Month: February 2014

The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance and Other Real Laws

Kevin Underhill, the very funny lawyer behind Lowering the Bar, a very funny law-blog, has published a book of weird laws through the ages, called The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance and Other Real Laws That Human Beings Have Actually Dreamed Up, Enacted, and Sometimes Even Enforced

Humanity’s inventiveness in making dumb rules is really boundless. Underhill’s snarky commentary brings to life such rules as:

* Ala. § 34-6-7, which forbids secret passages leading from billiard rooms

* Ark. HR Con Res 1016, which sets out the official possessive form of Arkansas (it’s “Arkansas’s”)

* Ga. Code Ann § 43-43A-I, which establishes that a pay toilet is not a coin-operated amusement

* Or. HR Con Res 12, which sets out Oregon’s official state microbe (brewer’s yeast!)

* Tex. penal code § 43.23(g) which exempts Texas lawmakers from the state’s five-device-limit on sex-toys

* Australia’s Goods and Services Tax Act § 165-55, which gives tax commissioners the power to “treat a particular event that actually happened as not having happened;” and “Treat a particular event that did not actually happen as having happened” (and a lot more contrafactual goodness)

* Lei No 3.770 of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, which requires cellular phone companies to extend a 50% discount on airtime to stutterers

* German Civil Code §§960-61, 962, 963 and 964, which set out the rules requiring beekeepers to chase after their errant swarms, rules for adjudicating the mingling of swarms chased by more than one beekeeper; and rules for removing your swarming bees from other beekeepers’ hives…’ (Boing Boing).

16 Depressing Facts to Break the Ice

‘Perfect icebreakers to jumpstart a conversation are difficult to come by. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of depressing facts that are a surefire way to get people talking. Regale fellow party-goers with tales of the world’s loneliest animal, or bring down the mood with some harrowing statistics regarding our favorite medical practice.’ (Mashable).

What Louis Armstrong Really Thinks

‘To the country at large, he insisted on remaining a breezy entertainer with all the gravitas of a Jimmy Durante or Dean Martin. Fortunately, that image is now being deeply reëxamined. This month, the publication of Thomas Brothers’s “Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism” and the Off Broadway opening of Terry Teachout’s “Satchmo at the Waldorf” (which follows his 2009 biography, “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong,” which was reviewed in the magazine by John McWhorter) provide a rich, nuanced picture of what was behind Armstrong’s public face.’ (The New Yorker).

The Mammoth Cometh

‘Bringing extinct animals back to life is really happening — and it’s going to be very, very cool. Unless it ends up being very, very bad.’ (NYTimes Magazine).

British Storms Unbury an Ancient Welsh Forest

British Storms Unbury an Ancient Welsh Forest

‘Storms lashing the British coast last month revealed a strange new sight off the west coast of Wales, near the village of Borth: the stumps of hundreds of tree trunks, rising out of the sand, like broken teeth.

Could this be part of Cantre’r Gwaelod, a mythical kingdom believed to have disappeared beneath the waves thousands of years ago? Has Wales’s very own Atlantis been found?’ (National Geographic).

“Motherlode” of Alien Worlds Unveiled by Space Telescope

‘NASA astronomers nearly doubled the number of alien worlds known to humanity on Wednesday, reporting the discovery of 715 planets located in nearby solar systems.

The discoveries bring the total number of known planets outside our solar system—so-called exoplanets—to roughly 1,700.

Launched in 2009, NASA’s $591 million Kepler Space Telescope has now discovered most of the planets orbiting nearby stars.

“We’ve hit the motherlode; we’ve got a veritable exoplanet bonanza,” says Kepler co-leader Jack Lissauer of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

The newly announced exoplanets reinforce the view that most solar systems around sunlike stars have smaller-size planets.

Most of those planets range in width from Earth-size (on the smaller side) to Neptune-size (on the larger). That’s quite a change from the Jupiter-size planets that were often spotted orbiting nearby stars during the early planet searches that started in 1995.’ (National Geographic).

A map of music that’s popular in your state—and only in your state

‘Musical preferences have become increasingly uniform across the country, but there are still some pretty strong regional preferences. This map breaks down those distinctive preferences along state lines.

The map is the work of Paul Lamere, who used musical data from 250,000 listeners through streaming service The Echo Nest, where he’s the Director of Developer Platform.

What it’s not, however, is a map of the most popular music in each state, which tends to crossover quite a bit between individual states. It’s the most distinctive music, the music that’s listened to more in that particular state than anywhere else in the rest of the country.’ (io9).

Why Hipsters Are All the Same

‘Out-group homogeneity bias exists in almost all societies, and almost all subgroups of societies. No matter who a person is, or who they are friends with, turn to get them to look at some other group and they’ll say, “They’re all the same.” The other people in someone’s group of friends, co-workers, or acquaintances are wildly different individuals. All other groups are locked in a stultifying or even threatening homogeneity. At its most pernicious, out-group homogeneity bias affects how people look at other races or the people in other countries. Insiders are a group of individuals, each with their own hopes and dreams. The outsiders are a teeming mass, barely distinguishable from one another. In lighter situations, it can be nothing more than a human trait worth a bit of a chuckle. One study of sororities on a college campus found that each sorority thought they were more diverse than every other sorority.’ (io9)

US psychologists’ association rejects ban on aiding military interrogations

‘A longshot push to get the professional association of US psychologists to consider banning its members from providing aid to military interrogations failed on Friday, but gathered enough support to make supporters optimistic about a follow-on effort in August.

A resolution brought by University of Dallas psychologist Scott Churchill to add the interrogations ban to the agenda of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) legislative body received the support of 53% of representatives to the group’s biannual convention.

That didn’t clear the two-thirds threshold required to add the proposed ban to the agenda for this weekend’s conference. But the simple majority showing prompted Nadine Kaslow, the APA president, to express her openness to adding consideration of the proposed ban to the body’s next meeting.’ (theguardian.com).

I Won’t Eat, You Can’t Make Me! (And They Couldn’t)

English: Front view of Bathynomus giganteus De...

‘It was found in Baja California, in the water, scuttling about. It’s an isopod — a many legged, many jointed, bottom-crawler, related to prawns and crabs and it happily eats dead things. Scavengers aren’t that particular about what’s for dinner. When they find it, they eat it.

This particular isopod was big, almost a foot long, weighing over 2 pounds. In 2007, it was taken from Mexican waters and brought to the Toba Aquarium on the east coast of Japan, where it was displayed as “Giant Isopod No. 1.” At Toba, they don’t name their animals Freddy or Hiroto. They give them scientific-ish numbers. No. 1 was the first of eight captive isopods, but it was about to become the most famous animal at the aquarium.’ (Krulwich Wonders… : NPR).

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New drugs may transform Down syndrome

‘People born with Down syndrome have always been considered to be incurably developmentally delayed—until now. In the past few years a number of laboratories have uncovered critical drug targets within disabled chemical pathways in the brain that might be restored with medication. At least two clinical trials are currently studying the effects of such treatments on people with Down syndrome. Now geneticist Roger Reeves of Johns Hopkins University may have stumbled on another drug target—this one with the potential to correct the learning and memory deficits so central to the condition.’ (Salon).

Is full-fat milk best?

 

Dairy

The skinny on the dairy paradox: ‘It’s enough to make you weep into your skinny latte. The “dairy fat paradox” is the suggestion that if you opt for low-fat versions of dairy products you are more likely to become obese than people who eat full-fat versions.

Two recent studies have added weight to this idea. A Swedish study of 1782 men in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care says that consumption of full-fat dairy products is correlated with a lower risk of developing central obesity – excessive weight gain around the abdomen. A separate and more recent meta-analysis of 16 relevant studies in the European Journal of Nutrition echoes the weight-gain link.

Jon White asks US nutritionist Walter Willett of Harvard School of Public Health for his views on the evidence…’ (New Scientist).

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Peer into the heart of an exploding star

‘For the first time, we have telescopes strong enough to see the radioactivity at the heart of the supernova known as Cas A. What scientists have seen there helps unravel the mystery of how a star dies.’ (CNET).

An Amazing Village Designed Just For People With Dementia

‘…[I]n the small town of Weesp, in Holland—that bastion of social progressivism—at a dementia-focused living center called De Hogeweyk, aka Dementiavillage, the relationship between patients and their care is serving as a model for the rest of the world.’ (Gizmodo)

Higgs Boson Bubbles Filled the Early Universe With Thunder

Universe Closed

‘When the Universe came into being, it was a kind of hot soup of elementary particles—and now scientists believe it could have been rumbling with thunder caused by Higgs boson bubbles.

This video, created by researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland, shows a visualization of how the early Universe could have formed.’ (Gizmodo)

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Voynich manuscript partially decoded!

‘Although Professor Bax’s decoding is still only partial, it has generated a lot of excitement in the world of codebreaking and linguistics because it could prove a crucial breakthrough for an eventual full decipherment.

“My aim in reporting on my findings at this stage is to encourage other linguists to work with me to decode the whole script using the same approach, though it still won’t be easy. That way we can finally understand what the mysterious authors were trying to tell us,” he added.

“But already my research shows conclusively that the manuscript is not a hoax, as some have claimed, and is probably a treatise on nature, perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language.” ‘ (beds.ac.uk).

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Trees On The Move As Temperature Zones Shift 3.8 Feet A Day

Updated world map of the Köppen-Geiger climate...

‘…The whole planet is getting warmer, which means that temperature zones are shifting. Warmer areas are expanding, pushing cooler zones closer to the North and South Poles, so that the meadow, the forest, the tundra, the desert, the plains — wherever you live — your ecosystem is beginning to shift. Over the decades, the climate you prefer has started to migrate away from you, which raises an intriguing question: “If I’m standing in a landscape,” asked Stanford ecologist Scott Loarie a few years ago, “how far do I have to travel in order to change my temperature” – to get back to the climate that suits me? Loarie, Chris Field, and their colleagues at the Carnegie Institution for Science gathered all the data they could from climate change studies in order to measure “temperature velocity,” or, as Scott put it in a podcast at the time, “How fast is temperature change sweeping across the Earth’s surface?”

In 2009, they came up with an answer, published in the science journal, Nature. As a global average, they said, temperatures are changing at a rate of 0.42 kilometers — or roughly, a quarter mile a year, which means that if you are standing on a patch of earth, climate zones are moving at a rate (on average) of about 3.8 feet every day.’ (Krulwich Wonders… NPR).

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Humanity’s deep future

‘When we peer into the fog of the deep future what do we see – human extinction or a future among the stars?’ (Aeon)

Why It’s So Hard to Find Alien LIfe

‘If SETI is giving us no evidence of extraterrestrials, maybe it’s because we’re looking on too large a scale. What if, in other words, truly advanced intelligence, having long ago taken to non-biological form, finds ways to maximize technology on the level of the very small? Thus de Garis’ interest in femtotech, a technology at the level of 10-15 meters. The idea is to use the properties of quarks and gluons to compute at this scale, where in terms of sheer processing power the improvement in performance is a factor of a trillion trillion over what we can extrapolate for nanotech.’ (Gizmodo).

Matt Lauer, pleasant corporate stooge

America’s double standard on politicizing the Olympics: ‘I hate my sports mixed with jingoism, but it’s the only way to get them these days in the United States. To be sure, this isn’t exclusively an American problem, but I’m an American viewer watching American television, so it’s my problem, whether I want it to be or not. The sanitization of American politics in sport, like the celebration of militarism, illuminates the profound connection between corporate sponsorship and plutocratic governance.’ (Salon.com).

The World’s Most-Used Musical Sequence!

Pete Seeger

‘What do Beethoven, David Bowie, Green Day, Mozart, *NSYNC, Pete Seeger, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, The Supremes, Rihanna, and many others all have in common? The Andalusian Cadence! Also known as the Diatonic Phrygian Tetrachord–sometimes written as i-bVII-bVI-V (or, in the key of A, the descending sequence A, G, F, E)–this sequence of four notes, this musical pattern, chord progression, or bass line shows up throughout the ages in all styles and genres, underlying music that ranges from sad to joyful, delicate to badass.

David Garland has assembled more than 50 recordings of music from over five centuries to vividly make the case that this four-note progression, the Andalusian Cadence, is the world’s most-used musical sequence.’ (WNYC).

R.I.P. Maxine Kumin

 

Pulitzer-Winning Poet With a Naturalist’s Precision Dies at 88: ‘Maxine Kumin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose spare, deceptively simple lines explored some of the most complex aspects of human existence — birth and death, evanescence and renewal, and the events large and small conjoining them all — died on Thursday at her home in Warner, N.H. She was 88.Her death was announced by her daughter Judith Kumin, who said that her mother had been in declining health for the last year and a half.The author of essays, novels, short stories and children’s books as well as poetry, Ms. Kumin pronounced KYOO-min, like the spice was praised by critics for her keen ear for the aural character of verse — the clash and cadence of meter, the ebb and flow of rhyme — and her naturalist’s eye for minute observation.’ (NYTimes obituary)

Nessie No More? Loch Ness Monster Sightings Dry Up

Loch Ness Monster

‘It seems the Loch Ness Monster has left the building — that is, if she was ever in it.

For 18 months there have been no confirmed sightings of the supposed being, said to reside in the second largest body of water in Scotland. It’s the longest period of time without a Nessie sighting in nearly 90 years, the BBC reports.’ (Mashable)

The North Star Is Getting Brighter

‘After dimming for the last few decades, the North Star is beginning to shine brightly again. And over the last two centuries, the brightening has become rather dramatic.

“It was unexpected to find,” Scott Engle of Villanova University in Pennsylvania told SPACE.com. Engle investigated the fluctuations of the star over the course of several years, combing through historical records and even turning the gaze of the famed Hubble Space Telescope onto the star.

Scientists have known since the early 20th century that the familiar star was part of a pulsating class known as Cepheid variables; its variations were suspected as early as the mid-1800s. But unlike most Cepheid variables, the pulses of Polaris are very small.

“If it had not been so popular as the North Star, we likely wouldn’t have known it was a Cepheid until modern times,” Engle said. ‘ (Mashable)

Blue light may fight fatigue around the clock

Blue light exposure

‘Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found that exposure to short wavelength, or blue light, during the biological day directly and immediately improves alertness and performance. These findings are published in the February issue of Sleep.

“Our previous research has shown that blue light is able to improve alertness during the night, but our new data demonstrates that these effects also extend to daytime light exposure,” said Shadab Rahman, PhD, a researcher in BWH’s Division of Sleep Medicine and lead author of this study. “These findings demonstrate that prolonged blue light exposure during the day has an an alerting effect.” ‘ (EurekAlerts).

Canada’s weirdly recursive geography

This is an update on a post here from last week. The world truly is fractal:

‘Contained within the borders of Canada are: the world’s largest island in a lake on an island; the world’s largest island in a lake on an island in a lake; and the world’s largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island.’ (Boing Boing).

Pet Lovers Beware: When The Drugs Don’t Work

Image-Aesclapius Vet

‘So ask your vet why they think the drugs your animal is being given will work. We’re going to have to confront our own psychological biases, here: research shows that people prefer confident advice, sometimes even when we know those giving it have been wrong before. And good answers to these questions will inevitably be hedged with caveats about the small number of studies that have been done, and their limitations. If all you get from your vet is a bland assurance that they’ve been doing this for years, and see great results, get them to talk you through the scientific evidence. If they can’t do so, that should be a warning sign: It might be time to look for another vet.’ (Medium).

Earworm eradication: Study details cures for music stuck in head

English: Slow worm, slow-worm, slowworm, blind...

‘It happens to nearly everyone: A song — let’s say Abba’s “Waterloo” — is stuck in your head and just won’t go away.

Now science has not one but three ways to dig that dreaded earworm out. And none of them are too surprising, as researchers surveyed 18,000 residents of Finland and England and reported their findings in the journal PLOS One.

Researchers at the University of London found that earworm victims say you can listen to the complete song or sing it; you can just not let it bother you, or you can try using another song to shove out the offending tune.’ (wfaa.com Dallas – Fort Worth).

Dogs Are Not People

‘The urge to characterize dogs as like ourselves speaks to our ignorance and to the failure of imagination. As humans who control the arena of judgment, we cannot brook the humility demanded in confronting what we cannot understand, what we do not know.’ (Boston Review).

Happiness and Its Discontents

‘…[T]here is something quite hollow about the ideal of a happy, balanced life—a life unruffled by anxiety… [U]nderneath our quest for vibrant health lurks a tragic kind of discreet death: the demise of everything that is eccentric and messy about human life. Our society sells us the quick fix: If you get a cold, take some decongestants; if you get depressed, take some antidepressants; and if you get anxious, take those tranquilizers. But what are we supposed to take when we lose our character?’ — Mari Ruti, professor of critical theory at the University of Toronto (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

What Does It Mean That 1 in 4 Adults Didn’t Read a Book Last Year?

World map of literacy, UNHD 2007/2008 report. ...
World map of literacy, UNHD 2007/2008 report. Grey = no data.

‘Last week, the Pew Research Center released its survey on America’s reading habits. Depending on whom you asked, the survey either exposed the age of illiteracy or revealed the rise of the literati. Those tearing their tunics and pulling their hair bemoaned that 24 percent of adults did not read a single book last year; others sang praises to the heavens that 76 percent of adults still read books.

However, the most critical measure of our reading culture is not necessarily the amount read, in whatever format, but the ability to read. Last April, the United States Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy found that 32 million Americans, or about 14 percent of the population, cannot read, while almost a quarter of American adults read below a fifth-grade level. In fact, literacy rates in America haven’t risen much in two decades.’ (Pacific Standard)