Scientists Find That Frankenstein’s Monster Could Have Wiped Out Humanity | Smart News | Smithsonian

Scientists Find That Frankenstein’s Monster Could Have Wiped Out Humanity | Smart News | Smithsonian

Victor Frankenstein faces a thorny dilemma in the novel that bears his name: Consign his horrific creature to a lonely life, or create a female companion to keep it company? At first, the doctor decides to go ahead and use his creepy method to make a partner for the creature, but then he abandons the idea when he realizes he’s created a monster. That decision, it turns out, was the right one—and for scientific reasons Frankenstein’s author, Mary Shelley, could never have foreseen when she wrote the book in 1816.
In a new paper published in the journal BioScience, two biologists make the case that Frankenstein’s decision not to hook up his friend was a biologically sound one. “His rationale for denying a mate to his male creation has empirical justification,” they write, for ecological and evolutionary reasons based on the ways species interact.

It all comes down to evolutionary competition—the ways in which species vie for limited resources. Using a common model for interspecies competition, the researchers laid out the probable course of events had Frankenstein and his never-created girlfriend in fact reproduced. They took factors like the human population in 1816 and the fact that Frankenstein’s monster can regenerate his flesh after a gunshot wound into consideration to determine that the overall growth rate of the creatures would be 1.5 times that of humans.

When the team extrapolated from there, they found that humans would die out in 4,188 years, leaving creatures to rule the earth. And if Frankenstein’s monster had inhabited “the vast wilds of South America,” where the monster told his creator he’d head if he ever got a partner, humans would go extinct even more quickly than if the creatures got together in Europe.

It might seem silly to run evolutionary models on a work of science fiction, but the team insists their project is important. The idea of evolution didn’t exist when Shelley wrote her famous book, but she seems to have foreseen it anyway, even prompting Frankenstein’s monster to realize that South America is a great place to start a family. That reinforces one of the central messages of the book—that humans have moral and scientific responsibilities—even more, they say.

Frankenstein was forward-thinking in other ways, from its critique of how far humans are willing to take their quest for control to its status as one of the first and most important works of science fiction. Given that Shelley wrote it long before most of the tenets of what we think of as modern science were in place, it’s even more impressive. It’s easy to think of her creation as a silly, spooky pop culture phenomenon—but perhaps the scariest thing about Frankenstein is just how close it comes to being real.


Payroll Cards Aren’t Money, Court Says

Payroll Cards Aren’t Money, Court Says

Paying Pennsylvania employees with debit cards is not a valid way to pay wages, a state appeals court ruled in a class action against McDonald’s franchisees.

Ruling out of Harrisburg on Friday, an appellate panel with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed advancement of the case in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.

The Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law is clear, Judge Anne Lazarus wrote for the panel: Employees must be paid either by check or lawful U.S. money, and debit cards do not count as lawful U.S. money.

Lead plaintiff Alisha Siciliano sued Albert and Carol Mueller dba McDonald’s on Aug. 23, 2013, for having paid them with JP Morgan Chase payroll cards since November 2010. They sought compensatory and punitive damages.

The class was certified in May 2015 and two weeks later the trial court denied the Muellers’ motion for summary judgment. The Muellers filed an interlocutory appeal, and the unanimous three-judge panel affirmed the trial court ruling.

“The WPCL [Wage Payment and Collection Law] states that wages ‘shall be paid in lawful money of the United States or check.’ The language is clear. A debit card is not ‘lawful money’ and it is not a ‘check’ as contemplated by the drafters of the WPCL. We agree with the learned trial judge, the Honorable Thomas Burke, Jr., that the Legislature obviously did not contemplate the concept of a payroll debit card when it adopted the language of section 260.3 in 1961,” Lazarus wrote.

The Muellers’ argument that the debit cards are functionally the same as checks or lawful money fails because the cards may subject employees to fees, the judge found.

The American Payroll Association said in an amicus brief that employers can pay employees through direct deposit, but Lazarus said employers may do this only at the written request of employees.

“The use of a voluntary payroll debit card may be an appropriate method of wage payment. However, until our General Assembly provides otherwise, the plain language of the WPCL makes clear that the mandatory use of payroll debit cards at issue here, which may subject the user to fees, is not.”

Class counsel David Senoff with Anapol Weiss said: “We were pleased with the ruling. The fact that it was unanimous not only underscored the merits of our argument, but underscored what I thought was an excellent opinion of the trial court. It leaves little doubt in my mind about the illegality of receiving your wages by debit card without any option.”

The Muellers are represented by Matthew Hank with Littler Mendelson, who said, “The Muellers are aware of the ruling and they are evaluating their options.”

Mistaken maps | 1843

Mistaken maps | 1843

The history of map-making is full of educated guesses. As late as the 19th century Africa and Australia contained vast, unexplored interiors. Cartographers often used experience and logic to infer the lay of the land. Unsurprisingly, they were frequently wrong. Since antiquity, for example, the Nile had been known to be a river of enormous length, and because rivers often emanated from mountains it was thought there must be a large mountain range at its source. The Mountains of the Moon appeared on maps of Africa up until the 1800s, when explorers finally confirmed there was no such thing.

In his new book, “The Phantom Atlas”, Edward Brooke-Hitching gathers a rich selection of these mistakes. They range from honest errors to the mythical or mendacious. One map from 1766 shows Patagonia, and includes pictures of heavily bearded giants walking around with bows and arrows. Another of Java la Grande, a landmass in the southern hemisphere first reported by Marco Polo, depicts the locals riding on horseback and harvesting coconuts while fantastical sea creatures swim offshore.

The book shows how lively minds made use of limited knowledge, but also how rumour, guesswork and downright lies can persist in the scholarly imagination. In his introduction, Brooke-Hitching writes about a crew of cartographers who scoured the Gulf of Mexico for an island which first appeared on a map in the early 16th century, and had been included on navigational charts ever since. Their unsuccessful expedition didn’t take place until June 2009. But as Brooke-Hitching says, like all the places in this book it was, for a time, real: it existed on the printed page.

Map of the Arctic, Gerardus Mercator and Jodocus Hondius, 1606

Why do compasses point north? Since they are attracted to magnets, there must be an enormous magnet at the North Pole. That was the reasoning behind this map, which shows the Arctic with a magnetic mountain at its centre. Gerardus Mercator, a Flemish cartographer who was also responsible for the standard projection still shown on maps today, combined this logic with details from a lost medieval text called “Inventio Fortunata”. It described the North Pole as the confluence of the world’s seas, which flow ceaselessly towards an abyss. The Rupes Nigra, a “black and glistening” rock 33 miles in circumference and as “high as the clouds”, is surrounded by an inland sea.

Sketch of the coast of Australia and the supposed entrance of the Great River, Thomas J. Maslen, 1830

“The plan here offered is a practical scheme,” wrote Thomas Maslen in his book “The Friend of Australia”, “and it will serve equally well as a guide and a book of reference.” He hoped to encourage further exploration of Australia’s interior, and what could be more encouraging than long fertile river valleys at the heart of the continent? Elsewhere, sailing upriver often led to verdant land. Why should Australia be the exception? But in place of his waterways, visitors to the outback will actually find the Simpson desert – the largest area of sand dunes in the world.

Tabula novarum insularum, Sebastian Münster, 1554

This was the first printed map of America. Among its many inaccuracies, one in particular stands out. In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian explorer, claimed to have seen the Pacific from the Atlantic. When Münster made this map, he tried to account for this report by separating the two oceans with a narrow strip of land connecting “Francisca” with the rest of North America. In fact, Giovanni had come across the Outer Banks, a wafer-thin series of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. But the idea that the Pacific extended deep into North America stuck. As late as 1750, some French maps showed a vast inlet in Canada, the Sea of the West, that might offer a canny explorer an easy passage from one ocean to the other.

Map of California as an island, Johannes Vingboons, c.1650

This sumptuous watercolour shows one of the most baffling mistakes in cartography: the idea that California was an island. It’s baffling not because it’s wildly implausible – Baja California is, after all, a long peninsula – but because earlier maps had already portrayed California as part of the mainland. Only after 1622 does the island start appearing. There is disagreement about how this happened. One theory blames a Carmelite friar, Antonio de la Ascención, who wrote about the “island of California” in 1602, a misconception that was depicted here and then reproduced elsewhere. It wasn’t until 1747 that King Ferdinand VI of Spain officially declared that “California is not an island”.

World map, Nicolas Desliens, 1566

In this map of the world turned upside down, the eye is drawn to the mysterious continent in the top-left-hand corner, “Java la Grande”. It was first mentioned by Marco Polo as the larger neighbour of Java Minor (modern-day Sumatra). Since antiquity, geographers had thought there must be a southern landmass sufficiently large to balance the land in the northern hemisphere and keep the Earth stable. Cartographers assumed Polo’s island and this counterweight continent must be one and the same, and drew Java la Grande as big as Africa.

Prester John, or, a map of the Abyssinian Kingdom, Abraham Ortelius, 1573

The legend of Prester John is one of the most powerful historic myths in European culture. In circulation since at least the time of the crusades in the 12th century, it was understandably appealing: beyond the known world, there lived a fabulously wealthy Christian king who would someday ride to the defence of his co-religionists and defeat their Muslim enemies. The location of his kingdom varied, moving from India to the Mongol Empire to Ethiopia. Here Ortelius, a Flemish map-maker, outlines John’s Nile empire in yellow. The upper Nile is portrayed as a rich, urbanised river system. Amazons, tritons and sirens live around Lake Zaire. And at the bottom of the map are the Mountains of the Moon, thought to be the source of the Nile since the age of Herodotus.

The Phantom Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching, out now

Lyft customers face potential hack from recycled phone numbers | Computerworld

Lyft customers face potential hack from recycled phone numbers | Computerworld

Giving up an old cell phone number for a new one may seem harmless. But for Lyft customers, it can potentially expose their accounts to complete strangers.

That’s what happened to Lara Miller, a media relations specialist living in California. Earlier this month, she discovered two credit card charges made in Las Vegas, over 400 miles away.

“I thought it was legit fraud on my debit card,” Miller said.

But in reality, another woman had accidentally taken over her old Lyft account. It happened because the phone company had recycled the cell phone number Miller had canceled back in April — opening the door to the hack.

The problem involves Lyft’s login process. The ride-hailing app does away with the hassle of usernames and passwords, and instead signs up customers with their smartphone’s cell number.

That phone number, however, can remain tied to the account, even if it changes subscribers. Miller eventually realized this and called Elysia, the woman who now owns her old cell phone number.

Elysia declined to have her last name published. But she too also realized that something was off with the Lyft account she thought was hers.

“I got this new number around the fourth of July,” Elysia said. “So I was already getting so many text messages meant for her (Miller) from old friends. From Airbnb.”

When Elysia signed up for Lyft, she also saw that a pre-existing payment card had been stored into the account. “The app wouldn’t let me change the profile,” she said. “There was no way to make a new account. They didn’t have the option there.”

Elysia tried to substitute her own credit card on the account. However, when she was in Las Vegas, she took two rides with Lyft, both of which still charged Miller’s payment card.

Miller and Elysia said they find the whole case disturbing. “Now I hope no one is using my old Lyft account from my old phone number,” Elysia said.

However, Lyft said problems like this are rare. The company relies on a “variety of signals” including third-party sources, the Lyft account and the device to verify the user’s identity.

“In cases where it appears the user may not be the same, we ask them to verify their identity or to create a new account,” Lyft said. “In rare cases this process doesn’t work as intended, and we use those learnings to improve our algorithms going forward.”

Nevertheless, other publications have also reported on the problem. Users on Hacker News have also complained.

“So there’s a creepy guy taking Lyft rides in San Francisco with my account,” wrote one user over a year ago. “The best part is that I can’t remove the credit card from that account because I no longer have that phone number.”

Lyft, however, has said that users can cancel accounts by contacting its customer support.

To prevent the problem, companies should offer customers stronger forms of two-factor authentication, and not merely rely on a phone number to confirm a user’s identity, said Edward Amoroso, former chief security officer of AT&T and CEO of security consultancy TAG Cyber.

“Unfortunately, however, the industry will probably not shift to improved validation methods unless users decide that they will no longer accept this kind of risk,” he said.

Miller is concerned the ride-hailing app hasn’t done more to fix this problem. Lyft offered an apology, and claims it refunded the charges from her bank account last week. Miller said she finally received the refund Tuesday.

“I’m just annoyed and I want more people to know about this,” she said. “I think it’s a pretty big flaw in their security.”

Although Lyft has suspended Miller’s old account, that’s left Elysia with no access to the ride-hailing service.

“Now I can’t even log on to Lyft,” Elysia said.

Lawyers file fake lawsuits to de-index online negative reviews, suit says | Ars Technica

Lawyers file fake lawsuits to de-index online negative reviews, suit says | Ars Technica

Two California lawyers are being accused of filing “sham lawsuits” in a wide-ranging conspiracy to get Google and other search engines to de-index negative reviews about their clients. As the case brought by a group called Consumer Opinion states:

The other conspirators engaged attorneys Mark W. Lapham (“Lapham”) and Owen T. Mascott (“Mascott”) to file sham lawsuits either by the subjects of the negative reviews or by corporations that had no interest in the allegedly defamatory statements, against a defendant who most certainly was not the party that published the allegedly defamatory statements, and the parties immediately stipulated to a judgment of injunctive relief, so the conspirators could provide the order to Google and other search engines, thus achieving the goal of deindexing all pages containing negative reviews.

Consumer Opinion runs, and the group says these lawyers essentially manipulated California’s legal system by conducting a “rather brilliant but incredibly unethical” scheme to make negative reviews on the site essentially disappear from search results. The suit asks a federal judge to “discipline them for those misdeeds.”

The suit notes a complex web of reputation companies and fake or “stooge” defendants working together. According to the lawsuit, it works like this: the attorneys sue the “stooge” authors of negative reviews—allegedly defamatory reviews that are published on the site. But these lawsuit defendants didn’t actually write the review, and the suits immediately settle. The judgements are then used to get Yahoo, Google, and Bing to erase negative reviews from search results. The suit alleges that a Florida attorney, the subject of some 59 negative reviews on, was among the beneficiaries of the alleged scheme.

The lawsuit points out six similarly worded defamation lawsuits lodged in Contra Costa County, just east of San Francisco. The suits are filed, according to the lawsuit, because won’t remove the reviews from its website. “The scam is not all that complicated,” Marc Randazza, Consumer Opinion’s attorney, wrote in the lawsuit.

Mascott did not immediately respond for comment. The answering machine for Lapham was full, so Ars could not leave a message.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these type of allegedly fake lawsuits try to game search results, according to Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen and Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy. The duo has concluded that there are at least 25 cases nationwide with what they call a “suspicious profile.”

“Of these 25-odd cases, 15 give the addresses of the defendants—but a private investigator hired by Professor Volokh (Giles Miller of Lynx Insights & Investigations) couldn’t find a single one of the ostensible defendants at the ostensible address,” they wrote.

Levy and Volokh pointed out that search engines, when presented with a court order, “can’t really know if the injunction was issued against the actual author of the supposed defamation—or against a real person at all.”

A bigger splash: The mathematics of spilling beer • The Register

A bigger splash: The mathematics of spilling beer • The Register

A team of researchers has ventured deep into the physics of spilling to uncover why pints of beer splash everywhere but liquid in straws do not when positioned horizontally.

The relationship between the possibility of spillage and a tube was thought to be based on the size of the tube’s opening. A paper published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, however, shows that the shape of the opening matters too.

Calculating the mathematical relationship is serious work. It took the researchers more than seven years to study the mechanics of what makes liquids leak.

Professor Andrew Parry, co-author of the paper and mathematics researcher at Imperial College London, said the thickness of the container is irrelevant.

“If your pint glass falls over, tragedy has struck and you know you’re going to spill your beer. But conversely that doesn’t necessarily happen if you suck your beer into a straw and turn that horizontally.

“In that case common experience tells us that if the straw is thin enough the liquid stays in. Now, we have discovered that it should be possible to create minute straw shapes that would mean that any liquid spills, or empties out of the tube, no matter how thin it is.”

The tug between a liquid’s surface tension and the effects of gravity is what determines if a liquid spills or not. Molecules on the surface are attracted to each other more strongly and the surface tensions causes liquids to touch the sides of a container to create a shallow bowl shape.

Molecules below the surface are not held as strongly together and gravity overcomes surface tension, causing liquid to stream out when it is tipped over. Holding the liquid in a thinner tube – such as a straw – means that more liquid is held together by surface tension and is less likely to spill out.

But there is a limit to how that rule. When the shape of the tube goes from being circular to elliptical or triangular cross-section, it is possible for liquid to spill even if the tube is microscopically thin.

The results could have practical applications for carrying liquid medicines, oil recovery and inkjet printing, or for devices that use liquids that are sensitive to small changes in the environment such as temperature.

So choose a thin, circular glass to pour your beer into next time.

October: IEA raises its five-year renewable growth forecast as 2015 marks record year

October: IEA raises its five-year renewable growth forecast as 2015 marks record year

The International Energy Agency said today that it was significantly increasing its five-year growth forecast for renewables thanks to strong policy support in key countries and sharp cost reductions. Renewables have surpassed coal last year to become the largest source of installed power capacity in the world.

The latest edition of the IEA’s Medium-Term Renewable Market Report now sees renewables growing 13% more between 2015 and 2021 than it did in last year’s forecast, due mostly to stronger policy backing in the United States, China, India and Mexico. Over the forecast period, costs are expected to drop by a quarter in solar PV and 15 percent for onshore wind.

Last year marked a turning point for renewables. Led by wind and solar, renewables represented more than half the new power capacity around the world, reaching a record 153 Gigawatt (GW), 15% more than the previous year. Most of these gains were driven by record-level wind additions of 66 GW and solar PV additions of 49 GW.

About half a million solar panels were installed every day around the world last year. In China, which accounted for about half the wind additions and 40% of all renewable capacity increases, two wind turbines were installed every hour in 2015.

“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

‌‌There are many factors behind this remarkable achievement: more competition, enhanced policy support in key markets, and technology improvements. While climate change mitigation is a powerful driver for renewables, it is not the only one. In many countries, cutting deadly air pollution and diversifying energy supplies to improve energy security play an equally strong role in growing low-carbon energy sources, especially in emerging Asia.

Over the next five years, renewables will remain the fastest-growing source of electricity generation, with their share growing to 28% in 2021 from 23% in 2015.

Renewables are expected to cover more than 60% of the increase in world electricity generation over the medium term, rapidly closing the gap with coal. Generation from renewables is expected to exceed 7600 TWh by 2021 — equivalent to the total electricity generation of the United States and the European Union put together today.

But while 2015 was an exceptional year, there are still grounds for caution. Policy uncertainty persists in too many countries, slowing down the pace of investments. Rapid progress in variable renewables such as wind and solar PV is also exacerbating system integration issues in a number of markets; and the cost of financing remains a barrier in many developing countries. And finally, progress in renewable growth in the heat and transport sectors remains slow and needs significantly stronger policy efforts.

The IEA also sees a two-speed world for renewable electricity over the next five years. While Asia takes the lead in renewable growth, this only covers a portion of the region’s fast-paced rise in electricity demand. China alone is responsible for 40% of global renewable power growth, but that represents only half of the country’s electricity demand increase.

This is in sharp contrast with the European Union, Japan and the United States where additional renewable generation will outpace electricity demand growth between 2015 and 2021.

The IEA report identifies a number of policy and market frameworks that would boost renewable capacity growth by almost 30% in the next five years, leading to an annual market of around 200 GW by 2020. This accelerated growth would put the world on a firmer path to meeting long-term climate goals.

“I am pleased to see that last year was one of records for renewables and that our projections for growth over the next five years are more optimistic,” said Dr. Birol. “However, even these higher expectations remain modest compared with the huge untapped potential of renewables. The IEA will be working with governments around the world to maximize the deployment of renewables in coming years.”

FCC 600 MHz incentive auction stage three set to begin Nov. 1

FCC 600 MHz incentive auction stage three set to begin Nov. 1

The FCC’s third attempt to find a match between television broadcasters and telecom operators for 600 MHz spectrum is set, though will result be the same?

The Federal Communications Commission’s third attempt to match television broadcaster financial demands with telecom industry willingness to pay for 600 MHz spectrum licenses is set to begin on Nov. 1.

The FCC said it would begin stage three of reverse auction bidding with plans to clear 108 megahertz of total spectrum from television broadcasters that it would then repackage into 80 megahertz of clean spectrum for telecom operators to bid on as part of the forward auction process.

If achieved, telecom operators will be bidding on a total of 3,303 blocks of spectrum, each of which with 10 megahertz of capacity. The licenses would be broken into partial economic area-sized chunks, with each PEA having up to eight blocks of spectrum up for grabs.

The two previous attempts to align financial demands with willingness to spend failed to find match.

Stage one of the process witnessed broadcasters requesting more than $86 billion for 100 megahertz of clean spectrum, with telecom operators halting their bidding at a mere $23 billion. Stage two had broadcasters asking for $56.5 billion for 90 megahertz of cleared spectrum, which failed to generate more than one round of forward auction bidding from telecom operators.

In terms of timing, stage one and two of the reverse auction each lasted for about a month, which could push the completion of stage three into December if taking into account days off connected with upcoming holidays. With the FCC needing about a week to repackage reverse auction spectrum, stage three of the forward auction could begin sometime in early December.

Analysts have noted the 70-megahertz clearing target is the more likely round in which supply and demand meet, noting the band plan associated with that stage most aligns with repackaging challenges and telecom operator interest.

The 70-megahertz mark is also the magic number for T-Mobile US and other carriers with a dearth of sub-1 GHz spectrum holdings. Pre-auction rules included a set aside provision that called for 30 megahertz of at least 70 megahertz of spectrum to be auctioned off outside the reach of companies with a dominate position in sub-1 GHZ spectrum holdings, which among larger operators is limited to Verizon Communications and AT&T.

The Medieval Movement of Holy Women That Shaped Belgian Cities | Atlas Obscura

The Medieval Movement of Holy Women That Shaped Belgian Cities | Atlas Obscura

On June 1, 1310, a woman named Marguerite Porète was burned at the stake in Paris after she had refused to retract her book, The Mirror Of The Simple Souls. She was a particular kind of woman, devout to the point of fanaticism, and her book about Christian mysticism regarded as heretical by the Church.

“Marguerite Porète is a very interesting case,” says Walter Simons of Dartmouth College. “She made the mistake of wanting to make a point of her heresy. And that suited a lot of people quite well.”

Both the Church, who at the beginning of the 14th century was becoming increasingly worried about heretical movements, and the French crown saw in Porète an easy target, an unmarried, wandering mystic. It didn’t help that she was a member of a mysterious, distrusted, poorly-understood religious movement—the beguines.

Beguines were a religious movement of women who weren’t wives but also weren’t fully ordained in a religious order. There is a long history of Christian mystics, and they occupied a twilight zone in which they could move between the secular and religious worlds. They didn’t need to bear the burden of married life, but also weren’t forced to seclude themselves as nuns did, leading active and economically useful lives as single women.

The movement founds its origin in 12th century when mulieres religiosae, holy women, began grouping together in cities of present day Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Northern France. Here they lived in voluntary poverty and preached sexual abstinence, while living lives in the service of the poor and marginalized. One such holy woman, the 23-year old widow Juetta of Huy, left her family in the city of Liege around 1181 to serve lepers. She then spent the last 36-years of her life immured as an anchorite.

Around 1230 these holy women had started to be called “beguines”, a term that was most likely initially used pejoratively, but whose original meaning is lost to history. Some of these communities formed separate, walled communities called beguinages, located just outside the city walls. The biggest beguinages housed thousands of single women, a remarkable feat in medieval Europe. (Beguinages, now empty of beguines, still exist in most Belgian and Dutch cities, where their medieval houses, tight alleyways and bleached walls make them prime tourist destinations.)

Originally these separate living quarters were at least partly imposed on the beguines because male clerics feared the exposure of these single women to harmful city influences. In the 1245 charter for the creation of a beguinage in Tongeren a local priest warned:

“On high feasts they [the beguines] find themselves submerged by crowds of the populace in the main church of Tongeren, where they might eagerly observe these people while being dangerously exposed to them.”

The beguines abhorred what they considered usury. Early beguine Mary of Oignies was so shocked by the vice and greed she saw in the streets of Nivelles she mutilated her own feet because they brought her there. Beguines did, however, admire manual labor. Many entered the textile industry, for which the medieval low countries were a major center.

Beguines didn’t take vows as nuns do, but they did place strong emphasis on sexual abstinence. Many beguines were, however, not virgins, and had been married before and chose to live in beguinages only later in life. Mothers and daughters even joined the movement together.

Often beguines were upper-class, Juetta of Huy, Mary of Oignies and Marguerite Porète probably all hailed from families of nobles or urban merchants. In the case of Porète this adds an extra layer of mystery to her eventual burning at the stake. “I don’t understand why her family, that was most likely quite wealthy, didn’t intervene in her case,” says Simons.

A section of the clergy had distrusted the beguines from the start. The Church, however, only began condemning the beguines wholesale in the wake of the burning of Marguerite Porète in 1310. As a result, beguinages were closed throughout Northern-France and Western-Germany. In present-day Belgium and the Netherlands, women faced limitations on their lifestyle: No longer were wandering, preaching beguines, such as Marguerite Porète, tolerated, and their freedom of movement was more and more limited to the beguinages.

“The prevalent image of the beguine in this later age was no longer controversial or defiant, but rather that of a naïve, somewhat foolish but inoffensive kwezel [excessively pious woman],” writes Simons in his book Cities Of Ladies. In an interview with Atlas, he adds that it’s difficult to place the deeply religious figures in a contemporary context. “I wouldn’t call the early beguines rebellious, because they didn’t rebel,” he says. “But at least they were independent and free-minded in the early period.”

This persecution coincides with the crisis of the 14th century, that in many ways, represents a breaking point for medieval society. Medieval elites, worried about growing unrest and economic crisis, clamped down on dissent. “This is a time of persecution for not only the beguines, but also for Jews, heretics and the poor,” says Simons, “Society became more intolerant.”

The reformation proved equally tortuous for the beguines. Many beguinages were destroyed or abandoned and the order was hampered severely in the Protestant north, the present-day Netherlands. In the Catholic south, present-day Belgium, the beguines rebuilt their convents. The movement would never again reach the prominence it had during the Middle Ages, although it did experience periodic flare-ups.

The last beguine Marcella Pattyn died in 2013, and with her the movement that lasted hundreds of years. What remains is the clear material imprint they left on Belgian and Dutch cities. The beguinages where they lived and prayed have become centers of tourism, and oases of peace in the heart of bustling cities.

Brilliant, Low-Tech Design for Pain-Free Injections – Core77

Brilliant, Low-Tech Design for Pain-Free Injections – Core77

This is the best of what design has to offer: A simple, presumably inexpensive device that easily solves a problem millions of people have through brilliant mastery of materials and form.

Injecting yourself with a needle, as millions of diabetics need to do often, sucks. You have to have a steady hand to ensure the needle goes in without shearing, and you have to inject to a particular depth. And those requiring daily injections must change up their injection spots to avoid building up scar tissue. Oh yeah, and it kind of stings.

UK-based engineer, Peter Bailey’s, TickleFlex device solves all of these problems in a very clever way. Take a look at how it works:

What I found fascinating is that the pain-free part operates on the same principle as a team of pickpockets: When a thief’s accomplice bumps into you on the street, “saturating the local sensory inputs,” the thief can slide your wallet out of your back pocket knowing that you won’t feel it.

Bailey is reportedly preparing the devices for sale. They’ll come in two color-coded “flavors,” a green “Firm” model for normal skin and a blue “Soft” model for sensitive skin.