How Buildings Learn

Last week I mentioned The Long Now Foundation, the progenitor of a series of interesting experiments in long-term thinking (such as The Clock of the Long Now and The 10,000 Year Photograph). Stewart Brand was a Long Now founder, and still co-chairs its board. He's an interesting guy -- a former Merry Prankster, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, and much more.

In 1994, Brand wrote How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built. The book is an extended argument about architecture and construction, trying to single out what factors make great buildings great, and what makes failed buildings so bad. Why do some buildings seem to improve with time and adapt to change, while others seem doomed from the beginning? In 1997, the BBC produced a three-hour documentary based on Brand's book, traveling around the world to examine various buildings and interview stakeholders about how they work. Brand has now posted the BBC documentary in its entirety online (in six parts) via Google Video. If you're interested in architecture, history, or sustainable design, this will be an interesting way to spend your afternoon. Here's the first segment:

See the whole thing: part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, and part six. Keep in mind that because this is Google Video, you can download the videos in standard MPEG-4 format, playable on iPods or other video players -- just click the "download video" link on the right side of the links listed above.


Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

Original image
Bite Helper
New Gadget Claims to De-Itch Your Mosquito Bites
Original image
Bite Helper

Summer can be an itchy time for anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. Mosquitos are everywhere, and some people are particularly susceptible to their bites and the itching that comes with them. A new product aims to stop the suffering. Bite Helper, reviewed by Mashable, is designed to stop your bites from itching.

Place the pen-like device over your swollen bite and it will begin to emit heat and vibrations designed to quell the itch. It’s meant to increase blood flow around the area to alleviate your pain, heating your skin up to 120°F for up to 45 seconds. It’s the size of a thin tube of sunscreen and is battery powered.

Most dermatologists advise applying cold to alleviate itching from insect bites, so the question is: Will heating up your skin really work? Bite Helper hasn’t been clinically tested, so it’s hard to say for certain how effective it would be. There has been some research to suggest that heat can help increase blood flow in general, but decrease histamine-induced blood flow in the skin (part of the body’s normal response to allergens) and reduce itching overall. In a German study of wasp, mosquito, and bee stings, concentrated heat led to a significant improvement in symptoms, though the researchers focused mostly on pain reduction rather than itching.

Bite Helper’s technique "seems like a legitimate claim" when it comes to localized itching, Tasuku Akiyama, who studies the mechanisms of itching at the University of Miami, tells Mental Floss. "The increase in the blood flow may increase the rate of elimination of itch mediator from the area." However, before that happens, the heat might also make the itch a little worse in the short-term, he cautions. This seems to be borne out by user experience: While Mashable's reviewer found that using the device didn’t hurt at all, his daughter found it too hot to bear for more than a few seconds.

If the device does in fact relieve itching, though, a few seconds of pain may be worth it.

Bite Helper is $25 on Amazon.

[h/t Mashable]


More from mental floss studios