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Friday night bright spots May 12, 2017

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Ordinary Canadians had essentially adopted thousands of Syrian families, donating a year of their time and money to guide them into new lives just as many other countries shunned them. Some citizens already considered the project a humanitarian triumph; others believed the Syrians would end up isolated and adrift, stuck on welfare or worse. As 2016 turned to 2017 and the yearlong commitments began to expire, the question of how the newcomers would fare acquired a national nickname: Month 13, when the Syrians would try to stand on their own.” I wish I had the money to do this. It’s so heartwarming, and sounds so fulfilling.

A showcase of Muslims who risked their lives to help Jewish people escape the Holocaust. This is what heroism looks like.

“The same exact pattern happened in 2016, Phelps said: A wage increase by the state [of California] led to a bump in business. Now Phelps is convinced that minimum wage increases aren’t bad for the fast food business. They’re great.

Employment at Arizona restaurants, bars surges after minimum-wage increase. There’s also been a bump in the rest of the leisure and hospitality sector. (Manufacturing is still going down. Retail too, thanks to online shopping.)

A recycling initiative for hotel toiletries: “Last year Clean the World sent out 400,000 hygiene kits and made more than 7 million bars of soap, including half a million bars for Haiti and the Bahamas after Hurricane Matthew.”

“Based on an advanced copy of America’s budget for the 2017 financial year, it looks like there has been an actual increase in science funding across the board, and rather wonderfully, Trump’s requests to have it cut have been comprehensively ignored.” (Now it just has to pass.)

Undersea spaghetti monster, dinosaur tails, ancient cookbooks, and other fun things February 7, 2017

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An interlude with nice things.

Dinosaur tail found fully preserved in amber, and yes, it’s feathery.

“A team from BP was carrying out routine operations near an oil well, using a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) at a depth of 1325 metres, when they spotted the creature, which they nicknamed the flying spaghetti monster.” The noodly appendages are real. RAmen.

Mall space got repurposed into gorgeous loft apartments.

“The Ptolemaic dynasty was able to spend big on the institution thanks to the riches of Egypt’s fertile land and resources from the Nile, including papyrus, the ancient world’s main writing material. As a result, the library had an edge in development over others. The Ptolemaic kings were determined to collect any and all books that existed—from the epics, tragedies, to cookbooks.

“Olio wants to make it easy for busy food sellers to avoid wasting food. ‘These vendors usually don’t have enough surplus to donate to a charity or something, but they still end up having to throw away quite a lot at the end of the day.'”

I asked other immigrants about their first moments of culture shock in the United States. Here’s what they told me.” Braces, junk food, chatty cashiers, and more.

“Hebrew marks gender prolifically (even the word “you” is different depending on genders), Finnish has no gender marking and English is somewhere in between. Accordingly, children growing-up in a Hebrew speaking environment figure out their own gender about a year earlier than Finnish-speaking children; English-speaking kids fall in the middle.

When pigs fly” and equivalent metaphors, in different languages, illustrated.

Good things: cool science, rock eyes, doodling, and cats July 29, 2016

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“On Sunday, May 8, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. […] Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.

Animal eyes span an incredible variety of weirdness. Also coolness. This mollusk has eyes made of rock!

“It may be that different animals arrived at different times. A 2008 study of Movile’s only snail suggested that it has been down there for just over 2 million years. When it entered the cave, the ice age was just beginning, and the snail may have escaped the cold by going underground.” (That’s, uh, the species of snail, not a single really-old individual.)

“Psychologist Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth in southern England showed that doodlers actually remember more than nondoodlers when asked to retain tediously delivered information, like, say, during a boring meeting or a lecture.”

“How many other people are learning Spanish, and where do they live? Duolingo recently answered such questions by running the numbers on their 120 million users, spanning every country on the planet.”

“Coming to terms with the fact that he couldn’t outrun a volcano, Landsburg decided to make his last moments on Earth count. He documented the eruption until the last possible second, then carefully rewound his film, placed his camera in his backpack, and lay down on top of it, shielding the equipment from the encroaching shower of magma and ash with his own body.”

“Thanks to the colossal changes humans have made since the mid-20th century, Earth has now entered a distinct age from the Holocene epoch, which started 11,700 years ago as the ice age thawed.” With a gorgeous gallery of ways we’ve altered our own bedrock.

“A giant pothole, the Devil’s Kettle, swallows half of the Brule and no one has any idea where it goes. The consensus is that there must be an exit point somewhere beneath Lake Superior, but over the years, researchers and the curious have poured dye, pingpong balls, even logs into the kettle, then watched the lake for any sign of them. So far, none has ever been found.”

An animal shelter that used to have “unadoptable” cats now has a 30-day waiting list, thanks to hiring them out as mousers.

“As you can see from these pictures, Smoothie knows how to pose for the camera. Then again, it’s pretty easy for her. After all, while most of us have a best angle, EVERY angle is Smoothie’s best angle.” This is a magical elf cat, you guys.

Science!: toothy dinosaurs, adapting our brains to Google, language of whistling, Earth with rings, and more January 26, 2016

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The dinosaur’s jaw was lined with at least 1,000 teeth with coarse surfaces perfect for pulverizing plants. U. kuukpikensis belongs to the hadrosaur group of duck-billed dinosaurs. It was 25 to 30 feet long, six or seven feet high at the hip, and probably covered with scales.”

“With timelapse cameras, specialists recorded salt water being excluded from the sea ice and sinking. The temperature of this sinking brine, which was well below 0C, caused the water to freeze in an icy sheath around it. Where the so-called “brinicle” met the sea bed, a web of ice formed that froze everything it touched, including sea urchins and starfish.”

“This effort appears to have backfired for the organization—whose mission is to raise awareness about how certain environmental exposures may be linked to autism—since the study SafeMinds supported showed a link between autism and vaccines does not exist.

We’ve begun to fit the machines into an age-old technique we evolved thousands of years ago—“transactive memory.” That’s the art of storing information in the people around us. We have begun to treat search engines, Evernote, and smartphones the way we’ve long treated our spouses, friends, and workmates.”

Unlike all other spoken languages, a whistled form of Turkish requires that “speakers” rely as heavily on the right side of their brains as on the left side, researchers have found.”

“Instead of using ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to describe Standard American English versus African-American English, Craig’s model uses ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ designations, so there’s no judgment attached to either language. One isn’t ‘better’ than the other per se, it’s all about when it’s appropriate to use one form or the other. It’s ‘this is how you talk in school,’ rather than ‘don’t talk like that.’ Craig calls it ‘a slight change’ that makes a big difference in kids’ attitudes about their own language.

What would Earth’s skies look like with Saturn’s rings? Awesome, gorgeous renderings.

And one (more) big science-based reason why everyone should be able to make a comfortable living wage:

If just one Einstein right now is working 60 hours a week in two jobs just to survive, instead of propelling the entire world forward with another General Theory of Relativity… that loss is truly incalculable. How can we measure the costs of lost innovation? Of businesses never started? Of visions never realized?”

Pluto, Andromeda, robot fingers, 80,000-year-old trees, and other wonders of science July 15, 2015

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The voyage to Pluto, one step and one photo at a time. (I may have gotten a little emotional at this one.)

Close-up view of the heart! Complete with discussion.

Elsewhere in the universe:

1.5 billion pixel photo of the Andromeda Galaxy, covering a space 40,000 light-years across and capturing over 100 million individual stars.

A solar eclipse caught in an analemma: the sun photographed from the same spot at the same hour throughout a year, making a distorted figure-eight. And since now we have cameras on Mars, we can capture the Martian analemma, which is just a teardrop.

The oldest living things in the world, including eight-thousand-year-old bushes, 80,000-year-old trees, and 400,000-year-old bacteria.

With no new medical discoveries, no new technologies, no payment incentives — and little public notice — hospitals in recent years have slashed the time it takes to clear a blockage in a patient’s arteries and get blood flowing again to the heart.”

Artificial robot fingers that flex like real ones! Science is great.

Neat stuff. (Paralysis implants, a Bill Watterson art cameo, cool maps, language stuff, diamond planets.) August 27, 2014

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“The Neurobridge technology combines algorithms that learn and decode the user’s brain activity and a high-definition muscle stimulation sleeve that translates neural impulses from the brain and transmits new signals to the paralyzed limb. In this case, Ian’s brain signals bypass his injured spinal cord and move his hand.

“Now if you had asked me the odds of Bill Watterson ever saying that line to me, I’d say it had about the same likelihood as Jimi Hendrix telling me he had a new guitar riff. And yes, I’m aware Hendrix is dead.” Pearls Before Swine gets the most awesome guest artist imaginable.

A globe laid out by Voronoi diagrams, where all the territorial lines are drawn based on which national capital the land is closest to. Overlaid on our world’s current borders, so you can check out the difference.

US language maps, based on Census Bureau data. Most commonly-spoken languages in all the states based on different parameters, starting with “other than English” and “other than English or Spanish.”

Constructive reduplication, found all over the world, from English to Finnish to Hungarian to the Bantu languages. (Or, the linguistic explanation for the difference between “salad” and “salad salad”.)

A bunch of awesome animals (as well as some terrifying lamprey pictures; be ready to scroll; they’re after the Tufted Deer). Teeny armadillos, skinny canids, deer with awesome horns and hind-legged stances, and what looks like a rabbit-capybara.

Python swallows a three-foot-long crocodile whole. Nature is awesome.

The most amazing of the 3500+ exoplanets we’ve discovered, including the diamond one, the burning-ice one, the one with a day-long year, and the incredibly dark one (lit by a sun, though).

A bunch of tales of egregious race and gender BS. With studies! August 6, 2014

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“Haven’s inconsistent enforcement of the dress code makes girls ’embarrassed,’ because those who are more developed often get singled out. The experience of 12-year-old Lucy Shapiro supports this. She tells the story of when both she and her friend were dressed in athletic shorts, but only Shapiro was ‘dress-coded.'”

“Allen, now 32, said she was stunned when her supervisor at the Hobby Lobby store in Flowood, Mississippi, told her she would be terminated for taking unpaid time off to have her baby.

“1. Random Stranger: (Takes Rhys’ hand while he’s 1 ft. in front of me)…let’s go find your Mommy!

“When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, ‘A crowd gathers, which is half female.’ That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise.

“…more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.”

A long list of responses to BS MRA arguments, full of numbers and logic and citations.

“And then secondly you have these strangers, for example, coming up to a woman [shopping with a black male friend in a store] and saying, ‘Do you know your husband is black?’

At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.”

“And they wrote letters saying, I really admire your work. Would you have some time to meet? The letters to the faculty were all identical, but the names of the students were all different.” In an outcome that surprises no one (except possibly certain white men), the letter gets the highest rate of positive responses when it has a white-sounding male name attached.

“A woman who got a 4.0 GPA in high school will only be worth about as much, income-wise, as a man who got a 2.0. A woman with a 2.0 average will make about as much as a man with a 0 GPA.

“Mark Ciavarella Jr, a 61-year old former judge in Pennsylvania, has been sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison for literally selling young juveniles for cash. He was convicted of accepting money in exchange for incarcerating thousands of adults and children into a prison facility owned by a developer who was paying him under the table. […] Some of the juveniles he sentenced were as young as 10-years old.

Researchers avoided using female animals for fear that their reproductive cycles and hormone fluctuations would confound the results of delicately calibrated experiments.” Apparently male animals don’t have hormones! And somehow it never occurred to these scientists that using a non-random sample where half the population has been systematically selected out might also confound their results.

Recovered past science + dismaying future science April 22, 2014

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“…archeologists unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years. For the next four decades, the ancient seeds were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University. But then, in 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to plant one and see what, if anything, would sprout.” The resurrection of the lost-for-millennia Judean date palm.

“Technology historians say the instrument is technically more complex than any known for at least a millennium afterward.” The earliest surviving analog computer.

“Studies have found that parts of the Mediterranean region are drying out because of climate change, and some experts believe that droughts there have contributed to political destabilization in the Middle East and North Africa. In much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region […] In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.”

“Already, signs of erosion are everywhere in the Ganges Delta — the world’s largest delta, which empties much of the water coming from the Himalayas. There are brick foundations torn in half, palm trees growing out of rivers and rangy cattle grazing on island pastures the size of putting greens. Fields are dusted white with salt.”

“‘Nothing in the TMDL dictates that agriculture do anything one way or another — much less that any kind of zoning occur that is not supported by local government,’ Baker said. ‘States and local governments worked together with a number of federal agencies to develop this Clean Water Blueprint for the bay. It’s hardly a mandate being imposed on high down to the states.'”

“NASA scientists are calling the planet Kepler-186f, and it’s unlike anything they’ve found. The big news: Kepler-186f is the closest relative to the Earth that researchers have discovered.” Maybe we should send its potential residents a warning not to screw their planet up the way we have.

Jellies in space, cat vision, sun polarity, printable livers, and algae lamps March 6, 2014

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…or, science continues to be awesome.

“A warning for future space colonizers: Babies born in space might not ever figure out how to deal with gravity. Jellyfish babies, at least, have to deal with massive vertigo on Earth after spending their first few days in space.

Visualization of how cats see the world versus how humans do! Much better night vision, of course; but as it turns out, way worse distance vision.

The sun decides to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow. …okay, not exactly, but it is literally reversing its own polarity.

This is either the real-world precursor to hard-light holograms, or lightsabers. Possibly both. Exciting either way!

The mini-livers that Organovo made are just half a millimetre deep and 4 millimetres across but can perform most functions of the real thing. To create them, a printer builds up about 20 layers of hepatocytes and stellate cells – two major types of liver cell. Crucially, it also adds cells from the lining of blood vessels. These form a delicate mesh of channels that supply the liver cells with nutrients and oxygen, allowing the tissue to live for five days or longer.”

“It’s still in the ‘so crazy it just might work’ stage, but these microalgae-powered lamps, invented by French biochemist Pierre Calleja, could absorb a ton of carbon from the air every year. That’s as much as 150 to 200 trees.”

Dyslexia fonts, Native American names, irregular words preserved, DNA word preservation October 15, 2013

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“Although Dyslexie is not the first font out there to help aid dyslexics, it has received much fanfare from sufferers thus far, including participants from the aforementioned University of Twente study, who commented that the font allowed them to read with improved accuracy, and for a longer time before tiring.

The locations that generate the most hateful tweets across the US, broken down by various slurs, mostly racist and homophobic.

“We get a lot of questions about the meaning of Native American names found on the Internet, so here is a list of many of them and what (if anything) they really mean.” Beautiful etymology research all over this page.

There are some old words, however, that are nearly obsolete, but we still recognize because they were lucky enough to get stuck in set phrases that have lasted across the centuries.” My favorite: “wend” used to have the past tense of “went”, and its synonym “go” used to have the past tense of, basically, “goed”, and instead of dropping one regular verb but keeping the other, English created a totally irregular frankenverb by keeping half of each.

“A team of scientists has produced a truly concise anthology of verse by encoding all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets in DNA. The researchers say that their technique could easily be scaled up to store all of the data in the world.”

Related: “[This method should] be easily capable of swallowing the roughly 3 zettabytes (a zettabyte is one billion trillion or 10^21 bytes) of digital data thought presently to exist in the world and still have room for plenty more. It would do so with a density of around 2.2 petabytes (10^15) per gram; enough, in other words, to fit all the world’s digital information into the back of a lorry.