My Walk to Work, 2008-2009

For five years, I lived ten blocks from my office -- my apartment and the office were both on Main Street, just a short walk from each other. I made that walk year after year and saw plenty of weird and wonderful things, primarily in the morning -- leftovers of whoever had spent the night out. I finally started taking pictures of these things with my camera phone around 2008, a year before I moved to a new house. I no longer walk to my office (it's a 45-minute bus ride now), but here, I've collected some of my favorite photos from that old walk. Sorry about the camera quality -- it's kinda what you get when you're on the go.

In case you're wondering, this was all going down in inner southeast Portland, Oregon. It's a transitional area between light industrial and commercial buildings (think warehouses, bakeries, distilleries) and the beginning of a residential neighborhood.

The Free Box

October 6, 2009

The flier on the front says "Free Box: The Magazine #3." Below, it says "Neighborhood Issue: 'Free Box' travels the world! Furnishing your home with freedom." Initially I was a little scared to open the Free Box, but then took to doing it every time I passed -- because, yes, there was always free stuff in there. I even took to putting my own free stuff in there. The problem with the free stuff was that it was often pretty useless (like a single shoe). But hey, free shoe.

Inside the Free Box

October 6, 2009

Here's a typical example of what's inside the Free Box. Some crazy pajama bottoms, a sheet/curtain, and a newspaper. Written inside the box: "Please don't be a dick! Thank you. Come again."

Inside the Free Box

Outside(r) Art

August 28, 2008

I passed this guy's house many times, and often there'd be a piece of art like this on display out by his car. I finally met him the day I saw this one -- I just had to ask. He said was a retired teacher, trying his hand at painting. He'd put his art outside, figuring that if somebody liked it, he or she would probably knock on his door and they could talk about it. Apparently he got visitors several times a week.

Outside(r) Art

Beach Graffiti

July 10, 2008

Seen on a utility box. I like the birds.

Beach Graffiti

Rant on a Van

August 6, 2008

This was written on the window of a van crammed full of stuff -- boxes, bags, a lamp. It reads (errors intact): "Nice try on the theft, now I have you on camera for two vans and the tools you took the first time. Best of all you left your finger prints on the bolt cutters you handeld. Be a man and come during the [day?] since you are the worst thief in the world. The ignition is very simple if you have a brain." Note that I inserted the word "day," as I think that's what this guy was getting at. I looked behind me and indeed, there was a security camera there.

Rant on a Van

Christmas in June

June 4, 2008

I lived next to a photography studio, located in a big warehouse. They did all kinds of weird stuff in there involving props. On one notable occasion, they shot a calendar involving firemen, and managed to get a fire truck inside the warehouse. After each shoot they'd leave most of the props just sitting on the curb and people would take them (sometimes I took them -- I got some decent shelves from one shoot). Here's an example of one that made me wonder: what photo shoot required a live fir (cedar?) tree -- looks like a Christmas tree to me -- in June?

Christmas in June

Twin Dogs Waiting

June 11, 2008

I saw these little guys several times, waiting outside a coffee shop. They were very friendly. They're tied to an Oregonian newspaper box.

Twin Dogs Waiting

Blue Rubber Glove

July 9, 2009

Hey, free blue rubber glove!

Blue Rubber Glove

Free Baguettes

June 23, 2009

Outside a catering company's kitchen. They'd make the food there, then drive it to events. The leftover food was sometimes kinda weird. I think I see some asparagus in there too. Note that these green containers are Portland's composting bins.

Free Baguettes

Free Bread

June 8, 2009

Another example from the same place, several weeks earlier.

Free Bread

Drifts of Cherry Blossoms

April 28, 2008

There's a period of a few weeks each year when the cherry blossom petals fall and collect in drifts on the street. Here are a few shots from my front steps and the sidewalk by my apartment.

Cherry Blossoms - Steps

Cherry Blossoms - Steps - Detail

Cherry Blossoms - Sidewalk

Snow Day

December 22, 2008

I couldn't walk to work that day.

Snow Day

Mix CDs

November 18, 2008

A bunch of home-burned CDs. I thought about taking one, but the titles were all very inscrutable...and these were sitting outside a sorta hippie-ish brewpub so I figured it probably wasn't my jam.

Mix CDs

Trees Awaiting Planting

January 8, 2009

Some trees waiting for a chance to grow.

Trees Awaiting Planting

Mental_Floss Magazine in Convenience Store

September 20, 2009

I stopped by a convenience store and noticed that our magazine was on the front display, on par with Details, GQ, and Elle. We have better placement than Wired and Scientific American! Take that, publishing industry!

Magazine Rack

Cicero Quote & Graffiti

October 27, 2009

Two photos. First, the inscription above a boarded-up school. Second, graffiti in the entryway.

Cicero Quote

School Graffiti

Coat Hook

December 30, 2009

Not technically on my walk to work -- this was seen in a restroom at the PDX airport. I have to wonder why they had to label it. Lawsuit after somebody poked an eye out? Also, why so many screws?

Coat Hook

All images © 2011 Chris Higgins.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
iStock
iStock

Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
This Plant Can Burn Your Skin With Its Sap—And It May Be Coming to Your Neighborhood
iStock
iStock

It's huge, it's extremely dangerous, and it's spreading. The giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) contains a corrosive sap that causes severe rashes, third-degree burns, and even permanent blindness if you get the photosensitive chemicals on your skin or in your eyes, Science Alert reports.

The noxious, invasive weed was just identified in Clarke County, Virginia, near the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech. That brings the number of states it's been spotted in to 11, including Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine. Beyond the U.S., it has taken root all over the world, from the UK to Iceland to Australia.

Similar to the common but slightly less dangerous cow parsnip, giant hogweed is native to Central Asia and was first brought to North America in the early 1990s as an ornamental plant, its unique shape making it popular among gardeners. But it soon became invasive: Once it’s established in an area, it can take up to five years to eradicate a colony.

Now the plant is considered a public health concern. Hogweed can cause a reaction known as phytophotodermatitis when it comes into contact with skin that is subsequently exposed to UV rays—but the effects of hogweed are much more severe. A painful blister can develop within hours and last for months; the exposed skin can remain sensitive to sunlight for years even after the blisters heal.

Hogweed can be difficult to distinguish from the cow parsnip, and the plant is often misidentified. First, check for height: Hogweeds are typically taller than 8 feet, while cow parsnip tends to be 5 to 8 feet tall. Hogweed stems are green with purple specks and coarse white hairs, while parsnip stems are green with fine white hairs. For more tips and photos, check out the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s guide.

If you see a plant you think might be a giant hogweed, take a few photos and send them to your state's department of agriculture to identify—and whatever you do, don't touch it.

[h/t Science Alert]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios