July 24, 2014

With Instagram being the springboard for a new generation of fitness gurus like Jen Selter, it was only a matter of time before the masses took to the gym mirrors with their iPhone cameras.     Photo: Jen Selter/Instagram

Selfies Make You Stronger

New fitness app centers around "progress pictures" feature

Living in the age of #fitness junkies, activity trackers, and sports bra selfies was bound to lead to this: a new fitness app called PumpUp.

PumpUp allows users to not only post their workouts and meals for others to see, but also share progress photos to keep themselves inspired and on track. "Consumers today are looking for inspiration and guidance regarding their physical activity and eating habits without being overwhelmed by a plethora of applications," said Niko Bonatso, a principal at General Catalyst Partners, according to the Boston Business Journal

The new application also includes classic fitness app features that build custom exercise plans, give coaching feedback, and track activity such as calories burned (a la FitBit or Jawbone). But with 1.7 million users already getting pumped up about the app, the ability to build a social media community to share fitness photos and healthy recipes with other users seems to be the one-up PumpUp has over wearable tech or Strava.

The app's creators claim that fitness-selfie-sharing users are five times more likely to stay on track with fitness goals. More than 90 percent of current users are female, but co-founder Garrett Gottlieb said that the new app is just scratching the surface of the fitness community. "With PumpUp, we're leveraging mobile technology to connect like-minded individuals across the planet who would have never met otherwise,” he said in a company statement.

But the science behind it says that at the end of the day, we all just want someone to notice how hot we are.

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Think your dog's okay with you giving anyone else attention? Guess again.     Photo: jan middelveld/ThinkStock

Go Pet Your Jealous Dog

If there's attention being doled out, your dog wants it.

Next time your dog gets rowdy when you start cuddling your friend's puppy, you'll know what's up. A research team from the University of California, San Diego discovered that Fang might experience jealousy, though not quite like you and I do.

UC San Diego psychologist Christine Harris has been studying human jealousy for years. She became curious about the possibility of jealousy in dogs when she noticed her two border collies fought for her attention when she gave it to just one. Researchers are split on whether dogs are capable of experiencing true emotions, because they aren't capable of higher-level thinking, so Harris went about evaluating canine jealousy similarly to how the emotion is tested in another less-cerebral group: human babies. 

Harris and her team collected dogs and their owners and had them engage in two activities. First, dog owners were asked to pet and talk to realistic stuffed dogs that made noises while their own dogs looked on. According to the New York Times, this behavior got a rise out of the real dogs, which barked and pushed the stuffed dogs out of the way. 

However, the second activity didn't elicit as much of a reaction. After playing with fake dogs, dog owners read books to and petted jack-o'-lanterns to see if dogs became envious of any and all attention. Turns out they don't. In her recent paper published in PLOS ONE, Harris concluded that "jealousy has some 'primordial' form that exists in human infants and in at least one other social species besides humans."

What occured might look a lot like jealousy, but there's a reason Harris hedges in her conclusion. The test confirms that a lack of attention in the presence of some elicits a reaction, but it doesn't prove genuine jealousy. What it does show is that if attention is being given out, your dog wants it—especially if a rival is on the receiving end.

Tests like this, researchers told the Times, could support the idea that emotions such as jealousy are innate across species—and could inform whether we should seek to eliminate it or learn to manage it better.

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Albino redwoods are rare, but mixed albinos are even rarer.     Photo: Amy/Flickr

Famous Hermaphrodite Albino Tree Is Saved

Rare redwood will be replanted, not killed

Chalk one up for albino trees. Back in March, we reported on an albino redwood growing perilously close to a railroad right-of-way that looked like it was destined for the chipper. Now, after a prolonged battle to save this ultra-rare specimen of the Sequoioideae species, residents of Cotati, California, can rest easy. The tree will be dug up and replanted at a nearby location, thus spared the ignominious fate of being turned into mulch.

"This is a huge victory for the tree," says local arborist Tom Stapleton in the SFGate. "I'm happy to see that SMART [Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit] has decided to save this truly unique redwood."

In this case, "truly unique" is certainly an apt description. This redwood has two kinds of DNA, albino and regular, a rare genetic constitution that qualifies it as a chimera. Stapleton says that, worldwide, there are only about 10 known samples of this type of tree, which has the unique ability to produce both male and female cones.

A local resident planted the tree 60 years ago. Now 52 feet tall, it has become a cherished neighborhood treasure.

"We heard from the public that this coast redwood was important to the community in Cotati," said Judy Arnold, chairperson of the SMART board of directors. "We felt it was worth the effort to see if there was a way to relocate the tree instead of cutting it down."

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Love to learn but can't stand museums and slow walking tours? Explore European history by bike.     Photo: andreusK/ThinkStock

Iron Curtain Tourism Heats Up

Thanks to a $2.4 million bike path, not Putin

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the European Union is turning the Iron Curtain into a 4,225-mile (6,800-kilometer) cycling trail to bolster bike tourism.

The European Parliament's transport and tourism committee has set aside $2.4 million to connect bike paths running through 20 countries between the Barents and Black Seas, using small blue squares to mark the trail system. Committee chair Michael Cramer, who proposed the route in 2005, says the trail would not only help interstate tourism but also improve a sense of European unity. By rebranding a physical reminder of segregation as a means of connectivity and historical understanding, the Iron Curtain will "no longer [be] a dividing line but a symbol of shared, pan-European experience in a reunified Europe," Cramer wrote in a trail brochure published by the Greens-European Free Alliance.

The trail was officially added to the EuroVelo, the European network of cycling routes, in 2012 but is largely unknown to Europeans. Cramer hopes marking it will change that.

This isn't the first time Europe has made bike trails from negatively symbolic space. Cramer orchestrated construction of the Berlin Wall Trail, a hundred-mile route throughout West Berlin that leads cyclists through culturally significant spaces along the former border of the German Democratic Republic. 

This trail might help bike tourism pick up, but it could also legitimize (or help orchestrate) a recently popular cult challenge of biking the continent from Spain to Norway. (Interested parties should know the challenge takes about a month to complete.) Serious hill-seeking cyclists might not ride the Iron Curtain Trail, however, as it's relatively flat. 

Regardless, you're encouraged to grab your travel guides and panniers and put aside time for an adventure vacation you can legitimately label as an educational experience. Check out the map and start planning.

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