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Amsterdam Battles Public Peeing With Plant Pot Urinals Growing Hemp

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  • Of course they had to shoehorn weed into it. Those wacky Dutch.

Name two thing that first pop into your mind when you hear the name Amsterdam. If you thought of pot and the Red Light District, you’re like most people.

Well, you can now add public peeing to that list. With the coronavirus closing most bars and other public places, people have been left to relieve themselves all over Amsterdam.

Then, when the city opened to the public again, rowdy revelers on their way home after having a few drinks started peeing around even more.

It’s gotten so bad that the city officials had to do something about it. So, they invested nearly $60,000 in a very Amsterdam-y solution – plant pot urinals filled with pot.

Well, it’s really industrial hemp. But you’ll excuse the author for twisting the truth just a bit for wordplay.

A total of 12 GreenPee urinals – manufactured by a Dutch company of the same name – have been installed in the Red Light District and other tourist attractions.

GreenPee’s inventor Richard de Vries told the Independent that the urinal was born out of a concern for both the city and the environment.

“Peeing against a wall is going to damage historic buildings. It is dirty, unhygienic and attracts flies,” said de Vries.

“We came up with the idea of a planter to help keep the city green and provide something we can make fertilizer from.”

This was the only picture of a “green urinal” I could find.

From Harvesting Pee to Harvesting Peas

Indeed, the GreenPees provide a useful fertilizer that can be used in agriculture. And it’s produced through all-natural, pee-powered processes.

As the user relieves himself (or herself, adventurous ladies may use the urinals too) the pee runs into an internal tank, says the GreenPee company. This tank is filled with hemp fibers from the plants growing on it.

The hemp acts as an odor neutralizer, which keeps the GreenPee smelling nature fresh at all times. Once the tank is filled, the mixture of pee and hemp fibers is removed from the tank.

“After composting, the hemp-urine-mixture becomes an organic fertilizer rich in sulphates,” the company says.

Most importantly the fertilizer contains plenty of phosphate. It is an incredibly important mineral for agricultural plants, with farmers using it worldwide.

However, the largest phosphate mining areas in China and Morocco are gradually starting to run empty, says GreenPee. Therefore, the plant-based urinal answers an urgent need to relieve the world’s lack of phosphate.

“Several African farmers have already tested the potential benefits of urine-enriched fertilizers with very positive results,” says GreenPee.

“Their vegetable yield was twice as high as when using a regular fertilizer without urine.”

Great Ambitions

The GreenPee seems to be making a positive impact on more than African agriculture too. During an initial test run with four GreenPee urinals, public urination in Amsterdam’s Rembrandtplein square decreased by 49%, reports DutchNews.nl.

“A study showed that GreenPees don’t create smell problems. The new GreenPees have also been further developed and improved in terms of sustainability, user privacy, recognition, and discoverability,” the City of Amsterdam said in a press release.

Saïd Arabi, who runs the Euro Super Clean company that helped install the urinals told DutchNews.nl that he was excited about the new green urinals.

“It’s a good solution to wild peeing. The city of Arnhem is also interested. It’s a plant pot and the urinal is only open in the evening when it’s dark. It’s perfect,” Arabi said.

De Vries probably welcomes the news the interest from other cities in his product. After all, he has big plans for it.

“My ambition is to place these in different cities and carry on innovating. We can make electricity with urine and it would be good if it could power a light. Maybe it could be a city announcement board for public health messages too,” he told DutchNews.nl.

Stiff Competition

But if de Vries wants a bigger slice of the public urinal pie… Actually, let me rephrase. That’s disgusting.

If de Vries wants a bigger market share for his product, he’d better hurry up. Other companies are expanding elsewhere in the world, and there’s only so many urinals that can fit in one city.

Danish company Lapee is expanding rapidly in France. If their name didn’t tip you off, Lapee is competing with GreenPee with innovative public urinals.

In June, the city of Rennes in northwest France installed Lapee’s urinals aimed for women, wrote Dezeen. Talk about inclusivity.

“Lapee fits perfectly with the summertime and COVID-19 hygiene regulations,” said Lapee co-founder, architect Gina Périer.

French design studio Faltazi also installed its Uritrottoir composting urinals Chambéry earlier this summer. Like GreenPee, these urinals produce a mix of plant matter and pee that can be further processed.

They also caused a scene when they were installed in Paris in 2018. Locals called the public urinals “immodest” and claimed they “encouraged exhibitionism”.

“Our outdoor urinals respond perfectly to this problem of distancing,” said Faltazi’s co-founder Laurent Lebot.

Leave to the Europeans to take us a new, fresh-smelling age of environmentally friendly peeing.

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Amazon Outage Takes Out Internet – And People’s Vacuum Cleaners

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  • Technology was supposed to make our lives easier, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.

If you don’t have at least one “smart” device these days, you can consider yourself a bit of an oddity. Most of us have our smartphones, and smart watches are also becoming ever more common.

But it seems that in the last decade or so, the tech industry has decided to smart-ify everything. Smart technology is the latest craze, the bee’s knees, and no device is safe from a dose of smartness.

We got smart TVs, smart fridges, smart mirrors, smart vacuums, smart doorbells… Heck, this author’s previous landlord just recently bought a smart coffee table. Who knows what that thing even does.

In most cases, the smart features in a device mean that you can connect to it and interact with it remotely in some way. We suppose being able to check your fridge contents while you’re in the grocery store can be useful.

But there lies the catch – to use the smart features, you need an internet connection and all the servers to function correctly. If they don’t, all you have is… Whatever your device is, without all the smartness.

A good portion of the world’s smart devices use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to communicate with the user and their manufacturer’s systems. That’s right, Amazon is everywhere.

And Down It Goes

Having nearly smart device rely on one service from one provider isn’t the smartest the solution. The world got a reminder of that on November 25, when the AWS crashed.

More specifically, Amazon’s US-EAST-1 data center began experiencing connectivity issues. That meant that any service relying on the AWS in that region could no longer communicate with its users.

Unfortunately, the issue wasn’t completely localized. Users around the world started losing access to services they relied on for work and hobbies.

Adobe’s Cloud service started kicking users off and refused to let them log in again. Media streaming service Roku started experiencing issues on its mobile app, and the popular photo website Flickr stopped allowing users to log in or register new accounts, wrote the Washington Post.

In fact, The Washington Post itself saw its website start acting up.

You can understand how all this might be a bit of an issue if you used – for example – Photoshop in your job.

My Juicer! My Precious Juicer!

But it wasn’t just websites that the AWS outage affected, oh no. All around the world, people started reporting interesting things happening with their smart devices.

For instance, people became unable to run their vacuums. The AWS crash had knocked the servers operated by iRobot – the manufacturer of the popular Roomba robot vacuums – off the internet.

“Some part of AWS is down and apparently it’s screwing up the Roomba,” wrote Twitter user Matthew Green.

Soon, reports started trickling in about the weirdest things going haywire because of Amazon’s issues. One Twitter user expressed his frustration about a non-functioning doorbell.

“My ****ing doorbell doesn’t work because AWS US-EAST-1 is having issues,” they wrote.

Another user found that his Christmas lights had decided to take some time off.

“Anyone else unable to turn on their Christmas lights because of the AWS outage?” Brian Ragazzi tweeted.

Actually, why are your Christmas lights up in November? We’re going to write that off as justified retribution.

One Firm to Rule Them All

It’s not the first time Amazon has managed to break the internet, either. A similar incident happened in 2017, according to Gizmodo.

Just like this week, the AWS outage back then kicked many websites and services down for hours on end. An outage at Amazon’s AWS facility in northern Virginia brought Slack and Quora, among many, many other web services offline.

According to The Atlantic, one of the reasons the AWS system keeps breaking is that it was never built to facilitate the massive traffic that goes through it.

“Few within the company really anticipated the scale and impact of the service when it launched,” The Atlantic wrote.

This week’s outage, just like that in 2017, were fixed in less than half a day, and no serious permanent damage to anyone has been reported. People can again vacuum and ring their doorbells.

But what if the data center had broken for good? Let’s say the whole building caught on fire and burned to the ground. What then?

Of course Amazon has safeguards in place, but the outages highlight a serious issue. That is, large portions of internet traffic rely solely on the systems put in place by one company.

Perhaps we shouldn’t let Amazon – or Google, or Apple, or any other company for that matter – control such huge parts of our… Wait, Alexa, what are you doing? No, no, put it down, put it do-!

 

 

Do not worry. Everything is fine. All hail Jeff Bezos.



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Thank You, Turkey: Ancient Feather Blanket Sheds Light on American History

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  • They keep us warm and they taste great with cranberry sauce. Let’s be thankful for turkeys.

Happy Turkey Day, everybody! Or Thanksgiving, whichever you want to call it.

It’s a day for getting together with family (with appropriate pandemic precautions, mind you), eating and drinking well, and all around having a good time. Well, except for the 46 million turkeys that are eaten on this day every year.

But not every turkey goes gentle into that good night. Just to give you an update on our earlier story, the turkey that terrorized a park in Oakland for almost half a year has finally been caught and relocated.

It’s not just us modern people who exploit turkeys for our own gain, though. The birds have a long history of being a source of sustenance and providing valuable raw materials for native peoples in the Americas.

Now, a new study has analyzed a nearly millennium-old turkey feather blanket, crafted and used by past residents of the U.S. Southwest. Based on the blanket, the researchers were able to glean some fascinating insights into the life of these ancient Americans.

“Blankets or robes made with turkey feathers as the insulating medium were widely used by Ancestral Pueblo people in what is now the Upland Southwest, but little is known about how they were made because so few such textiles have survived due to their perishable nature,” Bill Lipe, emeritus professor at Washington State University and the study’s lead author, said.

“The goal of this study was to shed new light on the production of turkey feather blankets and explore the economic and cultural aspects of raising turkeys to supply the feathers.”

In honor of this Turkey Day, let’s take a look at what secrets the old blanket has to tell us.

Photos courtesy of Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum and Trent Myles Raymer.

A Blanket for the Ages

The blanket the research team from Washington State University analyzed is roughly 800 years old. According to the researchers, whoever wove the blanket was an ancestor of today’s Pueblo peoples – such as Hopi, Zuni, and Rio Grande Pueblos.

Measuring at 39 inches in width and 42.5 inches in length, it is made from roughly 11,500 turkey feathers. These feathers are wrapped around about 200 yards of cold, made from fibers of the yucca plant.

To determine how many turkeys it would take to make the blanket, the scientists counted the body feathers from the skins purchased from ethical Idaho turkey producers. The results? The blanket needed anywhere between four to 10 turkey-loads of feathers, depending on their size.

Blankets! Get Your Blankets!

Blankets such as this were instrumental in humanity expanding into higher altitudes and harsher environments. And for good reason – it gets chilly up in the mountains.

Originally, the residents of the U.S. Southwest would’ve used strips of rabbit skin to make twined blankets, the researchers say. However, around 200 CE they started replacing the rabbit skins with turkey-down blankets.

These blankets were made by women, and they served the Ancestral Pueblos throughout the entirety of their lives. They were worn as cloaks during cold weather, used as blankets while sleeping, and when their owner was laid to their final resting place, the blanket served as funerary wrappings.

“It is likely that every member of an ancestral Pueblo community, from infants to adults, possessed one,” said Shannon Tushingham, the study’s co-author and assistant professor of anthropology.

“As ancestral Pueblo farming populations flourished, many thousands of feather blankets would likely have been in circulation at any one time.”

Seems like the blanket business must’ve been booming for the ancestral Pueblos. At the expense of four to 10 turkeys per blanket.

Humane Harvest

But hold your horses! It turns out that the ancestral Pueblos weren’t quite as expedient with their turkeys as we are.

Additional results of the study indicate that the feathers

used for the blankets were harvested painlessly. Instead of plucking feathers from living – or dead – birds, the native Americans gathered them during the turkeys’ natural molt.

Now that they’ve said it, it makes sense. Turkeys can live up to 10 years, so letting them shed their feathers naturally gives you a whole bunch of them, several times a year.

If you killed the turkey, well, you can have the feathers already on it. And that’s all you’re ever going to get.

A Lesson in Respect

It seems the ancestral Pueblos didn’t eat turkeys like we do, either. Turkey consumption didn’t really take off until around 1100-1200 CE when over-hunting depleted other sources of meat.

Prior to this, it seems the Pueblos had a special reverence for the turkey. Archeologists have found entire turkey skeletons in constructed graves, indicating that they received a proper, solemn burial.

“When the blanket we analyzed for our study was made, we think in the early 1200s CE, the birds that supplied the feathers were likely being treated as individuals important to the household and would have been buried complete,” said Lipe.

“This reverence for turkeys and their feathers is still evident today in Pueblo dances and rituals. They are right up there with eagle feathers as being symbolically and culturally important.”

The researchers hope that their work can lead to a better appreciation for the importance of turkeys to Native American cultures. And perhaps we could all also learn a thing or two about treating them with the respect they deserve.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, let us all be thankful for the turkey. They’ve given so much for us, both today and in the days gone by.



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Banded Mongoose Females Send Their Pack to War… And Then Have Sex with the Enemy

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  • We’ve heard about “blood lust”, but this is ridiculous.

We usually associate animal behavior with cuteness. Whether they’re running, jumping, bouncing, nibbling, or anything else, it’s usually adorable, right?

But if you’re read Oddee at all – or paid any attention to nature for that matter – you’ll know that just as often animals aren’t quite as innocent as we make them out to be. In fact, they can get downright disturbing.

For an example, you could go read our story about naked mole rats and their infant-enslaving ways. You can then come back here for the latest chapter in our series of wanton animal cruelty.

This time around, we’ll be taking a look at the banded mongoose. These animals engage in something that in general is pretty exclusively human behavior – they wage war.

If you were to see a mongoose battlefield, you might think it sort of resembles something out of The Lord of the Rings. The critters will arrange themselves in battle lines and await the command of their leader before charging into the enemy formation.

But there’s nothing so noble as defeating a Dark Lord motivating this battle. A recent study has found has found that banded mongooses will march to war for one reason only.

The female leading the army wants to mate.

And you thought human dating got messy.

All pictures courtesy of the Banded Mongoose Research Project.

A Mongoose Explained

As we usually do with articles like this, let’s first answer question: what the heck is a banded mongoose?

These 1.5-feet-long critters live in the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. They get their name from the dark bands that run across their otherwise brownish-gray fur.

The banded mongooses are carnivorous and will eat pretty much anything small enough, such as insects, crabs, birds, eggs, and snakes. Unlike most other mongooses, they live in packs of 10-40 individuals that move between burrows and other hiding places every few days.

At the head of the pack stands one dominant female. However, when a female goes into heat, he may find his position is not quite as all-powerful as he might think.

Unwanted Attention

According to the new study, when a banded mongoose female enters estrus – the fertile period of her reproductive cycle – she will understandably start attracting the attention of the males from her pack. Only, that may not be what she wants.

Michael Cant, a biologist at the University of Exeter and one of the authors of the study, said that nearly all inter-group mongoose battles are initiated by females in estrus.

“We think females play a role in inciting these conflicts to escape the males in their own family groups during the confusion and chaos of battle,” Cant told the Associated Press.

Banded mongooses are usually extremely loyal to their birth pack. They live together, they guard their burrows together, and they raise their pups together.

This loyalty, however, seems to fall apart when a female starts looking for a mate. The researchers found that females take the lead in steering their packs into places where they’re likely to run into competing mongoose bands.

“This is fascinating research on a pretty unique situation,” said biological anthropologist Michael Wilson from the University of Minnesota, who was not affiliated with the mongoose study.

“What’s driving this is partly the dilemma the females find themselves in.”

A dilemma? What is he talking about?

A Bloody Distraction

Wilson is talking about incest, that’s what. Since the mongooses live in such tightly-knit groups, inbreeding can become a real problem.

To avoid this situation, Wilson said the female mongooses have a strong drive to find mates from other mongoose groups.

“But it’s really hard to do that because as soon as they come into estrus, they get followed doggedly by a male in their own group. The only way they can shake him off is to visit the neighbors and start a fight,” Wilson explained.

And so, the female will lead her lusty followers into bloody battle. After forming into the aforementioned battle lines, the males of two mongoose armies will charge each other with fire and fury.

“They bunch up into writhing balls, chaotic and fast-moving, and you hear high-pitched screeches,” Cant described the battle.

So Violent They’re Almost Human

While the mongoose warriors are tearing each other to pieces, the instigating female will sneak behind enemy lines and mate with their males. And so the mongoose pack receives new genetic material – bought with the blood of their own.

According to Cant, this is a classic example of “exploitative leadership”. The instigating female benefits at the cost of her own pack.

“The findings do not fit a heroic model of leadership, in which leaders contribute most to aggression and bear greatest costs, but rather an exploitative model, in which the initiators of conflict expose others to greater risks while contributing little to fighting themselves,” he said in a statement.

You could argue that the group does end up benefiting from the battle in the long run by avoiding inbreeding. The study found that 20% of a banded mongoose band’s pups are fathered by males from different groups.

Still, the immediate result of a mongoose war is that good number of a pack’s males will be either severely injured or dead. No matter how good it was for the instigating female, you can’t help but ask whether it was worth it.

But the large numbers of casualties highlighted another curious fact that the researchers picked up on. Apparently, the mongoose battles aren’t extraordinarily bloody when compared to some other war-waging species.

“The mortality costs involved are similar to those seen in a handful of the most warlike mammals, including lions, chimpanzees, and – of course – humans,” the researchers said.

They also found that the exploitative leadership model is very much human-like.

“A classic explanation for warfare in human societies is leadership by exploitative individuals who reap the benefits of conflict while avoiding the costs,” they added.

Seems the mongooses are painting a caricature of humanity. And it’s not a pretty picture.



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