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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Can You Smile ‘Til You Mean It?

February 29, 2016

Smiling Jizo Garden Sculpture | UncommonGoods
According to a 2012 study, all that “say cheese” business can actually give you a happier outlook. Researchers trained 169 university students to hold chopsticks in their mouths in such a way that they’d force particular facial expressions—one neutral, one a standard forced smile with just the upturned mouth, and one a genuine smile with the addition of crinkled eyes.

Once the participants learned their expressions, they were asked to perform some modestly stressful tasks. One task required them to trace a star with their non-dominant hand while looking at their reflection in the mirror. If the image of 169 students tracing stars with chopsticks in their mouths doesn’t make you smile, the research outcome should—the subjects with both genuine and “forced” smiles had lower heart rates than those with the neutral expression, meaning they were less stressed. So go ahead, smile through those tax returns and trips to the DMV—it might help!

 

Smiling Jizo Garden Sculpture | $28.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Do You Have a Taste for Umami?

February 22, 2016

Molecular Gastronomy Kit - Cuisine | UncommonGoods

Many of us in the west grew up believing that our sense of taste had four dimensions: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. You may recall a day in high school with a diagram of a tongue (probably on an overhead projector) showing a “map” of taste receptor regions (since debunked). Everything we ate was described by some combination of those four dimensions. Culinary case closed, right? Well, chew on this: there’s a fifth distinct taste, called umami in Japanese, long suspected by chefs but only recently confirmed by scientists. Best translated as “deliciousness” or the savory taste, it’s abundant in cured meats, cheeses, mushrooms, and certain vegetables like asparagus. Umami was identified in 1908 by Tokyo University chemist Kikunae Ikeda, who isolated the key chemical, glutamate, from the kelp used in Japanese cooking. Glutamate has since gotten a bad rap thanks to being part of the compound monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor-enhancer used in a lot of westernized Asian food. But as western cooks and foodies are embracing umami as the key to a culinary experience that’s more than the sum of its parts, the chemistry of glutamate is key. Glutamate is an amino acid that’s released in food through slow cooking or curing, and scientists think they know why we crave it: evolutionarily, such processes are desirable because they make potentially toxic food safer to eat. And not coincidentally, human milk has the highest concentration of glutamate in the animal kingdom, introducing many babies to the umami taste long before they can appreciate a well-aged Parmesan.

Molecular Gastronomy Kit – Cuisine | $49-65

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How Do You Recycle a Subway?

February 16, 2016

Subway Token Cufflinks | UncommonGoodsRetired NYC subway cars have to go somewhere. From August 2001-April 2010, the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority sent 2,500 retired cars to New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. The cars were stripped and decontaminated before being dropped into the ocean to serve as homes for the many species of fish and crustaceans that could colonize the structures—think a coral reef made out of subways. Underwater photos have shown that the new structures are thriving. They provide thousands of square feet for invertebrates like blue mussels to live on, along with food and shelter to slower fish that might need to duck into safety from a predator. Now if only we could figure out what fish rush hour is like?

 

 

Subway Token Cufflinks | $170.00

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Uncommon Knowledge: How Romantic is the Animal Kingdom?

February 14, 2016

The Happy Elephant | UncommonGoods

So romantic. Welcome to the Valentine’s Day edition of Uncommon Knowledge—a place where we can talk about all the romantic things animals do for each other. For one, sea otters hold hands when they sleep. They do this mostly so they don’t drift away from their pals while they snooze on their backs in the water, but the result is true intimacy.

Another romantic gesture? Penguins will propose to new mates with a pebble. Many penguins assemble their nests out of pebbles, so really, it’s a way of offering their beloved a promise to build a home with them. Maybe we can follow suit and start replacing engagement rings with a nice adjustable rate mortgage?

Brolgas cranes, like most cranes, are monogamous and will mate with the same partner every year, typically at the same nesting spot. However, the brolgas know a thing or two about keeping the romance alive—no matter how many years they’ve been together, the brolgas will still court their mate with an intricate mating dance. Ooh la la!

Okay, let’s do some rapid-fire romance: Ready for a puppy fact? Male puppies will intentionally let female puppies win when they play-fight so they can get to know them better. Like seahorses? They’re monogamous and will hold each other’s tails when traveling.

Ain’t love grand?

 

The Happy Elephant | $68.00 – 150.00

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Uncommon Knowledge: Can Machines Love?

February 10, 2016

Lil' Mib (Message in a Box) | UncommonGoodsThe question of whether robots and computers can love is at least as complex as defining love itself; poets and greeting card writers have been grappling with that one for ages. The question of digital love hinges on the effectiveness of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and the ability of A.I. to give rise to emotions. In the course of predicting true A.I. in the early 1950s, computer scientist Alan Turing developed the Turing Test, a tool to assess whether a machine’s intelligence is indistinguishable from a human being’s. A.I.s have come a long way since, making Turing’s test a blunt instrument, but not settling issues of whether they can feel. But if Hollywood is any indication, we can be sure of this at least: humans can love machines—sometimes tragically. In the Sci-Fi classic Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) falls for the Replicant femme fatale Rachel (Sean Young), challenging his sworn duty to “retire” Replicants who try to pass for human. More recently, Her has Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) becoming enamored of his sophisticated new OS, Samantha (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johanssen). Their affair is all the more surreal for the fact that “Samantha” is a disembodied A.I. with no physical form. Hollywood continues to be infatuated with the question of A.I. love, offering dark cautionary tales like Ex Machina (2015). We may be fated to fall in love with the computers that we interact with every day, but can they love us back? I tried this simple experiment: I asked Siri on my iPhone “do you love me?” With analytic coolness and a dash of irony, she replied, “you’re looking for love in all the wrong places.”

Lil’ Mib (Message in a Box) | $66

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Uncommon Knowledge: Does Juliet Still Get Mail?

February 8, 2016

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Indeed, she does! In fair Verona where we lay our scene, the volunteer Secretaries of il Club di Giulietta (the Juliet Club) receive, read, and respond to more than 6,000 letters from the lovelorn each year. Think of it as “Dear Abby” with a Shakespearean inspiration. Believe it or not, you can pen your desires, romantic dreams, and tragic tales of unrequited love, address them simply to “Juliet / Verona,” and they’ll be delivered to the Club’s team of concerned cupids. The Secretaries read every one, save them in an archive, and send a handwritten response to the author with encouragement and advice for how to mend a broken heart. If you’re not into the pen-and-paper approach, you can pour your heart out digitally in a note via the Club’s website. Whatever form it takes, your letter will play a role in a centuries-old romantic tradition inspired by the Bard’s timeless tale of star-crossed lovers.

Juliet Capulet Print | $110-180

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Uncommon Knowledge: How Mad Can a Kid Get About Candy?

February 7, 2016

People Feeder | UncommonGoods
When you raise the price of a chocolate bar 3 cents? Super mad.

On April 25, 1947 in British Columbia, a group of kids walked down to Wigwam Café, their local candy shop, and were shocked and dismayed to find that the nickel they’d typically saved from their allowance would no longer buy them the chocolate they craved. Literally overnight, the shopkeepers had raised the price by 60%, making it a whopping 8 cents for a three-ounce candy bar.

Rather than take this injustice lying down, the kids ran home and scrawled signs professing the injustice. The strike had begun. Singing a catchy protest song (“We want a 5-cent chocolate bar/8 cents is going too darn far”) and carrying pithy signs (“Candy is dandy, but 8 cents isn’t handy!”), the little protesters marched up and down the street until almost all of the town’s kids had joined the “Chocolate Bar Strike.” The local paper snapped a picture and soon kids across Canada began picketing their own corner stores.

On April 30, 200 kids marched on the British Colombia capitol building, effectively shutting down government business for the day. All in all, 3,000 kids were said to have signed pledge cards stating that they’d boycott candy until the price went down. And their threats weren’t empty—candy sales went down 80%.

They almost won, too, but critics began to suggest that the National Federation of Youth, an organization with members affiliated with the Communist Party, had orchestrated the strike. There was no validity to these claims, but boycott had now been painted Red and parents forbade their kids from taking part. The price remained as it was, and to this day, the remaining kiddos (now grown) maintain that they’d only protested to let their voices be heard.

 

 

People Feeder | $38.00

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Uncommon Knowledge: Do Plants Have Sibling Rivalry?

February 3, 2016

Micro-Greens Kits | UncommonGoodsQuite the opposite, actually. Plants are extremely considerate of their siblings—other plants grown from the seeds of the same mother plant—and won’t compete with their brethren the way they would with non-related plants.

A study of more than 3,000 mustard seedlings found that chemical cues given off during root growth will alert the plant to their nearby family and will change the way the plants grow. Instead of rapidly growing their roots to take up as many nutrients as possible, plants that were growing near siblings developed a shallower root system and intertwined leaves so they’d all have an equal chance at survival. The jury’s still out on how plant siblings feel about each other during long car rides, when one is using the bathroom for too long, or after their parents tell them to share the last piece of cake.

 

Micro-Green Kits | $48.00

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