Santa and the ‘Shrooms: The real story behind the "design" of Christmas

December 8, 2017 by  
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When we think of Christmas in the United States, we invariably think of Santa Claus — a man in a red suit and pointy hat with white furry trim and tall black boots, and his accessories, a bag of goodies in a sleigh pulled through the sky by a team of eight flying reindeer. And it’s a clear case of the clothes making the man, for a Santa in any other outfit would most definitely not still be Santa. (Does a fat, bearded, white-haired guy in cargo shorts and a Metallica t-shirt make you think of Christmas?) But when you think about it, it’s a pretty special outfit, no? Santa’s pretty much the only one who wears anything like it — a baggy suit with fur trim isn’t exactly stylish these days, and it wasn’t when Santa made his first appearance, either. His last known precursor, Father Christmas, wore a long red robe, sometimes with trim and sometimes without, like a cardinal — reflecting the link drawn between him and the historic Saint Nicholas, a Turkish cardinal in the 14th century who was known for his kindness to children. But the pants? And the hat? And the boots? They’re nowhere to be found on him. Popular legend has it that Santa himself, not to mention his outfit, was designed by Coca Cola, making his first appearance in their early-20th century ads and defining him for the ages by sheer force of commercial might. There’s a grain of truth in this: His generous shape and rosy cheeks came at the whimsy of Haddon Sundblom, the illustrator of so many of Coke’s well-loved ads from that period. Before Sundblom’s illustrations, Santa was commonly depicted as more of a gnome-like little man (editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast drew some of the best-known early dedications of him), often skinny and a little scary — but even then, wearing the same clothes he wears now. So the question is, where did that outfit come from? Where did Santa get such a unique sense of sartorial élan? The answer, according to anthropological research from recent decades, lies way further back than even Coke can be found. The roots of Santa’s style, and his bag of goodies, sleigh, reindeer, bizarre midnight flight, distinctive chimney-based means of entry into the home, and even the way we decorate our houses at Christmas, seem to lead all the way back to the ancestral traditions of a number of indigenous arctic circle dwellers — the Kamchadales and the Koryaks of Siberia, specifically. (So it’s true — Santa really does come from the North Pole!) And like so many other fantastical tales, it all originated with some really intense ‘shrooms. On the night of the winter solstice, a Koryak shaman would gather several hallucinogenic mushrooms called amanita muscaria, or fly agaric in English, and them to launch himself into a spiritual journey to the tree of life (a large pine), which lived by the North Star and held the answer to all the village’s problems from the previous year. Fly agaric is the red mushroom with white spots that we see in fairy tale illustrations, old Disney movies, and (if you’re old enough to remember) Super Mario Brothers video games and all the Smurfs cartoons. They are seriously toxic, but they become less lethal when dried out. Conveniently, they grow most commonly under pine trees (because their spores travel exclusively on pine seeds), so the shaman would often hang them on lower branches of the pine they were growing under to dry out before taking them back to the village. As an alternative, he would put them in a sock and hang them over his fire to dry. Is this starting to sound familiar? Another way to remove the fatal toxins from the ‘shrooms was to feed them to reindeer, who would only get high from them — and then pee, with their digestive systems having filtered out most of the toxins, making their urine safe for humans to drink and get a safer high that way. Reindeer happen to love fly agarics and eat them whenever they can, so a good supply of magic pee was usually ready and waiting all winter. In fact, the reindeer like fly agarics so much that they would eat any snow where a human who had drank ‘shroom-laced urine had relieved himself, and thus the circle would continue. When the shaman went out to gather the mushrooms, he would wear an red outfit with either white trim or white dots, in honor of the mushroom’s colors. And because at that time of year the whole region was usually covered in deep snow, he, like everyone, wore tall boots of reindeer skin that would by then be blackened from exposure. He’d gather the tree-dried fly agarics and some reindeer urine in a large sack, then return home to his yurt (the traditional form of housing for people of this region at that time), where some of the higher-ups of the village would have gathered to join in the solstice ceremony. But how would he get into a yurt whose door was blocked by several feet of snow? He’d climb up to the roof with his bag of goodies, go to the hole in the center of the roof that acted as a chimney, and slide down the central pole that held the yurt up over the fireplace. Then he’d pass out a few ‘shrooms to each guest, and some might even partake of some of the ones that had been hung over the fire. Clearly, this idea of using the chimney to get in and pass out the magic mushrooms (and other goodies) had sticking power. Interestingly, even as late as Victorian times in England, the traditional symbol of chimney sweeps was a fly agaric mushroom — and many early Christmas cards featured chimney sweeps with fly agarics, though no explanation of why was offered. Interestingly, in addition to inducing hallucinations, the mushrooms stimulate the muscular system so strongly that those who eat them take on temporarily superhuman strength, in the same way we might be affected by a surge of adrenaline in a life-or-death situation. And the effect is the same for animals. So any reindeer who’d had a tasty mushroom snack or a little yellow snow would become literally high and mighty, prancing around and often jumping so high they looked like they were flying. And at the same time, the high would make humans feel like they were flying, too, and the reindeer were flying through space. So by now you can see where this is going: The legend had it that the shaman and the reindeer would fly to the north star (which sits directly over the north pole) to retrieve the gifts of knowledge, which they would then distribute to the rest of the village. It seems that these traditions were carried down into Great Britain by way of the ancient druids, whose spiritual practices had taken on elements that had originated much farther north. Then, in the inevitable way that different cultures influence one another due to migration and intermarriage, these stories got mixed with certain Germanic and Nordic myths involving Wotan (the most powerful Germanic god), Odin (his Nordic counterpart) or another great god going on a midnight winter solstice ride, chased by devils, on an eight-legged horse. The exertion of the chase would make flecks of red and white blood and foam fall from the horse’s mouth to the ground, where the next year amanita mushrooms would appear. Apparently over time, this European story of a horse with eight legs, united with the ancient Arctic circle story of reindeer prancing and flying around on the same night, melted together into eight prancing, flying reindeer. That story then crossed the pond to the New World with the early English settlers, and got an injection of Dutch traditions involving the Turkish St. Nicholas (who came to be called Sinterklaas by small Dutch children) from the Dutch colonialists — and found immortality in its current form in early 20th-century America, with Clement Clark Moore’s famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Before this poem hit the press, different immigrant groups around the U.S. each had their own different versions of the Santa Claus legend. Then in the 1930s, Coca Cola’s ad campaign gave Santa his sizable girth and sent him back around the world. And so in that spirit, a merry Christmas to all who celebrate it! + Fly Agaric

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Santa and the ‘Shrooms: The real story behind the "design" of Christmas

Luminous Bear Run Cabin offers dramatic views of the Cascade Mountains in Washington

December 8, 2017 by  
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The Bear Run Cabin in Marblemount, Washington, captures the dual nature of the surrounding landscape – the dramatic peaks of the Cascade Mountains and the gently sloping adjacent woodlot. The building, designed by David Coleman Architecture , is carved into the site, with two volumes standing in a yin-yang relationship. The cabin occupies a rain-drenched site in the rugged, northwestern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Its western terrace is carved into the site, and it leads towards a soaking tub set behind a glass wall . The south-eastern porch and monumental stair, both covered by a soaring roof, rise above the site and offer shelter from the rain and summer sun. Related: Son builds modern dream cabin from recycled materials for his aging father The house is extremely flexible – in the summer the living space expands onto porches and terraces while retaining its efficiency and compactness in the winter. The 890-square-foot cabin accommodates a living room, a bath, and a sleeping loft clad in frameless glass, while the 1000-square-foot studio houses a music room, a workshop and a guest loft. Related: Affordable Polycarbonate Cabin is a light-filled vacation home in Chile The west wall is clad in a polycarbonate skin that illuminates the interior with a soft glow during the day. This same wall lights up in a dramatic display at night. The project won the GRAY Awards — the first regional awards program to celebrate design exclusively from Washington , Oregon and British Columbia. + David Coleman Architecture Photos by Ben Benschneider

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Luminous Bear Run Cabin offers dramatic views of the Cascade Mountains in Washington

Uniti officially unveils its electric city car – and it will sell for under $18K

December 8, 2017 by  
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Uniti from Sweden has officially unveiled its first electric car , the Uniti One. The company took the covers off their new electric city car at an event in Sweden, where they announced a price as low as €14,900 ($17,483 US) when it goes on sale in 2019. Even with its low price tag, the Uniti One can drive up to 186 miles via a small 22 kWh battery. The Uniti One will also feature DC fast charging capability that will add about 124 miles of range in only 30 minutes. Uniti also plans to offer a line of two, four and five-seat vehicle models, with the most expensive versions listing for €19,900 ($23,415 US). Besides the futuristic tiny exterior, the coolest feature by far is the center pivot joystick control system that replaces a traditional steering wheel. Related: This Swedish electric car comes with 5 years of free electricity “We are pleased to share our progress and demonstrate our vision for future mobility as we move towards mass production,” stated Lewis Horne, CEO of Uniti. As Tesla is realizing with the Model 3 , getting a vehicle into production is quite a feat. To demonstrate the emphasis that Uniti is placing on getting the Uniti One into production, the company invited representatives from its 24 key partners, like Nvidia and Siemens to the debut. Buyers can reserve the Uniti One with a €149 deposit and Uniti says that it has already received over 1,000 orders. Uniti All images ©Uniti

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Uniti officially unveils its electric city car – and it will sell for under $18K

Kansas State students built this charming affordable home for low-income families

December 8, 2017 by  
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A group of fifth-year architecture students at Kansas State University teamed up with local firms El Dorado and Studio Build to design and build an affordable two-unit dwelling for low-income families. The Waldo Duplex, built for $200 per square foot, comprises carefully designed open spaces that strategically utilize  natural light . The duplex, built on a budget of $290,000, is located in a historic area of Kansas City, Missouri, dominated by single-family bungalows and shotgun homes. While the duplex has been dominated by generic, utilitarian form these days, the designers wanted to create something that stood out. The result is an unconventional housing solution amongst fairly uniform residential typology. The exterior and roof are clad in corrugated steel and features high-end finishes on the interior. Related: El Dorado brings Socially and Environmentally Sustainable Echo Ridge Community to Topeka, Kansas The students, working as part of Design+Make Studio, teamed up with two local studios to design this pair of apartments for low-income tenants. “This building type was conceived as a more compassionate way to meet housing needs in lower-income municipalities and neighborhoods without the density that is typical in affordable housing,” explained the team. The street-facing porches are enclosed within wooden slats and cantilever over the site. Each apartment offers 725 square feet (67 square meters) of space, with open-plan layouts that include living rooms, kitchens and dining areas. These spaces balance natural and artificial light, working in synergy and dialogue with each other. + Design+Make Studio + El Dorado Inc. + Studio Build Via Dezeen Photos by Mike Sinclair

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Kansas State students built this charming affordable home for low-income families

India added more rooftop solar in 2017 than the past 4 years combined

December 8, 2017 by  
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India’s rooftop solar sector has been exploding. In 2017, the country added 715 megawatts (MW) in roof installations – more than MW added in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 put together, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). And the cost of electricity from rooftop solar power has been cut in half in the past five years. Rooftop solar is the quickest-growing sub-sector of renewable energy in India, according to BNEF. Rooftop PV installations totaled 32, 78, 165, and 227 MW in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively – and then this year saw installations of 715 MW. Rooftop solar has “clocked a four-year compound annual growth rate of 117 percent,” according to BNEF. Related: Solar prices in India dip below coal Low solar panel prices and increased competition has allowed Indian rooftop system installations to be less expensive than the global average by around 39 to 50 percent, according to Quartz India . And in all major states in the country, rooftop solar energy is cheaper than industrial and commercial power. Government policies and incentives have also spurred the growth, CARE Ratings analyst Gautam Bafna told Quartz India. Individual projects have also escalated in size, from an average of 250 kilowatts (kW) in 2015 to 855 kW in 2018. BNEF said, “We estimate India will reach 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of rooftop PV capacity by FY2022 – seven times its current total.” That’s still short of the government’s goal of 40 gigawatts by 2022. There’s still a ways to go. India’s power distribution companies are hesitant to promote rooftop solar, according to Quartz India, because they are concerned about finances. A KPMG partner with infrastructure and government services, Anish De told Quartz India, “During the day, there’ll be sudden spikes of generation; in the evenings, there’ll be a reverse flow. So till [power] storage comes in a much larger way, utilities might find it difficult to manage this.” And over half the rooftop solar market is concentrated in only six of India’s 29 states. Via Quartz India and Bloomberg New Energy Finance Images via Depositphotos and Wikimedia Commons

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India added more rooftop solar in 2017 than the past 4 years combined

Beat the Blues: 7 Ways to Boost Your Home & Mood Naturally

November 9, 2017 by  
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With daylight saving time trailing freshly behind us, shorter days … The post Beat the Blues: 7 Ways to Boost Your Home & Mood Naturally appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Beat the Blues: 7 Ways to Boost Your Home & Mood Naturally

It’s raining tequila from a cloud in Berlin

March 31, 2017 by  
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Berlin winters see a lot of rain, but this is the first time it’s rained tequila. The Mexico Tourist Board wanted to lure Germans to Mexico by combining one of the things they hate most: rain , with one of the things they love best: tequila. The result is a puffy cloud of happiness that rains tequila any time it rains outside. The Mexico Tourist Board teamed up with Lapiz USA to create a cloud that rains tequila. Lapiz took ultrasonic humidifiers to turn tequila into a mist, which they shot into the air to create a tequila-based cloud. Once that mist condensed, it created droplets of tequila that you can actually collect and drink. It’s an ingenious way to turn the winter blahs in Germany into a party. Related: San Diego brewery unveils beer made from 100% recycled wastewater Unfortunately, tequila clouds won’t be filling the skies anytime soon. The exhibit is being featured in an art space in Berlin called Urban Spree, but if you can’t make it there, you can still grab a glass of tequila next time it rains and dream. Via The Daily Mail Images via Lapiz USA

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It’s raining tequila from a cloud in Berlin

Smog-filled Beijing is building a ‘green necklace’ around the city to curb pollution

March 23, 2017 by  
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Beijing’s pollution problem is no secret – earlier this year the city even created an environmental police squad in a bid to stop smog . Now, the nearby province of Hebei  – which contributes to Beijing’s smog with it’s heavy industry economy – is taking some creative new steps to combat the dangerous health risk that kills millions of people each year. The government is turning to nature to create a “green necklace” of trees and green belts as a natural way to fight pollution. People have recently pointed fingers at Hebei’s heavy industry as a source for some of Beijing’s hazardous pollution . The city has suffered from numerous smog outbreaks, often during the winter, according to Reuters. So the Hebei government announced this week both they and Beijing will plant trees and use wetlands and rivers to create a green necklace to protect the major global city. In a website notice, the government said it will increase forest coverage and set up green belts with the help of river systems, farms, mountains, and wetlands near Beijing. Related: China’s crazy smog-sucking vacuum tower might actually be working Transportation rules for Beijing and border areas are also part of the plan, which according to Reuters is part of a government effort to integrate the city, Hebei, and Tianjin, a major port city just southeast of Beijing. What have been described as fortress economies in the area could have prompted a race to the bottom in environmental law enforcement, according to Reuters. The cross-regional plan could also help address overpopulation – around 22 million people currently live in Beijing – by trying to limit urban development on the city’s borders. Beijing also plans to move some industries and “non-capital functions” out to Hebei, hoping such moves will also help cut pollution and congestion. Limited coal consumption is another piece of the strategy to clear the skies over Beijing, and the city just decommissioned the last coal-fired power plant earlier in March. Via Reuters Images via Bert Oostdijk on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Smog-filled Beijing is building a ‘green necklace’ around the city to curb pollution

World’s biggest river island could be India’s first carbon-neutral sector

March 23, 2017 by  
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Pollution has plagued India recently; a 2017 report showed people are more likely to die from air pollution not in China, as might be your first guess, but in India. But one area of the country could receive a breath of fresh air. Majuli, which is the largest river island in the world, could become the country’s first carbon-neutral district. Majuli, which is found in India’s Assam state, is home to plentiful biodiversity and the neo-Vaishnavite culture, which according to The Guardian is a monotheistic branch of Hinduism. But the river island is in trouble: monsoons and the river absorb homes as land is disappearing rapidly. In the middle of the 19th century, the river island was around 463 square miles, but in 2015 it was just around 154 square miles, and some research says Majuli could be gone in two decades. Related: New Delhi has the worst air pollution of any city on earth “Majuli is facing an existential crisis and therefore initiatives like designating [it] a carbon neutral district and biodiversity heritage site are [the] needs of the hour to preserve its rich heritage and legacy,” said Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. The government aims to make the river island the country’s first carbon-neutral sector by 2020 . Sonowal aims to raise awareness among locals as the area works to become free of pollution. He suggested parents could give a sapling to their children for their birthdays, and plant trees around their homes. He also started an electronic registry to scrutinize the climate impact of any projects proposed for Majuli. A project called the Sustainable Action for Climate Resilient Development, started late last year, will ensure the river island’s infrastructure is low carbon . According to Sonowal’s office as quoted by The Times of India, “Further declaration of Majuli as a Biodiversity Heritage Site, the first in the state, enforces the rich biological biodiversity in the wild, cultivated areas of the island and cultural heritage of Majuli.” Via India Times , The Times of India , and The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Solar-powered skin could help prosthetics imbue sense of touch

March 23, 2017 by  
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Engineers from the University of Glasgow have developed a synthetic skin that could help amputees regain their sense of touch. Clad in graphene, a form of graphite just one atom thick yet tougher than steel, the “electronic skin” even uses photovoltaic cells to harvest power from the sun. “This could allow the creation of an entirely energy-autonomous prosthetic limb,” said Ravinder Dahiya , head of the School of Engineering’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies group and the author of a paper on the subject in the current issue of Advanced Functional Materials . Graphene and solar cells are ideal bedfellows because of the former’s unique physical properties, Dahiya said. The material’s optical transparency, for instance, allows 98 percent of the light that hits its surface to pass through. Graphene is also electrically conductive, which means it can channel power to sensors that measure attributes like temperature, pressure, and texture. “Those measurements mean the prosthetic hand is capable of performing challenging tasks like properly gripping soft materials, which other prosthetics can struggle with,” Dahiya said. Related: Thought-controlled robotic arm returns the sense of touch to amputees Because the new skin requires only 20 nanowatts of power per square centimeter, even the lowest-rated photovoltaic cell on the market will suffice. The energy generated by the skin’s cells cannot be stored at present, but the researchers are exploring ways of diverting any unused energy into batteries that can be drawn from at a later time. Beyond prosthetics, the breakthrough could fuel further advances in robotics—a boon for an increasingly automated world. “Skin capable of touch sensitivity also opens the possibility of creating robots capable of making better decisions about human safety,” Dahiya said. “A robot working on a construction line, for example, is much less likely to accidentally injure a human if it can feel that a person has unexpectedly entered their area of movement and stop before an injury can occur.” + University of Glasgow

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