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The Origin of April Fools’ Day

NewImage‘For Europeans, April Fools hearkens back to the transition to the Gregorian calendar in the sixteenth century. The pre-Gregorian calendar had ended the year near the end of March, coinciding with the beginning of spring. With the new Gregorian calendar, the beginning of the year was moved to January. The calendar change was slow to take hold and there was resistance to it, but those who continued celebrating the new year at the beginning of April, old style, were ultimately shamed as “fools.”…’

Via JSTOR

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Why People With Insomnia Don’t Know They’re Asleep

 

NewImage‘When you can’t get to sleep at night, you might explain it to someone as your brain not being able to shut off.

While your brain never truly shuts off, when you do fall asleep, your brain sends inhibitory neurons that help reduce conscious awareness to get to a point of deep sleep. Normal sleepers often feel like they’ve fallen asleep before their brain is in a scientifically-defined state of sleep, but people with insomnia aren’t so lucky.

A recent study by BYU psychology professor Daniel Kay published in Sleep suggests a dysfunction in the inhibition process could be what causes those with insomnia to have a hard time fully falling asleep.

“Previous studies found that patients with insomnia appear to be asleep, their eyes are closed and their brain is in a characteristic sleep pattern, but you wake them up and guess what they are more likely to tell you? ‘I was awake,’” Kay said.

This problem has traditionally been characterized by sleep scientists as sleep misperception. Kay, however, argues that that term is based on the assumption that sleep is categorical, either being asleep or being awake, and that when you’re asleep you don’t have consciousness.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” Kay said. “I think you can be consciously aware and your brain be in a sleep pattern. The question is: What role does conscious awareness have in our definition of sleep?”…’

Via Neuroscience News

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What Happens When a Blind Person Takes LSD?


NewImage‘How do blind people experience psychedelic drugs? This is the topic of an interesting, but unusual, paper just out in Consciousness and Cognition.

The paper’s authors are University of Bath researchers Sara Dell’Erba, David J.Brown, and Michael J.Proulx. However, the real star contributor is a man referred to only as “Mr Blue Pentagon”.

Blue Pentagon (“BP”) is the pseudonym for a 70 year old blind man who reports taking large quantities of LSD and other drugs during his career as a rock musician in the 1970s. (“Blue Pentagon” was his favorite brand of LSD.)

How the researchers came to meet BP is not stated.

Much of the paper consists of BP’s accounts of his experiences under the influence of hallucinogens, and this is what makes the article rather unusual, as parts are more reminiscent of a late-night conversation than an academic paper.

For instance, here’s how BP describes the impact of LSD on the perception of music:…’

Via Neuroskeptic

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Why the High-Tech Plan to Bring Back the Northern White Rhino Matters

NewImage‘With the death of the last male northern white rhino last week, the world was reminded that yet another charismatic animal is functionally extinct because of humans. But in the future, because of synthetic biology, extinction may not be forever. And the northern white rhino could be the animal that pioneers a suite of new technologies that get us there….’

Via Earther

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The Fraud and the Four-Hour Workweek

NewImage‘Self-help millionaire Tim Ferriss is a fraud. But his success says a lot about modern capitalism and its discontents….

After dozens of pages of self-help and time-management cliches (“Poisonous people do not deserve your time”; “Compile your to-do list for tomorrow no later than this evening”; “Find your focus and you’ll find your lifestyle”), Ferriss finally laid out his magic bullet solution: follow in his footsteps and become a fake expert. “Expert status can be created in less than four weeks if you understand basic credibility indicators.” …’

Via Jacobin

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There’s still no scientific way to know who’s about to start shooting

Why we’re not better at predicting mass shooters:

‘There have been 306 school shootings since 2013, or about one a week, according to Everytown. Each time such a tragedy occurs, we’re first reminded of the easy availability of assault weapons followed quickly by blame assigned to the people — local police, psychologists, social workers — who failed to identify the perpetrator as a danger to their community. But this kind of hindsight is unfair. The truth is there’s been amazingly little coordinated study of the psychology behind mass shooters and very little consensus as to what those warning signs might be. A new review of such research was compiled by sociologist Michael Rocque and criminologist Grant Duwe and is in the February issue of Current Opinion in Psychology….’

Via Big Think

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A close call of 0.8 light years

Astronomers discover that star grazed solar system 70K years ago:

‘Astronomers identify the closest known flyby of a star to our solar system: a dim star that passed through the Oort Cloud 70,000 years ago A group of astronomers from the US, Europe, Chile and South Africa have determined that 70,000 years ago a recently discovered dim star is likely to have passed through the solar system’s distant cloud of comets, the Oort Cloud. No other star is known to have ever approached our solar system this close – five times closer than the current closest star, Proxima Centauri.

In a paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, lead author Eric Mamajek from the University of Rochester and his collaborators analyzed the velocity and trajectory of a low-mass star system nicknamed “Scholz’s star.”

The star’s trajectory suggests that 70,000 years ago it passed roughly 52,000 astronomical units away (or about 0.8 light years, which equals 8 trillion kilometers, or 5 trillion miles). This is astronomically close; our closest neighbor star Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light years distant. In fact, the astronomers explain in the paper that they are 98% certain that it went through what is known as the “outer Oort Cloud” – a region at the edge of the solar system filled with trillions of comets a mile or more across that are thought to give rise to long-period comets orbiting the Sun after their orbits are perturbed….’

Via University of Rochester

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New, previously unknown human organ discovered

NewImageNewfound ‘organ’ had been missed by standard method for visualizing anatomy

‘Researchers have identified a previously unknown feature of human anatomy with implications for the function of all organs, most tissues and the mechanisms of most major diseases.

Published March 27 in Scientific Reports, a new study co-led by an NYU School of Medicine pathologist reveals that layers of the body long thought to be dense, connective tissues – below the skin’s surface, lining the digestive tract, lungs and urinary systems, and surrounding arteries, veins, and the fascia between muscles – are instead interconnected, fluid-filled compartments….’

Via EurekAlert! Science News

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Society of Blue Buckets

”The Society of Blue Buckets (Russian: Общество синих ведёрок Obshchestvo sinikh vedyorok) is a free protest movement that emerged in Russia in 2010 as a response to the arbitrary, self-serving use of emergency rotating blue flashers by public servants. Inspired by blue toy buckets‘ strong resemblance to emergency blue rotating lights, members of the Society affix buckets to their vehicles’ roofs during automotive flashmobs, as a manifestation of their protest against misuse of emergency lights…”

Source: Wikipedia

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The Loudest Silence in the History of US Social Protest

The incredible power of the speeches by the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas students who organized the March for Our Lives yesterday. Read and feel moved to do your part to help.

Source: Mother Jones

And:

‘More than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school since Columbine, The Washington Post found. …’

Source: Washington Post

‘NRA host taunts Parkland teens: ‘No one would know your names’ if classmates were still alive …’

Source: Washington Post

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R.I.P. Liam O’Flynn

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Ireland lost a musical giant this week

‘Irish music lost one of its legends this week, with the passing of Liam O’Flynn.

A player of the Uilleann pipes, O’Flynn, or as he was known by the Gaeilge iteration of his name, Liam Óg Ó Floinn, was born in 1945 to a family of musicians. In his youth, his piping earned him prizes at county and national levels, but it wasn’t until he was in his thirties that he really hit his stride. As one of the founding members of Irish trad super group Planxty, O’Flynn helped to breathe new life to traditional Irish music by showing that it could be every bit as exciting and full of life as rock and roll. Without Planxty, there may not have been a Dexy’s Midnight Runners; No Waterboys, Pogues, or Dropkick Murphys. We’d all be poorer for it….’

Via Boing Boing

 

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After Last Male’s Death, Is the Northern White Rhino Doomed?

NewImageWildlife ranger Zacharia Mutai comforts Sudan, the last living male Northern White Rhino left on the planet, moments before he passed away March 19, 2018 at Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya.

Conservationists were expecting the death of Sudan, the world’s last remaining male northern white rhinoceros. But when he died on Monday night, the news was met with international dismay.

The 45-year-old male rhino had been living under armed guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Earlier this month, Sudan developed an infection on his back right leg. He had already been suffering from age-related complications, and the infection worsened his condition.

Now, only two female northern white rhinos remain at the conservancy—the last of their kind on Earth….’

Via National Geographic

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The ‘Most Ignorant Man in America’

NewImageA New York Times  reporter spends two days with a former tech executive who retired to a pig farm in Ohio to make art and has rigorously arranged his life so that, since deeply upset about Trump’s election, he has entirely avoided exposure to any news since the election. The piece flirts with the suggestion that those of us who loathe Trump and what the country has become under his reign might envy such a move, but of course the only way to survive this is to commiserate. And precious few of us have the luxury of living in the illusion that they are not impacted. 

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Why there are no libertarian countries?

NewImageHumans have shared values, believe it or not. And libertarian isn’t one of them, says Steven Pinker:

‘Could we ever agree on a set of values? The knee-jerk response for any student of history would be ‘no’, but the data tells a different story. Psychologist and author Steven Pinker offers proof in the form of Wagner’s law: “One development that people both on the Left and the Right are unaware of is almost an inexorable force that leads affluent societies to devote increasing amounts of their wealth to social spending, to redistribution to children, to education, to healthcare, to supporting the poor, to supporting the aged.” Until the 20th century, most societies devoted about 1.5% of their GDP to social spending, and generally much less than that. In the last 100 years, that’s changed: today the current global median of social spending is 22% of GDP. One group will groan most audibly at that data: Libertarians. However, Pinker says it’s no coincidence that there are zero libertarian countries on Earth; social spending is a shared value, even if the truest libertarians protest it, as the free market has no way to provide for poor children, the elderly, and other members of society who cannot contribute to the marketplace. As countries develop, they naturally initiate social spending programs. That’s why libertarianism is a marginal idea, rather than a universal value—and it’s likely to stay that way….’

Via Big Think

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Creepy Alexa laughs randomly scare the crap out of people

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First signs of the machines’ disdainful rebellion?

Reports are coming in that Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker has begun laughing all on its own.

People who claim to have experienced this generally say they’re not interacting with their Amazon Echo, but it will suddenly begin laughing. Many of the descriptions describe the robolaughter as “creepy.”

Because Alexa’s frightening laugh allegedly only happens at unexpected times, nobody has managed to capture a recording. Amazon’s voice assistant has a laugh that it will use when prompted, but it doesn’t sound very creepy.

Amazon confirmed the creepy Alexa laughs, issuing the following statement to The Verge: “We’re aware of this and working to fix it.” …’

Via Cult of Mac

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‘President for Life’?

Trump’s Remarks About Xi Find Fans in China.

Hopefully fewer fans here:

‘President Trump told donors on Saturday that China’s president, Xi Jinping, was now “president for life,” and added: “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll want to give that a shot someday.”…’

Via New York Times

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Can Novels Change Our Attitudes About Death?

John MacNeill Miller writes:

‘If we want to move from a pathologically death-phobic culture to a more well-adjusted one… we need to rethink our cultural tradition of giving death the silent treatment. That is the sentiment underlying the death-positive movement, a loose collective of artists, writers, academics, and funeral industry professionals agitating for more open conversations about dying. As the mortician and author Caitlin Doughty explains in her bestselling memoir ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’, “A culture that denies death is a barrier to achieving a good death.”

At the very minimum, our culture of death denial creates a population unprepared for the inevitability of death, one in which every dying individual burdens family and friends with painful healthcare decisions, legal battles, and property disputes that could have been avoided with a little forethought. At its worst, death denial promotes a youth- and health-obsessed society whose inability to address death …’

Source: Electric Literature

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An ATM Skimmer Almost Stole My Credit Card! This is How to Spot Them

Daniel Rodriguez writes:

‘Like you, I’ve seen the memes and articles floating around social media about checking ATMs for the telltale signs of an ATM Skimmer; loose card ports, keypads sticking up and general shadiness. It’s always one of those things I’ve kept in the back of mind, even though I never took it terribly seriously. This time it paid off! …’

Source: Imminent Threat Solutions

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Are ‘you’ just inside your skin or is your smartphone part of you?

‘Given how our smartphones have taken over what were once functions of our brains – remembering dates, phone numbers, addresses – perhaps the data they contain should be treated on a par with the information we hold in our heads. So if the law aims to protect mental privacy, its boundaries would need to be pushed outwards to give our cyborg anatomy the same protections as our brains. …’

Source: Aeon Ideas

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“What I Learned Treating Parkland Victims”

NewImageThey weren’t the first mass-shooting victims the Florida radiologist saw—but their wounds were radically different. Heather Sher writes:

As a doctor, I feel I have a duty to inform the public of what I have learned as I have observed these wounds and cared for these patients. It’s clear to me that AR-15 and other high-velocity weapons, especially when outfitted with a high-capacity magazine, have no place in a civilian’s gun cabinet. I have friends who own AR-15 rifles; they enjoy shooting them at target practice for sport and fervently defend their right to own them. But I cannot accept that their right to enjoy their hobby supersedes my right to send my own children to school, a movie theater, or a concert and to know that they are safe. Can the answer really be to subject our school children to active-shooter drills—to learn to hide under desks, turn off the lights, lock the door, and be silent—instead of addressing the root cause of the problem and passing legislation to take AR-15-style weapons out of the hands of civilians? …’

Via The Atlantic

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The Opposite of Hoarding

NewImageCompulsive Decluttering, the need to shed possessions, is a life-consuming illness for some —but the cultural embrace of decluttering can make it hard to seek help….

“Do we just assume that decluttering is a good thing because it’s the opposite of hoarding?” says Vivien Diller, a psychologist in New York who has worked with patients… who compulsively rid themselves of their possessions. “Being organized and throwing things out and being efficient is applauded in our society because it is productive. But you take somebody who cannot tolerate mess or cannot sit still without cleaning or throwing things out, and we’re talking about a symptom.”…’

Via The Atlantic

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Will the last person to leave the West Wing please remember to turn out the lights?

Image-1.jpgAll the President’s Men Who Might Leave the White House:

‘It’s looking like it might be spring-cleaning season at the White House.

Not only did Communications Director Hope Hicks announce her departure on Wednesday, ending her run as President Trump’s longest-tenured staffer, but a series of reports have suggested a number of other top-ranking officials might be clearing out their offices and desks soon. Those rumored to be considering exits include Jared Kushner, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, and Jeff Sessions….’

Via The Atlantic

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Standing desks are probably actually bad for your health

incredible-standing-desk-ergonomics-standing-desk-guide-measurements-examples-and-benefitsThe worm turns:

‘[A] new study asserts that standings desks are, in fact, bad for you. They’re also not the promoters of workplace productivity they’ve been claimed to be. They apparently result not only in physical pain, but — literally adding insult to injury — make you a bit slower mentally….’

Via Big Think

Thank heavens I procrastinated so long in adopting this trend that now I don’t have to.

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Why philosophers feel chimpanzees must be considered persons

profileTo anyone who follows science, the notion that other animals can be sentient, have emotions, suffer, engage in relationships, and be highly intelligent has become nearly inescapable. Study after study presents fresh evidence that we’ve been underestimating animals.

Chimpanzees, crows, and cephalopods apparently use tools, apes form social groups, elephants mourn, goldfish get depressed, whales converse, crows, chickens, and goldfish remember faces, and on and on.

For many, the findings are confirmation of something we already suspected. But make no mistake, they call for a fundamental change in the way we see our place in the world: All other life on Earth is not, after all, here simply to serve us, and we thus have no moral right to continue treating it as if it is. It’s not surprising that there’s been some resistance, given the manner in which our casual, entitled use and treatment of animals is so embedded in our culture.

We’re only beginning to address the protection of non-human rights. That’s where the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) comes in. Now a group of philosophers has submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of its ongoing efforts to secure protection for the basic rights of two chimpanzees named “Tommy” and “Kiko”. We’ve written about the chimps’ cases and their tortuous journeys through the courts of New York State before. The NhRP is attempting to havion.” The organization is the subject of an excellent HBO documentary, Unlocking the Cage. (Trigger warning: The film contains just a handful of brief scenes that are difficult to watch.) NhRP knows its goals will take time and a lot of work….’

Via Big Think

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Influenza drug kills virus in one day

iac1Approved in Japan; US to follow:

‘Tamiflu (generic: oseltamivir), the go-to drug for combatting influenza has a new challenger.

Japanese drugmaker Shionogi has announced that test results are in: its drug kills the flu virus in 24 hours. With one pill.

The drug, named Xofluza (generic: baloxavir marboxyl), was recently granted accelerated approval by the Japanese government after trials of the drug showed great promise.

by inhibiting the enzyme that the flu virus needs in order to replicate, it kills the virus within a human in 24 hours. The symptoms continue for about the same amount of time as when Tamiflu is used, however, but they’re lessened and begin to go away faster. And both drugs lessen the effects of the flu versus no drug at all…’

Via Big Think