Drunken monkeys and solar panels

I am a curious person. I’ve mentioned it before, this tendency to lose myself in the pursuit of interesting things. It becomes a bit like the proverbial rabbit hole as I follow some convoluted thread through not only my regular ‘haunts’ but also to new and inspiring sources that I inevitably add to my ‘follow’ list.

This week’s haul has been particularly rich in the ‘how interesting’ department so here are a few of the titbits I loved the most.

The smell before the storm

I love that smell just before a storm hits. It’s a really clean, slightly metallic smell that heralds the impending downpour. Well according to my regular dose of Mental Floss, that smell is caused by electrical charges that break down atoms which then reform into nitric oxide. This reacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere to create ozone which causes the ‘chlorine’ odour.

However, I question the chlorine claim. After all, I swim a couple of times a week and believe me, that pool smells like chlorine. Maybe a lifetime of swimming has made me less sensitized to ozone’s more fragrant charms. Or perhaps there’s something familiar and comforting being triggered in my brain. In any case, it was one more conundrum solved and led me to ponder whether more storms would help to fix the hole in the ozone layer.

The drunken monkey hypothesis

Flipboard is a great app that allows you to choose what types of articles you’d like to receive and I love dipping in and out during my commute. This week I found my way to a piece in Esquire that delved into the origins of alcohol consumption. It appears that this goes well beyond the human condition and was critical for our predecessors’ survival.

You see, while modern life finds us all looking for ways to reduce our caloric intake, our primate ancestors found feasting on over-ripe (and therefore fermenting) fruit an excellent way to get the energy needed to swing from tree to tree all day long. Add to that the need to survive by hunting and gathering enough to eat and you’ve got yourself the perfect excuse to booze all day, every day.

I wonder how much booze my fortnightly online grocery shopping would permit me. Not much I suspect.

The pyramid inside the mountain

Flipboard also led me to BBC Future piece on the ancient pyramid beneath a mountain – well, actually underneath a tiny hilltop church in Chohula in the Mexican highlands. The article reports that the pyramid is four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. I’ve been to Giza so I can only imagine how huge this one must be. Chohula was described by Cortez as “the most beautiful city outside Spain” and the BBC article reports that there are over 500 tunnels to be explored.

Mexico has been on my travel bucket list for some time but fell away as I started to read more about China and the Silk Roads cultures. However, an archaeologically-inspired visit would be an amazing thing to do. So much to do, so little time (and money).

*Sigh*

And last but not least…

The car that gives back

There’s been a lot in the press about self-driving cars and I had my first Tesla close up a couple of weeks ago at their showroom in a local shopping centre. While there was no test drive (or test no-drive as the case may be), I did think that the Model S was very nice indeed.

But Tesla are not just applying their energy breakthroughs in the automotive industry. Via this week’s Springwise newsletter, I learned that my very own hometown of Melbourne may have their first sustainable suburb in new development, YarraBend. Applying Tesla’s technology may mean energy reductions of up to 34% with the developers also suggesting significant decreases in water usage (43%) and landfill (80%).

Before I moved to London in 2004, I read about an initiative to place solar panels on the roof of Melbourne’s Victoria Market in an effort to power the surrounding suburbs. I felt a little swell of Aussie pride that Melbourne continues to champion ways to address some of our critical climactic challenges.

So there you have it – my top four commuting gems from this week. It’s certainly been a rich vein so I hope you found something here to pique your curiosity.

The F Word…

This week my world has taken on something of a feminist flavour. 

Not that I am not a feminist – I am.

(I am also sure that there’s a better way to deal with that double negative. Go ahead – comment away!)  

I didn’t actually plan it that way but when I look back there has been a definite theme to the events I attended, the things I learnt and the conversations I had. Might be the planets aligning, might be a raising of my feminist consciousness. Might be my current musings about what my future might look like. Who knows. But over the last four days there has been a lot for me to consider about the future of women.

On Wednesday, I listened to some amazing women (and one man) explore women’s roles in our modern world at the Women in European Business Conference. It featured an excellent panel discussion, an interview with the always fabulous Joanna Lumley and a fascinating 45-minute presentation from Harvard associate professor and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy on shaping who you are – literally. It was an inspiring night and it was thanks to the ‘oh I’ve double-booked’ mistake of a work colleague that I got a guernsey. And what did I take away from all of this? That there are many, many choices about my future, many potential pathways to explore and a myriad of conversations to have. Oh and a potential place on the invitation list for next year’s event.

On Thursday, I listened to a lively discussion on the Pinkification of Young Girls at Selfridges as part of The Beauty Project. This was the last in a series put on in partnership with Intelligence Squared who always offer controversial topics and provocative panelists and with the future of the world’s female population firmly in their sights, Alannah Weston, Tiffanie Darke, Tanya Gold and Katie Hopkins launched into a litany of opinions about the dangers (or not) of a rose coloured world and the potential of a ‘princess’ generation. 

It seemed to me that we came no closer to any answers and whilst it was an interesting discussion, it meandered around for a while then finished all too quickly. In the end, it did transpire that encouraging a questioning mind, a breadth of choice and a sense of confidence in our women of tomorrow were the keys – and also some of the prevailing themes from my previous evening’s WEB Conference. How on earth this is going to happen, I have no idea but that the topic continues to raise in profile is generally deemed a positive thing. But is it enough?

On Friday morning I listened to a less-than-seven-minute TED talk from Dan Gilbert called The Psychology of your Future Self. (You may have noticed over the last few posts that I am having a bit of a love affair with TED talks at the moment.) Anyway, Gilbert postulates that we all under estimate how much we will change in the future and he uses some really clever ways of demonstrating that our heads really are buried in the sand when it comes to envisioning our future selves. Think about who you were, what you were doing and what was important to you ten years ago. Then think about how much you think you’ll change in the next ten years. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the rate of change will continue? Well, apparently reason has nothing to do with it but given my recent reflections about what might lie before me in the next 40 or so years, it seemed another fitting piece to add to my puzzle.

And finally yesterday, when I opened this week’s Mental Floss newsletter, I discovered that LEGO will release a new series featuring female scientist figurines this coming August. Hurrah! (Imagine hooray in the posh, clipped syllables of the English.) The LEGO Research Institute set will show women exploring the world from three different angles – chemistry, paleantology and astronomy. 

Image source: https://ideas.lego.com/projects/15401

And not a skerrick of pinkification to be seen. Double hurrah!

The concept was submitted by Dr. Ellen Kooijman, a geochemist from Stockholm who, despite entering her concept last year, may have tapped into the zeitgeist by encapsulating the sentiments of Charlotte Benjamin, a seven-year-old girl who wrote a widely publicised letter to LEGO in January admonishing the toymaker to ‘have more LEGO girl people who go on adventures and have fun.’ 

So while the rate of change might seem snail-paced to those of us who are firm believers in gender equality, it appears that all it takes are the words of a seven-year-old to create a little momentum. At this rate, just imagine where she could be in ten years time.

So as I sit here on the comfy couch, tap-tap-tapping away and reflecting on the week that was, I am definitely left with some positive feelings about the whole feminist issue. But it still seems like we still have one hell of a mountain to climb and while I lean towards the side of a bright future ahead, I think that the visibility remains poor and the path ahead uncertain. Not only for the women of future generations but also for those of us struggling with how to create a world of choice and equality now. 

And it leaves me wondering just who and where I might be in all of this in ten years time.

Bears some thinking about doesn’t it?

Yellow Peril…

In my last post I mentioned that I’d been travelling in the USA and one of the rare delights of hanging about (for hours!) in airport terminals is browsing through the local portfolio of magazines. The New Yorker is a bit of a fave so that’s found its way into my reading pile again. But I’ve uncovered a new candidate for my affections – Mental Floss – and having recently discovered their witty snippets on twitter (@mental_floss), I was delighted to find the magazine on the newsstand and spent part of my time Seattle-bound, devouring its pages.

Anyway this leads to the point of this post – flowers. In particular, yellow flowers. And not because it’s Valentine’s Day. 

(I’m a bit bah-humbug about Valentine’s Day and would much prefer to receive protestations of love all year ’round.)

No, it’s because I have just purchased my first daffodils of 2014.


This is a bunch from a prior year as mine haven’t bloomed yet. However I expect to get up tomorrow morning and seeing bright bobbing blossoms emerging from their green buds.

Sigh!

I do find such happiness in a simple (and inexpensive) bunch of cheerful daffs.

But according to Mental Floss, when it comes to a splash of golden colour, it’s not always sunshine and roses daffodils. In fact it could be downright perilous.

In Japan, a bunch of yellow flowers means ‘I’m jealous’ so green with envy seems not to apply in the land of the rising sun. In Peru, it’s a declaration of hatred while in Russia, the message is ‘let’s break up’, not exactly what you’d want to receive at any time of the year let alone on the 14th of February. 

But yellow flowers need not always be a declaration of your lack of affection. According to Mental Floss, if you are in Mexico, scattering marigolds over someone’s grave means ‘come back to Earth and visit me’…

Marigolds decorate this grave to encourage the soul to rise again

So on this St Valentine’s Day, if you’ve planned to say it with flowers, choosing yellow may not be the floral tribute your heart’s desire is looking for.

However, my source informs me that daffodils mean rebirth and new beginnings, regard and chivalry and ‘you’re the only one’.

So if I’m your ‘one’ – or even one of a special ‘few’ – you can feel free to send me some of these golden yellow trumpets any time of the year.