "verge on the surreal," many of which "bear no similarity to any living creatures," some of which bear "small human faces, suns, moons and stars" on their flanks and carapaces, most possessed of colors "applied in a rather arbitrary fashion," though brilliantly so. In the short accompanying texts, "several of the fish" — presumably not the mermaid — "are assessed in terms of their edibility and are accompanied by brief recipes."

Renard himself, who lived from 1678 to 1746, seems to have had a career as colorful as the fish in his book. "As well as spending some seventeen years as a publisher and bookdealer," he also "sold medicines, brokered English bonds and, more intriguingly, acted as a spy for the British Crown, being employed by Queen Anne, George I and George II." Far from keeping that part of his life a secret, "Renard used his status as an 'agent' to help advertise his books. This particular work is actually dedicated to George I while the title-page describes the publisher as  'Louis Renard, Agent de Sa Majesté Britannique.'"

You can behold more of Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes at the Public Domain Review. "If the illustrations are breathtaking to us now, with all the hours of David Attenborough documentaries under our belts," they write, "one can only imagine the impact this would have had on a European audience of the eighteenth century, to which the exotic ocean life of the East would have been virtually unknown."

Though received as a respectable scientific work in its day — and even, as the Glasgow University Library puts it, "a product of the Enlightenment" — the book now stands as an enchanting tribute to the combination of a little knowledge and a lot of human imagination.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Social Lives of Trees: Science Reveals How Trees Mysteriously Talk to Each Other, Work Together & Form Nurturing Families

In addition to its ham-handed execution, maybe one of the reasons M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening failed with critics is that its premise seemed inherently preposterous. Who could suspend disbelief? Trees don’t talk to each other, act in groups, make calculations, how foolish! But they do, forester Suzanne Simard aims to convince us in the TED video above.

Trees aren’t just trees. They are the visible manifestations of “this other world” underground, “a world of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate, and allow the forest to behave as if it’s a single organism. It might remind you of a sort of intelligence.” One shared not only by trees but by all of the beings that live in and among them. Forests are alive, though perhaps they are not plotting their revenge on us, even if we’ve earned it.




Simard tells the story of growing up in British Columbia among the inland rainforests. Old wet temperate forests crawling with ancient ferns like giant green hands; cities of mushrooms growing around centuries-old fallen trees; whole planes of bird and insect existence in the canopies, American megafauna, the elk, the bear…. On a recent hike deep into the Olympia National Forest in Washington, I found myself thinking some similar thoughts. It’s not that unusual to imagine, in the throes of “forest bathing,” that “trees are nature’s internet,” as Simard says in a Seattle TED talk.

The difference is that Simard has had these thoughts all her life, devoted 30 years of research to testing her hypotheses, and used radioactive carbon isotopes to find two-way communication between different species of tree while being chased by angry grizzly bears. Likewise, most of us have noted the glaring scientific absurdities in the book of Genesis, but few may see the problem with Noah’s Ark that Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso does in his talk above. No one thought to bring any plants? God somehow neglected to mention that all those animals would need ecosystems, and fast? We laugh about an old man literally loading reproducing pairs of every animal on a boat… imagine him trying to fit entire forests….

Mancuso’s charming accent and self-deprecating humor make his observations seem lighthearted, but no less devastating to our idea of ourselves as self-sufficient alpha creatures and of plants as barely alive, inanimate stuff scattered around us like nature’s furniture, one step above the foundational rocks and stones. The idea is not limited to the Bible; it has “accompanied humanity” he says. Yet, just as professors do not belong at the top of a hierarchy of life—as medieval scholars liked to imagine—plants do not belong at the bottom. Let Mancuso convince you that plants exhibit “wonderful and complex behavior that can be considered intelligence.”

Isn’t this all a little presumptuous? Does anyone, after all, speak for the trees? Might their language be forever alien to us? Can we talk about “what plants talk about,” as ecologist J.C. Cahill asserts? Can we make soap opera speculations about “the hidden life of trees,” as the title of German forester Peter Wohlleben’s book promises? Perhaps human language is necessarily anthropomorphic—we insist on seeing ourselves at the center of everything. Maybe we need to think of trees as people to connect to them—as nearly every ancient human civilization has talked to nature through the intermediaries of spirits, gods, devas, sprites, nymphs, ancestors, etc.

As a forester with a lumber company, Wohlleben says, he “knew about as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about the emotional life of animals.” They were already dead to him. Until he began to wake up to the silent communication all around him. Trees can count, can learn, can remember, he found. Trees have families. They nurse their children. As he says in the interview above, “I don’t claim this, that is actual research. But the scientists normally use language than cannot be understood. So I translated this, and surprise, surprise! Trees are living beings, trees are social, trees have feelings.” For most people, says Wohhleben, this really does come as a surprise.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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