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The Smells of Fall

Although the first day of fall was on September 23 this year, I didn't notice it was fall until last night. Why? Well, it didn't smell like fall.

Here in Portland, there's a particular smell I associate with the onset of fall -- the smell of people's first fireplace fires of the year. And somehow, last night everybody in my neighborhood got the memo and lit up. You can tell it's the first fireplace fire in a long time, because there's a weird wet twinge to the smoky odor (presumably there's special stuff in the chimney that's been accumulating all year). This smell means to me: time to figure out how many vacation days I have left.

I spent most of my childhood in Florida, where there was no distinctive smell to mark the coming of fall. The only thing I'd notice was that it got dark a little earlier, and I'd feel weird about it being 95 degrees on Halloween night. Truly unfortunate.

I do remember a fall smell from my year living in Philadelphia as a young child. There, I knew it was fall (okay, almost winter) when I'd smell the rotting Ginkgo leaves -- a distinctive stink that was great fun to complain about, for a good three weeks each year.

So here I am, enjoying the onset of fall. Pretty soon it'll be time for the smells of winter (for me, this involves paperwhite narcissus flowers). But for now, boy does that chimney smoke smell nice. But what about you -- what smells mean it's fall for you?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Al-Ansari.)

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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environment
London Grocery Chain Encourages Shoppers to Bring Their Own Tupperware
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iStock

Why stop at bringing your own grocery bags to the store? One London grocery wants you to BYO-Tupperware. The London Evening Standard reports that a UK chain called Planet Organic has partnered with Unpackaged—a company dedicated to sustainable packaging—to install self-serve bulk-food dispensers where customers can fill their own reusable containers with dry goods, cutting down on plastic packaging waste.

To use the system, customers walk up and weigh their empty container at a self-serve station, printing and attaching a label with its tare weight. Then, they can fill it with flour, nuts, or other kinds of dry goods, weigh it again, and print the price tag before taking it up to the check out. (Regular customers only have to weigh their containers once, since they can save the peel-off label to use again next time.)

Planet Organic is offering cereals, legumes, grains, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, and even some cleaning products in bulk as part of this program, significantly reducing the amount of waste shoppers would otherwise be taking home on each grocery trip.

Zero-waste grocery stores have been popping up in Europe for several years. These shops, like Berlin's Original Unverpackt, don't offer any bags or containers, asking customers bring their own instead. This strategy also encourages people to buy only what they need, which eliminates food waste—there's no need to buy a full 5-pound bag of flour if you only want to make one cake.

The concept is also gaining traction in North America. The no-packaging grocery store in.gredients opened in Austin, Texas in 2011. The Brooklyn store Package Free, opened in 2017, takes the idea even further, marketing itself as a one-stop shop for "everything that you'd need to transition to a low waste lifestyle." It sells everything from tote bags to laundry detergent to dental floss.

[h/t London Evening Standard]

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