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October 14, 2011

World's most expensive pumpkin seed sells for $1,600

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Julia Scott's October 6 New York Times story about extreme pumpkin gardening was replete with juicy facts and anecdotes.

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Among them:

[Don] Young is one of a number of amateur gardeners whose heart's desire is to raise a pumpkin bigger than anybody else's. These enthusiasts have always been obsessed, but now they are especially so. With the current world record at 1,810 pounds (a Smart car, by comparison, weighs 1,600 pounds), these growers can see the most important milestone of all on the horizon: the one-ton pumpkin. Galvanized by the prospect, they are doubling their efforts and devising a raft of new strategies involving natural growth hormones, double grafting and more, to become the first to reach that goal.

This fall's pumpkin contests have begun, and as many as 14 amateur growers have won regional weigh-offs with entries tipping the scales at more than 1,500 pounds. The contests are far from over — they continue in force over the next two weekends — but already one pumpkin, raised by Dave Stelts of Edinburg, Pa., has come within three pounds of beating the 1,810-pound record set last year. Rumor has it that a record-breaker may emerge in California.

In fact, growers typically feed their pumpkins a compost "brew" so rich — the water is mixed with worm castings, molasses and liquid kelp — that the fruits can gain as much as 50 pounds a day.

Sometimes, Mr. Young said, he will just sit among his pumpkins.

"This is going to sound really crazy, but when these are really at their peak growth, they'll make a sound," he said. "You can feel it. It’s something surging in the pumpkin. Bup. Bup."

BigPumpkins.com, the Facebook-like forum of the giant-pumpkin world, now gets more than a million unique hits a month. And according to the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, the number of officially sanctioned weigh-offs has grown from 22 to 92 in seven years, and now includes competitions in Italy, Finland and Australia.

With the right seeds and soil preparations, veterans say, it's fairly easy to grow an impressively large pumpkin. But the hobby's elite, while still amateurs, operate on a different playing field. These growers spend hundreds of dollars on laboratory analyses of soil and plant tissues to help them decide whether to add more nitrogen, say, or calcium. And they speed photosynthesis by spraying their plants’ leaves with carbon dioxide.

But it is the seeds, a strong indicator of a pumpkin's size, that are the most bankable factor in the quest for giants. Last fall, Chris Stevens, 33, a Wisconsin general contractor who grew the 1,810-pound pumpkin, sold a single seed from it for $1,600, by far the most anyone has ever paid for a pumpkin seed. Its descendants may prove just as valuable.

Seed trading has helped set new world records almost every year since 1997, when a pumpkin first broke the 1,000-pound barrier. The Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth bestows special leather jackets on those who have grown a pumpkin over 1,400 pounds, a club that includes fewer than 50 gardeners. But Mr. Stelts said he was raising the minimum to 1,600 pounds because of the escalating competition.

Extreme gardening involves money and sacrifice. Mr. Young wakes up in the middle of the night to check his pumpkins. He runs heat lamps all night after planting seeds in the chilly April ground, and cools his gourds with fans in sweltering midsummer heat. He can't remember the last time he took a vacation.

Still, for all the work, heartbreak is inevitable. A gardener can pamper his gourds for months and vigilantly stave off rot, disease and bad weather. But sometimes the giant fruits are so juiced up that they do not know how to stop feeding themselves.

Mr. Connolly remembers with particular sadness one morning a few years ago when he left his pumpkins to go to church. He was gone for less than an hour, but he returned to find that his biggest pumpkin had exploded under the force of its own growth spurt.

"There was a footlong crack through the rind," he said. "It just blew up."

 

 

October 14, 2011 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Storage Chair

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From supertacular: "The storage chair also known as the Comfy Cargo Chair was created by Stephan Schulz."

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"The design consists of a three-dimensional grid. An open structure of hollows that allows the user to fill with any material; books, newspapers, pillows, anything you can imagine. The open framework allows the user to change and redefine this object as many times as she likes. A creative procedure that can be repeated over and over again, a chance for everybody to be the creator of an individual piece of furniture."

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"The Comfy Cargo Chair consists of 52.46 meters of 8mm sturdy rounded steel. It has 66 curved elements and alone weighs 20.89 kg, with a volumetric capacity of 0.5 cubic meters. Together the cross beams and curves provide a very stable construction for sitting."

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[via Wholly's Blog]

October 14, 2011 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Experts' Expert: Searching for music on YouTube

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From Katherine Boehret's October 4 Wall Street Journal "Digital Solution" column: "Searching for music on YouTube can be exasperating since so many people upload videos of themselves singing and tag the video with the name of a well-known musician. So while you're looking for the latest Coldplay song, you find a high school band covering the song instead. To find artists who do publish on YouTube, look at youtube.com/disco, where users can type in artist names to get a playlist of videos by that artist. In regular YouTube search results, the official stamp from YouTube (and wording) signals that an artist is verified—much like the blue checkmark beside popular Twitter users who are truly who they claim to be."

October 14, 2011 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Licorice Pencil

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From Foodiction:

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"Cecilia Felli, inspired by people's habit of chewing pencils, created the Matitizia, a pencil made of licorice."

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"From now on when you are at the office and feel stressed, hungry or just want a cigarette, you can freely chew your pencil instead."

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[via Bem Legaus!]

October 14, 2011 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Microbes are the biological equivalent of dark energy and matter

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Current thinking in physics is that our world and everything we can measure makes up less than 5% of the universe.

The other 95% consists of dark energy (70%) and dark matter (25%), both of which are known only indirectly by their effects on measurable energy and matter.

The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded last week to researchers who discovered dark energy and matter.

That concludes today's cosmology and physics moment.

Rob Stein's front page article in Tuesday's Washington Post focused on the emerging science of the microbial biome which coexists in our bodies, said mass of non-human organisms considered to make up as much as 90% of the cells of every human being.

Wrote Stein, "Some equate microbial colonies to a new human organ."

More excerpts from his thought-provoking piece follow.

 Consider this: The average person’s body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 is human.

This isn't the latest Hollywood horror flick, or some secret genetic engineering experiment run amok.

This, it turns out, is nature's way: The human cells that form our skin, eyes, ears, brain and every other part of our bodies are far outnumbered by those from microbes — primarily bacteria but also viruses, fungi and a panoply of other microorganisms.

That thought might make a lot of people lunge for the hand sanitizer, but that impulse may be exactly the wrong one. Researchers are amassing a growing body of evidence indicating that microbial ecosystems play crucial roles in keeping us healthy.

Moreover, scientists are becoming more convinced that modern trends — diet, antibiotics, obsession with cleanliness, Caesarean deliveries — are disrupting this delicate balance, contributing to some of the most perplexing ailments, including asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cancer and perhaps even autism.

Equipped with super-fast new DNA decoders, scientists are accelerating the exploration of this realm at a molecular level, yielding provocative insights into how these microbial stowaways may wield far greater powers than previously appreciated in, paradoxically, making us human.

"The field has exploded," said Jeffrey I. Gordon of Washington University, who pioneered the exploration of humanity's microbial inhabitants, known as the "microbiome" or "microbiota." "People have this sense of wonderment about looking at themselves as a compilation of microbial and human parts."

Some equate these microbial inhabitants to a newly recognized organ. Acquired beginning at birth, this mass of fellow travelers may help steer normal development, molding immune systems and calibrating fundamental metabolic functions such as energy storage and consumption. There are even clues that they may help shape brain development, influencing behavior.

Doctors have even begun microbiota "transplants" to treat a host of illnesses, including a sometimes-devastating gastrointestinal infection called Clostridium difficile, digestive system ailments such as Crohn's disease, colitis and irritable bowel disorder, and even, in a handful of cases, obesity and other afflictions, such as multiple sclerosis.

Scientists have long known that many organisms evolved with humans and perform vital functions, digesting food, extracting crucial nutrients and fighting off disease-causing entities.

"We feed them and house them, and they perform certain metabolic functions for us that we have sort of contracted out," said Martin J. Blaser of the New York University School of Medicine. "The homeboys protect their turf from invaders."

European scientists reported in April that people generally seem to have one of three basic combinations that may be as fundamentally important as, say, blood type.

The five-year, $175 million U.S. Human Microbiome Project is assembling an outline of a "healthy" microbiome by sampling the mouth, airway, skin, gut and urogenital tract of 300 healthy adults, as well as deciphering the genetic codes of 200 possibly key microbes.

The microbiota apparently sends signals that dampen the "inflammatory response," a crucial defense also thought to play a role in a variety of diseases, including many forms of cancer, the "metabolic syndrome" caused by obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Obese people appear to have a distinctive mix of digestive bacteria that make them prone to weight gain. Thin mice get fatter when their microbiota is replaced with the microbes of obese animals.

Clues also are emerging about how microbes may affect the brain. Manipulating gut microbiomes of mice influences their anxiety and activity, Swedish researchers reported in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This may have implications for new lines of thinking to address some of the psychiatric problems you see among humans," said Sven Pettersson, a professor of host-microbial interaction at the Karolinska Institute. "Together with genetic susceptibility, this may influence what doctors classify as autism or ADHD."

In another experiment involving mice, a Canadian-Irish team reported in August that bacteria in the gut appear to influence brain chemistry, and corresponding behaviors such as anxiety, stress and depression, via the vagus nerve.

"What we've shown is, you change behavior as well as make changes in the brain," said John Bienenstock, director of the Brain-Body Institute at McMaster University. "Now we have direct proof how that happens. That’s why this is exciting."

October 14, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bamboo Whisk Keeper

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From the website:

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With repeated use a bamboo whisk, or chasen, will naturally lose its curved shape.

The Bamboo Whisk Keeper is used to return the chasen to its original curved shape.

Your chasen will last longer too... by two or three times its natural life-span.

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Tip: It also prevents deterioration if you immerse the chasen in warm water before using it.

This softens the bamboo, making it less brittle, so there is less chance of breakage.

Lead-free ceramic. 

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$16.50.

[via Rima Suqi and the New York Times]

October 14, 2011 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Who is it?

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Answer here this time tomorrow.

 

October 14, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Retro-Futuristic Glasses

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From Wholly's Blog:

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Paris-based concept design artist Dzimitry Samal has created the "6dpi glasses" collection.

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These retro-futuristic glasses were designed with a pixelated effect, deliberately reflecting society's fascination with an "informational aesthetic."

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The designs were inspired by 1980s computerized graphics and video games.

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Apply to: dzmitrysamal@gmail.com

October 14, 2011 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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