Kit OConnell

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Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday September 3, 2014 8:32 pm

 

A rock on the Racetrack Playa with a sandy trail falling away behind it.

Mystery solved? Again?

In tonight’s video, Juice Rap News return with a look at the latest headlines (previously on the Watercooler).

A Rap News summary of the past months’ remarkable series of events. From Gaza to Syria, ISIS to Ukraine, Sinkholes to Ebola, Ferguson to Robin Williams, the world has been experiencing a seemingly endless series of events befitting of a Ronald Emmerich movie. How do we manage to deal with all the painful ironies and bloody tragedies of these times? To find out, we tune into frequency which informs us about all these events: the mainstream media. Join veteran MSMBS host Brian Washington as he brings you all the latest World News Headlies — without a trace of irony.

Written & created by Giordano Nanni & Hugo Farrant in a suburban backyard home studio in Melbourne, Australia, on Wurundjeri Land.

Also in a previous watercooler, we discussed Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa, where stones mysteriously move across the surface of the desert. NASA scientists proposed that thick sheets of ice were involved, but now researchers have gained insight from actually watching the rocks move! From the Scripps Institute at UC San Diego:

Because the stones can sit for a decade or more without moving, the researchers did not originally expect to see motion in person. Instead, they decided to monitor the rocks remotely by installing a high-resolution weather station capable of measuring gusts to one-second intervals and fitting 15 rocks with custom-built, motion-activated GPS units. (The National Park Service would not let them use native rocks, so they brought in similar rocks from an outside source.) The experiment was set up in winter 2011 with permission of the Park Service. Then – in what Ralph Lorenz of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University, one of the paper’s authors, suspected would be ‘the most boring experiment ever’ – they waited for something to happen.

But in December 2013, Norris and co-author and cousin Jim Norris arrived in Death Valley to discover that the playa was covered with a pond of water seven centimeters (three inches) deep. Shortly after, the rocks began moving.

‘Science sometimes has an element of luck,’ Richard Norris said. ‘We expected to wait five or ten years without anything moving, but only two years into the project, we just happened to be there at the right time to see it happen in person.’

Their observations show that moving the rocks requires a rare combination of events. First, the playa fills with water, which must be deep enough to form floating ice during cold winter nights but shallow enough to expose the rocks. As nighttime temperatures plummet, the pond freezes to form thin sheets of ‘windowpane’ ice, which must be thin enough to move freely but thick enough to maintain strength. On sunny days, the ice begins to melt and break up into large floating panels, which light winds drive across the playa, pushing rocks in front of them and leaving trails in the soft mud below the surface.

[...] These observations upended previous theories that had proposed hurricane-force winds, dust devils, slick algal films, or thick sheets of ice as likely contributors to rock motion. Instead, rocks moved under light winds of about 3-5 meters per second (10 miles per hour) and were driven by ice less than 3-5 millimeters (0.25 inches) thick, a measure too thin to grip large rocks and lift them off the playa, which several papers had proposed as a mechanism to reduce friction. Further, the rocks moved only a few inches per second (2-6 meters per minute), a speed that is almost imperceptible at a distance and without stationary reference points.

[...] Individual rocks remained in motion for anywhere from a few seconds to 16 minutes. In one event, the researchers observed rocks three football fields apart began moving simultaneously and traveled over 60 meters (200 feet) before stopping. Rocks often moved multiple times before reaching their final resting place. The researchers also observed rock-less trails formed by grounding ice panels – features that the Park Service had previously suspected were the result of tourists stealing rocks.

So maybe no one is stealing racing rocks after all!

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Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday September 2, 2014 7:45 pm

 

In tonight’s video, Minute Physics explains “Why Are Stars Star-shaped?”

A dog with a muddy muzzle

Researchers recommend a dog for introducing children to a diverse microbiome (really).

Many of us perceive hotel rooms as full of other people’s germs. The reality is they are actually full of our own germs, according to a study of human microbiomes outlined in a recent article in the Washington Post.

Our bacterial signatures are so persistent and so unique, a new study published Thursday in Science reports, that they could even be used in forensic investigations — and eventually become more useful to police than an old-fashioned fingerprint. And the same research that could track down a serial killer could also help you raise healthier kids.

[...]‘Everyone thinks hotels are icky,’ said Jack Gilbert, corresponding author of the study and environmental microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory, ‘but when one young couple we studied moved into a hotel, it was microbiologically identical to their home within 24 hours.’ [...]What’s more, the researchers were able to determine how much individuals in a family interacted, what rooms they used, and even when they’d last been to one part of the house or another. This has obvious applications in forensic science. ‘We could go all J. Edgar Hoover on this and make a database of microbial fingerprints of people all over the world,’ Gilbert said, ‘and it’s far more sophisticated than a standard fingerprint, which is just a presence or absence indication. We can see who they are, where they’re from, the diet they’re eating, when they left, who they may have been interacting with. It gets pretty crazy.’

[...] The Home Microbiome Study has more immediate applications, too. Gilbert, a father of two, hopes that fellow parents will use these and future findings to raise their offspring in healthier microbiomes. Before the age of two, the human microbiome remains in flux. Different species of bacteria compete to gain permanent spots — and once the race is run, you’re basically stuck with the winners. Research in animals has shown that bacterial exposure in youth can impact physical and mental development and health for the rest of an organism’s life.

[...] We now know that most bacteria are beneficial to us — and that some can even prevent allergies. ‘Imagine if we could engineer our home environments, optimize our carpeting and air conditioning systems, to bring in the really good bacteria,’ he said. ‘If we could allow all children to be exposed to that bacteria that prevents food allergies, that would be amazing.’ A better bacterial eco-system during childhood could set us up for happier, healthier lives.

Bonus: How the Kung-Fu Fighting Melody Came to Represent Asia” from NPR’s Code Switch

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Monday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Monday September 1, 2014 8:40 pm

 

A microscopic glimpse of a tiny arachnid

Sleep tight!

Tonight’s music video is “Dangerous Days” by Zola Jesus, from the album Taiga.

Don’t look now — there’s tiny arachnids on your face. They’re on my face too. In fact, scientists have proven tiny arachnids live on everyone’s face. From NC State News:

You are not alone. Your body is a collection of microbes, fungi, viruses…and even other animals. In fact, you aren’t even the only animal using your face. Right now, in the general vicinity of your nose, there are at least two species of microscopic mites living in your pores. You would expect scientists to know quite a lot about these animals (given that we share our faces with them), but we don’t.

Here is what we do know: Demodex mites are microscopic arachnids (relatives of spiders and ticks) that live in and on the skin of mammals – including humans. They have been found on every mammal species where we’ve looked for them, except the platypus and their odd egg-laying relatives.

Often mammals appear to host more than one species, with some poor field mouse species housing four mite species on its face alone. Generally, these mites live out a benign coexistence with their hosts. But if that fine balance is disrupted, they are known to cause mange amongst our furry friends, and skin ailments like rosacea and blepharitis in humans. Most of us are simply content – if unaware – carriers of these spindly, eight-legged pore-dwellers.

[...] One of our most exciting discoveries is that these mites are living on everyone. Yes everyone (even you). [...] Dan Fergus, a mite molecular biologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, discovered that mite DNA could be sequenced from face scrapings regardless of whether a mite could be found under the microscope. And mite DNA was sequenced from every adult we sampled. Meaning that if you let us scrape your face, we’d find mite DNA on you as well. And where mite DNA is found, you’ll find mites.

[...]One of the most intriguing (and unsolved) face mite mysteries is how humans acquired these beasties. Perhaps these mites are a model system of co-evolution. It’s possible that as every species of mammal evolved, so did their mites – each one particularly adapted to its changed environs. In such a case, we would expect that we acquired our mites from our ape ancestors, and that the two species of human mites would be more closely related to each other than to any other mite species. However, we’ve learned that the two mite species on our faces [...] are actually not very close relatives to each other at all. Our analyses actually show that brevis is more closely related to dog mites than to folliculorum, the other human mite. This is interesting because it shows us that humans have acquired each of these mite species in different ways, and that there are two separate histories of how each of these mite species came to be on our face.

Bonus: A Tense Visit to Burning Man’s Billionaire’s Row, via re/code

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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: The Tick Vs. Chairface Chippendale

By: Kit OConnell Friday August 29, 2014 8:51 pm

 

It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

Tonight we’ll laugh along with the second episode of The Tick, “The Tick Vs. Chairface Chippendale.”

The Tick began its life as a satirical comic book created in college by Ben Edlund. At a time when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had successfully transformed from a gritty, black and white independent comic to a mainstream animated marketing juggernaut, Edlund was able to convince Fox to take on his quirky hero. The Tick never came close to the massive commercial success of TMNT, but at the same time it transitioned to television without losing all of its edge. The Turtles became a kid-friendly toy-selling powerhouse, while this cartoon’s blue-suited lunk retained a humor that appealed to clever kids and adults alike. The show ran for three seasons and thirty-six episodes.

Here’s how Wikipedia sums up The Tick’s powers:

The Tick possesses superhuman strength and mass, which makes him capable of inflicting great damage on his surroundings if he is not careful. His full strength is never actually quantified, although he is at the very least capable of lifting whole cars with a single hand. Tick is also ‘nigh-invulnerable,’ which means it is almost impossible to injure him in any serious way. Because of this he can survive moments of extreme duress, and demonstrated this ability on numerous occasions; once by falling 4000 feet, crashing through the concrete into a subway tunnel and subsequently being hit by an oncoming train—and surviving all this without incident (‘Evil Sits Down for a Moment,’ November 4, 1995). While he cannot be injured, he is not necessarily immune to pain, or even temporary brain damage.

Finally, Tick possesses something referred to as ‘drama power,’ or basically a tendency for The Tick’s powers to increase as the situation becomes more dramatic. He can also survive in space without a suit, and under water without oxygen for at least a long time. Despite his nigh-invulnerability, he is still susceptible to injuries. One of his only weaknesses is that he cannot keep his balance if his antennae are removed.

Since every hero needs a catch phrase, The Tick — who isn’t very bright — selects “SPOON!” as his war cry. His trusty sidekick is Arthur, a lumpy and meek fellow in a moth suit. In season 1 (as with this episode) by Mickey Dolenz, lead singer of The Monkees. And speaking of the Turtles, Tick’s voice actior Townsend Coleman also voiced Michelangelo. In each episode, The Tick and Arthur were joined by an assortment of other wacky heroes from The City like American Maid and Die Fledermaus, a ridiculously big-eared rip off of Batman. This episode, the second in the series, also introduces the Tick’s chair-headed recurring arch-nemesis.

A close up of the Tick's grinning face in his blue jumpsuit and wiggly antennae

“I’m nigh-invulnerable!”

The show also became a short-lived but fondly remembered live action TV show; it’s available online for Hulu Plus customers. After The Tick, creator Ben Edlund became better known for his involvement with television and worked on Firefly under Joss Whedon before later becoming an executive producer and screenwriter on shows like Supernatural and Revolution.

If this show whets your appetite for more SPOON-y silliness, Matthew Catania picked The Tick’s 10 Best Episodes on Topless Robot.

Seen any good cartoons lately? What are you watching on TV these days?

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Thursday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Thursday August 28, 2014 7:24 pm

 

Tonight, the Firedoglake Watercooler is in solidarity with Unist’to’ten Camp’s #EvictChevron campaign which shut down gas stations in Vancouver in an act of First Nations’ civil disobedience.

The morning of August 21st 2014 we took action to shut down 4 Chevron stations including 80 individual gas and diesel pumps in Vancouver. More will follow if Chevron continues to push through the Pacific Trails Pipeline without the consent of the Unist’ot’en people.

Also:

A man offers a roach (small end of a joint) to the camera, and French inhales smoke in two separate photographic panels.

It’s more fun if you share.

A new study suggests that married couples who smoke cannabis together have a lower incidence of domestic violence. From The Independent:

Researchers from Yale University, University of Buffalo and Rutgers followed 634 married couples for nine years.

They found that when couples used cannabis three times or more each month reported the lowest number domestic violence incidents (intimate partner violence) over the first nine years of marriage. Intimate partner violence (IPV) was defined by the researchers as acts of physical aggressions, including hitting, beating and chocking.

The couples completed regular questionnaires throughout the study on how often they used the drug and other substances, such as alcohol. They were also asked to report violence from their spouse within the last year, and any violent acts that had occurred during the year before marriage.

The study concluded that the more often both spouses smoked cannabis, the less likely they were to engage in domestic violence.

Lead researcher Kenneth Leonard, director of the UB Research Institute on Addictions, said the findings suggest cannabis use is predictive of lower levels of aggression towards a person’s partner, but only over the course of a year. ‘As in other survey studies of marijuana and partner violence, our study examines patterns of marijuana use and the occurrence of violence within a year period,’ he said. ‘It does not examine whether using marijuana on a given day reduces the likelihood of violence at that time.’ [...] The study was published in the online edition of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors in August.

Bonus: LGBTQ Board Games from the 70s and 80s from World of Wonder

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VIDEO: Jon Stewart on Race (& Ferguson in the Media)

By: Kit OConnell Thursday August 28, 2014 6:13 pm

 

Jon Stewart returned from a brief hiatus with a brilliant take down of the racially charged Ferguson coverage in the media, primarily on FOX News.

Not that they are the only offenders:

But there’s no denying Fox’s work is especially egregious, as called out by Salon in Joan Walsh’s recent piece “Ferguson’s booming white grievance industry: Fox News, Darren Wilson and friends:”

Why, besides racism, are Wilson’s supporters so convinced of his innocence? Well, any good grift will involve a hoax or two, to gin up the sense of outrage. First there was ‘Josie,’ a purported friend of Wilson’s who called in to a radio show helmed by gun-loving wingnut Dana Loesch to tell Wilson’s side of the story. ‘Josie’ insisted that Brown attacked Wilson, grabbed his gun, and the terrified cop shot only in self-defense. The problem? The details were almost identical to those shared on a fake Facebook page set up to look like Wilson’s own. But before the tale could be debunked, not only Fox but CNN had reported on ‘Josie’s’ tale with some credulity. As karoli notes over at Crooks and Liars, it’s not clear whether Loesch was punked, or was in on the punking.

Then we saw right-wing blogger Jim Hoft, named ‘the dumbest man on the Internet’ by Media Matters, peddling a phony X-ray or CT scan purporting to show that Wilson suffered a fractured eye socket scuffling with Brown. Unfortunately, a little sleuthing revealed the image in question came from a facility at the University of Iowa and had nothing to do with the Ferguson case. Oops. Of course Fox ran with the story, but ABC News also reported that Wilson had suffered a ‘serious facial injury,’ claiming its own local source.

Of course Ferguson’s white grievance industry is getting major help from Fox News, the grievance industry’s biggest grifters. It’s funny, a couple of weeks ago Attorney General Eric Holder spent a few days as Fox’s favorite administration figure, with Bill O’Reilly and the crew at ‘The Five‘ piously instructing Ferguson protesters to trust the attorney general, who had taken over the inquiry into Mike Brown’s shooting. No more. On Friday’s ‘Five’ Andrea Tantaros declared that Holder ‘runs that DOJ like the Black Panthers would,’ while the whole team endorsed her claim that the attorney general is ‘race-baiting.’

Fox has peddled every allegation of wrongdoing by Mike Brown from the beginning of the story. On Fox and Friends Monday morning, Linda Chavez argued that the media should stop calling the teenager ‘unarmed’ because ‘we’re talking about an 18-year-old man who is 6-foot-4 and weighs almost 300 pounds, who is videotaped just moments before the confrontation with a police officer strong-arming an employee and robbing a convenience store.’ So Mike Brown can’t be considered unarmed because … he had arms?

Street Art shows a silhoutte of a man in an American flag throwing teargas back on police against a background that says FILM THE POLICE

But only independent and citizen journalists told the real story.

And Dex Digital, writing for Medium, offered the provocative “Face it, blacks. Michael Brown let you down:”

Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday August 27, 2014 7:37 pm

 

A closeup of a tabby cat's face

All Cats Are Beautiful (ACAB)

Today the Firedoglake Watercooler is in solidarity with the Michigan Cats. On Monday they ‘locked down‘ in support the First Nations’ fight against the Enbridge Pipeline:

This action is in solidarity with First Nations communities in Canada exploited at the point of tar sands extraction in Alberta. This action is in solidarity with everyone and everything displaced by Enbridge’s illegitimate abuse of eminent domain to seize land for this pipeline expansion. This action is in solidarity to the thousands of families and uncountable creatures in the Kalamazoo watershed that were injured and killed because of the 2010 pipeline spill. This action is in solidarity with residents in Detroit, especially those in 48217 where these dirty tar sands are refined, sacrificing health and life for the sake of corporate profit. This action is in solidarity with all those resisting and persisting in the face of uncertainty to #WageLove to fight the systemic extraction and exploitation of life.

At 7:30am on the morning of Monday, August 25th, 2014, two protestors with the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands locked themselves with bicycle U-locks to a truck while it was exiting a pipeline storage facility ran by Precision Pipeline. Precision was hired to work on the expansion of Enbridge Line 6B, the same pipeline which ruptured in 2010, spilling 1 million gallons of toxic tar sands into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo river. That spill is now commonly known as the largest in-land tar sands spill in US history.

Instead of choosing to double-down on clean-up efforts for that spill, 4 years later the spill is still not clean and Enbridge is dragging their feet. Meanwhile, Enbridge is expeditiously expanding its tar sands pipeline infrastructure throughout the midwest as well as all over the continent. Today, Duncan and Dylon took action in opposition to Enbridge’s criminal dealings with dirty tar sands. Direct action is a crucial tactic that must be utilized when the common systems of governance fail to protect us or recognize our basic rights.

And solidarity with San Antonio, Texas activists who protested against discriminatory anti-toplessness laws.

About forty protesters, both men and women, marched through downtown San Antonio Sunday afternoon as part of what was called ‘Go Topless Day,’ Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports. The women who were leading the march said the goal is gender equality.

‘What this is about is gender equality in all matters governed by civil law,’ one protester told Newsradio 1200 WOAI’s Stephanie Narvaez.

The women say it is a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution to allow men to appear in public bare chested while women face arrest if they do the exact same thing.

‘In any public space where a man is allowed to walk around without a shirt, a woman should be allowed to do the same,’ the protester said. ‘It is a violation of the Constitution to do otherwise, to be honest.’

Some men participated in the protest, by wearing bikini tops over their chests. There were no arrests, because the women weren’t exactly topless. They wore thin strips of red tape over their nipples. Otherwise, they would have been in violation of a city anti nudity ordinance, which the women say is also unconstitutional.

Bonus: Should You Catcall Her? a flowchart via Playboy 

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Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday August 26, 2014 8:09 pm

 

Tonight’s video is “What can Schrödinger’s Cat teach us about quantum mechanics?”

The classical physics that we encounter in our everyday, macroscopic world is very different from the quantum physics that governs systems on a much smaller scale (like atoms). One great example of quantum physics’ weirdness can be shown in the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. Josh Samani walks us through this experiment in quantum entanglement.

Lesson by Josh Samani, animation by Dan Pinto.

Hitchbot, a simple, friendly robot, just completed a journey across Canada with the help of strangers. From the Toronto Star:

HitchBOT’s 6,000-kilometre journey began in Halifax on July 27 and ended in Victoria on Saturday, and while the robot is pretty exhausted from the expedition, it made a ton of new friends along the way. The talking, GPS-tracking machine relied solely on the generosity of strangers to get where it was going, and co-creator David Smith was delighted to report that the robot’s journey went off without a hitch.

‘We’re elated,’ said Smith, a university professor at McMaster University. ‘It’s been really great fun and to me it seems like it [has] brought people together in a really interesting way.’

HitchBOT was initially left on the side of the road near the Halifax airport and was offered a ride minutes later.

‘It was literally less than two minutes from the time we set the ’bot on the road and the first vehicle pulled over,’ said Smith. The first people to give a ride to the robot were a couple on their way to camp in New Brunswick, he said.

HitchBOT’s done a lot since then. It’s crashed a wedding in British Columbia, made a guest appearance at a powwow in Northern Ontario, and even showed off its dance moves when it did the Harlem Shake in Saskatchewan.

The collaborative research project, which was designed to explore topics in human-robot interaction and test technologies in artificial intelligence, also demonstrated to [project member Professor Frauke] Zeller that ‘robots can trust human beings.’

Check out some more great photos of Hitchbot’s adventures on its Twitter account.

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