All posts by M.C.

A Mustache Guard to Help You Drink Like a Victorian

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Whisker Dam

$19.99, Amazon

Back in the Victorian era, protecting one’s mustache was an important concern for high society tea drinkers, which led to the invention of the “mustache cup.” These were tea cups or mugs with a thin strip of ceramic just inside the rim that acted as a guard for the drinker’s facial hair.

Mustache cups are not the hot trend they may once have been, but facial hair is as popular as ever. Enter the Whisker Dam. Place one on the rim of nearly any standard glass or mug, and suddenly you’ve got your very own Victorian mustache cup. This particular brand of mustache guard also features a rugged, heritage look that pairs well with a cup of coffee or a pint of … Read the rest

The Somber Fate of a Manuscript Illuminator

Agnès (soprano Lauren Snouffer) confronts the Boy (countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo), in a scene from <em>Written on Skin</em> at Opera Philadelphia.
Agnès (soprano Lauren Snouffer) confronts the Boy (countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo), in a scene from Written on Skin at Opera Philadelphia. (all photos by Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia)

ne of the most extraordinary operas of the 21st century is playing at Opera Philadelphia. Our journey from New York to see George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s Written on Skin — the title refers to the parchment on which medieval manuscripts were illuminated — was worth every yard.

The plot, based on the 13th-century vida of troubadour Guillem de Cabestany, begins with a chorus of angels — here costumed in black and pacing with stage-manager airs, futuristic electronic tablets in hand — who turn time back to the medieval period. We meet a wealthy, violent … Read the rest

Oxygen ions may be an easy-to-track sign of life on exoplanets

Enlarge (credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

The search for extraterrestrial life is fairly synonymous with the search for life as we know it. We’re just not that imaginative—when looking for other planets that could host life, we don’t know what to look for, exactly, if not Earth-like conditions. Everything we know about life comes from life on Earth.

But conditions that clearly favor life here—liquid water, surface oxygen, ozone in the stratosphere, possibly a magnetic field—may not necessarily be prerequisites for its development elsewhere. Conversely, their presence does not guarantee life, either. So what can we look for that’s an indication of life?

Skip the dwarfs

Most (about seventy percent) of the stars in our Galaxy are M dwarf stars, and many of them have associated planets.

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How Mondrian Inspired Architecture Around the World

Mondrian building in Austin, Texas, 2007 (photo by Kent Wang, via Flickr)

More than 100 years after Piet Mondrian co-founded the De Stijl movement, the artist continues to be as popular as ever. As Nancy J. Troy argues in her 2014 book, The Afterlife of Piet Mondrian, collectors, curators, scholars, dealers, and the artist’s heirs helped to construct Mondrian’s legacy well after his death, oftentimes leading to the commodification of his works. In the long line of the Mondrian- and De Stijl-themed, there’s the iconic 1965 Yves Saint Laurent dress (and the many imitations to come after), as well as numerous handbags, sneakers, socks, cakes, furniture, manicures, album covers, and everything in between.

Mondrian Cake (
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Airport Communities Make a Plea for Quieter Skies

Every time a plane flies over Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, María Batayola pauses what she’s saying and lifts a finger as she waits for it to pass. This happens every few minutes, and the noise doesn’t just interrupt conversations, she says: It distracts people at work and school, and disturbs their sleep.

“I remember waking up in the middle of the night and saying, ‘Is there a war?’” she recalls.

For about three years, Batayola has been organizing Beacon Hill residents to combat noise pollution from the nearby Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The constant buzz overhead is a stressor on the community, she says—and there’s plenty of research to back her up. Studies show that airplane noise harms people’s physical and mental health, and makes it harder … Read the rest

As satellite threat looms, Air Force moves to buy small rocket services

Enlarge / A dedicated 747-400 aircraft will carry Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne to an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet before release for its rocket-powered flight to orbit. (credit: Virgin Orbit)

The U.S. military apparently wants to get into the business of launching smaller satellites on smaller rockets. In the administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, the Air Force budget contains a new “Rocket Systems Launch Program” item for the purpose of buying “small launch services” for the timely delivery of smaller payloads into low-Earth and geostationary transfer orbit.

The new program, which must be approved by Congress, provides $47.6 million in fiscal year 2019 and a total of $192.5 million over the next five years. It deals with the delivery into space of payloads weighing up

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Why is Water Pouring Out of This Tree in Montenegro?

The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recently shared a video about a unique natural phenomenon in a village called Dinoša, located in southeastern Montenegro—a small country on the Adriatic coast. There is a mulberry tree standing in the meadow there that turns into a fountain whenever it rains heavy. From a hollow on the tree trunk water can be seen gushing abundantly.

Apparently, the rains had flooded the underground springs and the additional pressure created pushed water up the tree trunk through cracks or hollows on the trunk, until it poured out of a hole a few feet above the ground. As you can see from the video, the ground is quite sloppy indicating the amount of groundwater there is in the soil and below. You can … Read the rest

Alexander Fleming’s Microbial Art

Alexander Fleming is widely known as the brilliant microbiologist who gave the world the miraculous life-saving drug called antibiotic. But he also had an artistic side that is perhaps less well known. Fleming was a member of London’s Chelsea Arts Club, where he tried his hand at watercolor and created compositions that were amateurish at best. But his artistic talents didn’t lie in watercolors or pencil sketches but in another medium—living organism.

Fleming was one of the first scientists to use microbes to create works of art. He painted ballerinas, houses, soldiers, mothers feeding children, stick figures fighting and many other scenes on petri dishes using microbes. Fleming produced these artwork by culturing microorganisms having different natural pigments on petri dishes to create colorful patterns. He … Read the rest