Death-Cap Mushrooms are Terrifying and Unstoppable: A Wild Animation

Mushrooms are justly celebrated as virtuous multitaskers.

They’re food, teachers, movie stars, design inspiration

…and some, as anyone who’s spent time playing or watching The Last of Us can readily attest, are killers.

Hopefully we’ve got some time before civilization is conquered by zombie cordyceps.

For now, the ones to watch out for are amanita phalloide, aka death cap mushrooms.

The powerful amatoxin they harbor is behind 90 percent of mushroom-related fatalities worldwide. It causes severe liver damage, leading to bleeding disorders, brain swelling, and multi-organ failure in those who survive. 

A death cap took the life of a three-year-old in British Columbia who mistook one for a tasty straw mushroom on a foraging expedition with his family near their apartment complex. 

In Melbourne, a pot pie that tested positive for death caps resulted in the deaths of three adults, and sent a fourth to the hospital in critical condition.

As the animators feast on mushrooms’ limitless visual appeal in the above episode of The Atlantic’s Life Up Close series, author Craig Childs delivers some sobering news:

We did it to ourselves. Humans are the ones who’ve enabled death caps to spread so far beyond their native habitats in Scandinavia and parts of northern Europe, where the poisonous fungi feed on the root tips of deciduous trees, springing up around their hosts in tidy fairy rings.

When other countries import these trees to beautify their city streets, the death caps, whose fragile spores are incapable of traveling long distances when left to their own devices, tag along.

They have sprouted in the Pacific Northwest near imported sweet chestnuts, beeches, hornbeams, lindens, red oaks, and English oaks, and other host species.

As biochemist Paul Kroeger, cofounder of the Vancouver Mycological Society, explained in a 2019 article Childs penned for the Atlantic, the invasive death caps aren’t popping up in deeply wooded areas. 

Rather, they are settling into urban neighborhoods, frequently in the grass strips bordering sidewalks. When Childs accompanied Krueger on his rounds, the first of two dozen death caps discovered that day were found in front of a house festooned with Halloween decorations. 

Now that they have established themselves, the death caps cannot be rousted. No longer mere tourists, they’ve been seen making the jump to native oaks in California and Western Canada.

Childs also notes that death caps are no longer a North American problem:

They have spread worldwide where foreign trees have been introduced into landscaping and forestry practices: North and South America, New Zealand, Australia, South and East Africa, and Madagascar. In Canberra, Australia, in 2012, an experienced Chinese-born chef and his assistant prepared a New Year’s Eve dinner that included, unbeknownst to them, locally gathered death caps. Both died within two days, waiting for liver transplants; a guest at the dinner also fell ill, but survived after a successful transplant.

Foragers should proceed with extreme caution.

Related Content 

The Beautifully Illustrated Atlas of Mushrooms: Edible, Suspect and Poisonous (1827)

A Stunning, Hand-Illustrated Book of Mushrooms Drawn by an Overlooked 19th Century Female Scientist

Algerian Cave Paintings Suggest Humans Did Magic Mushrooms 9,000 Years Ago

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Albert Einstein Appears in Remarkably Colorized Video & Contemplates the Fate of Humanity After the Atomic Bomb (1946)

We lived in one world before August 6, 1945, and have lived in another ever since. Nobody understood this more clearly than Albert Einstein, who had advocated for the research that culminated in that day. “A letter from Dr. Einstein in 1939 informed President Roosevelt that the Germans were engaged in the development of an atomic bomb and urged that science and technology in the United States be mobilized on a similar effort,” says a 1946 New York Times article. “This [1939] letter gave the first impetus to the development of the Atomic Bomb.” This story was included by way of context of a new call to action by Einstein and other prominent scientists, one meant to secure humanity’s future in a world with the bomb.

“Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil,” declares a telegram sent by Einstein to what the Times calls “several hundred prominent Americans.” “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We scientists who released this immense power have an overwhelming responsibility in this world life-and-death struggle to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind and not for humanity’s destruction.”

Hence the formation of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, chaired by Einstein and including as members such figures as Hans A. Bethe, who’d directed the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos, and Leo Szilard, Einstein’s collaborator on the 1939 letter to Roosevelt.

Szilard also appears along Einstein in the colorized short film clip above, in which they listen to a version of their telegram read aloud “We beg you to support our efforts to bring realization to America that mankind’s destiny is being decided today, now, this moment,” reads the announcer. The telegram itself specifies that “we need two hundred thousand dollars at once for a nation-wide campaign to let the people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” In other words, one mindset had enabled the creation of nuclear weapons, and quite another was needed to prevent them from ever being used again. In 1954, the year before his death, Einstein wrote that “I made one great mistake in my life — when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made.” It’s one kind of ambition to change the mind of a politician, and quite another to change the mind of humanity.

Related content:

Albert Einstein in Four Color Films

Hear Albert Einstein Read “The Common Language of Science” (1941)

Albert Einstein Explains Why We Need to Read the Classics

Hear the Voice of Albert Einstein: Vintage Album Features Him Talking About E=MC2, World Peace & More

“The Most Intelligent Photo Ever Taken”: The 1927 Solvay Council Conference, Featuring Einstein, Bohr, Curie, Heisenberg, Schrödinger & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Why Einstein Was a “Peerless” Genius, and Hawking Was an “Ordinary” Genius: A Scientist Explains

Genius sells. Publishers of biographies and studios behind Oscar-winning dramas can tell you that. So can network scientist Albert-László Barabási, who has actually conducted research into the nature of genius. “What really determines the ‘genius’ label?” he asks in the Big Think video above. When he and his collaborators “compared all geniuses to their scientific peers, we realized that there are really two very different classes: ordinary genius and peerless genius.” Considering the latter, Barabási points to the perhaps unsurprising example of Albert Einstein.

“When we looked at the scientists working at the same time, roughly in the same areas of physics that he did,” Barabási explains, “there was no one who would have a comparable productivity or scientific impact to him. He was truly alone.” Illustrating the class of “ordinary genius” is a figure almost as well-known as Einstein: Stephen Hawking. “To our surprise, we realized, there were about six other scientists who worked in roughly the same area, and had comparable, often bigger impacts than Stephen Hawking had” — and yet only he was publicly labeled a “genius.”

“The ‘genius’ label is a construct that society assigns to exceptional accomplishment, but exceptional accomplishment is not sufficient to get the genius label.” Throughout history, “remarkable individuals were always born in the vicinity of big cultural centers, and everything that is outside of the cultural centers was typically a desert of exceptional accomplishments.” Today, as venture capitalist and essayist Paul Graham once wrote, “a thousand Leonardos and a thousand Michelangelos walk among us. If DNA ruled, we should be greeted daily by artistic marvels. We aren’t, and the reason is that to make Leonardo you need more than his innate ability. You also need Florence in 1450.”

What would it take to discover the “hidden geniuses” who may have been born into unpropitious circumstances? This is one concern behind Barabási’s inquiry into the nature of scientific prominence. The question of “how does the quality of the idea that I picked, and the ultimate success, and my ability as a scientist connect to each other” led him to develop the “Q factor,” the measure of “our ability to turn ideas into discoveries.” His analysis of the data shows that, throughout a scientist’s career, the Q factor remains more or less stable. Applying it to big data “could help us to discover those that really had the accomplishment and deserve the genius label and put them in the right place.” If he’s correct, we can expect a bumper crop of books and movies on a whole new wave of geniuses in the years to come.

Related content:

What Character Traits Do Geniuses Share in Common?: From Isaac Newton to Richard Feynman

“The Most Intelligent Photo Ever Taken”: The 1927 Solvay Council Conference, Featuring Einstein, Bohr, Curie, Heisenberg, Schrödinger & More

This is What Richard Feynman’s PhD Thesis Looks Like: A Video Introduction

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Staggering Genius of Isaac Newton

Explore the Largest Online Archive Exploring the Genius of Leonard da Vinci

“The Matilda Effect”: How Pioneering Women Scientists Have Been Denied Recognition and Written Out of Science History

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Explore the Largest Online Archive Exploring the Genius of Leonard da Vinci

We dare not speculate as to what Leonardo DaVinci would make of artificial intelligence.

We are, however, fairly confident that he would love the Internet.

The Renaissance-era genius applied his sophisticated understanding of the human body and the natural world to other types of systems, including plans for civil engineering projects, military projectiles, and flying machines.

Google Arts & Culture’s new initiative Inside a Genius Mind offers an interactive experience of the codices in which Da Vinci made his sketches, diagrams, and notes.

It’s also a curatorial collaboration between a human – Oxford art history professor Martin Kemp  – and artificial intelligence.

Professor Kemp, author of Living with Leonardo: Fifty Years of Sanity and Insanity in the Art World and Beyond, brings a lifetime of rigorous study and passion for the subject.

His non-human counterpart used machine learning to delve into the notebooks’ contents, investigating some 1040 pages from 6 volumes and “drawing thematic connections across time and subject matter to reflect Leonardo’s spirit of interdisciplinary imagination, innovation and the profound unity at the heart of his apparently diverse pursuits.”

Upon launching the experiment, you bushwhack your way through the individual codices by clicking on the sketches floating toward you like elements in a classic space-themed video game, or choose to enjoy one of five curated stories.

We went with Earth as Body, which gathers seven pages from the UK’s Royal Collection Trust‘s Codex Windsor, and one from the Codex Leicester, which inspired an animated model that should surely please its current owner, Bill Gates.


Using a discreet and somewhat fiddly navigation bar on the left side of the screen, we toured Leonardo’s renderings of the flayed muscles of the upper spine, the vessels and nerves of the neck and liver, the Arno valley with the route of a proposed canal that would run from Florence to Pisa, a view of the Alps from Milan, the fall of light on a face, studies of optics and men in action, and observations of the moon and earthshine.

How are these things related?

“Leonardo believed that the human body represented the whole natural world in miniature” and the selections do offer food for thought that Leonardo’s passion for the underlying laws of nature is the common thread running through his research and art.

Each image is accompanied a button inviting you to “explore” the work further. Click it for information about dimensions, provenance, and media, as well as some tantalizing biographical tidbits, such as this, adapted from the catalogue for the 2019 exhibit Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing:

Leonardo had first studied anatomy in the late 1480s. By the end of his life he claimed to have performed 30 human dissections, intending to publish an illustrated treatise on the subject, but this was never completed, and Leonardo’s work thus had no discernible impact on the discipline. His only documented dissection was carried out in the winter of 1507-8, when he performed an autopsy on an old man whose death he had witnessed in a hospital in Florence. The studies on this page from Leonardo’s notebook are based on that dissection: on the verso Leonardo depicts the vessels of the liver; and in notes elsewhere in the notebook he gives the first known clinical description of cirrhosis of the liver.

Perhaps you’d like to circumvent the machine learning and use your own genius mind to make  connections a la Da Vinci?

Try messing around with the AI tags. See what you can cobble together to forge a cohesive alliance between such elements as wing, horse, map, musical instruments, and spiral.

Or cleanse your palate by putting a mash-up of two codex sketches on a digital sticky with the help of Google AI, mindful that the master, who lived to the ripe old age of 67, was probably a bit more intentional with his time…

Begin your explorations of Google Arts & Culture’s Inside a Genius Mind here.

Related Content 

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A Complete Digitization of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, the Largest Existing Collection of His Drawings & Writings

How Leonardo da Vinci Made His Magnificent Drawings Using Only a Metal Stylus, Pen & Ink, and Chalk

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Map of Medicine: A Comprehensive Animation Shows How the Fields of Modern Medicine Fit Together

The Hippocratic Oath is popularly imagined as beginning with, or at least involving, the command “First, do no harm.” In fact, nothing like it appears among the original Greek words attributed to Hippocrates; the Latin phrase primum non nocere seems to have been added in the seventh century. But the principle makes a highly suitable starting point for Dominic Walliman’s video tour above of his new Comprehensive Map of Medicine. A physicist and science writer, Walliman has previously been featured many times here on Open Culture for his Youtube channel Domain of Science and his maps of other fields, from physics, chemistry, and biology to mathematics, engineering, and computer science.

This new map marks a return after what, to Walliman’s fans, felt like a long hiatus indeed. The prolonged absence speaks to the ambition of the project, whose subject demands the integration of a large number of fields and sub-fields both theoretical and practical.

For medicine existed long before science — science as we know it today, at least— and two and a half millennia after the time of Hippocrates, the connections and interactions between the realm of medicine presided over by doctors and that presided over by scientists are complex and not easily understood by the public. Hence the importance of Walliman’s clarity of visual explanation, as it has evolved throughout his scientific map-making career, as well as his clarity of verbal explanation, on display through all 50 minutes of this video.

As Walliman emphasizes right at the outset, he isn’t a medical doctor — but he is a “doctor” in the sense that he has a PhD, and intellectually, he comes more than well-placed to understand how each part of medicine relates to the others. This is especially true of a lesser-known area of study like medical physics, whose fruits include imaging techniques like X-ray, MRI, CT, and ultrasound, with which many of us have first-hand experience as patients. Few non-specialists will ever be directly involved in the practice of, say, biology or engineering, but in the twenty-first century, it’s the rare human being indeed who never encounters the reality of medicine. The next time you find yourself in treatment, it certainly couldn’t do any harm to orient yourself on its map.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Cats Migrated to Europe 7,000 Years Earlier Than Once Thought

The animals were imperfect,


unfortunate in their heads.

Little by little they

put themselves together,

making themselves a landscape,

acquiring spots, grace, flight.

The cat,

only the cat

appeared complete and proud:

he was born completely finished,

walking alone and knowing what he wanted.

– Pablo Neruda, excerpt from Ode to the Cat

We find ourselves in agreement with Nobel Prize-winning poet, and cat lover, Pablo Neruda:

Those of us who provide for felines choose to believe we are “the owner, proprietor, uncle of a cat, companion, colleague, disciple or friend of (our) cat”, when in fact they are mysterious beasts, far more self-contained than the companionable, inquisitive canine Neruda immortalized in Ode to the Dog.

We can bestow names and social media accounts on cats of our acquaintance, channel them on the steps of the Met Gala, attach GPS trackers to their collars, give them pride of placement in books for children and adults, and try our best to get inside their heads, but what do we know about them, really?

We even got their history wrong.

Common knowledge once held that cats made their way to northern Europe from the Mediterranean aboard Roman – and eventually Viking – ships sometime between the 3rd to 7th century CE, but it turns out we were off by millennia.

In 2016, a team of researchers collaborating on the Five Thousand Years of History of Domestic Cats in Central Europe project confirmed the presence of domestic cats during the Roman period in the area that is now northern Poland, using a combination of zooarchaeology, genetics and absolute dating.

More recently, the team turned their attention to Felis bones found in southern Poland and Serbia, determining the ones found in the Jasna Strzegowska Cave to be Pre-Neolithic (5990-5760 BC), while the Serbian kitties hail from the Mesolithic-Neolitic era (6220-5730 BC).

In addition to clarifying our understanding of how our pet cats’ ancestors arrived in Central Europe from Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, the project seeks to “identify phenotypic features related to domestication, such as physical appearance, including body size and coat color; behavior, for example, reduced aggression; and possible physiological adaptations to digest anthropogenic food.”

Regarding non-anthropogenic food, a spike in the Late Neolithic Eastern European house mouse population exhibits some nifty overlap with these ancient cat bones’ newly attached dates, though Dr. Danijela Popović, who supervised the project’s paleogeneticians, reports that the cats’ arrival in Europe preceded that of the first farmers:

These cats probably were still wild animals that naturally colonized Central Europe.

We’re willing to believe they established a bulkhead, then hung around, waiting until the humans showed up before implementing the next phase of their plan – self-domestication.

Read the research team’s “history of the domestic cat in Central Europe” here.

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Cats in Medieval Manuscripts & Paintings

via Big Think

– Ayun Halliday, human servant of two feline Mailroom Böyz, is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why Renaissance Masters Added Egg Yolk to Their Paints: A New Study Sheds Light

Today we think of the Renaissance as one of those periods when everything changed, and if the best-known artifacts of the time are anything to go by, nothing changed quite so much as art. This is reflected in obvious aesthetic differences between the works of the Renaissance and those created before, as well as in less obvious technical ones. Egg yolk-based tempera paints, for example, had been in use since the time of the ancient Egyptians, but in the fifteenth century they were replaced by oil paints. When chemical analysis of the work of certain Renaissance masters revealed traces of egg, they were assumed to be the result of chance contamination.

Now, thanks to a recent study led by chemical engineer Ophélie Ranquet of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, we have reason to believe that painters like Botticelli and Leonardo kept eggs in the mix deliberately. Oil replaced tempera because “it creates more vivid colors and smoother color transitions,” writes’s Teresa Nowakowski.

“It also dries slowly, so it can be used for longer after the initial preparation.” But “the colors darken more easily over time, and the paint is more susceptible to damage from light exposure. It also has a tendency to wrinkle as it dries,” visible in Leonardo’s Madonna of the Carnation below.

Putting in a bit of egg yolk may have been a way of using oil’s advantages while minimizing its disadvantages. Ranquet and her collaborators tested this idea by doing it themselves, re-creating two pigments used during the Renaissance, both with egg and without. “In the mayolike blend” produced by the former method, writes ScienceNews‘ Jude Coleman, “the yolk created sturdy links between pigment particles, resulting in stiffer paint. Such consistency would have been ideal for techniques like impasto, a raised, thick style that adds texture to art. Egg additions also could have reduced wrinkling by creating a firmer paint consistency,” though the paint itself would take longer to dry.

In practice, Renaissance painters seem to have experimented with different proportions of oil and egg, and so discovered that each had its own strengths for rendering different elements of an image. Hyperallergic’s Taylor Michael writes that in The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, seen up top, “Botticelli painted Christ, Mary Magdalene, and the Virgin, among others, with tempera, and the background stone and foregrounding grass with oil.” Thanks to the oxidization-slowing effects of phospholipids and antioxidants in the yolk — as scientific research has since proven — they’ve all come through the past five centuries looking hardly worse for wear.

Related content:

How Caravaggio Painted: A Re-Creation of the Great Master’s Process

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Parrots Taught to FaceTime Each Other Become Less Lonely, a New Study Shows

It’s telling that the avian participants in a recent study wherein pet parrots, assisted by their owners, learned to make video calls to others of their kind were recruited from the online educational forum Parrot Kindergarten.

In the above footage, the humans’ hopeful, high-pitched cajoling, as they encourage their birds to interact with a new “friend”, carries a strong whiff of those Mommy and Me classes where a dozen or so adults sit crosslegged in a circle, shaking tambourines and brightly warbling “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” while an equal number of toddlers wander around, markedly less invested in the proceedings.

Though, really, who am I to judge? I don’t have a parrot, and it’s been over two decades since my youngest child required parental interference to foment social interaction…

Eighteen pet parrots enrolled in the study, hanging out with one another during self-initiated video chats, to see how and if such interactions might improve their quality of life.

No one was forced to make a call if they weren’t feeling it, or to remain on the line after their interest flagged.

I’m hunching the average parrot’s preoccupation with modern technology clocks in far south of the average American toddler’s, which may explain why they completed a mere 147 calls over the course of two months (and 1000 hours of combined footage.)

That said, I can easily imagine a scenario in which the average human toddler, having successfully gotten their beak, excuse me, hands on a touchscreen tablet, loses all interest in FaceTiming with a peer, preferring the solitary pleasures of Balloon Pop or Peek-a-Zoo.

Typically, human toddlers have more opportunities for “interspecies ethical enrichment” than creatures whose lives are primarily spent in a cage. As the authors of the study note, “over 20 million parrots are kept as pets in the US, often lacking appropriate stimuli to meet their high social, cognitive, and emotional needs.”

The parrot participants may not have thrown themselves into the proceedings with the vigor of Bye Bye Birdie’s teenaged telephone chorus, but all placed calls, the majority exhibited “high motivation and intentionality”, and their humans indicated that they would gladly continue to facilitate this social experiment.

The human contribution is not inconsiderable here. It took vast amounts of time and patience to orient the birds to the system, and careful monitoring to make sure calls didn’t run off the rails. Nothing like having your iPad screen smashed by a parrot who’s got beef in an online forum…

Several legit friendships formed over the course of the experiment – a Goffin’s cockatoo and an African grey who made each other’s virtual acquaintance during the pilot study were still chatting, a year after they met.

Data collected in the field shows that the number and duration of outgoing calls were closely tied to the number and duration of incoming calls. The most popular birdies did not take their connections for granted.

It’s a finding humans would do well to absorb if we are to combat feelings of isolation from within our own species.

Read Birds of a Feather Video-Flock Together: Design and Evaluation of an Agency-Based Parrot-to-Parrot Video-Calling System for Interspecies Ethical Enrichment here.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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