Showing posts with label Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Life. Show all posts
23 March 2021

Fungi Based Clothing

Designer Stella McCartney unveils mycelium-based clothing

A model wears clothing unveiled by British designer Stella McCartney on March 18, 2021. It's made with Mylo, a leather substitute grown from fungi, which can be treated to have different leather-like colours and textures. (Bolt Threads)

This past week, British fashion designer Stella McCartney unveiled a black "leather" bustier top and pants made not from cow hide, but mycelium — which is grown from fungi. 

Up until now, if you wanted leather that wasn't made from animals, you've probably had to settle for plastic "pleather," which comes with a different set of environmental problems.

But a number of big brands, including Stella McCartney, Adidas, Lululemon and Hermes, in partnership with biotechnology startups Bolt Threads and MycoWorks, say later this year you'll be able to buy more products with leather made from another bio-based material that's grown by recycling waste.

Mycelium is already on the market in the form of styrofoam-like packaging, "un-leather" handbags, flooring and sound-proofing acoustic panels. It's also been experimentally used to build larger structures such as benches, coffins, composting toilets and even buildings.

But manufacturers are now aiming to scale up the products and applications made from mycelium, which they tout as a more sustainable substitute for petroleum-derived plastics such as styrofoam and vinyl, leather made with harsh chemicals from water-guzzling, methane-belching cows and even other bio-based materials such as cardboard and wood.

In the future, they say it could even be used to make advanced materials such as transparent "paper" or construct buildings that can be triggered to automatically biodegrade at the end of their useful life.

What is mycelium?

Mycelium is made of fungi. While you may think of them as plants, they technically aren't and are more closely related to animals. (Fungi and animals are in different "kingdoms" but the same "supra-kingdom," while plants are in a different supra-kingdom.)

You might associate fungi with mushrooms, but mycelium is a different part of the fungus — its fast-growing network of roots, rather than the compact fruits we know as mushrooms.

What makes mycelium more sustainable than the materials it replaces?

Those who use mycelium tout its low environmental footprint as its biggest advantage.

Dan Widmaier, CEO of California-based Bolt Threads, said that among the brands that work with his company, 70 per cent of their environmental impact comes from the materials they use.

"Broadly speaking, those materials have to change if there's going to be eight billion of us and counting on the planet," Widmaier said.

Bolt Threads says its mycelium-based leather, Mylo, emits fewer greenhouse gases and uses less water and resources than animal leather.

Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads, folds a sheet of Mylo. (Ashley Batz/Bolt Threads)

Alexander Bismarck, a professor of materials chemistry, and Mitchell Jones, a postdoctoral researcher at the Technical University of Vienna, have studied the sustainability of fungi-derived leather substitutes

They note that in nature, fungi help soils capture and store carbon through their symbiotic relationships with plants, making their growth "effectively carbon neutral." When grown to make mycelium-based materials, they can upcycle waste such as food and agricultural residues without the heating that's usually required for manufacturing processes.

That's in contrast to raising cattle, which is known to consume and pollute water, use lots of land and generate greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change at a higher rate than most other domestic animals. With leather, lots of potentially harmful chemicals and energy are also used to tan the hides. 

Bismarck said compared to such animal-based materials — as well as plastics — mycelium-based products provide "a significant reduction in CO2 or greenhouse gas."

Mycelium has even been suggested as a replacement for other bio-based materials, such as cardboard, wood or bioplastics. Jones said even many of those have negative environmental impacts, such as the need to cut down trees or limited biodegradability. "The fungi doesn't really have that downside."

Mycelium packaging has been marketed as a green substitute for polystyrene. (Mushroom Packaging)

What can you buy now that's made of mycelium?

Over the past decade or so, biotechnology companies have launched a small number of mycelium-based products such as:

  • Packaging, designed to replace styrofoam, from New York-based Ecovative Design. It's now produced by manufacturing partners in the U.S., U.K., Europe and New Zealand. Dell Technologies and IKEA are among those who have committed to using it.

  • Coffins made by Dutch startup Loop that are not only biodegradable but also help biodegrade the bodies laid to rest inside.

  • Flooring and acoustic tiles, which are sold by Italian interior design products firm Mogu. 

  • Leather. MYCL, based in Bandung, Indonesia, partnered with local apparel brand BRODO, to launch sneakers, sandals, wallets, luggage tags and watch straps made of its mycelium-based leather Mylea last year.

Two U.S. competitors aim to make mycelium-based leather more widely available this year. 

  • Bolt Threads (which licensed its initial technology from Ecovative) was supposed to deliver its first product made of Mylo, the Driver bag, to Kickstarter backers late last year, but delivery was delayed after the batch produced by its manufacturing partner didn't meet quality standards. The company also announced in October that it would partner with Adidas, Kering, Lululemon and Stella McCartney to launch Mylo products in 2021. (The items unveiled by Stella McCartney this week aren't yet available for sale.)

  • San Francisco-based MycoWorks announced earlier this month that it had partnered with luxury brand Hermes to make a version of the Victoria bag that will be the first product using a mycelium-based leather called Sylvania.

How is mycelium produced and turned into new materials and products?

Step one is obviously to grow it. That can be done either in a nutritious liquid or on a bed of solid materials. Either can include waste products ranging from blackstrap molasses to sawdust from furniture production.

What's suitable depends on the fungal species, which can be found in different habitats in the wild, said Joe Dahmen, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture, who has been working with mycelium-based materials for several years.

For example, oyster mushrooms, which he works with, grow on hardwood trees but not conifers. Some of the materials used commercially include cotton fibres or hemp hurds, the inner cores of the stems.

Mycelium is cultivated in bags on the left side of this greenhouse before being molded into different shapes. (AFJD)

The fungi also need water and nutrients, and they're generally kept in humidity- and temperature-controlled environments to prevent them from producing mushrooms — a completely different material that can also generate potentially irritating spores. Fruiting typically happens when the fungi think it's autumn, Dahmen said. 

Fungi are fast-growing — it takes just a week to grow mycelium for Mushroom Packaging and two weeks for Mylo, their manufacturers say. They're often grown with high levels of CO2 to encourage them to grow outward in search of oxygen.

Once ready, the mycelium is usually dehydrated and processed with machines and chemicals to improve the density, strength, elasticity and texture.

All that means mycelium-based materials generally aren't pure mycelium, but a "composite," Bismarck noted. They contain the material it was grown on along with anything added during processing.

Widmaier said that's part of the "secret sauce" for Mylo. "We start with the mycelium, and then we do everything from making sure it doesn't rot to making sure it's finished appropriately and it's got the right colour."

Bolt Threads was supposed to deliver its first product made of Mylo, the Driver bag, to Kickstarter backers late last year. But delivery was delayed after the batch produced by its manufacturing partner didn’t meet quality standards. (Bolt Threads)

Is the fungus still alive and can it keep growing within products?

For most commercial products (except for coffins), the mycelium is heat treated long before it reaches the customer in order to kill it, maintain the product's intended form and eliminate the risk that it could form mushrooms and allergens such as spores.

Oyster mushrooms grow out of bricks molded from mycelium. They were used to build a wall for an art installation created by AFJD, the design studio of Joe Dahmen and his wife, Amber Frid-Jiminez. (AFJD)

That said, some designers, such as Dahmen and his wife, Amber Frid-Jimenez, Canada Research Chair in Design and Technology at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, have experimented with living fungi.

"As architects and designers, we were really interested in the idea of a material that might aggregate and continue to grow once it was in the shape or form of whatever it was we were designing to," said Dahmen, who has a design studio with Frid-Jimenez called AFJD.

They once built a wall at the Museum of Vancouver that consisted of individual mycelium bricks that were left alive and eventually fused together.

"So you could imagine a kind of building technology that can kind of evolve and continue to grow, you know — sort of magical, in a way," he said.

In 2016, they created benches made from mycelium that included a space in the middle for mushrooms to fruit. They remained in use on campus for several months.

Generally, in normal indoor or outdoor conditions, they dry out and become inert. "But that doesn't mean they can't reawaken later," he said.

This mycelium bench created by Dahmen and Frid-Jimenez was alive and had holes in the middle for the mushrooms to grow. (Krista Jahnke)

That means it might be possible to engineer a building made with inert, mycelium-based materials that can be triggered to decompose or self-demolish at the end of the building's useful life. "In the right conditions, they might reawaken and start digesting the materials and finish the building." 

What else could mycelium be used for in the future?

Both Dahmen and Bismarck say it has a lot of potential as a building material — to replace foam insulation, for example.

Its insulating abilities have prompted Dahmen to use mycelium to create a biodegradable composting toilet for refugee camps that traps heat to speed up decomposition by heat-loving bacteria. After use, it can simply be buried. Dahmen is even playing around with integrating seeds into it so "basically you're kind of converting the excrement into a flower bed at the end."  

Bismarck and Jones have been experimenting with ways to make more advanced materials from mycelium. For example, they have found that by growing it in a mineral-rich environment, they can create mineralized, fire-resistant insulation panels.

Mycelium can also be used to make new advanced materials, such as these transparent, ultra-strong paper-like sheets. (Alexander Bismarck)

While most current mycelium products are composites that include agricultural or wood fibres, the researchers are also trying to create "nanomaterials" with pure fungi selected for their extra-fine fibres.

Those can be processed in a blender with some chemicals into interesting materials such as transparent, paper-like sheets. The mycelium paper can be made 10 times stronger than regular paper or designed to filter viruses or heavy metals from water.

One of the applications they're testing right now is mycelium-based wound dressings, which can help reduce bleeding, keep bacteria out and accelerate healing.

"It's simply incredible what a fungus can do," Bismarck said, adding that there are an estimated 5.1 million types of fungi out there, many with untapped potential. "It's still a vast space of biology that can do something for you."

09 October 2020

Bank CEO Gifts Shares Worth Rs 30 Lakh to School Teacher Who Once Lent Him Rs 500 for Interview


Image: Facebook/Peri Maheshwar

Image: Facebook/Peri Maheshwar

V Vaidyanathan who gifted his school teacher 1,00,000 fully paid-up equity shares worth Rs 30,00,000 of IDFC First Bank.

A heart-warming post which involves the chief executive office of a bank and a school teacher is melting hearts on social media. The post shared by several people talks about the reason in detail behind the wonderful gesture made by the IDFC First Bank CEO V Vaidyanathan who gifted his school teacher 1,00,000 fully paid-up equity shares worth Rs 30,00,000 of IDFC First Bank.

The regulatory filing shared by the bank says that he gifted the shares “as a token of gratitude for his teacher's help to him at an earlier stage in his life.”

Founder of Careers 360, Peri Maheshwer took to Facebook to explain the specific reason behind Vaidyanathan’s gift to his school teacher. He shared that when Vaidyanathan was selected for admission in Birla Institute of Technology (BIT), Mesra, he did not have the money to travel to Jharkhand to complete the counselling formalities.

At this juncture, his Maths teacher from school, Gurdial Saroop Saini gave him Rs 500 to travel for the interview. Vaidyanathan went on to study in BIT Mesra and became a successful person afterwards, making a name for himself.

The post shares that Vaidyanathan tried to find his former teacher for several years but as Saini had moved jobs, he could not locate him.

Finally, the bank CEO found his former teacher, who is currently living in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. The post says that Vaidyanathan called Saini and thanked him for the timely help.

Maheshwer ends his post attaching an excerpt from the notice shared by IDFC First Bank which says that Vaidyanathan has transferred part of his shares to his former school teacher.

The post has been liked over 1,800 times and many people are appreciating Vaidyanathan’s gesture.

The incident that happened years ago explains Vaidyanathan’s decision of transferring his shares to Saini.

The notice shared by IDFC First Bank clarifies that Vaidyanathan has done this in his personal capacity and that he and Saini are not related parties as per the Companies Act. The recipient, Saini will pay taxes as per the applicable tax laws.

22 September 2015

A Meaty Affair: What Makes Smoked Meat So Special

24 February 2015

6 Mouth-Watering Recipes From Northeast India

By Soma Das

The award-winning book, The Seven Sisters — Kitchen Tales from the North East, offers ample insight into the culinary traditions of India's north east region. We have picked up some recipes from the book for our readers

Mary's Chicken Soup for the Soul
Serves 4
1 kg chicken, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp slivered ginger
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 green chilli, kept whole (optional)
1 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
To garnish
A few sprigs of fresh coriander (optional)
Wash the chicken and set aside.
Pour enough water into a pan to cover the chicken and bring to a boil on high heat.

Put in the chicken pieces, ginger, garlic and green chilli.
Add the turmeric powder and salt and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, till the chicken is tender and the soup is slightly thick. 

Add a few fresh coriander sprigs as garnish (optional).
> Serve hot by itself or with steamed rice.

1 large potato, cut into cubes
100 gm cabbage leaves, shredded
100 gm French beans, trimmed, cut into 1” pieces
50 gm oyster mushrooms (optional)
1 tbsp + 1 tbsp mustard oil
50 gm dried prawns or dried fish
3-4 dried red chillies
1 large onion, minced
Salt to taste
To garnish
A few fresh coriander sprigs, chopped
1 small onion, cut into rings
Put the potato, cabbage leaves, French beans and mushrooms in a pan. Pour in just enough water to cover the vegetables and bring to a boil on high heat. Continue to boil, till the vegetables are cooked. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside.• Heat 1 tbsp of mustard oil in a small pan and gently fry the dried seafood. Remove from heat and set aside.
Roast the red chillies in a dry tava or griddle on low-moderate heat, till fragrant.
Grind the chillies with the salt to make a fine powder.
Heat 1 tbsp of mustard oil in another pan. Sauté the minced onion on moderate heat, till crisp and brown.
Crush the onion and add it to the chilli-salt mix with a little water. Add this to the vegetables with the fried seafood.
Mix gently and heat through.
Garnish with the coriander sprigs and onion rings.
Serve hot with steamed rice.

Hot Chicken and Mushroom Steamed with Bamboo Shoot

5-6 dried red chillies
1 kg chicken, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp bamboo shoot (fresh or dried)
½ tsp North Eastern or Szechuan pepper, crushed
1 tsp red chilli powder
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp ajinomoto (optional)
250 gm green beans, trimmed (optional), cut into 2” pieces
200 gm mushrooms, sliced
2 bunches bok choy, washed, leaves separated (optional)
Salt to taste
> Boil the red chillies in 1 cup of water in a small pan on high heat, till they are soft. Drain the excess water and crush the boiled chillies in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
> Put the chicken in another pan and pour in just enough water to cover. Boil the chicken on high heat, till tender.
> Add the bamboo shoot, pepper, chilli powder, garlic and the reserved red chilli paste and cook on low heat, till all the Ingredients are well mixed.
> Stir in the salt and add ajinomoto for that extra dash of flavour.
> Next, add the beans, mushrooms and bok choy and cook, till the vegetables are tender, but crisp. Keep adding a little water intermittently so that the mixture is not completely dry.
> The chicken should have a fiery red colour. Serve hot.

Spicy Ginger Chicken

Serves 4-5
1 kg chicken, boned, roughly shredded
1½” piece ginger, roughly chopped
8 green chillies, roughly chopped
Salt to taste
To garnish
1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped (optional)
> Put the shredded chicken in a large wok on low heat. Let the chicken cook in its natural juices. Cover the wok periodically to let enough steam generate so that the chicken is cooked evenly. Stir occasionally.
> Add salt and let the excess water dry out.
> Meanwhile, pound the ginger and green chillies in a mortar and pestle till the ginger fibres separate. The mixture should be somewhat coarse.
> Add the ginger-chilli mix to the chicken and cook for 5 minutes or so.
> Garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional).
> Serve hot or cold.

Brenga Chicken steamed in Bamboo

Serves 4-5
1 kg chicken (or 4 small chicks)
2 large onions, finely minced
2” piece ginger, finely shredded
5-6 green chillies (preferably aaba chillies from Meghalaya), minced
1 tbsp mustard oil
1 fresh bamboo tube, about 10” long, 3” in diameter
Wholewheat dough, for sealing
Salt to taste
> Clean the chicken and remove the bones. Cut the flesh into very small pieces and smash with a fork to make a coarse mince.
> Add the onions, ginger and green chillies to the chicken. Mix in the salt.
> Pour the mustard oil all over the mix and knead thoroughly with your hand.
> Stuff the chicken mix into the bamboo tube and seal the opening with the dough. Put the bamboo tube on a gentle wood or coal fire and roast for about 30 minutes.
> Serve hot.

Arsa Beipenek Spicy Chicken Stew from the Hmar Tribe

Serves 4-5
1” piece ginger, finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
4 medium-sized onions, finely minced
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 kg chicken, cut into small pieces
10 dried red chillies, kept whole (bird’s eye chilli is used in Mizoram)
4 tbsp mustard oil
3 heaped tbsp wholewheat flour
A few leaves of bahkhawr (wild cilantro/fit-weed), optional
Salt to taste
Mix the ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric powder and salt in a bowl and rub it into the chicken. Mix in the red chillies.
Heat the mustard oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, put in the marinated chicken and fry on moderate heat till brown.
Pour in enough water to cover the chicken and cook, till the chicken is tender.
Next, make a thick paste of wholewheat flour and a little water and stir it into the chicken, ensuring that no lumps are formed.
Add the bakhor leaves (optional) or fresh coriander and cook for a few minutes. 
Serve hot with steamed rice or toasted garlic bread.

Note: You can add a fistful of shredded mustard leaves/ string beans when the stew starts to boilMizoramBakhorBakhor or fit-weed, also known as spirit weed, as the name suggests is used to calm a person’s spirit. Its regular usage is said to counter epileptic fits.
28 August 2014

Daniel Syiem To Participate in London Fashion Week

Shillong, Aug 28 : Meghalaya's eclectic fashion boy Daniel Syiem is all geared up to go global with his ethnic 'Ryndia' collections as he takes centre stage at the London Fashion Week early next month.
Syiem will be presenting his collections on September 13 next along with other top designers of the country like Delna Pouwalla, Madhu Varma, Megha Grover, Wajabab Mirza and others.

Having debuted at the Indian Fashion Week last year presenting a collection of 'organic and ethnic Ryndia' or eri silk, Syiem's collection has had applause from top fashion aficionados for their unique western touch in simplicity in style.

"The idea of an ethnic design wear was always on my mind as I grew up in a state which has so much to offer in this regard. I am glad that I will be able to present my collections at the LFW 2014," Syiem said.

Many have a conception that ethnic wear is very traditional and stiff, but it was a challenge well taken as our collections will break that notion, he said.

Stating that the ethnic design collections will have all the essence of traditional cloth, the young designer believe that a little touch on the curves and lines will make it extremely fashionable and flexible clothing.

Syiem's collections are known for their fasteners-less lines (less of zippers and buttons etc) and have detailing like knotted fabric on shoulders, bows, the way the Khasi tribals like to wear their clothes.

Most of his designs are a collection of earthy colour palate playing with neutral tones in off white and dull gold enhancing the drapes and styling.

The other unique quality of Syiem's collection is that all materials are sourced from Umden village in Meghalaya's Ri-Bhoi district where the 'Ryndia' is produced from the Eri silkworms.

Syiem who co-founded the Daniel Syiem Ethnic Fashion House along with his long time friend Janess Pyngrope as a business head also founded "Weaves" society where they are actively attempting to revive back this age old tradition of hand weaving and vegetable dying and also trying to create a network for their products.
11 June 2014

People Severely Underestimate — or Lie About — How Much They Drink

By Keith Humphreys

One of the enduring mysteries of alcohol research is that when you tally up all the booze that people report consuming when they are surveyed about their drinking habits, it rarely adds up to even half of the alcohol sold.  So either we pour half of the liquor we purchase into the sea (could this be the origin of the phrase “drank like a fish”?) or we tend to forget — or intentionally lie about — how much sauce we imbibe.

A clever new study in the journal Addiction provides clues about who is worst at owning up to the full extent of their drinking.

The researchers surveyed over 40,000 people with standard alcohol survey questions about their quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption — “How many drinks have you had in the past month?” and so on. But in a smart twist, they then asked a more immediate question: “How many drinks did you have yesterday?” This method is useful for detecting under-reporting because of the improbabilities it reveals.  For example, if 50 percent of people who say they drink once a month acknowledge drinking yesterday, one can infer that this group is severely under-reporting their consumption: If they were truly once-a-month drinkers, only about 3 percent should acknowledge drinking on a particular randomly selected day of the month.

Men and women were comparably good (or bad, depending on your perspective) at accurately reporting their drinking. But as the chart above shows, a large difference emerged when types of drinkers were compared. Putatively low-risk drinkers grossly under-reported, acknowledging only about one in four of their actual drinks consumed. The heaviest drinkers actually recalled their consumption most accurately, but in absolute terms they still only reported about half of it.

Why does this matter? First, some health advice about drinking could be wrong. For example, the recent warnings that low-level drinking can cause cancer could reflect reality, but could also reflect the fact that people aren't revealing the full extent of their drinking to researchers.

Second, to the extent that the findings represent failures of memory rather than dishonest reporting, it's problematic that many people don’t seem to have a very good idea of how much they drink — think about someone deciding whether it's safe to drive home from the bar, or trying to understand the cause of their potentially fatal high blood pressure. As the study's lead author, Tim Stockwell, put it in an email, “We hope these findings encourage people to pay more attention to how much they actually drink. Knowing the dose of alcohol you regularly put in your body can, literally, be a matter of life and death.”

Keith Humphreys is a professor and mental health policy director in the department of psychiatry at Stanford University. He tweets at @KeithNHumphreys.
06 June 2014

Evolution of the Flight Attendant Uniform

By Laura Carroll

Hats, gloves, an ever-changing hemline: The flight attendant getup has always been as much about fashion as it is function. With both Delta and Jet Blue debuting new duds for their cabin crews, we can't help but look through the archives of history's most fashionable staff. Behold, the evolution of the flight attendant uniform.

Archive Photos / Stringer / Getty Images


Most early flight attendant uniforms were sophisticated and sweet, with long sleeves, swinging skirts, and—of course—the stewardess cap.


Some airlines, however, left slightly less to the imagination.


In the ’50s, flight attendants donned crisp collars and white gloves, with perfect coifs under their caps.


Sadly, these terrific toppers were often removed before takeoff.


When mod was mode, flight attendants took to wearing stand-up collars and shift dresses (and flats).


Sky-high hemlines were complemented by fantastic head scarves in the early ’70s—a nod to the decade's departure from structured style.


The ’80s, meanwhile, apparently left many flight attendants clad in plaid.


Even at high altitudes, one could not escape the shoulder pads and boxy blazers that were popular in the early ’90s.


As the century came to a close, flight attendant uniforms (like all fashion) became considerably more relaxed.


These chambray shirts, fitted vests, and floppy bow ties are far more comfortable than the uniforms of yesteryear.


And this nod to the mod era? We dig it.


Jet Blue's new uniforms are simple and sleek—a winning combination of modern elements, as well as those of flight attendant uniforms past. Some things really do get better with age.

19 September 2013

The Isolated World of Being a Smoker

Tina In Her Bedroom, 2007
Tina in Her Bedroom, 2007 Laura Noel
As the glamour of smoking rapidly fades and smoking sections shrink, those still living with the habit are beginning to be seen as outcasts, holding their tiny burning scarlet letters for people to ridicule.
Laura Noel has always been attracted to individuality, searching for people to photograph who aren’t afraid to go against the grain. Noel has a background in public policy, and in late 2005 after seeing smoking policies in her native Atlanta begin to rapidly ban smoking in restaurants, bars, and other public places, she realized she had found a new pocket of society on which to focus.

“I became interested in people that are willing to continue to smoke in the face of what is essentially public condemnation,” Noel said. “I’m not defending it, and I’m not a smoker, but I was intrigued by people willing to do something that most people know as not only deadly but also disgusting.”

Micki On Her Porch, 2006
Micki on Her Porch, 2006 Laura Noel
Barry Behind the Lab, 2010
Barry Behind the Lab, 2010 Laura Noel
Brittany in Her Bathroom, 2007
Brittany in Her Bathroom, 2007 Laura Noel
Initially Noel took portraits of smokers while they were engaged in other activities, but she shifted focus once she began to notice another psychological angle. Noel said she was interested in the ways in which smokers are able to stop what they’re doing and take on a more contemplative look. “If you think about it, there is this break in the day that smoking gives to you, a chance to stop whatever you’re doing … you have a chance to pause in this incredibly hectic world we live in,” she said.

In order to keep as natural a look as possible, Noel doesn’t ask her subjects to smoke where they normally wouldn’t. She spends anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours with her subjects—enough for a single cigarette, or in cases with more aggressive smokers, her subjects “are borderline sick by the time we get through!”

For “Smoke Break” she said she tried to balance the subconscious part of her brain with the “thinking part” in order to form ideas about the photograph with her subjects while also maintaining a sense of normalcy in the images. She said she tries to make her subjects feel at ease about the process; the fact they smoke helps since it automatically adds an element of relaxation to the shoot.
Azia Outside Work, 2012
Azia Outside Work, 2012 Laura Noel
Julie On Her Patio, 2006
Julie on Her Patio, 2006 Laura Noel
Anonymous Behind Her Room, 2006
Anonymous Behind Her Room, 2006 Laura Noel
Noel said she was surprised by the number of people who turned down her request to be photographed for the series. “I thought all of my artist friends would line up, and I was really surprised by people who are out there in other parts of life but didn’t want to be known as a smoker,” she recalled.

Currently Noel is working on other series, but she still shoots an occasional portrait for “Smoke Break” and hopes to have enough material to publish a book about the project. Her goal is to reach a wider range of people of different socio-economic backgrounds and possibly to find people outside of the Atlanta area.

Regardless of the subject, the purpose for Noel remains the same. “I’m trying to bring out some of the other emotions when you think of yourself as you smoke, some are peaceful, some have a bit of an edge … some people smoke out of defiance, rebellion, and they don’t care what other people think, and I admire that part of [it],” she said.

John In His Backyard Shed, 2010
John in His Backyard Shed, 2010 Laura Noel
Whitney Behind Her Job, 2006
Whitney Behind Her Job, 2006 Laura Noel
Steven In HIs Car, 2005
Steven in His Car, 2005 Laura Noel
Amy In Her Backyard,2005
Amy in Her Backyard,2005 Laura Noel
Patti In Her Livingroom, 2012
Patti in Her Living Room, 2012 Laura Noel

Please Stop Touching My Tattoos

Stop Touching My Tattoos Without Asking

If you want to see the rest, you have to ask first.
Sascha Kohlmann/Flickr
I’m a fairly tattooed guy, but a simple t-shirt hides most of my tattoos. Both of my upper arms, though, are covered with colorful, intricate pieces, and these are only partly obscured by short sleeves. And this is a problem—not because I don’t want people to see this body art; of course I do. But curiosity gets the better of many otherwise sane people’s social sensibilities.

If you have a tattoo that peeks out into the world, I’m sure you instantly know what I’m talking about. For those who are still in the dark, let me give you a few examples.

One recent morning I went to my local convenience store to get a cold beverage. The cashier rang me up and, as I was pulling my wallet out to pay, I could see her eyes flicking back and forth between my arms. She was staring—intently, with a glint of wonder—at the tattooed parts of my arms exposed between sleeve and elbow.

I didn’t mind this. But then I saw a telling grin on her face. And before I could finish thinking, “Oh no, don’t do it,” she wordlessly reached over the counter and lifted up my shirtsleeve. You know, so she could get a better look at my inked flesh. As if she knew me. As if she wasn’t a cashier brazenly manipulating the clothing of a customer without so much as a warning.

This anecdote is not anomalous, I assure you. It happens entirely too often. And I’m lucky enough to be a 20-something male, which means the violation I feel doesn’t begin to compare to what others I’ve heard from have experienced.

Consider a 20-something female friend of mine. She has a lovely tattoo on her shoulder blade and back; you can see part of it when she’s wearing a tank top. And some strangers who get that glimpse just go head and pull back the clothing’s edge in order to get a better gander at the artwork on her skin.

Or take this even more extreme example: Another friend with an extensive leg tattoo was standing on the sidewalk when she felt something on her leg. She looks back and there’s a middle-age woman—oddly enough all the perpetrators in the stories I’ve heard have been middle-aged women—reaching to pull up my friend’s skirt so she could get a better view of the leg tattoo. My friend, who was rightfully taken aback, slapped the woman and walked away upset.

Would the strangers in these stories be considered anything less than uncouth, handsy violators if there weren’t a tattoo there that they simply had to see? Why does a tattoo suddenly change the rules of what people think is and isn’t acceptable to do to other bodies?

Yes, tattoos are outwardly facing—some more so than others—and some are quite eye-grabbing. So it’s no surprise they draw attention. But they’re also inextricable from a person’s body. When you stare at a tattoo, perhaps you think this is like starting at a work of art in a gallery. It’s not.
Tattoo etiquette is nothing new, there are a number of attempts to address it through guidelines, rants, and raves, which all amount to the same general principle: “Tattoo etiquette dictates that you simply ask the tattooed person if you can take a look at their tattoo and if you can touch it.”

But these broad statements do not seem to have made anything better. In fact, based on my experience and that of the people I’ve talked to, things are actually getting worse. People are becoming bold, more willing to touch and grab at others’ ink.

I’m glad that tattoos are no longer as taboo as they used to be, and that, for the most part, having tattoos does not push you to the fringes of polite society. But too much of that society still sees body art as an excuse to be impolite. It’s a tattoo. It’s not a sign that says, “Touch here!”

How To Get Rid Of Dinner Guests Who Outstay Their Welcome

Rule No. 10: Know When to Say Goodbye

You don't have to go home but you can't stay here.
Photo by Getty Images
In the opening post of this series, I described an ideal dinner party scenario: After taking their fill of food, drink, and amusing conversation, host and guest alike parted ways with the most pleasant of tastes in their mouths—a nip of cognac or Grand Marnier and perhaps a bit of quality chocolate. That those flavors lingered on the palate instead of less savory ones—acrid awkwardness, bitter confusion and indigestion-inducing shame, for example—resulted from the successful execution of one of the most difficult moves in the choreography of entertaining: saying goodbye.

After we instructed you in the ways of the well-executed arrival, many of you wrote in expressing trepidation regarding the other end of the evening, that inevitable point (unless, perhaps, you are entertaining in Barcelona in your early 20s, in which case, feel free to pasar de todo) in the festivities, usually between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., when it becomes time for them to end. As one of you so eloquently put it, how do you politely “tell people after a dinner party to get the fuck out if they won’t leave?”

Well, speaking first of dinner parties, you might try that exact phrase; I actually often take a (less profane) jokey-honesty tack and announce, during a lull in the after-dinner conversation, that it is “time for you all to get out of my house. Goodnight!” And research shows that I am in good company, as this forum commenter demonstrates: “My stepfather holds up a needlepoint pillow (which my mother made a few years back) which says ‘Goodbye’ on it. Works like a treat.”

But, of course, such wryness is not appropriate for all occasions, nor do all hosts wish to be so brusque. Traditionally, a hostess gently signaled that it was time to collect your coat by remarking on the time, starting to clear the table, or inquiring about her guests’ transportation needs. The rituals of a standard dinner service also help keep everyone on schedule—if coffee and after-dinner drinks have been served, guests should expect to leave within an hour at most, ideally at the natural waning of the conversation.

If these soft communiqués are ignored, more forceful gestures include serving cold water, turning on the mood-killing overhead lights and/or cutting the music. (Whatever you do, do not open more wine or liquor if you truly wish to bring things to a close; anecdotally speaking, this seems to be the single biggest mistake struggling hosts make, especially when tipsy guests request it. If you are trying to be firm, booze will never help.) These methods, along with suggesting that the group move to a public establishment or warning everyone that your building or neighborhood has noise restrictions, are also probably the most effective for a larger party situation in which it is difficult to communicate your desires to everyone at once. Unless they have already expired on your couch, your sticky guests should get the hint that you’d now like to retire to your own bedroom in peace.

You might also keep in mind this lesson that my partner and I have, as entertainers of diverse acquaintance, had to learn the hard way: There are some people who are not yet equipped for even informal civilized events, and it is OK to exclude them until they get it together. Your home is not a bar; if you find yourself having to expel guests at 4 a.m. like a common bouncer, you may need to make some adjustments to your contact book the following morning.

Now, thus far, we’ve spoken of what a host can do to wind things down, but guests of dinner parties and larger gatherings obviously have their part to play as well. First, always keep in mind that your host has almost certainly been preparing for your visit for a solid few hours or even an entire day with cooking, cleaning, and decorating before you arrive. You may feel ready for a Big Night, but they will more likely be ready to call it one around the witching hour. Then, watch for the following cues: no more bottles are being opened or the hosts are putting the libations away; dishes are being cleared or light cleaning attempted; conversation is lagging and people are eyeing the clock; it is a weeknight (regardless of your personal routine, remember that most people like to get some sleep); you yourself are falling asleep, and have not been invited as an overnight guest; your hosts are holding open the door and screaming at you to please God go home. If any of these signals appear in the field of your senses, gracefully and with great gratitude take your leave.

As with whipping cream, there is an ideal time to stop, and a point beyond which things curdle. But with a dash of attention, a sprinkle of forthrightness, and a dollop of self-control, all parties can come to that best of conclusions—a happy ending.

Just How Long Can People Live?

It’s one of the juiciest debates in science.

Stay active with chair yoga
What can we do to make our average life expectancy jump again? Above, residents of a continuing care retirement community practice chair yoga. Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Read the rest of Laura Helmuth's 
series on longevity.

There’s an oddly persistent myth that people have always had a good chance of living to a ripe old age if they could just survive childhood. Socrates was old, after all, and what about Ben Franklin? It’s true that infants and children were once more likely to die than people of any other ages. Eliminating many of the deadly diseases of childhood gave the biggest boost to our average life expectancy as it doubled in the past 150 years. But children aren’t the only ones who are less likely to die than they were in the past. At every age, even older than 100, people are more likely to survive the next year than they were at any other time in human history.

Why has life expectancy continued to go up steadily over the past several decades? And what’s in store for us: Will we continue to live for more and more years than ever before?
Public health measures get the credit for most of the increase in life expectancy that happened from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s. Clean water, safe food, comfortable housing, and a healthy respect for germs made the world a completely different place.

If you look at the top causes of death in the United States in 1900 and 2010, you might think you’re examining data from two entirely different species. In 1900, we died of tuberculosis, gastrointestinal infections, and diphtheria. In 2010, none of those diseases made it into the top 10. Take a tour of this interactive to see how death rates changed over the course of the past century. (The spike in 1918-1919 was caused by the Spanish flu, the worst pandemic in history.) While infectious diseases plummeted over the course of the 20th century, cancer and heart disease shot up.

Heart disease isn’t a new invention. Egyptian mummies show evidence of atherosclerosis. But it and cancer were masked by other diseases that killed people before they got old enough to die of a stroke.
Because heart disease is such a killer, anything that reduces its incidence or treats it can save a lot of lives and boost our overall average life expectancy. The death rate from heart disease (adjusting for age, since there are more and more older people in the population) was cut in half between 1980 and 2000. That’s a screaming success for public health and biomedicine. Who gets the credit? About half of the credit goes to medical treatments (statins, aspirin, heart surgery), and the other half goes to reductions in risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, and eating red meat. More good news is that some risk factors, including high cholesterol, are continuing to drop.

Heart disease is still a horribly common way to die, and it’s hard to appreciate the number of deaths that didn’t happen. But you probably have loved ones who are alive today because careful epidemiological studies identified risk factors for heart disease and medical researchers found effective treatments.

My great-great-grandmother died at age 57, probably of a heart attack. My great-grandmother died at age 67 of a stroke. My grandmother takes medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She will celebrate her 90th birthday next week. She is the first person in her family to live long enough to see a great-grandchild. Preventing and treating heart disease is a huge unsung victory of modern times.

Deaths from many kinds of cancer also decreased during the past few decades. Cancer isn’t a single disease, and it won’t be eliminated anytime soon, foolish talk from George W. Bush’s head of the National Cancer Institute aside. But researchers and clinicians are making steady progress at identifying and treating most forms of the disease. Long-term survival rates are up. In 1975, about half of all cancer patients lived for five more years. Now the rate is two-thirds.

Even more important than treatment, though, is prevention. The reduction in smoking rates gets credit for much of the decrease in incidence of heart disease and cancer, especially lung cancer, which is by far the most common cause of cancer deaths. Smoking bans are lifesavers, too—fewer people are dying of heart attacks, stroke, or lung disease due to secondhand smoke now that it’s not stinking up all our restaurants, offices, and airplanes.

Controlling air pollution has been a big lifesaver in the United States. In 1948, a noxious smog choked Donora, Pa., killing 20 people and sickening half of the population of 14,000. In 1952, a great smog in London killed at least 4,000 people. Air pollution provokes heart attacks and asthma attacks and increases the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, bronchitis, and other diseases. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 and has been revised several times with stricter limits on pollutants. The law has led to great improvements in public health: It prevented 160,000 premature deaths in 2010. You can even see the mountains outside Los Angeles now, which you couldn’t do in 1968. Air pollution is still a big killer in the developing world, however, and is blamed for more deaths worldwide than high cholesterol.

We have a completely different relationship to safety today than we did at the beginning of the 20th century. Workplace deaths are down by 90 percent, thanks to efforts by labor unions, researchers, and overreaching government agencies. We’re driving more miles than in the past but are much less likely to die in traffic accidents. People complain about U.S. culture being excessively litigious, but there’s nothing like the threat of a lawsuit to make companies recall dangerous products. Even death by lightning strikes is down; God is smiting 70 percent fewer people than he did in 1960.

Fewer women die in childbirth—although it took a shamefully long time for the maternal mortality rate to decrease. Safe and effective birth control has saved women from dying in unwanted pregnancies. Improved delivery practices cut death rates from infection, hemorrhage, and other complications. And continuing improvements to neonatal care mean that more infants and mothers survive the dangers of childbirth.

Antibiotics are the lifesavers that are most familiar to us. When I asked my acquaintances why they weren’t dead yet, the most common stories involved infections that had been cured by antibiotics. Today we’re publishing some of the best #NotDeadYet stories that people tweeted or emailed to us over the past week. Many of you alive today would have been vanquished by bacteria in previous eras.
The public health interventions that protect children from infectious disease continue to echo throughout their lifespan. People who reach old age today are stronger and healthier than earlier generations, partly because they weren’t weakened in childhood by repeated infections. As more people live to old age, they have more time to develop diseases of aging, the most devastating of which is dementia. But taking age into account, the rate of dementia seems to be falling, probably because of improved overall health.
Life expectancy can make sudden jumps even in older populations in response to social conditions. Before the reunification of Germany, retirees living in the former East Germany had much lower life expectancies than their cousins in the West. After reunification, they started living much longer—even people in their 80s and 90s had years added to their lives.
People with more years of education live longer, and the gap is widening between people who didn’t graduate high school and those who have college degrees. That may not be surprising since the well-educated are also wealthier on average and have safer jobs and better access to health care. But a few studies have found that education in itself prolongs life; it seems to allow people to manage chronic diseases better, handle stress, and make better judgments. The proportion of the population with some college education has been growing, and that may pay off in better long-term health outcomes.
It’s all connected, of course—the reason we live longer today is that we are living in an entirely different world than the one people inhabited at the end of the 19th century. It’s less nasty, less brutish, and less short. One final reason we’re living longer is that we have less exposure to the most heart-breaking risk factor for death: bereavement. In other words, we are living longer because our loved ones are living longer, and thus we are less likely to be sunk in grief than at any time in human history.
* * *
So what’s next? What are the little things that could make our average life expectancy jump again? Some of them sound simple but really aren’t. “The biggest low-hanging fruit is smoking,” says medical historian David Jones of Harvard. “But is it really low-hanging?” About half of the population smoked in the mid-20th century. That rate dropped steadily until the latter part of the century, but it seems to have plateaued (although a recent gruesome ad campaign had promising results). About 20 percent of the population smokes, and it may be very difficult to get the remaining holdouts to quit.
Obesity is the other major risk factor for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and any number of other causes of death. The obesity rate climbed so much in the past few decades that S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity researcher at the University of Illinois–Chicago, and his colleagues estimate that obesity could swamp the effects of reduced smoking on average life expectancy.
The most disturbing fact about life expectancy in the United States today is that African-Americans live about four years fewer on average than whites. The good news is that the gap has been narrowing. This disparity has been seen as a matter of social justice, but as Jones points out, there’s also a major gap in life expectancy between males and females. “I can expect to live five years less than my wife,” he says. “To me, this feels totally unfair.” We tend to think of this difference as something biological and immutable, but finding ways to help men live as long as women would go a long way toward improving life expectancy and making the world a less sorrowful place.
The United States could learn a lot from other developed countries. Our life expectancy is much shorter than it should be considering how wealthy we are. By some estimates, we’re 40 years behind other countries in terms of advancing life expectancy. The National Academy of Sciences took a hard look at what we’re doing wrong and identified nine things that set the United States apart from other countries, including drug and alcohol use, HIV and AIDS, adolescent pregnancy, and injuries and homicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls many of these problems “winnable battles.”
* * *
One of the most fascinating debates in life science these days is between Olshansky and James Vaupel of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany. They disagree fundamentally about whether and how average life expectancy will increase in the future, and they’ve been arguing about it for 20 years. Olshansky, a lovely guy, takes what at first sounds like the pessimistic view. He says the public health measures that raised life expectancy so dramatically from the late 1800s to today have done about as much as they can. We now have a much older population, dying of age-related diseases, and any improvements in treatment will add only incrementally to average life expectancy, and with vanishing returns. He explains his point of view in this charming animated video.
Video is courtesy of Project M.
On the other side of the ring is Vaupel, who says that people are living longer and healthier lives all the time and there is no necessary end in sight. His message is cheerier, but he takes the debate very seriously; he won’t attend conferences where Olshansky is present. His charts are heartening; he takes the records of the longest-lived people in the longest-lived countries for each year and shows that maximum lifespan has been zooming up linearly from 1800 to today. One wants to mentally extend the line into all of our foreseeable futures.
Olshansky says the only way to make major improvements in life expectancy is to find new ways to prevent and treat the diseases of aging. And the most efficient way to do that is to delay the process of aging itself. That’s something that some people already do—somehow. Olshansky says, “The study of the genetics of long-lived people, I think, is going to be the breakthrough technology.” Scientists can now easily extend lifespan in flies, worms, and mice, and there’s a lot of exciting research on genetic pathways in humans that might slow down the aging process and presumably protect us from the age-related diseases that kill most people today. “The secret to longer lives is contained in our own genomes,” Olshansky says.
Predictions about medical breakthroughs are notoriously optimistic, of course. When the human genome was sequenced, people predicted personalized medical interventions in a decade. That was 12 years ago. Richard Nixon’s war on cancer has yet to be won. So while you’re waiting, do what you can. Eat right, exercise. Drive safely. Don’t smoke or play with fire. Get that mole looked at. Are you sitting in front of a computer screen now? Stand up and stretch, do some lunges, we won’t laugh. Here’s to your health and long life.

Read the rest of Laura Helmuth's series on longevity.