A Watershed Moment for Tech Activism

English: Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Logo. HRC...

Via Motherboard: ‘Indiana’s new “religious freedom” law has ignited a national firestorm of protest—and the tech industry is leading the fight.

The new law, which critics say opens the door to discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, has prompted many leading tech companies to engage in corporate activism on social issues with a newly emboldened intensity, according to LGBT advocates.

“The tech industry’s opposition to this bill is unprecedented,” said Fred Sainz, vice president at Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT advocacy group. “Never before have so many tech firms spoken out so loudly against such discriminatory actions.”

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana says his state’s law is designed to provide legal protection against government action that “substantially” burdens religious freedom. But critics call the measure a bald-faced attempt to legitimize discrimination by allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT people on “religious” grounds.

The fierce backlash against Indiana’s new law underscores how national attitudes are rapidly changing on the issue of gay rights, and highlights how important LGBT equality has become for some of the country’s most influential tech companies.’


Where Did April Fools’ Day Come From?

The April Fools

Via Big Think: ‘Many conflicting theories exist that try and pinpoint the origins of the holiday everyone in your office hates you for. Of all these theories, the most likely root of what we now know as April Fools’ Day dates back to Pope Gregory XIII, who reigned — or if reign isn’t the right word — who pope’d from 1572 to 1584. I’m sure you’re familiar with the calendar hanging on your wall that starts in January, ends in December, and consists of seemingly arbitrary amounts of days per month. You can thank Pope Greg for that. His Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian Calendar in 1582.

One major change with the calendar switch was that New Year’s Day moved from the end of March to the beginning of January. As Tech Times notes, those who didn’t get the memo about the change of date and celebrated the old New Year’s Day at the end of March were thus deemed, naturally, April fools.


I mean, I like chocolate like the next person, but…

Via Salon.com: ‘In 2007, Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone decided that guests at a party he catered for the Rolling Stones were too hip to eat their desserts with their mouths. So, he invented the “chocolate shooter” — a little line of cocoa powder designed to get you a little high and keep you tasting chocolate for hours.

Since then, Persoone has sold over 25,000 chocolate shooters and with it, established a super obnoxious trend.

“The mint and the ginger really tinkle your nose,” said the 46-year-old of the spices present in the shooter. “Then the mint flavor goes down and the chocolate stays in your brain.”

Unsurprisingly, this is not good for you. Stop doing it.’

[Just a thought: could the appeal of this have something to do with dyslexia?]


Why Is My Dog Such a Picky Pooper?

Via WIRED: ‘Here’s what people tend to forget about dogs (and a number of other animals): Elimination fulfills both a physiological purpose and a social one. Whether the deed is done in an open field, the middle of the street, a neighbor’s doorstep, or a bed of ivy, dogs are not just expelling bodily waste; they are depositing piles of really interesting information on the ground.’


Do You Suffer From ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’?


You’re Not Alone (va io9): ‘New findings indicate nearly one in five college-age students has been startled awake by an abrupt, loud noise that doesn’t actually exist. Known as “exploding head syndrome,” the psychological condition appears to be more common and disruptive than previously thought.

Some of you may already be familiar with exploding head syndrome (EHS). I know I’ve experienced this on at least one or two occasions, and it’s not pleasant. It’s characterized by an exceptionally loud noise in the head (sometimes described as “an explosion” in the head), usually during sleep-to-wake or wake-to-sleep transitions. Though benign, it can be extremely stressful.

Here’s what Washington State University psychologist Brian Sharpless, a sleep disorder expert and lead author of a recent study study on the prevalence of EHS among college undergraduates, told me about the condition:

Exploding head syndrome episodes by themselves are harmless. They can cause problems with a relatively small number of people if episodes happen too frequently, regularly disturb sleep, or if people react to them in unhealthy ways (e.g., by becoming really anxious before bedtime or fearing that something more serious may be wrong with them).’


The World’s Most Famous Musicians Just Hosted a Bonkers Press Conference

Via Gawker: ‘Only a few minutes ago, the entire music industry stood on a stage in a collective display of how rich and out of touch they are. They think you are willing to pay up to double the price of other streaming music services to pay for their streaming music service, because they are crazy.

Imagine this: canceling your Spotify subscription, and paying $20 for a Tidal subscription instead. It’s more expensive because it’s “higher quality” and “artist-owned,” which is important because Usher, Daft Punk, and Madonna have been living in wretched penury for far too long, and it’s time for people to give back. The modern-day Our Gang (which counted among its members not only the aforementioned supernovas, but also Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Chris Martin, and Jack White) held a “keynote” to promote Tidal, the already extant European streaming company Jay Z recently purchased for $56 million because he’s bored.


America’s not a force for good: The truth about our most enduring — and harmful — national myth

Christian Appy writes in Salon.com: ‘My main argument is that the Vietnam War shattered the central tenet of American national identity—the broad faith that the United States is a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power, but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life.

A common term for this belief is “American exceptionalism.” Because that term has been bandied about so much in recent years as a political slogan and a litmus test of patriotism, we need to be reminded that it has deep roots and meaning throughout our history. In many ways the nation was founded on the faith that it was blessed with unrivaled resources, freedoms, and prospects. So deep were those convictions they took on the power of myth—they were beyond debate. Dissenting movements throughout our history did little to challenge the faith.That’s what made the Vietnam War’s impact so significant. Never before had such a wide range of Americans come to doubt their nation’s superiority; never before had so many questioned its use of military force; never before had so many challenged the assumption that their country had higher moral standards.’


What Plants Talk About

Via Modern Farmer: ‘They don’t have mouths, ears or even a brain, but according to some scientists, plants are talking all the time. We just need to understand their language.

Once we do, we may discover that plants routinely exhibit animal-like behavior. What if, as some research indicates, they communicate with each other and their environment? Perhaps plants hunt, scream, share and nurture their young, just like members of the animal kingdom.’


Nightwalking: a subversive stroll through the city streets

Nightwalking: a subversive stroll through the city streets | Books | The Guardian

Matthew Beaumont writes in The Guardian: ‘In an economy in which time, including nighttime, is money, wandering the streets after dark – when most people are sleeping in order to prepare themselves for the next day’s labour – is in symbolic terms subversive. In the aberrant and deviant form celebrated by Dickens in the 19th century, and surreptitiously practised by innumerable others before and since, nightwalking is quintessentially objectless, loitering and vagabond.’


How a Wolf Won Hearts in an Alaska Suburb

How a Wolf Named Romeo Won Hearts in an Alaska Suburb

Via National Geographic: ‘It’s one thing to have a tolerant meeting with a wild wolf that goes on for a matter of minutes. But this went on for six years, so we got to know this wolf, whom we came to call Romeo, as an individual. And he got to know us and our dogs.

For want of a better word, the only thing I can say from a human perspective is that it amounted to friendship. If you wanted to be scientifically correct, it would be “social mutual tolerance.” But it was more than that. The wolf would come trotting over to say hi, and give a little bow and a relaxed yawn, and go trotting after us when we went skiing. There was no survival benefit. He obviously just enjoyed our company.’


Physicists Will Test Existence of Alternate Universes

Via Big Think: ‘Scientist running the world’s biggest physics experiment — the Large Hadron Collider located in Geneva, Switzerland — will soon begin trials that will test for the presence of alternate universes existing in different dimensions of hyperspace.Since detecting the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle, which explains how matter originally obtained mass, the collider has been shut down for two years while undergoing renovations. When it reopens, it will be able to reach energy levels higher than ever before: 13 tera electron volts (TeV). The Higgs boson was discovered at levels of 5.3 TeV.


Quentin Tarantino Lists His 20 Favorite Spaghetti Westerns

Sergio Leone
Sergio Leone

Via Open Culture: ‘Trust a genre-loving auteur like Quentin Tarantino (and one who made his very own Django a few years back) to know Spaghetti westerns inside and out. While even those of us who never turn down the chance to enjoy a good Spaghetti western might struggle to name ten of them, Tarantino can easily run down his personal top twenty:

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
  • For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965)
  • Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
  • The Mercenary (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
  • Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
  • A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964)
  • Day of Anger (Tonino Valerii, 1967)
  • Death Rides a Horse (Giulio Petroni, 1967)
  • Navajo Joe (Sergio Corbucci,1966)
  • The Return of Ringo (Duccio Tessar, 1965)
  • The Big Gundown (Sergio Sollima, 1966)
  • A Pistol for Ringo (Duccio Tessari, 1965)
  • The Dirty Outlaws (Franco Rossetti, 1967)
  • The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1968)
  • The Grand Duel (Giancarlo Santi, 1972)
  • Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead (Giuseppe Vari, 1971)
  • Tepepa (Giulio Petroni, 1968)
  • The Ugly Ones (Eugenio Martin, 1966)
  • Viva Django! (Ferdinando Baldi, 1967)
  • Machine Gun Killers (Paolo Bianchini, 1968)

You can watch all the trailers of these Spaghetti western masterpieces in the playlist…, created by The Spaghetti Western Database.’

This is a revelation for me. I have always loved Sergio Leone’s films, but I am excited to learn that there is a rich body of work of at least five or six other auteurs of the genre waiting for me out there!


What has neuroscience ever done for us?

English: Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu (1385-1468) Po...

Via The Psychologist: ‘Over the past 25 years the pace of progress in neuroscience research has been extraordinary, with advances in both understanding and technology. We might expect that this would stimulate improved understanding and treatment of mental health problems, yet in general this has not been the case. In fact, our standard treatment approaches have barely changed in decades, and still fail many people suffering from mental distress.’


5 Languages That Could Change the Way You See the World

via Nautilus: ‘…The way that different languages convey information has fascinated linguists, anthropologists, and psychologists for decades. In the 1940s, a chemical engineer called Benjamin Lee Whorf published a wildly popular paper in the MIT Technology Review (pdf) that claimed the way languages express different concepts—like gender, time, and space—influenced the way its speakers thought about the world. For example, if a language didn’t have terms to denote specific times, speakers wouldn’t understand the concept of time flowing.

This argument was later discredited, as researchers concluded that it overstated language’s constraints on our minds. But researchers later found more nuanced ways that these habits of speech can affect our thinking. Linguist Roman Jakobson described this line of investigation thus: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” In other words, the primary way language influences our minds is through what it forces us to think about—not what it prevents us from thinking about.

These five languages reveal how information can be expressed in extremely different ways, and how these habits of thinking can affect us:

  • A Language Where You’re Not the Center of the World
  • A Language Where Time Flows East to West
  • A Language Where Colors Are Metaphors
  • A Language That Makes You Provide Evidence
  • A Language That Has No Word for “Two” ‘


The Epidemiology and Statistical Mechanics of Zombies

Screenshot of Safari (03-20-15, 11:03:53 pm)

Via arxiv.org: ‘We use a popular fictional disease, zombies, in order to introduce techniques used in modern epidemiology modelling, and ideas and techniques used in the numerical study of critical phenomena. We consider variants of zombie models, from fully connected continuous time dynamics to a full scale exact stochastic dynamic simulation of a zombie outbreak on the continental United States. Along the way, we offer a closed form analytical expression for the fully connected differential equation, and demonstrate that the single person per site two dimensional square lattice version of zombies lies in the percolation universality class. We end with a quantitative study of the full scale US outbreak, including the average susceptibility of different geographical regions.’

Watch For the Aurora Tonight, Even If You’re In the South

by Wendy M. Johnson of Tolsona, Alaska

Via Gizmodo: ‘If you’re like me, you’ve spent years heeding forecasters telling you that the northern lights will DEFINITELY be visible tonight—and then seeing nothing but boring old night sky. Tonight, summon your faith and give it one last shot: There’s a severe geomagnetic storm going on.’


Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?

Via The Atlantic: ‘For half a century, memories of the Holocaust inoculated the Continent against overt anti-Semitism. That period has ended—the recent fatal attacks in Paris and Copenhagen are merely the latest in a mounting tide. Today, right-wing fascist strains of Jew-hatred are merging with a new threat from radicalized Islamists, confronting Europe with a crisis, and its Jews with an agonizing choice.’


Study: 3 Million Whales Were Killed During 20th Century

Via Big Think: ‘…[T]he question at the heart of this new report is, “Can the remaining whales ever recover?” Populations remain low — they’re whales after all, not rabbits — and other threats, such as changes in climate, unstable food supplies, and noise from military sonar, could stunt efforts to restore the population.’


There Is No Global Jihadist ‘Movement’

There Is No Global Jihadist ‘Movement’ — The Atlantic

Via The Atlantic: ‘What’s sometimes referred to as the global jihadist “movement” is actually extremely fractured. It’s united by a general set of shared ideological beliefs, but divided organizationally and sometimes doctrinally. Whether to fight the “near enemy” (local regimes) or the “far enemy” (such as the United States and the West), for example, has been contentious since the 1990s, when Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States. Rivalry among like-minded militant groups is as common as cooperation. Identities and allegiances shift. Groups align and re-align according to changing expectations about the future of the conflicts they’re involved in, as well as a host of other factors, such as competition for resources, leadership transitions, and the defection of adherents to rival groups that appear to be on the ascendant.’


When the Town Stops Burning

Via The Morning News: ‘I first learned about Centralia from my friend Ali. He told me there was an abandoned town in eastern Pennsylvania’s coal country that had been on fire since 1962. A controlled burn at the dump, he said, had somehow reached a coal seam beneath it, and the fire spread. Now it’s big—400 acres—and hotter than 1,000 degrees, eating away at the ground beneath the ground. He told me about sinkholes that had swallowed people, and huge cracks in the earth, and poisonous gases that seeped into buildings.

…Emory told me there were hundreds of other coal fires in the U.S. and a handful more in Pennsylvania. I nodded and said, “Really?” so he’d keep talking, but I didn’t believe him. Turns out, he’s right. The Office of Surface Mining has identified 100 fires burning beneath nine states. There are 45 just in Pennsylvania, though none are as famous as the one in Centralia.’


America’s “Ferguson” confusion: Why the problem has been completely misunderstood

Elias Isquith via Salon.com:  ‘Before I had a chance to peruse the Department of Justice’s long-awaited report on the killing of Michael Brown by former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, I had three predictions. The first was that the DOJ would find the city of Ferguson’s finances to be a house of cards built upon a foundation of anti-tax absolutism and white supremacy…

My second prediction about the DOJ report was that it would find the Ferguson Police Department to be rife with bigotry, which would manifest itself most conspicuously through emails filled with the kind of racist “jokes” that many Americans prefer to call “politically incorrect.” I guessed this not because I had any special insight into the office culture of the Ferguson PD, but because the embarrassing disclosure of racist jokes disseminated among employees by email has become a recurring media story throughout the Obama years…

My third and final prediction, meanwhile, was that the media’s coverage of the DOJ report would devote much more attention to the second prediction (the racist emails) than the first (the systemic dysfunction); and that the response on the part of Ferguson’s civilian leadership would similarly concern itself more with “politically incorrect” jokes than with institutional corruption. I imagined that it would play out this way primarily because that’s how it always does.’


Humans Unconsciously Sniff Their Hands After Handshaking

English: A stylised imaged of the handshaking ...

Via io9: ‘Unlike dogs and other animals, humans — for the most part — don’t sniff each other. Well, at least that’s what we thought. A rather unsettling new study from the Weizmann Institute shows that practically all of us sniff our hands after handshaking — a possible sign of social chemosignaling behavior.

The new study, published in the journal eLife, suggests that humans use handshakes to exchange important chemical information — information that can alter our behavior is subtle ways. The researchers came to this conclusion by covertly filming 271 subjects as they they were being greeted in a structured event, some with a handshake and some without.’


Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

New York Times Tower ny night
Justin P. McBrayer in the New York Times: ‘What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?

I was. As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshman in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture.

What I didn’t know was where this attitude came from…’ (via 3quarksdaily)

Be Careful About Downloading Health Apps — They Lack Regulation

Via Big Think: ‘Jesse Singal from NYMag reports that the mobile app market is an under-regulated mess. While the health market has boomed with step, heart rate, and various other personal wellness trackers, Singal warns that there’s no regulation, which means an app’s accuracy can vary from developer to developer. This lack of consistency or regulation standards among applications brings questions of reliability for users that may depend on sound readings.’

New Chinese character threatens to ‘break the internet’

Via Telegraph: ‘The launch of a new word in China is threatening to break the internet, with the character being shared millions of times despite no-one knowing what it means.

The character, known as “duang”, has appeared more than 8m times on China’s leading social media site Weibo since it emerged a week ago, generating hundreds of thousands of online conversations.

Foreign Policy, the magazine, has now dubbed the character as a “break the internet” viral meme in the same ilk as last year’s image of Kim Kardashian and last week’s multi-coloured dress.

The new character has connections to film star Jackie Chan. A fake advert featuring Chan, who sponsors numerous products in China, appeared on video streaming site Youku for herbal shampoo Bawang, which Chan endorses. At the end of advert, Chan appears to say of the product: “It’s just … it’s just … duang!” ‘