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I would say that it is probably possible to live in Berlin without bringing too much plastic into your home. It only requires a lot of time, money, and constant vigilance. The minute you stop paying attention, you find yourself with some new bits of plastic in your possession.

You also would have to be willing to forego a lot of things. In our case, the things we noticed you can't really get without plastic included chicken, snickers bars, gummy bears, and frozen pizza.

The farmer's market is a great place to go to avoid plastic. I even found insoles! Kaufhof Galeria is the worst place. Yesterday, we went there to get Vigo a new pair of rain boots. We completely forgot about Plastic Avoidance Week and we walked out of there with three new plastic bags.

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Even when you try to buy your soda or water in a glass bottle, you end up with some bits of plastic on the edge of the metal lid. At least beer is safe. The best way to avoid bringing more plastic into the house is simply not to buy anything, which is actually not such a bad solution.

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My friend Susan sent me this video. Enjoy!

Plastic State of Mind from Ben Zolno on Vimeo.

Avoiding plastic is pretty easy if you don't buy anything. I had to forego a candy bar at work. I ate a Kn├Ąckebrot instead. So, this is our first day of total un-plastic.

After this we should do a normal week and just record the amount of plastic that comes into our lives. Then we can compare.

This exercise is a lot easier for me than it is for Erik. I don't leave the office all day, so there's nothing to buy. Yesterday I ate food I had in the office kitchen already, plus some of the free office fruit. I imagine some plastic was involved in getting me the cappuccino I drank with Guy before heading to work, but I didn't come into direct contact with any of it. So, successful day for me.

Vigo also avoided bringing any new plastic home.

Erik had to go shopping again. The soy milk has a plastic opener and the soy sauce comes in a plastic bottle. He asks whether he gets some extra credit for buying soy products. No.

This weekend, we decided to do an experiment. For one week, we will try not to bring any more plastic into our lives. Plastic we already have, we can use.

Monday's plastic

Tracy: Forgot headphones at home and had to borrow a pair from IT. The plastic headphones came in a completely superfluous plastic ziploc bag.

Vigo: Halloween celebration at school. Many plastic-wrapped candies.

Erik: Had a hard time remembering the Plastic Avoidance experiment. New insoles for his shoes came in Plastic bags, as did the carrots he bought. Head of broccoli encased in seran wrap.

Fox in the City

You know you have fallen in with the right sort of people when dinner conversation turns to exchanging wildlife trivia.

I had first planned to make a single blog post sort of cataloging the dinner conversation, but after googling one or two of the many topics we covered, I realized that that I had fodder for many a weeks' worth of writing and researching here!

One of the guests, a Greek filmmaker named Vassily, mentioned that he thought he saw a fox in Berlin the other day. The rest of us Berliner's enthusiastically recounted our fox encounters. I have seen three so far. The first one was in a green space across from Vigo's school. The second was on Greifswalderstra├če, near where we live, and the third was in Helmholzplatz. I am expecting some day to see one at Wasserturm, because that hill is swarming with rabbits.

After my first fox sighting, before I could read German, I investigated city foxes and landed on a London city website which explained that foxes were nothing to worry about and don't bother calling animal control, because they won't remove any foxes from anyone's back garden. I related all of my remembered and misremembered information from that website, assuring everyone that foxes are perfectly harmless urban wild animals.

I can't easily find that website now, as the story of the twin babies who were mauled by a fox in their home is taking up all the top Google spots.

I falsely stated that foxes do not carry rabies. Foxes in the UK do not carry rabies because they do not have rabies in the UK. They are as susceptible to the disease as any other canine.

Our hostess, Johanna, said that she had heard that you can actually get a very rare, giant, brain-eating tape worm from fox urine. It lodges in your organs, even your brain, and uses you as an intermediary host or a vehicle to get to the next host, but it will destroy your organs and kill you. For this reason, one is advised to always wash wild berries before consuming them.

Well that is just crazy, right!? After some investigation I discovered that Johanna is confused. There is not a giant, brain-eating tapeworm you can get from fox urine. There is a brain-destroying tapeworm you can get from fox feces and a different but equally-rare giant parasite you can get from undercooked freshwater fish or frogs, who get the parasite from fox urine. Then there is a third bacterial infection you can also get from contact with the urine of an infected animal. Apparently house pets sometimes get it from licking up the urine of infected mice.

One important thing to note is that any zoonose you can get from a fox you can also get from a normal old dog. Also, the fish parasite can be spread by any mammal who likes to eat fish, including raccoons, skunks, opossums, and cats. None of these weird rare parasites or bacteria is specific to the fox.

So, let's break down the potential parasitic and bacterial menace of the urban fox.

Weil's Disease



Leptospirosis, aka Weil's disease, is the one you can get from contact with the leptospira bacterium, via the urine of infected animals. Wash those wild berries!

This disease causes flu-like symptoms in its first phase, followed a by a seemingly-healthy lull and then BAM! meningitis and kidney failure.

You treat the pesky microorganism with a complicated mix of antibiotics and treatments for the various symptoms and sequellae.

Giant Kidney Worm

adult kidney worm

This one is pretty complicated. Let's start with the more sensationalist aspects before getting into the tricky details. First of all, it is giant.

"Adult male worms are 20–40 cm long and 5–6 mm wide; females can grow to 103 cm in length with a width of 10–12 mm[3]. Both sexes appear bright red in color and taper at both the anterior and posterior ends."

Second of all, it lives inside your fucking kidney. It is extremely rare in humans and the only treatment is to remove the thing surgically, often removing the whole darn kidney.

The way you get this creature into your body is by eating freshwater fish or frogs that have consumed the eggs of the worm, which got into the water via the urine of an infected animal (which could be a fox).

It goes like this: I am a disgusting giant worm living with my boyfriend in the kidney of a fox (though any mammal will do). I squirt out some eggs from time to time, which the fox pisses out into a river. A fish swims by and drinks the water. My eggs hatch inside the fish and the little larvae just hang out there biding their time until some carnivorous mammal (rat, raccoon, cat, dog, whatever) comes along to eat the fish. At that point, my little larvae burrow through the animal's intestinal walls and travel around the blood stream, looking for a nice kidney to call home.

Fox Tapeworm
warning: gross picture behind that link

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Ah, finally! Echinococcus multilocularis! The tapeworm that lives in your brain! (Actually, the worm doesn't live in your brain, its larvae do.)

This one is spread specifically by canids, and since foxes are the wild canids that love to live it up in the big city, it is the one most known to spread the parasite to humans. This worm is a tapeworm, but not too big. It's only 3-6 mm long.

Here's how it works: The canine has a couple tape worms living in its large intestine. These worms get their eggs into the animal's poop. Another animal, such as a rat, a dog, a cat, or a child, ingests the worm eggs via the poo. These eggs then immediately hatch and the larvae burrow through the intestinal walls and travel through the blood to all of your organs, including your lungs and brain. Once they are comfortably settled in they start creating cysts that will eventually kill you if you don't get treatment. Many people who get this parasite have no symptoms for many years. Then they die. The only treatment is to surgically remove the larvae from your organs.

So, Johanna was basically right, except that she had done a bit of chimerical alchemy to combine the three perils into one. To help keep things straight, I have prepared this sloppy infographic.

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Despite these alarming parasites, foxes in the city are exciting and I am really glad that they are there. Don't play with dog shit, don't eat raw fish out of the Spree, wash your wild berries, and you should be fine. The Berlin city website has a page about the urban fox. It says that city foxes live in underground burrows in our parks. They eat mice, rats, insects, worms, birds, rabbits, fruits, and berries, and trash.

The fox enriches the fauna of our residential areas. We have the opportunity to share our living space with him, to watch him, and to understand his behavior. With careful conduct a co-existence between animals and humans is possible."

Now I think it appropriate to end this post with a video of the Mighty Boosh skit, Tale of the Crack Fox.



Hopefully, I will find time at some point to also cover our other topics of converstaion: the Bower Bird, the Lyre Bird, the rare Greek krikri, immigration in Greece, penis size in Greek sculpture, Shinto penis fixation, and favorite medieval cities in Germany.

Open Design City

About six months ago, I went to a two-day open design event during Social Media Week. The event's theme was food and it was held at Betahaus, which is a cool workshare/cafe in Kreuzberg.



At this event, I collaborated with a bunch of strangers to build a table for six, where everyone's forks, spoons, and glasses were connected to another diner's fork, spoon, or glass by strings under the table. At the performance/demonstration of the project, you found yourself puzzling over whose what was connected to your which and then how to behave. Cooperate? Overpower? Prank?



This is a project I am eager to recreate. The prototype was made of cardboard and was discarded at the end of the event, but the proof of concept is solid and survives.

There were a lot of great people at the event and a lot of cool projects. You can see lots of pictures on Flickr as well as an excellent documentary by Gabriel Shalom which he shot and edited during the event and screened at our closing party.



Since that event, several enterprising people, including Jay Cousins, have started a project to build an open makerspace behind Betahaus. The space is called Open Design City and it is a very cool work in progress.

I haven't been able to be as involved as I would have liked, with my new full-time job and my family who wants to see me on evenings at dinnertime, but I did manage to participate at the DMY Maker Lab, which was a really cool event. I still hope to put together a paper documentation for it. Yet another work in progress...



Last weekend I did a little screenprinting workshop at the ODC, based on my Instructable Screenprinting: Cheap, Dirty, and At Home. I almost had to cancel due to lack of sunlight, but we got a lucky break in the thunderstorm and were able to go ahead. I can imagine doing some of this kind of thing regularly. I do love to spread the Word of cheap and awesome printing.

screenprinting workshop

I have an electronics project I hope to get working on at their Monday night open sessions. I need some help and encouragement on that one, and I think the ODC is probably just the place to get it.

The Sad Tale of Webmail

I spent a long time today migrating this blog over from where it was living before. I had hoped to merge it with the original blog I started back in 2002, The Utterly Sputter. I was able to figure out that the account I used to create that blog 8 years ago is connected to a Hotmail account I don't remember creating or using. I spent over an hour trying to figure out how to get into that account. I tried to answer the secret question. I tried every password I could think of.

Then, I tried to figure out if there was any way to get help from Microsoft to get into the account or help from Google to connect the old blog to my new account. As far as I can tell, it is not allowed to ask for human help in either case. You may give Microsoft feedback, but it clearly states when you hit "send" that no one will ever reply to you.

It was a little trip down memory lane just trying to figure out what emails I had used and abandoned in the past. Libertysurf, yahoo, hotmail, noos, even laposte! I am sure there are webmail accounts out there that I still didn't remember even after all the brain racking I did today. Poor abandoned email accounts, just gathering spam.

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