The 124 United States of America

‘The fact that we’ve kept the number of U.S. states relatively static is nothing short a miracle—there have been hundreds of attempts at state secession over the years. But what if they had all succeeded? This brilliant map depicts that alternative universe, where the U.S. is broken up into 124 different states that stretch from sea-to-shining-sea.’ (Gizmodo).


Happy New Year!

New Year Sunrise
New Year Sunrise

This is the annual update of my New Year’s post, a tradition I started early on on FmH:

I once ran across a January 1st Boston Globe article compiling folkloric beliefs about what to do, what to eat, etc. on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune for the year to come. I’ve regretted since — I usually think of it around once a year (grin) — not clipping out and saving the article. Especially since we’ve had children, I’m interested in enduring traditions that go beyond getting drunk [although some comment that this is a profound enactment of the interdigitation of chaos and order appropriate to the New Year’s celebration — FmH], watching the bowl games and making resolutions.


A web search brought me this, less elaborate than what I recall from the Globe but to the same point. It is weighted toward eating traditions, which is odd because, unlike most other major holidays, the celebration of New Year’s in 21st century America does not seem to be centered at all around thinking about what we eat (except in the sense of the traditional weight-loss resolutions!) and certainly not around a festive meal. But…

Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

“Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune.

“Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another ‘good luck’ vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.”

The further north one travels in the British Isles, the more the year-end festivities

English: Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year'...
Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve

focus on New Year’s. The Scottish observance of Hogmanay has many elements of warming heart and hearth, welcoming strangers and making a good beginning:

“Three cornered biscuits called hogmanays are eaten. Other special foods are: wine, ginger cordial, cheese, bread, shortbread, oatcake, carol or carl cake, currant loaf, and a pastry called scones. After sunset people collect juniper and water to purify the home. Divining rituals are done according to the directions of the winds, which are assigned their own colors. First Footing:The first person who comes to the door on midnight New Year’s Eve should be a dark-haired or dark-complected man with gifts for luck. Seeing a cat, dog, woman, red-head or beggar is unlucky. The person brings a gift (handsel) of coal or whiskey to ensure prosperity in the New Year. Mummer’s Plays are also performed. The actors called the White Boys of Yule are all dressed in white, except for one dressed as the devil in black. It is bad luck to engage in marriage proposals, break glass, spin flax, sweep or carry out rubbish on New Year’s Eve.”

Here’s why we clink our glasses when we drink our New Year’s toasts, no matter where we are. Of course, sometimes the midnight cacophony is louder than just clinking glassware, to create a ‘devil-chasing din’.

In Georgia, eat black eyed peas and turnip greens on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year to come, supposedly because they symbolize coppers and currency. Hoppin’ John, a concoction of peas, onion, bacon and rice, is also a southern New Year’s tradition, as is wearing yellow to find true love (in Peru, yellow underwear, apparently!) or carrying silver for prosperity. In some instances, a dollar bill is thrown in with the other ingredients of the New Year’s meal to bring prosperity. In Greece, there is a traditional New Year’s Day sweetbread with a silver coin baked into it. All guests get a slice of the bread and whoever receives the slice with the coin is destined for good fortune for the year. At Italian tables, lentils, oranges and olives are served. The lentils, looking like coins, will bring prosperity; the oranges are for love; and the olives, symbolic of the wealth of the land, represent good fortune for the year to come.

A New Year’s meal in Norway also includes dried cod, “lutefisk.” The Pennsylvania Dutch make sure to include sauerkraut in their holiday meal, also for prosperity.

In Spain, you would cram twelve grapes in your mouth at midnight, one each time the clock chimed, for good luck for the twelve months to come. (If any of the grapes happens to be sour, the corresponding month will not be one of your most fortunate in the coming year.) The U. S. version of this custom, for some reason, involves standing on a chair as you pop the grapes. In Denmark, jumping off a chair at the stroke of midnight signifies leaping into the New Year. In Rio, you would be plunging into the sea en masse at midnight, wearing white and bearing offerings. In many northern hemisphere cities near bodies of water, they will have a tradition of people plunging into the cold water on New Year’s Day. The Coney Island Polar Bears Club in New York is the oldest cold-water swimming club in the United States. They have had groups of people enter the chilly surf since 1903.

Ecuadorian families make scarecrows stuffed with newspaper and firecrackers and place them outside their homes. The dummies represent misfortunes of the prior year, which are then burned in effigy at the stroke of midnight to forget the old year. Bolivian families make beautiful little wood or straw dolls to hang outside their homes on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck.

In China, homes are cleaned spotless to appease the Kitchen God, and papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune. Large papier mache dragon heads with long fabric bodies are maneuvered through the streets during the Dragon Dance festival, and families open their front doors to let the dragon bring good luck into their homes.

The Indian Diwali festival, welcoming in the autumnal season, also involves attracting good fortune with lights. Children make small clay lamps, dipas, thousands of which might adorn a given home. In Thailand, one pours fragrant water over the hands of elders on New Year’s Day to show them respect.

//www.elanguages.org/images/16245' cannot be displayed]Elsewhere:

  • a stack of pancakes for the New Year’s breakfast in France.
  • banging on friends’ doors in Denmark to “smash in” the New Year, where it is also a good sign to find your doorstep heaped with broken dishes on New Year’s morning. Old dishes are saved all years to throw at your friends’ homes on New Year’s Eve.
  • going in the front door and out the back door at midnight in Ireland.
  • making sure the First Footer, the first person through your door in the New Year in Scotland, is a tall dark haired visitor.
  • water out the window at midnight in Puerto Rico rids the home of evil spirits.
  • cleanse your soul in Japan at the New Year by listening to a gong tolling 108 times, one for every sin
  • it is Swiss good luck to let a drop of cream fall on the floor on New Year’s Day.
  • Belgian farmers wish their animals a Happy New Year for blessings.
  • In Germany and Austria, lead pouring” (das Bleigießen) is an old divining practice using molten lead like tea leaves. A small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon (by holding a flame under the spoon) and then poured into a bowl or bucket of water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict the coming year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death.
  • It’s a bit bizarre when you think about it. A short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s has become a German New Year’s tradition. Yet, although The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One is a famous cult classic in Germany and several other European countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including Britain, its birthplace.” (Watch on Youtube, 11 min.)

Some history; documentation of observance of the new year dates back at least 4000 years to the Babylonians, who also made the first new year’s resolutions (reportedly voews to return borrowed farm equipment were very popular), although their holiday was observed at the vernal equinox. The Babylonian festivities lasted eleven days, each day with its own particular mode of celebration. The traditional Persian Norouz festival of spring continues to be considered the advent of the new year among Persians, Kurds and other peoples throughout Central Asia, and dates back at least 3000 years, deeply rooted in Zooastrian traditions.Modern Bahá’í’s celebrate Norouz (”Naw Ruz”) as the end of a Nineteen Day Fast. Rosh Hashanah (”head of the year”), the Jewish New Year, the first day of the lunar month of Tishri, falls between September and early October. Muslim New Year is the first day of Muharram, and Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 10th and Feb. 19th of the Gregorian calendar.

The classical Roman New Year’s celebration was also in the spring although the calendar went out of synchrony with the sun. January 1st became the first day of the year by proclamation of the Roman Senate in 153 BC, reinforced even more strongly when Julius Caesar established what came to be known as the Julian calendar in 46 BC. The early Christian Church condemned new year’s festivities as pagan but created parallel festivities concurrently. New Year’s Day is still observed as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision in some denominations. Church opposition to a new year’s observance reasserted itself during the Middle Ages, and Western nations have only celebrated January 1 as a holidy for about the last 400 years. The custom of New Year’s gift exchange among Druidic pagans in 7th century Flanders was deplored by Saint Eligius, who warned them, “[Do not] make vetulas, [little figures of the Old Woman], little deer or iotticos or set tables [for the house-elf] at night or exchange New Year gifts or supply superfluous drinks [another Yule custom].” (Wikipedia)

The tradition of the New Year’s Baby signifying the new year began with the Greek tradition of parading a baby in a basket during the Dionysian rites celebrating the annual rebirth of that god as a symbol of fertility. The baby was also a symbol of rebirth among early Egyptians. Again, the Church was forced to modify its denunciation of the practice as pagan because of the popularity of the rebirth symbolism, finally allowing its members to cellebrate the new year with a baby although assimilating it to a celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. The addition of Father Time (the “Old Year”) wearing a sash across his chest with the previous year on it, and the banner carried or worn by the New Year’s Baby, immigrated from Germany. Interestingly, January 1st is not a legal holiday in Israel, officially because of its historic origins as a Christian feast day.

Auld Lang Syne (literally ‘old long ago’ in the Scottish dialect) is sung or played at the stroke of midnight throughout the English-speaking world (and then there is George Harrison’s “Ring Out the Old”). Versions of the song have been part of the New Year’s festivities since the 17th century but Robert Burns was inspired to compose a modern rendition, which was published after his death in 1796. (It took Guy Lombardo, however, to make it popular…)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here’s a hand, my trusty friend
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Here’s how to wish someone a Happy New Year around the world:

  • Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum salimoun
  • Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo means “Good Parties and Happy New Year”
  • Chinese: Chu Shen Tan Xin Nian Kuai Le (thanks, Jeff)
  • Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok
  • Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
  • Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
  • French: Bonne Annee
  • German: Prosit Neujahr
  • Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
  • Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu
  • Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak
  • Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
  • Italian: Buon Capodanno
  • Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
  • Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai
  • Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
  • Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo
  • Russian: S Novim Godom
  • Serbo-Croatian: Scecna nova godina
  • Spanish: Feliz Ano Nuevo
  • Swedish: Ha ett gott nytt år
  • Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
  • Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan
  • [If you are a native speaker, please feel free to offer any corrections or additions!]

However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come… and eat hearty! [thanks to Bruce Umbaugh for research assistance]



A woman’s eye. Esperanto: Virina okulo. França...

‘In a feature straight out of the movies, Dr. Rob Jenkins and his team have demonstrated that for sufficiently high-resolution photos, recognizable images of reflected faces of the photographer and bystanders can be retrieved from a subject’s eyes.

The researchers say that in crimes in which the victims are photographed, such as hostage taking or child sex abuse, reflections in the eyes of the photographic subject could help to identify perpetrators. Images of people retrieved from cameras seized as evidence during criminal investigations could be used to piece together networks of associates or to link individuals to particular locations.’ (Kottke).


Do dolphin teens get high by chewing pufferfish?

Blackspotted puffer, Arothron nigropunctatus, ...
Blackspotted puffer, Arothron nigropunctatus

‘A BBC nature documentary crew has captured footage of young dolphins passing around a pufferfish. They characterize the activity as “careful manipulation” and speculate that the dolphins are getting a small dose of the pufferfish’s neurotoxin in order to enter a “trance-like state.” The documentary was produced by John Downer, a highly nature documentarian, and a zoologist on the crew also confirms the “dolphins get high” hypothesis.’ (Boing Boing).


Using colored beads as a memento mori

‘Legendary game designer Chris Crawford …owns 29,216 small plastic beads. Each bead is one of eight colors, and there are 3,652 beads in each color group. One bead represents a single day in Crawford\’s life. Each color group, therefore, represents one decade. The yellow beads are his childhood. The black beads are his teens. The greens are his inexperienced twenties, the oranges his restless thirties, the navy blues his settling forties and so on, all the way up to bead 29,216, which will represent his eightieth birthday.

Chris Crawford owns two jars. One is filled with the beads that represent his past, and the other is filled with the beads that represent his potential future.

Every morning, Crawford takes a bead from the jar that holds his future days and places it into the jar that holds the past. While he performs the ritual he tells himself not to waste the day.’ — Mark Frauenfelder (Boing Boing).


The most accurate psychopaths in cinema

06 Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)
06 Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)

‘The most accurately depicted psychopaths in cinema have been identified by a study that has just been published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences…It’s worth noting that the clinical definition of psychopathy is not what most people think – it’s not necessarily someone who is a knife wielding maniac – but suggests someone who has poor empathy, little remorse, and is impulsive and manipulative.

Needless to say, psychopathy is more common in people who are persistently violent, but you don’t need to be violent to be a psychopath.After conducting the analysis the authors note which films they feel have most accurately captured the characteristics of the psychopath.’ (Mind Hacks).


What do other countries call Santa Claus?

‘Christmas Man. Daddy Christmas. Grandfather Frost. Yule Man. Yule Elder. Yule Gnome. Yule Goat. Father Christmas. Old Man Christmas. Biblical Magi. Christ Child. Christmas Log. All those names are names for Santa Claus in other countries around the world. Calling him just Santa Claus just seems so boring in comparison, doesn\’t it?

This map, popularized on Reddit, shows the name for the person who brings gives to countries around Europe. And I guess it would make sense for other older countries to have some weird ass names for Saint Nick since his origin story there isn\’t as cheery and commercialized as it is here.’ (Sploid).


British doctor branded his initials on patient’s liver

Patient Recognition Month Poster

‘Artists generally like to sign their work. Painters, sculptors, poets, all leave their name as a mark of pride. But when your brush is a scalpel and your canvas is the human body, it’s probably best to avoid that urge. One British surgeon is finding that out, after being suspended for branding his initials on a patient’s liver. These ain’t cattle, doc!

Details are slim on this one, but it seems a surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in England’s West Midlands, used an argon plasma coagulation tool to sear his brand in a patient’s liver. The tool, used to stop bleeding by burning tiny blood vessels shut with a beam of electrically-charged argon gas, can cut up to an inch deep in human tissue.

The surgeon’s signature was discovered by another doctor, who found the initials on the patient’s organ during a different surgery. Now they fear that potentially hundreds of patients are walking around with organs bearing the surgeon’s name. Doctors say the branding leaves only superficial burns, and isn’t likely to cause any harm to the patients. Small solace when you’re walking around with some bonkers doctor’s insignia on your guts.’ (Sploid).


3 Signs Your Political Viewpoints Are Completely Accurate

  • English: Screen grab of Media Cloud content an...

    The People You Choose To Follow Agree With You

You’re awesome, so you wouldn’t follow anyone who isn’t. And clearly anyone you think is awesome must be pretty smart, right? …

  • The News You Choose to Consume Agrees With You

You’re really smart, so you only check the best news sources. Sure, there are other news sources out there, but your news sources are the most reliable – and the least biased. The news sources you like may occasionally get things wrong, but the news organizations you dislike are completely and utterly dishonest. They deliberately spin things. They can’t be trusted…

  • The People You Disagree With Are Ridiculous

The people you follow, and the news sources you like, will of course point out when someone you disagree with says something stupid. …

Embrace Your Bubble! (Makeuseof).


Why I Don’t Stream My Music

Image representing Spotify as depicted in Crun...

‘Long-time readers of Wired magazine will recognize (with some sentimentality) their “wired/tired/expired” lists at the beginning of each issue. Happily, they ressurected the format for their year-end list. But — judging by the number of “expired” things I like and use — it’s a bittersweet reunion. I am perpetually the person who jumps on trends and ideas as they hit their close. Take their classification of music services, for example:

  • Wired Streaming Music
  • Tired Cloud-based Storage
  • Expired iTunes

My beloved iTunes collection is “expired”? And it’s out-hipped by some upstart streaming services like Spotify and Rdio? Geddafuggouttahere.

…Spotify and Rdio probably work really well for people who see music as a transient background interest. But I’m difficult and picky, and music is extremely important to me.’ (Pixel Envy).


Which words originated in your birth year?

complete! oxford! english! dictionary!

‘Do you know which words entered the English language around the same time you entered the world? Use our OED birthday word generator to find out! We’ve scoured the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to find words with a first known usage for each year from 1900 to 2004. Simply select the relevant decade and click on your birth year to discover a word which entered the English language that year.’ (OED birthday word generator)


Something Called “The Object” Stops World’s Largest Tunneling Machine

‘Bertha, the world’s largest tunneling machine, churning through the rock and mud beneath Seattle, has hit a mysterious roadblock—so mysterious, it is only known for now as “the object.”

The New York Times reports that the machine—300 feet long and 5 stories tall—has ground to a halt. Built precisely not to be stopped by, well, just about anything, Bertha has apparently met her match. But what exactly is it? “Something unknown, engineers say—and all the more intriguing to many residents for being unknown—has blocked the progress of the biggest-diameter tunnel-boring machine in use on the planet,” the NYT writes.’ (Gizmodo).


Kottke Thinks the Blog is Dead… Sort of

R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013: ‘Sometime in the past few years, the blog died. In 2014, people will finally notice. Sure, blogs still exist, many of them are excellent, and they will go on existing and being excellent for many years to come. But the function of the blog, the nebulous informational task we all agreed the blog was fulfilling for the past decade, is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs.

Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.’ (kottke).


First exomoon glimpsed – 1800 light years from Earth


‘Pandora and Endor, eat your hearts out. The first known moon outside of our solar system may have been found, and it seems weirder than we ever could have imagined.

Exomoons have long been predicted to exist – some may even be habitable worlds – but until now, no one had detected any. “This is the first serious candidate from any survey that I am aware of,” says astronomer David Kipping of Harvard University, who was not involved in the discovery.

Unlike the exomoons that feature in the films Avatar and Return of the Jedi, not to mention the moons in our solar system, the new moon and its exoplanet seem to be adrift in the cosmos, far from any star.’ (New Scientist).


Confirmed: Narcolepsy Is An Autoimmune Disease

‘Narcolepsy is a mysterious disorder that involves sudden, uncontrollable sleepiness, among many other symptoms. On one hand, its cause seems straightforward: people slowly lose a special group of neurons that produce hypocretin, a hormone that keeps us awake.

But what kills the neurons?

Many scientists have long suspected that the immune system is responsible. That would make narcolepsy an autoimmune disease–one in which a person’s immune system turns on their own healthy cells.

There’s been a lot of evidence to support this idea, but a team of scientists from Stanford University have finally found what they describe as a “smoking gun”. People with narcolepsy, and only people with narcolepsy, have a special group of immune cells that targets hypocretin. These cells might be attacking the neurons directly, or acting through an intermediary, or something else altogether. Either way, it’s the first clear, direct sign of autoimmunity.

The study also helps to explain some puzzling quirks about narcolepsy, like why the 2009 swine flu pandemic led to a surge of cases in China, or why one particular vaccine against that strain did the same in Europe.’ — Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science).


Your wireless router could be murdering your houseplants

The Daily Dot - Your wireless router could be murdering your houseplants

‘Are you slowly killing your houseplants? Probably! But there might be a reason other than neglect why they’re all yellow and wilty: your Wi-Fi router.

An experiment by a handful of high school students in Denmark has sparked some serious international interest in the scientific community.Five ninth-grade girls at Hjallerup School in North Jutland, Denmark, noticed they had trouble concentrating after sleeping with their mobile phones at their bedsides. They tried to figure out why. The school obviously doesn’t have the equipment to test human brain waves, so the girls decided to do a more rudimentary experiment. They placed six trays of garden cress seeds next to Wi-Fi routers that emitted roughly the same microwave radiation as a mobile phone. Then they placed six more trays of seeds in a separate room without routers. The girls controlled both environments for room temperature, sunlight and water. After 12 days, they found the garden cress seeds in the routerless room had exploded into bushy greenery, while the seeds next to the Wi-Fi routers were brown, shriveled, and even mutated…’ (The Daily Dot).


The End of the Arctic?

Ocean Could be Ice Free by 2015: ‘Say goodbye to polar bears and a whole lot of ice. New research suggests the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free by 2015, with devastating consequences for the world. Can it be stopped?

Someone better tell Santa Claus. First it was polar bears that were threatened by global warming. Now it’s reindeer too. As temperatures in the Arctic skyrocket, reindeer are suffering staggeringly large, rapid population losses. “Herds of reindeer have declined by one-third since the 1990s as their access to food sources, breeding grounds and historic migration routes have been altered,” reports the environmental audit committee of the British Parliament.

The entire planet is getting hotter, but the top of the world is warming twice as fast as the global average. One leading expert, Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge, says the Arctic Ocean could be completely free of ice in summer as soon as 2015. An overheated Arctic in turn threatens catastrophic knock-on effects for the rest of the globe, including more extreme weather; faster sea level rise; and a higher chance of accelerating global warming to where it becomes unstoppable—what scientists refer to as “runaway” global warming.’ — Mark Hertsgaard (The Daily Beast).


200-Kilometer-High Jets of Water Discovered Shooting From Europa

‘…Data from the Hubble space telescope suggests that enormous jets of water more than 200 kilometers tall (roughly twice as high as Earth’s atmosphere) may be spurting intermittently from the moon’s surface.

The frozen body Europa is known to have a vast liquid water ocean beneath its cold crust, a potential home for life. Should these newly observed water plumes be tapping into some Europan sea, they could be bringing material to the surface that would otherwise stay hidden. Follow-up observations from Earth or with probes around Europa could sample the fountains, hunting for organic material and perhaps finding evidence of living organisms beyond Earth.

The findings, presented today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, await independent confirmation. But if the jets are real, the frozen world would join the tiny number of others known to have active jets, including Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Neptune’s moon Triton.’ (Wired Science).


Stop Datamining Me!


English: In Egypt Internet is OFFLINE but stru...

A directory of Opt-Out links to stop data brokers from selling your personal information: ‘Data brokers have pioneered advanced techniques to collect and collate information about consumers’ offline, online and mobile behavior. But they have been slow to develop innovative ways for consumers to gain access to the information that companies obtain, share and sell about them for marketing purposes. Now federal regulators are pressuring data brokers to operate more transparently.

In 2012, a report by the Federal Trade Commission recommended that the industry set up a public Web portal that would display the names and contact information of every data broker doing business in the United States, as well as describe consumers’ data access rights and other choices. But, for years the data brokers have been too busy to build a centralized Web portal for consumers. So, we decided to help them out and StopDataMining.me was born!’ (StopDataMining.me).


A mysterious law that predicts the size of the worlds biggest cities


‘For the past century, an obscure mathematical principle called Zipfs law has predicted the size of mega-cities all over the world. And nobody knows why.’ (io9).


Whose sarin?


Skeletal formula of the (S) enantiomer of the ...
Skeletal formula of the (S) enantiomer of the nerve agent sarin, C 4 H 10 FO 2 P (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seymour M. Hersh: “Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.” (LRB 8 December 2013).


Germany’s President Joachim Gauck becomes first major political figure to boycott Sochi Winter Olympics

‘The German president has become the first major political figure to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics in February. According to German weekly Der Spiegel, Joachim Gauck last week informed the Kremlin of his decision, which is understood to be a response to the Russian government’s violations of human rights and harrassment of the opposition.Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor who played a key part in the East German protest movement before the fall of the Berlin Wall, has declined any official visits to Russia since coming to office in March 2012 and repeatedly criticised the country’s “deficit of rule of law” and “air of imperialism”. ‘ (The Raw Story).


The internet mystery that has the world baffled

‘…Eriksson didn’t realise it then, but he was embarking on one of the internet’s most enduring puzzles; a scavenger hunt that has led thousands of competitors across the web, down telephone lines, out to several physical locations around the globe, and into unchartered areas of the \”darknet”. So far, the hunt has required a knowledge of number theory, philosophy and classical music. An interest in both cyberpunk literature and the Victorian occult has also come in handy as has an understanding of Mayan numerology.

It has also featured a poem, a tuneless guitar ditty, a femme fatale called \”Wind” who may, or may not, exist in real life, and a clue on a lamp post in Hawaii. Only one thing is certain: as it stands, no one is entirely sure what the challenge – known as Cicada 3301 – is all about or who is behind it. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a mysterious secret society, a statement by a new political think tank, or an arcane recruitment drive by some quasi-military body. Which means, of course, everyone thinks it’s the CIA…’ (Telegraph.UK)


Sad News


HIV Reappears in Two Patients Thought to Be Cured: ‘The two male patients seemingly cured of HIV thanks to bone marrow transplants have both begun to show signs of the virus again, according to researchers in Boston.

Dr. Timothy Henrich of Brigham and Womens hospital presented the disappointing news yesterday at an AIDS research conference in Florida, saying that both patients had resumed HIV medications after the virus reappeared. The two patients, both battling HIV for years, had received bone marrow transplants to treat Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. After the transplants, both showed undetectable levels of the HIV virus. The patients agreed to stop taking HIV medications to help researchers determine if the marrow transplant was responsible for the virus disappearing.

When both patients showed undetectable virus levels after several weeks without treatment seven weeks and 15 weeks, respectively, Henrichs team revealed this finding to the medical community. But the virus reappeared in one patient in August, and in the other in November, after eight months with no HIV detected.’ (Gizmodo)


R.I.P. Nelson Mandela

Inspiration To World’, Dies At 95: Nelson Mandela, who was born in a country that viewed him as a second-class citizen, died Thursday as one of the most respected statesmen in the world.” (NPR). Mournful day. Playing that parlor game, what famous person you would most like to meet, Mandela was one of the first who came to mind. Thinking about whose passing will diminish the world, and me, most, he is high on the list. Madiba is gone. Long live Madiba!.


“Homeland: “American exceptionalism” at its worst

‘ …“Homeland” has long since abandoned the promise of its first exciting season, when The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum hailed it as “the antidote for ‘24.’” For those who may have repressed the memory, “24” was the Fox network’s action-packed, torture-rich, frankly Islamophobic series featuring the unstoppable Jack Bauer, who saved the world at least three times in any given 24-hour period.

“Homeland” was created by two men who were heavily involved with the earlier show, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. They seemed to have scaled down the testosterone quite a bit, going so far as to hint in the Showtime series that the US drone program was at least partly responsible for the further radicalization of the Muslim world (and for Brody’s desire to kill the VP).

But season three brings back “American exceptionalism” with a vengeance — a concept author Stephen Kinzer described as “the view that the United States is inherently more moral and farther-seeing than other countries and therefore may behave in ways that others should not.”

Others, of course, might disagree. By all accounts, despite government bans, millions of Iranians are actively using social media; the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei has his own Twitter account, and issues fatwas via Facebook. Let’s just hope they’re not all watching “Homeland.” ‘ (Salon)


How Jesus Had the Cheek to Support Neuroscience

A recent study showed that more than 90% of depositions of the crucifixion show Jesus with his head turned toward the right, showing the left side of his face. The investigators speculate that artists are betraying an implicit understanding of the neuroscience of emotion — it is generally acknowledged that the left side of the face is more expressive, controlled as it is by the right cerebral hemisphere. However, there are plenty of non-neurological explanations:

For one thing, Mary is usually located to Jesus’ right, so maybe he is looking toward her. Or if Jesus is feeling abandoned by God, perhaps he is looking to the right, away from God (Jesus is usually described as being on God’s right-hand side). The saved are also depicted by convention on the right, so Jesus could be looking toward salvation. The number of speculations are almost endless.’ (Wired Science).


Blissfully Ignorant of Your Ignorance

Get Smart

‘You’re pretty smart right? Clever, and funny too. Of course you are, just like me. But wouldn’t it be terrible if we were mistaken? Psychologists have shown that we are more likely to be blind to our own failings than perhaps we realise. This could explain why some incompetent people are so annoying, and also inject a healthy dose of humility into our own sense of self-regard.’ (Mind Hacks).


Canine Weapon Delivery Systems

Soviet military dog training school in Moscow ...
Soviet military dog training school in Moscow Oblast

Exploding Dogs Were Used as Mobile Anti-Tank Mines During World War II (part of my sometime series, The Annals of Human Depravity).

In a tactic pioneered by the Soviets, the dogs (usually Alsatians and also called hundminen or dog mines in German) ‘were trained to carry explosives on their bodies to enemy tanks, where they would then be detonated’ by timer or remote control, with obvious consequences for the animal in question.

Fortunately for the dogs, a number of impracticalities, described in the article, limited the extent and duration of this approach, although various countries including the United States continued to train dogs as suicide bombers until the end of the 20th century and ‘insurgents attempted to use them during the Iraq War. In this case, there’s only one documented case of a bomb actually being detonated while attached to a dog though; protests rose up among Muslims who believe that animals should be killed only for food.’

Other animals have been trained to become wartime munitions delivery systems as well, including cats, birds, rats, camels, donkeys, mules and horses, monkeys and marine mammals. (Gizmodo).


All the Habitable Planets Within 60 Light-Years of Earth, Visualized

‘There may well be more than 60 billion habitable planets littering the Milky Way, but it’s virtually impossible to make use of that figure. Instead, how about this picture, which shows you how many planets are within 60 light-years of Earth.

In the image, the size of the circle represents the size of the planet, while color indicates the kind of star it orbits: dusky red signifies that it’s spinning around something similar to the Sun, gray means that the star is a different size. Dark circles represent planets the same size as Earth.’ (Gizmodo)