The Outside Blog

Dispatches : May 2014

Topless Woman Dances with 12,000 Bees

Portland beekeeper Sara Mapelli doesn't wear the traditional beekeeper's uniform. Instead, she wears, well, nothing.

Or maybe more accurately, she wears a "bee blouse"—her naked torso and arms are covered in approximately 12,000 honeybees. Mapelli says the blouse, which she wears while dancing, allows her to "feel the hive mind surround me, hold me, and expand my body on a cellular level."

Remarkably, she was stung only once, on the lip, during her latest dance. She even brings the little buzzers to tea (seven minutes in).

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"The bees push with their powerful wings from each side of my body," she writes on her website. "I resist and then I let go and flow and move with them."

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16-Year-Old Sets Planking Record

Planking for one minute is hard enough, but in Boulder, Colorado, teen Gabi Ury held the grueling position for 1 hour, 20 minutes. She smashed the previous women's record of 40 minutes set by Eva Bulzomi, all while fighting a debilitating disease known as VATER syndrome.

According to her website, Ury has had the condition since she was born. VATER syndrome is characterized by abnormalities in the vertebrae, anus, trachea, kidneys, esophagus, heart, and limbs. The syndrome has affected her mostly in her spinal cord, but that didn't stop the teen from doing this dreaded exercise in record time.

Ury took on the challenge to raise money for the Colorado Children's Hospital, which has helped her fight VATER syndrome with numerous surgeries. In total, she raised about $5,000, but her inspirational story has raised another $45,000 after the record was broken.

"I was definitely very happy when it was over with. It was very stressful," she told Good Morning America.

So the next time you complain about that 30-second plank at the gym, think of Gabi. 

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Smart Umbrellas Study Rainfall

When we think of our cellphone data as coveted information, the connotation is usually negative: Government agencies are spying on us; social media sites are selling our predilections to advertisers; spurned lovers are tracking our movements and plotting revenge.

But can data from your phone be put to more benevolent use? Dr. Rolf Huf, from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, believes it can. This week, Huf is presenting his "smart brolly" in Vienna at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly. This prototype umbrella has a built-in sensor that registers rainfall by measuring vibrations on the canvas. The data is then sent via Bluetooth to an app on the umbrella holder's smartphone, which in turn uploads information into, ahem, the cloud.

Huf's ambition is to turn people into mobile weather stations, a crowdsourcing initiative meant to compensate for the decreasing number of costly (and stationary) rain gauges.

As Huf told BBC News, "We have radar and satellites, but we're not measuring rain on the ground as we used to; it's expensive to maintain the gauges. Therefore, agencies are reducing the number, and that's a problem for people who do operational water management or do research into hydrology because they don't have the access to the data they used to."

Although Huf's project is a long way from being realized, its potential benefits justify continued research. With hundreds, if not thousands, of mobile rain gauges to work with, those who specialize in urban hydrology could do a better job of predicting flooding in cities and receive hyperlocal updates on rain patterns.

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Portland Will Not Flush Pee-Tainted Reservoir

Last month, the city of Portland caused quite a stir after it announced it was going to flush more than 35 million gallons of water after an enterprising teenager decided to urinate in the reservoir. Well, as it turns out, the city has decided not to flush the water

Instead it will be transferred from Reservoir 5 into Reservoir 6 in Mount Tabor Park, where it will be observed. If the water remains algae-free, it will be kept as a pond or "water feature." The new initiative is part of an experiment to determine whether the city's reservoirs can be used as water features after they are phased out of use next year. 

The offending teenager, 18-year-old Dallas Swonger, who was caught on video relieving himself into the reservoir, gave perhaps the most compelling argument yet for keeping the water when he was interviewed about the incident last month. "Like, how they can do that?" Swonger eloquently explained to Vocativ. "How can they be like, 'Yeah, we're gonna flush all that water.' Dude, I've seen dead birds in there. During the summertime I've see hella dead animals in there. Like dead squirrels and shit. I mean, really, dude?"

Well put.

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This Paint Could Change the World

In today's networked and high-tech world, it's easy to forget the old-school method that accounts for more than 90 percent of global trade—the sea. Maritime trade remains the most cost-effective way to transport massive quantities of goods. It also provides jobs for millions of people around the world. If it ain't broke, why fix it, right?

The thing is, some pesky critters—barnacles—significantly diminish maritime trade's efficiency. They might seem like a fact of life at sea, but when loads of barnacles latch onto the hull of a ship, they cause the ship to slow down and burn as much as 40 percent more fuel. Multiply that by the vast number of sea vehicles transporting goods and we've got a serious environmental problem on our hands.

That's why the American Chemical Society (ACS), a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress, has doubled down on creating a sustainable paint to safely repel barnacles from ships. The paint, touted in a new report published in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, seems like a win-win. From an economic perspective, keeping barnacles off ships' hulls will save money normally spent on extra fuel. The deal also sounds sweet for the environment: Less fuel means less pollution, and with ships transporting fewer barnacles, nonlocal species will less frequently invade new habitats and edge out native species.

This paint isn't the first time shipping companies have employed special coatings to prevent barnacles, but it is a departure from previously harmful methods. Because old coatings hurt sea life, ACS scientists wanted a sustainable way to keep hulls clean. The researchers discovered that compounds found in the bark of Maytenus trees closely resemble the ones that bottom-dwelling ocean species use to repel barnacles. Once they incorporated the compound in paint, barnacles, algae, tube worms, and other creatures stopped latching on to ships' hulls.

No word yet on whether the ACS is working on a paint to neutralize cannibal rats at sea.

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