The Uberwomen Who Beat Sleep

MOTHERBOARD: Marie Staver couldn’t sleep. Always plagued by insomnia and other sleep disorders, in college she was struggling to get enough rest to keep up with her heavy workload. So in 1998 she made a drastic decision: she would stop trying. Instead of lying in bed all night, she would get her rest in catnaps evenly…

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The Tenacity of Water Chestnuts

HAKAI: Rule number one: lean the opposite way from your partner, unless you both want to take a swim in the tepid Mystic River. While one person reaches over the side of the canoe and swirls a batch of bright green leaves like spaghetti, the other keeps the boat balanced. Then the person leaning over the…

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Making Facebook for Whales

THE ATLANTIC: There are only around 500 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, making them one of the most endangered of all whale species. This month, nearly that many data scientists raced to complete a project that might help researchers keep this small population from disappearing altogether. Their goal: Develop an algorithm that could…

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How Machines Write Poetry

MOTHERBOARD: As a teenager in Vermont, Sarah Harmon used Java to create a computer program that wrote poetry. She named it OGDEN. Then she submitted one of its poems in 2008 to her high-school literary magazine under the pen name Dan Goshen, an anagram of Ogden Nash. “They accepted it,” Harmon laughs, “although they did say…

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Cancer at Sea

BIOGRAPHIC: “This one might be a little stinky,” says Tenaya Norris, a scientist at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. Research assistant Barbie Halaska carries a limp, sodden carcass into the room and drapes it across a gleaming steel table. Even before the researchers slice into the tiny, brown California sea lion pup and remove…

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How Animals See the World

NAUTILUS: Some animals, including your pets, may be partially colorblind, and yet certain aspects of their vision are superior to your own. Living creatures’ visual perception of the surrounding world depends on how their eyes process light. Humans are trichromats—meaning that our eyes have three types of the photoreceptors known as cone cells, which are sensitive…

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Learning to Speak Shrub

NAUTILUS: Entomologist Richard Karban knows how to get sagebrush talking. To start the conversation, he poses as a grasshopper or a chewing beetle—he uses scissors to cut leaves on one of the shrubs. Lopping off the leaves entirely won’t fool the plants. So he makes many snips around the edges and tips of the leaves—“a…

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