How To Donate Your Voice To Someone Who Can’t Speak

‘Here’s a good deed you can do without parting with a single thing. Synthetic voices for people who have lost the ability to speak only come in generic types—think of Stephen Hawking‘s voice—but one fascinating project wants to build custom voices for each person. To do that they need your help: specifically, a recording of your voice.

VocalID is the brainchild of two speech scientists, who are turning their research into a much larger project. Voice is intensely personal and, like a prosthetic leg or arm, it makes sense it should be customized to each person.

Here’s how it works—and don’t worry, this does not mean someone will be walking around with the same voice as you out there:

After recording a couple hours of audio in, say, a quiet room with an iPhone, you send it to VocalID, where a program called ModelTalker chops it up into the basic units of speech that can be recombined as novel words and sentences. In that same step, characteristics of the patient’s voice—based on what limited sounds they can make—are blended in to the donor’s to create a whole new one. You can listen to how it works out on VocalID’s website.

VocalID is still in its beginning stages, and they’re looking for help from everyone including voice donors, financial support, and programmers. A priority is making voice donation even easier, cutting down recording time, especially for kids. But as it stands already, your voice is just about the easiest thing to donate.’ (Gizmodo)

 

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New Big Bang Evidence Suggests Presence of Alternate Universes

‘The same research that revealed the first-ever direct evidence of Big Bang inflation earlier this week also suggests the presence of alternate universes.

So, universes just like our own, except separate? Not exactly. Miriam Kramer explains:

The new research also lends credence to the idea of a multiverse. This theory posits that, when the universe grew exponentially in the first tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, some parts of space-time expanded more quickly than others. This could have created “bubbles” of space-time that then developed into other universes. The known universe has its own laws of physics, while other universes could have different laws, according to the multiverse concept.‘ (Gizmodo).

The World’s Largest Telescope Is Finally Getting Underway

It’s been almost five years since Gizmodo first reported on the Thirty Meter Telescope, a mega-telescope with a resolution ten times that of the Hubble. Now, it seems the long-delayed project’s time has come: Hawaii has agreed to lease a parcel of land for the telescope, and officials say construction could begin as soon as April.

The TMT dates back to the 1990s, when the idea was first broached by a group of California scientists. In the years since, their idea has taken on the details of a real plan: An almost 100-foot-wide mirror made up of just less than 500 segments, ensconced on a astronomy park atop a dormant volcano called Mauna Kea, where it will do everything from detect light from the earliest stars to search out evidence of dark matter.’ (Gizmodo).

Exploring literature’s most sinister syllable

‘Sherlock Holmes’s mortal nemesis was Professor Moriarty.

Harry Potter’s nemesis was Voldemort.

Doctor Who had a nemesis named Morbius. So did Spider-Man. Morbius was also the name of the antagonist in The Forbidden Planet.

Frodo Baggins went through the mines of Moria to get to Mordor, where he met Sauron, who, as great a villain as he was, started out as the lieutenant of Morgoth, the original and darkest villain in the world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

H.G. Wells sent his time traveller into the future to encounter a cave-dwelling evil race called the Morlocks. He also created an evil genius called Dr. Moreau.

King Arthur was betrayed by Mordred.

The really scuzzy city in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is Morpork.

So what’s the deal with “mor”? Is there something to the syllable that suits it for melancholy, darkness, and villainy?’ (The Week).

4 Miles Over Britain Pilot Is Sucked Out; Crew Holds On Tight

English: Winchester Cathedral A plane - no dou...

‘The pilot of a passenger plane was partly sucked out of the cabin window onto the nose cone of the jet today after its windshield blew out at 23,000 feet. But he was saved by crew members who clung to his ankles for 15 minutes until the co-pilot landed the plane safely in southern England.

Several of the aircraft’s 81 passengers said they watched in horror as crew members frantically wrestled to pull Capt. Timothy Lancaster back into the cockpit. The plane went into a dive, but with half of Mr. Lancaster’s body hanging outside the co-pilot flew the aircraft to Southampton Airport, 70 miles southwest of London.’ (New York Times).

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The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains

‘Leading scientists recently identified a dozen chemicals as being responsible for widespread behavioral and cognitive problems. But the scope of the chemical dangers in our environment is likely even greater. Why children and the poor are most susceptible to neurotoxic exposure that may be costing the U.S. billions of dollars and immeasurable peace of mind.’ (The Atlantic).

Why the Big Bang Discovery Is Even More Important Than You Think

‘As you’ve probably heard, yesterday a team of scientists identified evidence of cosmic inflation right after the Big Bang, a finding which helps explain how the entire Universe originated. Amazing as that sounds, it’s way more important than you even imagine.

To truly grasp the significance, let’s start with what exactly it is that the Harvard team found. Forget analogies about ripples in ponds or whatever other over-simplified guff you’re read. Here’s what actually happened.’ (Gizmodo).

How Biotech Could Make Life in Prison a Living Hell

‘At the University of Oxford, a team of scholars led by the philosopher Rebecca Roache has begun thinking about the ways futuristic technologies might transform punishment. In January, I spoke with Roache and her colleagues Anders Sandberg and Hannah Maslen about emotional enhancement, ‘supercrimes’, and the ethics of eternal damnation. What follows is a condensed and edited transcript of our conversation…’ (Gizmodo).

New-Car Smell: Formaldehyde, Which Makes You Sick

‘In the course of his research on the New Orleans trailer park culture that developed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Oxford anthropologist Nick Shapiro stumbled on something unexpected. At 250 square feet, the FEMA-issued mobile homes were scarcely fit to live in, but there was one thing about them that, for their occupants, represented the height of luxury: a scent evocative of the interior of a new car. This smell was also making them sick.’ (New Republic).

Woods Around Chernobyl Are Unable to Decay

‘Like a landscape of the undead, the woods outside Chernobyl are having trouble decomposing. The catastrophic meltdown and ensuing radiation blast of April 1986 has had long-term effects on the very soil and ground cover of the forested region, essentially leaving the dead trees and leaf litter unable to decompose. The result is a forest full of “petrified-looking pine trees” that no longer seem capable of rotting.

Indeed, Smithsonian reports, “decomposers—organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay—have also suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil.” …’ (Gizmodo).

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All the aircrafts that have mysteriously vanished since 1948

‘As this Bloomberg map shows, Malaysian flight 370 is not the first flight to mysteriously disappear. 83 flights have vanished since 1948—80 of them never to be found again (the dots in yellow). This map only includes flights capable of carrying more than 14 passengers.

Some more curious stats:

  • Five planes were missing in the famous Bermuda Triangle.
  • The DC-3 is the airplane with the higher count of disappearances: 19.
  • The average number of people missing: 13.
  • The average number of vanished flight per year: 1.2.’ (Gizmodo).
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Beers Implicated in Emergency Room Visits

‘Nationwide, roughly a third of all visits to emergency rooms for injuries are alcohol related. Now a new study suggests that certain beverages may be more likely to be involved than others.

The study, carried out over the course of a year at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, found that five beer brands were consumed most often by people who ended up in the emergency room…’ (NYTimes.com). Before you click through to the article, can you guess?

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10 Recipes for Guaranteed Unhappiness

English: "Stone of unhappiness acident&qu...

‘How come we keep getting lost on our way to happiness and yet many of us are masters in the “art” of unhappiness?

To cut a long story short, here they are:

  • Be, act and feel a victim!
  • Be angry, you have reasons!
  • Control everything, all the time!
  • Do everything perfectly all the time!
  • Please everyone!
  • Be convinced that life is a jungle where only lions thrive!
  • Be busy!
  • Always be dissatisfied!
  • Trust no one!
  • Always expect the worst!’ (Medium).
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Why The Blair Witch Project Is Still the Scariest Movie Ever

Blair Witch was at mt.Charleston - IMG_7195

‘Why Blair Witch remains one of the most frightening films ever made is precisely because of what all those so-called “reality” techniques don’t show. The found-footage and the first-person camera and even the low budget actually enabled a lack of information that allowed our imagination to fill in the blanks. It was the standard ghost story we’d all grown up with, but we were able to annotate it with whatever version of that story that had terrified us when we were seven. We wanted to believe. And we did. Some of us a little too much.’ (Gizmodo).

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The Left Must Derail Hillary Clinton in the Primaries

Hillary Rodham Clinton, January 2007

John R. MacArthur: ‘As a presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in 2016 appears ever more likely, it’s a good moment to ask what alternative exists to lying down and letting such a campaign drown the body politic.

Time is short. The queen of cynics, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, already has pronounced her gorgon’s judgment on the inevitability of Hillary versus Jeb. “The looming prospect of another Clinton–Bush race makes us feel fatigued,” yawns the perpetually bored Dowd, who, on the contrary, relishes a future of easy columns mocking America’s two leading political dynasties.

What about the rest of us? Is it inevitable that we swallow the nomination of

Jeb Bush

the neo-liberal Clinton, whose support of Bush’s Iraq madness (not to mention Obama’s Afghan and Libyan stupidity) and her husband’s recklessly pro-“free trade,” pro-banker, pro-deregulation politics ought to send reasonable liberals fleeing? Is it predestined that principled conservatives accept the anointment of the thoroughly fraudulent Jeb, whose support of his brother’s interventionist folly, along with his own outrageous meddling as governor of Florida to “rescue” brain-dead Terri Schiavo, should give pause to even the greediest oil baron seeking patronage from a Republican administration?’ (Harper’s Magazine).

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Rescuing the Atomic Dog

Nuclear weapon test Bravo (yield 15 Mt) on Bik...

‘Can dogs survive nuclear fallout? Indeed they can.

In 1958, American scientists were stunned to find a canine survivor of the disastrous Castle Bravo test—the largest ever U.S. nuclear detonation. It also took a little politicking with American Airlines to rescue the pooch.

For science.

…If it wasn’t for [Ernest Williams, a trustee at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas], the atomic dog would have been left stranded on a contaminated Pacific atoll.’ (Medium).

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New International Pact Aims to Protect the Sargasso Sea—Why It’s Worth Saving

‘Five countries signed an agreement this week committing to the protection of the Sargasso Sea, which occupies a vast stretch of the North Atlantic Ocean around Bermuda.

The Sargasso has long attracted the attention of conservationists and scientists because it hosts a rich diversity of wildlife, including leatherback sea turtles, humpback whales, and bluefin tuna. The animals eat and take shelter in a seaweed called sargassum, which floats in massive quantities in the area—some say it looks like a golden, floating rain forest—and gives the sea its name.

Fishing and shipping traffic threatens to unravel this biologically rich ecosystem, on top of broader threats like climate change and ocean acidification.

The new nonbinding agreement on the Sargasso, called the Hamilton Declaration, is a first for the high seas.’ (National Geographic).

TV Networks Can Live On — By Taking Themselves Off the Air

CES: CBS Keynote: Leslie Moonves

‘Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS, the country’s most powerful TV broadcaster, is threatening to take his network off the air. And that’s not such a bad idea.

On Tuesday, Moonves told CBS-owned CNet that his TV network could move to an internet direct-subscription model if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Aereo, the service that lets you grab TV airwaves with a personal antenna for viewing on your PC, tablet, or phone…

[T]he case for an all-subscription model makes a surprising amount of sense  – especially when you consider that paying a la carte for what you watch is TV’s inevitable future. By going all-subscription now, the big networks would have a chance to define that future rather than becoming its victims.’ (Wired.com).

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Bombogenesis, the Most Extreme Weather This Winter

‘Move over, thundersleet and frost quake and all you other weird winter weather names. The undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of the climate-changed world is: bombogenesis!

This delicious buzzword, which is a portmanteau of “bomb cyclogenesis” and refers to the sudden intensification of storms after a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure, has been tumbling off lips this polar vortex winter. In the latest Science Graphic of the Week, you can see why.’ (Wired Science).

Paul Ryan’s worthless attempt to save face: Why he’s still an overrated fraud

‘Beltway writers have recently tried to outdo themselves with breathless profiles of a “new” Paul Ryan, deeply concerned about the poor. I’ve warned repeatedly that Ryan’s views on poverty are just warmed-over Reaganism, and now we have proof. McKay Coppins’ piece “Paul Ryan Finds God” should have revealed that his God is no longer Ayn Rand but Charles Murray, the man who put a patina of (flawed) social science on Reagan’s lyrical lie, “We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won.”

But let me explain all of what it means to cite Charles Murray in 2014. Murray is so toxic that Ryan’s shout-out must be unpacked. First, Rep. Barbara Lee is absolutely right: Ryan’s comments about “inner city” men who are “not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work” are, in fact, “a thinly veiled racial attack,” in the congresswoman’s words. “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’” ‘ (Salon.com).

Rare mutant redwood to be chopped down to make way for railroad

A branch from an 'albino' Sequoia sempervirens...

“An extremely rare albino chimero coast redwood tree is growing in the small Sonoma County town of Cotati. Federal regulators say the tree must be chopped down because the genetically mutated redwood is too close to a proposed set of new railroad tracks. Preservationists are hoping to raise public awareness and save the tree. The tree is believed to be one of fewer than 10 albino chimero redwood trees in the world.” — Mark Frauenfelder (Boing Boing)

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Nuclear crisis at Fukushima continues to unfold

‘Miles O’Brien, science correspondent for PBS NewsHour, has produced a series of three must-see investigative reports revisiting the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan. His stories explore how the radiation leaks triggered by the earthquake and tsunami are continuing to affect life there, and beyond.’ — Xeni Jardin (Boing Boing). Xeni, who is Miles O’Brien’s significant other, ends her post by letting us know that Miles recently suspended his reporting career after he lost his left arm in an accident while on assignment in the Philippines, but that he is healing well.

News Flash: Brain Tumor Success

News Flash: Brain Tumor Success - Focused Ultrasound Foundation

I am ecstatic! One of my closest friends, with an inoperable and highly malignant recurrent brain tumor, has experienced considerable regression of the tumor mass, recovery of function (and lengthening of life) with the experimental application of a noninvasive technique for focused ablation of the tumor (without opening the cranium) with ultrasound. The technique is called MrgFUS, “magnetic-resonance-guided focused ultrasound”, for short. This is the first time it has been used in this way anywhere in the world. Here is the press release. I’ll forgive the investigators their bragging rights in light of the result!

Related: Ted Talks on Focused Ultrasound

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VLT Spots Largest Yellow Hypergiant Star

‘ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer has revealed the largest yellow star — and one of the ten largest stars found so far. This hypergiant has been found to measure more than 1300 times the diameter of the Sun, and to be part of a double star system, with the second component so close that it is in contact with the main star. Observations spanning over sixty years, some from amateur observers, also indicate that this rare and remarkable object is changing very rapidly and has been caught during a very brief phase of its life.’ (ESO).

Good god, this bloody mutant monster can’t be a real spider

‘I don’t even know what I’m looking at here. I think I see some eyes and a beak attached some oversized head attached to the body of a spider. It’s a pelican spider.

“They look like little birds,” says Hannah Wood of the University of California, Davis. The spider’s body is about the size of a grain of rice, with a front segment that has evolved into a stretched “neck” with a little round “head” on top. (The mouth is actually at the bottom of the “neck”). And a pair of jawlike fanged projections called chelicerae folds down against the neck, where a pelican would tuck its beak.

Fuck you, nature. Fuck. You.’ (Sploid).

The Five-Second Rule Is Now Supported by Actual Scientific Evidence

None - This image is in the public domain and ...

‘To finally put an end to the age-old edibility debate, a team of students led by microbiology professor Anthony Hilton looked at the transfer of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus (or the bacteria that causes Staph infection) from a variety of indoor floor types (carpet, laminate, and tiled surfaces) to a variety of foods (toast, pasta, cookies, ham, dried fruit, and last but not least a “sticky dessert”). Each tested round of contact lasted between three and 30 seconds.

In what will surely be validating news to five-second rule champions everywhere, the researchers found that “time is a significant factor in the transfer of bacteria from a floor surface to a piece of food.” It’s not just the precious seconds your meal spends on the ground that matters, though; the type of flooring also plays a pretty big role. For instance, food dropped on carpet is the least likely to pick up bacteria, while food that sits on a hardwood floor for over five seconds is almost guaranteed to pick up something unpleasant—and it’s a moist food item, forget about it.’ (Gizmodo)

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Out-Of-Body Experiences Make It Harder To Encode Memories

Out of body experience

‘When Henrik Ehrsson tells me that his latest study is “weird”, I pay attention. This is a man, after all, who once convinced me I was the size of a doll, persuaded me that I had three arms, and ripped me out of my own body before stabbing me in the chest. Guy knows weird.

Ehrsson’s team at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm specialises in studying our sense of self, by creating simple yet spectacular illusions that subvert our everyday experiences. For example, it seems almost trite to suggest that all of us experience our lives from within our own bodies. But with just a few rods, a virtual reality headset, and a camera, Ehrsson can give people an out-of-body experience or convince them that they’ve swapped bodies with a mannequin or another person.

These illusions tell us that our sense of self isn’t the fixed, stable, hard-wired sensation that it seems. Instead, our brain uses the information from our senses to continuously construct the feeling that we own our own bodies. Feed the senses with the wrong information, and you can make the brain believe all manner of impossible things.

Loretxu Bergouignan joined Ehrsson’s team in 2009. She had been studying memory, and she wanted to know if that brittle sense of self is important for encoding our experience. After all, we take in all the events of our lives from inside our own bodies. As Bergouignan writes, “There is always an “I” that experiences the original event, and an I that re-experiences the event during the act of remembering.” If she put someone through an out-of-body illusion, could they still make new memories? Is that first-person perspective of the world important for storing information about it?’ — Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science).

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Brain Scans Provide Clues to a Dog’s Inner Life

Estudio concluye que los perros también tienen...

‘A first-of-its-kind study that measured activity in dogs’ brains finds a key region only lights up when the animal is exposed to the smell of a familiar human being. Other dogs—even familiar ones—do not produce the same response.

“It is tempting to conclude that (this) response represents something akin to a positive emotional response to the scent of a familiar human,” writes the research team led by Gregory Berns of Emory University. Their study—including their speculative discussion of whether that’s truly the case—is in the journal Behavioural Processes.’ (Pacific Standard).

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“So You’re Going to Take LSD”: A Beginner’s Guide From 1967

LSD

‘ “So you’re going to take LSD.” Thus begins a how-to manual by Lisa Bieberman, who was then a 25-year-old Harvard graduate and former assistant to Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) and Timothy Leary (aka Nixon’s “Most Dangerous Man in America”) in their famed LSD experiments. Published in 1967, the year before the hallucinogen was criminalized, the pamphlet was recently unearthed by Psychedelic Frontier, a blog for the “consciousness expansion” community.

Bieberman seems to have been an ardent but surprisingly down-to-earth acid adherent, and earnest about her task. This guide for beginners is mainly addressed to practical matters to promote the best possible “LSD session.” She is eager to correct disinformation (LSD does not make you think you can fly) and to dispel romantic illusions (LSD does not make you smarter, more creative or a better person). And because she believes that LSD’s benefits are almost entirely emotional or spiritual in nature—and that therefore you and your companions should stay in one room, sit still and say nothing—her advice leans heavily on what NOT to do…’ (Substance.com).

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How to Teach Serious Literature with Lightweight Books

David Foster Wallace’s 1994 Syllabus: ‘…[David Foster] Wallace was perhaps one of the most careful (or care-full) writers of his generation. …[So] you might just have to admire the fine art of his syllabi. Well, so you can, thanks to the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, which has scans available online of the syllabus for Wallace’s intro course “English 102-Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction” , along with other course documents. These documents—From the Fall ’94 semester at Illinois State University, where Wallace taught from 1993 to 2002—reveal the professionally pedagogical side of the literary wunderkind, a side every teacher will connect with right away.

…[I]f you squint hard, you’ll see under “Aims of Course” that Wallace quotes the official ISU description of his class, then translates it into his own words:

In less narcotizing words, English 102 aims to show you some ways to read fiction more deeply, to come up with more interesting insights on how pieces of fiction work, to have informed intelligent reasons for liking or disliking a piece of fiction, and to write—clearly, persuasively, and above all interestingly—about stuff you’ve read.

…Wallace’s choice of texts is of interest as well—surprising for a writer most detractors call “pretentious.” For his class, Wallace prescribed airport-bookstore standards—what he calls “popular or commercial fiction”—such as Jackie Collins’ Rock Star, Stephen King’s Carrie, Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, and James Elroy’s The Big Nowhere. The UT Austin site also has scans of some well-worn paperback teacher’s copies, with the red-ink marginal notes, discussion questions, and underlines one finds behind every podium…’ (Open Culture).

How Do Psychiatrists Treat Werewolves?

‘…In the psychiatric literature, the werewolf hallucinations and delusions the patient was experiencing are broadly classified as clinical lycanthropy, or lycomania. Because the “extremely rare” disorder has not received much academic scrutiny and is “poorly understood,” Blom recently took it upon himself to perform a rigorous multi-lingual search of historical documents and medical databases for any references to or extant case records on the condition between 1850 and May 2012.

Though the resulting analysis, published this month in the History of Psychiatry, only unearthed 13 case descriptions that satisfied the definition of “clinical lycanthropy proper,” the paper traces the evolution of the illness and provides a detailed description of symptoms, treatments, and divergent theories about its causes…’ (Pacific Standard).

Why sterilize a lethal Injection needle?

‘Besides the fact that manufacturers sterilize the needles (so no real extra effort is needed), other sterilization procedures are also used in these executions for good reason.

You see, a stay of execution may happen at the last minute. If this happens, but then the condemned later dies from infection, a wrongful death suit could be filed against the state -a suit the state would likely lose.’ (Gizmodo).

New research: lobsters and other invertebrates may feel pain

English: Invertebrates in Smithsonian National...

‘Although some people are horrified by the idea of cooking lobsters alive or the practice of tearing claws from live crabs before tossing them back into the sea, such views are based on a hunch. We know very little about whether these animals — or invertebrates in general — actually suffer. In Elwood’s experience, researchers are either certain the animals feel pain or certain they don’t. “Very few people say we need to know,” he says.’ (Washington Post).

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4 disturbing ways America is regressing

‘Our great shame is that we forget the past, or perhaps simply refuse to learn from it. We have traveled this path before. We have seen the worst of times for our most vulnerable citizens, for people who fought for many years for modest gains, only to see the self-interest of a powerful few whisk those gains away.’ — Paul Buchheit (Salon.com).

Using the polar vortex as an excuse to revive older, dirtier power plants

‘There’s some tentative science to suggest that the polar vortex may have been linked to climate change. There’s a near scientific consensus that the burning of coal and other fossil fuels is contributing to climate change — not to mention a host of public health threats. Hence the reason why environmental rules are expected to force about 6 percent of the nation’s coal capacity into retirement by 2020.

The way the coal industry sees it, however, this winter’s brutal weather demonstrates exactly why we should be calling for more, not less, dirty energy.’ (Salon.com).

Supreme Court ruling delivers a major blow to bike paths

‘The case wasn’t about bike paths per se — it was about whether or not the federal government retains its control over land that had been granted to railroad companies once it’s been abandoned.  But the decision undermines a federal “rails to trails” program, threatening the more than 1,400 bike and nature trails it’s created since its inception in 1983.’ (Salon.com).

The right’s other “war on women”

 

5 ways the assault is about way more than abortion: ‘The GOP remains, as ever, a party that appeals largely to white men and married white women while falling further out of step with everyone else. While spitting vitriol about reproductive healthcare certainly alienates women voters and their allies, being vindictive about poverty, civil rights and other issues virtually annihilates the GOP’s chances of expanding its base….’ (Salon.com).

Saving a crushed egg with tape and glue

 

Why you should care about the kakapoConservationists in New Zealand are celebrating after an extremely rare kakapo chick hatched from a cracked egg held together by nothing more than tape and glue. The bird joins a global kakapo population of just 125 birds – but what makes these animals so unique and why are they worth saving?

To describe a kakapo as concisely as possible you’d say that they’re a species of flightless parrot: one that is ground-dwelling, nocturnal and thoroughly rotund.

However, this barely even scrapes the surface of the kakapo’s strangeness – a quality that is in no small way thanks to the fact they developed in the isolated environment of the islands of New Zealand.

This evolutionary upbringing accounts for some the bird’s odder physical characteristics, with the abundance of food and an absence of ground-based predators encouraging the kakapo (the name translates as ‘night owl’) to sacrifice the power of flight in favour of becoming more “thermodynamically efficient” – that is to say, they piled on the pounds and at 2kg to 4kg are the heaviest parrot around.

However, kakapos compensate for their inability to fly with superb camouflage and a tendency to freeze completely when startled.

These two traits combine to form a pretty good defence against the unwanted attention of eagles (who find their prey mostly by movement) but they unfortunately made the bird easy pickings for the cats and rats introduced by European settlers.

These predators decimated kakapo populations and it’s now the responsibility of the New Zealand government’s Kakapo Recovery Plan to save the species, swooping in wherever they find the birds and reloacting them to ‘safe’ islands, where they provide feeding stations for the birds and even hand-raise chicks.

This will likely be what will happen to the ‘miraculous’ Lisa One, the offspring of Lisa (there are so few kakapos that individuals are allknown by name), a kakapo mother that inadvertently crushed her own egg.And despite the incredibly frail looking bundle of fluff that successfully hatched from Lisa’s egg, it’s likely that this chick will outlive most people reading this article: life expectancy for kakapos is an astounding 95 and individuals can live up to 120, making them possibly the longest-lived bird in the world.’ (The Independent).

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