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Heroes

2 googly eyes and a dream: How Mr. Trash Wheel went viral and conquered Baltimore.

When a group of local business leaders decided to make the Baltimore harbor fishable and swimmable by 2020, they quickly realized they needed to get weird.

"We wanted to install a device that would immediately reduce the amount of trash going into the Baltimore harbor," explains Adam Lindquist, director of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore's Healthy Harbor Initiative.

The solution came from local sailor and inventor John Kellett who, after years of noticing trash floating in the Jones Falls River, had installed a pilot "trash wheel" in the harbor in 2008. The Waterfront Partnership commissioned a permanent version that sits at the mouth of the river, scooping up discarded plastic on a solar-powered conveyor belt and depositing it into a series of dumpsters.


The group dubbed the faceless machine "Mr. Trash Wheel."

[rebelmouse-image 19532893 dam="1" original_size="1200x623" caption="The original Mr. Trash Wheel. Photo by Sarr Cat/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]The original Mr. Trash Wheel. Photo by Sarr Cat/Wikimedia Commons.

Since then, it has pulled over a million pounds of trash out of the water, inspiring a historical marker, a beer, an e-book, a painting, and dozens of Halloween costumes. Neat as he was, Mr. Trash Wheel's success and popularity were in no way preordained.

How did a group of business owners, environmentalists, and activists turn a giant, floating dumpster into an unofficial mascot of Baltimore?

They brought him to life.

Becoming Mr. Trash Wheel

Mr. Trash Wheel is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (not Snapchat; he hasn't figured it out yet). The first thing you notice when you start following him are his large, playful, googly eyes — eyes that were not attached to the real-life Mr. Trash Wheel (at least at first). The second thing you notice is how delightfully off-kilter and specifically human he is. Like a comic relief character from a good Pixar film.

His voice was originally created by Justin Allen of Baltimore ad agency What Works Studios in 2014. In the summer of 2015, the handle passed to Robyn Stegman, who's been operating it — and refining Mr. Trash Wheel's personality — ever since.  

"I started [as] the voice of Mr. Trash Wheel the week before we found the snake," says Stegman, who heads the trash wheel project for the mission-driven agency ChangingMedia.

The snake she's referring to is an escaped ball python that crawled up Mr. Trash Wheel's conveyor belt and wrapped itself around a control box about two years ago. Stegman described the ensuing media storm as a "trial by fire."

"It really helped me very early on build my voice and get that Mr. Trash Wheel voice in my head," she says.

The first thing she decided was that the 15-foot long, garbage-eating steampunk river cleaner would have a cheesily well-developed sense of humor.

"As soon as I started making snake puns, you had 20 other followers that were making hilarious other snake jokes," she explains. "So it became really great that way."

Stegman continues to infuse Mr. Trash Wheel with her own "nerdom and geekdom," which has endeared him to fans around the city. He loves "Star Wars." He makes "Lord of the Rings" fan art. He writes "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels and has spent hours answering questions on Reddit. Occasionally, he participates in local events.

"[Robyn] just has a crazy, funny mind," Lindquist says.

The plan wasn't always to create a trash wheel with such a vivacious personality. The idea to turn Mr. Trash Wheel into a bonafide citywide star came after a video of the device that went viral a few months after its installation in May 2014.

Soon Mr. Trash Wheel had his own Twitter account and those distinctive googly eyes, thanks to a quick photo editing job.

After the snake incident, the trash wheel's popularity soared, leading fans to demand that the real-life Mr. Trash Wheel take on some of the personality of the online version. A petition to mount actual googly eyes on the device was launched. The eyes were added later that year.

[rebelmouse-image 19532894 dam="1" original_size="700x364" caption="Mr. Trash Wheel plus eyes. Photo by Dicklyon/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]Mr. Trash Wheel plus eyes. Photo by Dicklyon/Wikimedia Commons.

"It really looks like a muppet of some sort, you know?" Lindquist says.

Not everyone was a fan of Mr. Trash Wheel's social media presence initially.

That included Kellett, who worried the device's "90% great" social feed could divert attention from the rigorous work of cleaning up the waterway.  

"The googly eyes don’t help people take it seriously," he told National Geographic in February. "People sometimes think it’s a sculpture."

Stegman says the character's lightheartedness is part of a trade off to deliver a pro-conservation message to as broad an audience as possible.

"We've had conversations about how it doesn't appeal to really a lot of true environmental advocates," she explains. "But we want to focus more on getting everyone involved. Because it really is something that requires a large groundswell of individuals in order to really start pushing legislation or starting to push consumer shifts to address this issue."

Professor Trash Wheel joins her friend in the harbor

Partially in response to the criticism, the group decided when the city installed a second trash wheel, it would create a more cerebral character to the trash wheel universe and introduced the city to Professor Trash Wheel. Unlike her colleague across the harbor, Professor Trash Wheel is a scientist. Stegman describes her voice as a mix between "Beyoncé and Eleanor Roosevelt," with a little bit of Ada Lovelace tossed in.

"Her Twitter following is so much more ocean scientists and ocean advocates because we’re posting much more about the science behind ocean plastics and ocean trash," Stegman explains.

The trash wheels' unique personalities have elevated their status as a local heroes.

They were even the subject of a musical tribute earlier this year.

"It’s one of the catchier songs about solid waste disposal that’s out there," says Jonathan Jensen, bassist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the composer and lyricist behind "Mr. Trash Wheel." The upbeat, Dixieland thumper has become a kind of unofficial anthem for the harbor restoration project after its debut at a launch event for a trash wheel-themed microbrew, Mr. Trash Wheel's Lost Python Ale.

Mr. Trash Wheel got his very own song! It was written by Jonathan Jensen (on piano) and performed by Tongue in Cheek at last weekend's beer launch at Peabody Heights Brewery, LLC.We are currently seeking a donation of studio time so that everyone can hear this epic masterpiece.

Posted by Healthy Harbor on Sunday, April 30, 2017

Jensen, who hadn't seen the trash wheel when he dreamed up the song, was immediately taken with the character via social media. He believes the rabid fan response is a tribute to the "creativity and quirkiness" of the local community and art scene.

"[Mr. Trash Wheel's] got his own Facebook page, and the posts are in the first person, so you feel like this is a character of some kind," Jensen says. "It's just fun."

Stegman believes the key to the trash wheels' popularity is their authentic, human enthusiasm, which is difficult to fake. "I think that one thing that fans really appreciate about Mr. Trash Wheel is that we’re not afraid to go super weird with them and meet them at the spaces they already are," she says.

And the enthusiasm seems to be spilling over into real life. Last month, the group launched Trash-Free Tuesday, encouraging fans to pick up trash and litter on Tuesday and tag their photos and enticing them with a series of Mr. Trash Wheel prize packages.

On Nov. 18, over 100 fans reported to a warehouse to sift through the refuse collected by the trash wheels to "audit" the contents.

"We posted it once on social media, and we were sold out within three days," Lindquist says. "And we were worried about whether we would actually have fans that would come wake up early on a Saturday morning and dig through literal trash. But it’s amazing to see how fans respond to that."

Meanwhile, the trash wheels' fan club has gone global. "We just heard from a teacher in Ecuador that’s using Mr. Trash Wheel to teach about ocean trash in her classroom," Stegman says.

The Waterfront Partnership's ultimate goal is to get the harbor clean enough to put the trash wheels out of business.

In the meantime, the group has big plans for the project. A new trash wheel, Captain Trash Wheel, is set to debut in South Baltimore's Masonville Cove in 2018. In the meantime, the fans, ever vigilant, have organized a petition to "promote" Mr. Trash Wheel to a more senior rank.

"It's been such a crazy, wild ride," Stegman says.

All thanks to a solar-powered garbage-eating raft with a personality as big as the Chesapeake Bay.

Health

Dentist explains the 3 times you should never brush your teeth

Sometimes not brushing your teeth is the best way to protect them.

Representative Image from Canva

Add this to the list of things you didn't learn in health class.

For those who love the oh-so fresh feeling of immediately running to brush their teeth after a meal, we got some bad news.

London-based dental surgeon and facial aesthetics practitioner Dr. Shaadi Manouchehri recently shocked around 12 million viewers on TikTok after sharing the three occasions when you should “never” be scrubbing those pearly whites—if you want to actually protect your teeth, that is.

The hardest part about this video, which some viewers are undoubtedly still processing, is that each of these no-no times is exactly when brushing your teeth is the only thing you’ll want to do. So much for instincts.


Number one on Manouchehri’s list, which caused the most controversy in the comments, isright after vomiting. Yep, you read that right.

“This is because the contents of the stomach are extremely acidic and the mouth is already in a very acidic state so if you brush straight after [vomiting] you’re basically wearing away your enamel,” Manouchehri explained.

Of course, commenters weren’t willing to let this one go without a fight. One viewer wrote, “I would rather lose all of my teeth than not brush after vomiting.”

Manouchehri also says to avoid brushing your teeth directly after eating breakfast. This is because “when you’ve just eaten, the mouth is, again in a “very acidic state,” so if you’re brushing your teeth you’re rubbing that acid on the tooth, which wears down the enamel.” Other sources have also confirmed that brushing your teeth tight after any meal isn’t really recommended.

This goes double for right after sweets. Manouchehri says to wait a full 60 minutes before putting a toothbrush anywhere near your mouth after having something sugary. Because…you guessed it…acid.

Does this advice seem counterintuitive? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

@drshaadimanouchehri #dentist #dentistry #dentaladvice #learnontiktok #funfacts #londondentist #dentalcleaning #teethbrushing #teethbrushingmadeeasy #teethbrushingtips #londondentistry #marylebonedentist #fypシ ♬ original sound - Dr Shaadi Manouchehri

“Ah, yes, the three times I want to brush my teeth more than any other time,” one person joked.

Luckily, there are few alternatives to try if you want that good, clean mouth feeling but don’t want to compromise your enamel—the simplest being to either rinse with or drink water. You can also use sugar-free chewing gum or conclude your meal with dairy or non-acidic foods, according to Advanced Dental Associates. If you still crave a little more of a hygiene bang, you can opt for a mouthwash with fluoride and using a tongue cleaner, which removes excess acid, per Curetoday.com.

Guess there’s a time and a place for everything, even when it comes to dental hygiene.

Representative Image from Canva

There's no way they didn't understand what she was saying.

Okay, so maybe dogs don’t understand everything we tell them exactly as a human would. But is that gonna stop us from having full blown conversations with them? Of course not. And the times they do seem to comprehend what’s being communicated—pure comedy.

Take this dog mom’s hilarious pre-grooming pep talk with Shih-Tzus Branston, Pickle and Gizmo. She minced no words telling them exactly how this trip was gonna go. And the message seemed to be received.

Branston (the troublemaker, apparently) got a firm warning of what not to do, including telling white lies about his upbringing.

“I don’t need you running in telling the first dog you see that this is what this is what your hair used to look like when you lived in the Bronx running up and down the block, cause I know for a fact, Branston, that you live in a rural village,” she tells him.

Viewers, however, seemed on board with Branston’s Bronx-affiliation, even if it was a little white lie. One person joked, “don’t be mad at the treats that I got, I’m still Branny from the block.”

In the video, Branston is also instructed to not tell everyone that he “identifies as a BUll Mastiff,” which gets the most adorable look of disappointment for wee little Branston.

As for Gizmo and Pickle—mom’s best advice is to pretend like they don’t know Branston.

Perhaps the best part is mom’s British accent, which makes the entire clip feel like something pulled straight outta “Ted Lasso.” That, or the complete shock the Shih-tzu trio has at being informed of their weight class.

Watch:

@branstonandpickle01 Your NOT from the Bronx and you never ran up and down the block!! #dogsoftiktok #peptalktoyourdog #branstonwehavearrived #shihtzusoftiktok #peptalkbranston #funnydogvideos #funnyvideos #nyc #bronx #funny #dogs #dogtok ♬ original sound - Branston,Pickle&Gizmo

Perhaps Branston, Pickle, and Gizmo’s mom isn’t totally off-base by giving them a talking to. According to the website allshihtzu.com, this breed had a “unique intelligence,” which gets best demonstrated by their attuned, empathic connection to their human families. Meaning that while they might not have the same kind of smarts as border collies or other herding dogs, their super power is picking up social cues.

And, again, even if they had no earthly idea what their mom was saying, odds are she’d still be talking to them anyway. Why? Because pets are our babies. And baby talk is fun.jk

popular

6 alternatives to saying 'let me know if you need anything' to someone in crisis

If someone is drowning, you don't wait for them to ask for help. You just take action.

People going through major struggles don't always know what they need or how to ask for help.

When we see someone dealing with the loss of a loved one or some other major life crisis, it's instinctual for many of us to ask how we can help. Often, the conversation looks something like this:

Us: I am SO sorry you're going through this. What can I do to help?

Person in crisis: I honestly don't know right now.

Us: Okay…well…you let me know if you need anything—anything at all.

Person in crisis: Okay, thank you.

Us: I mean it. Don't hesitate to ask. I'm happy to help with whatever you need.

And then…crickets. The person never reaches out to take you up on the offer.


Was it that they didn't really need any help, this person going through a major life crisis? Unlikely. As sincere as our offer may have been, the problem may be that we didn't really offer them what they actually needed.

One of those needs is to not have to make decisions. Another is to not have to directly ask for help.

When a person is in a state of crisis, they can feel like they're drowning. They might be disoriented and fatigued, and doing anything other than keeping their head above water long enough to breathe can feel like too much.

If someone is drowning, you don't ask them what you can do to help or wait for them to ask. You just take action.

Here are some specific ways you can take action to help someone who you know needs help but isn't able or willing to ask for it:

1. Make them food

It may be tempting to ask if you can make them a meal and wait for them to say yes or no, but don't. Simply ask if they or anyone in their household has any dietary restrictions, and then start shopping and cooking.

Meals that can be popped in the refrigerator or freezer and then directly into the oven or microwave are going to be your best bets. Include cooking or reheating instructions if it's not obvious. Disposable aluminum trays are great for homemade freezer-to-oven meals and can be found at just about any grocery store. Casseroles. Stir fried rices. Soups. Comfort foods.

If you don't cook, you can buy them gift cards to local restaurants that deliver, or give them a DoorDash or UberEats gift certificate (large enough to cover the delivery, service fees and tip as well, which combined can be as much as a meal sometimes).

lasagna in the oven

Easy-prep meals people can throw in the oven are great.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Even better—organize a meal train

If you want to make it a community-wide effort and no one else has done so yet, set up a "meal train," where different people sign up for different days to bring meals to spread out the food help over time. There are several free websites you can use for this purpose, including Give In Kind, Meal Train, and Take Them a Meal. These sites make it super easy for anyone with the personalized link to sign up for a meal.

someone scrubbing a pot in a kitchen sink

There are always dishes to wash.

Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

2. Clean their kitchen and/or bathrooms

Kitchens are always in use, and keeping up with dishes, especially in a house full of people, is a challenge even under normal circumstances. Same with keeping the refrigerator cleaned out. Same with cleaning the bathroom.

Rather than asking if they want it done, as many people won't want to say yes even if they would appreciate the help, try saying something like, "I want to come and make sure your kitchen is ready for you to make food whenever you want to and that your bathroom is a clean space for you to escape to whenever you feel like it. Is Tuesday or Wednesday at 1:00 better for you?"

The fewer complex decisions a person in crisis has to make the better, so saying, "Is this or that better?" rather than offering open-ended possibilities can be helpful.

woman folding clothes

There is always laundry to fold, too.

Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

3. Do laundry

Offer to sit and chat with them, let them vent if they need to…and fold their laundry while you're at it.

Are they the kind of people who might be embarrassed by you seeing or handling their underclothes? Fine. Wash, dry and fold towels or bedsheets instead. Just keep the laundry moving for them.

And if it doesn't feel appropriate or desirable for you to do their laundry at their house, you can offer a pick-up laundry service, either yourself or an actual hired service. Tell the person to put bags or bins of laundry at the door and you (or the service) will come pick it up and bring it back clean and folded the next day. That's a great way to be of service without feeling like you're intruding.

man pulling food and toilet paper out of the car

Offer to pick stuff up when you're on a grocery run.

Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

4. Run errands for them

"Hey, I'm heading out to the store, what can I grab you while I'm there?" is always a welcome phone call or text. Let them know when you're going to be running your own errands and see if there's anything they need dropped at the post office, picked up from the pharmacy, or anything else.

You can also offer to run errands with them. "Hey, I've got some errands to run. Do you want to join me?" They may have no desire to leave the house, or they may desperately want to leave the house, so be prepared for either answer, but the offer is solid. Even just not having to drive might be a relief if they have things they need to pick up or drop off places.

woman holding hands with a small child as they walk

Caring for someone's kids is one of the most helpful things you can do.

Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash

5. Provide childcare

If the person is a parent, taking their kid(s) out for a chunk of the day can be a big help. Caring for yourself is hard when you're going through a difficult time, and the energy a person might use to actually do that often gets usurped by caring for others. Obviously, parents can't just neglect their children, so anything you can do to relieve them of that responsibility for a while is gold.

Offering to take the kids to do something fun—a day at the park, ice skating, etc. is even better. A parent knowing their kid is safe, occupied and happy is its own form of relief.

6. Ask what they're struggling with and focus your help there

While all of these practical household things are helpful, there might be some people who find comfort or solace in doing those things themselves. If that's the case, talk with them about what their immediate needs are and what they're having a hard time dealing with. Then focus your energies there. "What can I do to help?" may not be as effective a question as "What are you having a hard time doing right now?" They may not know what kind of help they need, but they probably know how they're struggling.

One person might be lonely and just want some company. Another person might need a creative outlet or a mindless distraction or something physical like going for a walk or a hike. Someone else might have pets they need help caring for, a garden that need tending or the oil changed in their car. Someone might even need a person to serve as a shield or buffer between them and all the people coming to offer their condolences.

Note that many of these things are basic life maintenance stuff—those are often the things that get hard for people when they're dealing with the emotional and logistical stuff surrounding whatever they're going through, and they're often the easiest things other people can do for them. A time of crisis is not a normal time, so normal etiquette, such as asking if you can or should do something rather than just letting them know you're going to do it, doesn't always apply.

If there's a specific thing with specific tasks, such as planning a funeral, that might be a good opportunity to ask how you can help. But people deep in the throes of grief or struggle often need someone to the reins on basic things without being asked to. Again, there's a good chance they feel like they're drowning, so don't wait for an invitation. Just grab the life preserver, put it around them and do whatever needs to be done to get them to shore.


This article originally appeared on 2.5.24

What is Depression?

In the United States, close to 10% of the population has depression, but sometimes it can take a long time for someone to even understand that they have it.

One difficulty in diagnosis is trying to distinguish between feeling down and experiencing clinical depression. This TED-Ed video from December 2015 can help make the distinction. With simple animation, the video explains how clinical depression lasts longer than two weeks with a range of symptoms that can include changes in appetite, poor concentration, restlessness, sleep disorders (either too much or too little), and suicidal ideation. The video briefly discusses the neuroscience behind the illness, outlines treatments, and offers advice on how you can help a friend or loved one who may have depression.


Unlike the many pharmaceutical ads out there with their cute mascots and vague symptoms, the video uses animation to provide clarity about the mental disorder. It's similar in its poignant simplicity to the HBO short documentary "My Depression," based on Liz Swados' book of the same name.


This article originally appeared on 08.17.19

New baby and a happy dad.


When San Francisco photographer Lisa Robinson was about to have her second child, she was both excited and nervous.

Sure, those are the feelings most moms-to-be experience before giving birth, but Lisa's nerves were tied to something different.

She and her husband already had a 9-year-old son but desperately wanted another baby. They spent years trying to get pregnant again, but after countless failed attempts and two miscarriages, they decided to stop trying.


Of course, that's when Lisa ended up becoming pregnant with her daughter, Anora. Since it was such a miraculous pregnancy, Lisa wanted to do something special to commemorate her daughter's birth.

So she turned to her craft — photography — as a way to both commemorate the special day, and keep herself calm and focused throughout the birthing process.

Normally, Lisa takes portraits and does wedding photography, so she knew the logistics of being her own birth photographer would be a somewhat precarious new adventure — to say the least.

pregnancy, hospital, giving birth, POV

She initially suggested the idea to her husband Alec as a joke.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"After some thought," she says, "I figured I would try it out and that it could capture some amazing memories for us and our daughter."

In the end, she says, Alec was supportive and thought it would be great if she could pull it off. Her doctors and nurses were all for Lisa taking pictures, too, especially because it really seemed to help her manage the pain and stress.

In the hospital, she realized it was a lot harder to hold her camera steady than she initially thought it would be.

tocodynamometer, labor, selfies

She had labor shakes but would periodically take pictures between contractions.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"Eventually when it was time to push and I was able to take the photos as I was pushing, I focused on my daughter and my husband and not so much the camera," she says.

"I didn't know if I was in focus or capturing everything but it was amazing to do.”

The shots she ended up getting speak for themselves:

nurse, strangers, medical care,

Warm and encouraging smiles from the nurse.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

experiment, images, capture, document, record

Newborn Anora's first experience with breastfeeding.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"Everybody was supportive and kind of surprised that I was able to capture things throughout. I even remember laughing along with them at one point as I was pushing," Lisa recalled.

In the end, Lisa was so glad she went through with her experiment. She got incredible pictures — and it actually did make her labor easier.

Would she recommend every mom-to-be document their birth in this way? Absolutely not. What works for one person may not work at all for another.

However, if you do have a hobby that relaxes you, figuring out how to incorporate it into one of the most stressful moments in your life is a pretty good way to keep yourself calm and focused.

Expecting and love the idea of documenting your own birthing process?

Take some advice from Lisa: "Don't put pressure on yourself to get 'the shot'" she says, "and enjoy the moment as much as you can.”

Lisa's mom took this last one.

grandma, hobby, birthing process

Mom and daughter earned the rest.

Photo via Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

This article originally appeared on 06.30.16