Kit OConnell

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Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday July 15, 2014 8:38 pm

 

Tonight the Watercooler offers solidarity to Medea Benjamin and CODEPINK, who interrupted the Politico Playbook Luncheon to put Dick Cheney under arrest for war crimes. Politico, of course, neglected to challenge the Cheneys on anything substantial (thanks to FDL’s Dan Wright for the link) so it’s a good thing someone did.

A man with a quizzical expression pushes buttons on his Nintendo Power Glove

If this had existed in the 80s, the Power Glove would have actually made you better at Mario Bros.

And Georgia Institute of Technology scientists have developed wearable technology that teaches your hands motor skills even when you aren’t consciously paying attention. Psypost reports that after trying it out with piano melodies, the scientists have moved on to teaching Braille (thanks to Eric W. Dolan for this link):

Each study participant wore a pair of gloves with tiny vibrating motors stitched into the knuckles. The motors vibrated in a sequence that corresponded with the typing pattern of a pre-determined phrase in Braille. Audio cues let the users know the Braille letters produced by typing that sequence. Afterwards, everyone tried to type the phrase one time, without the cues or vibrations, on a keyboard.

The sequences were then repeated during a distraction task. Participants played a game for 30 minutes and were told to ignore the gloves. Half of the participants felt repeated vibrations and heard the cues; the others only heard the audio cues. When the game was over, participants tried to type the phrase without wearing the gloves.

‘Those in the control group did about the same on their second attempt (as they did in their pre-study baseline test),’ said [Georgia Tech professor Thad] Starner. ‘But participants who felt the vibrations during the game were a third more accurate. Some were even perfect.’

The researchers expected to see a wide disparity between the two groups based on their successful results while using the piano glove. But they were surprised the passive learners picked up an additional skill. ‘Remarkably, we found that people could transfer knowledge learned from typing Braille to reading Braille,’ said [Georgia Tech Ph.D. student Caitlyn] Seim. ‘After the typing test, passive learners were able to read and recognize more than 70 percent of the phrase’s letters.’ No one in the study had previously typed on a Braille keyboard or knew the language.

Another form of technology-enhanced learning — zapping your brain with electricity — is discussed in Radiolab’s “9-volt Nirvana” (which I mentioned last Cartoon Friday).

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Monday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Monday July 14, 2014 8:23 pm

 

Close up photo of a micro chip

An implantable micro chip could release daily doses of medication on a regular schedule.

Tonight’s music video is “Neversleep” by ALIENS.

Scientists have completed a successful clinical trial of an implanted microchip that released daily doses of osteoporosis drugs. From the Guardian:

Seven Danish women with the bone disease osteoporosis had the chips implanted under their skin for 20 days in the first human trial to assess the safety of the technology. The devices released a dose of drug at a specific time each day, replacing the daily hormone injections currently used to manage the disorder.

The work is a major step towards an implantable “pharmacy-on-a-chip” that could be filled with a variety drugs to treat long-term conditions such as cancer, heart disease and multiple sclerosis, and programmed to dispense them automatically. While the implants remove the inconvenience of popping pills and, for some patients, the pain of regular injections, the greatest benefit will come from patients receiving the right dose of the right medicine on time. The failure of patients to take drugs as recommended is one of the most common obstacles to effective healthcare.

[...] In a half-hour procedure under local anaesthetic, women aged 65 to 70 had the domino-sized chip implanted through a 2.5cm-long incision just below the waistline. All were able to walk out of the surgery and leave the hospital without help. Several weeks after the devices were implanted, doctors programmed them over a wireless link to deliver escalating doses of an osteoporosis drug called parathyroid hormone. Each chip held 20 doses of the drug in tiny wells covered with thin wafers of platinum and titanium. When a small current is applied to the cover, it melts to release the drug inside. The molten speck of metal resolidifies on the chip.

Future versions of the chip could hold 365 doses for daily release, or add sensors that release drugs based on conditions in the body. Vanguard Vivian, who shared this link, suggested one important possible use for the technology:

Bonus: Fist Bump With Obama For Equal Rights from the Austin Chronicle

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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: Pot Theft

By: Kit OConnell Friday July 11, 2014 8:17 pm

 

An archaeologist holds up a potsherd with a bit of zig zag striped decoration

Another piece of an ancient thing.

It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

In one sense, I was pushing against the tide of all these artifacts that are coming out — millions and millions of objects that are disappearing from the land. I was putting one back in. – Craig Childs, Pot Theft

Pot Theft is a collaboration between one of my favorite NPR shows and podcasts, Radiolab, and YouTube animators Minute Physics.

Last month, we had our very first (unofficial) artist-in-residence at Radiolab: Henry Reich, the brains behind MinutePhysics. Henry took a story from Craig Childs, the adventure-loving, cliff-scaling explorer from our Things episode, and animated it in trademark Minute Physics style: magic markers, stick figures, and tons of charm.

This animation is part of a series of Radiolab stories about “Things.” But if you’re new to Radiolab I recommend the recent episode “≤ kg” or the brain-zapping fun of “9-Volt Nirvana.”

Bonus: If you follow Cartoon Friday, you know I love Bob’s Burgers. A lot has been written in praise of Tina Belcher, and the sex-positive yet hilarious way the show handles her character’s adolescent sexual awakening. But fewer writers have analyzed the Belcher family son, Gene.

Writing for The Horn’s Over the Rainbow column, Dana Sayre draws out the show’s LGBTQ subtext in her take on “Genderfluid Gene.”

I’ve always loved Gene’s character for the sassy quotes which make the viewer wonder if he’ll grow up to be gay. Gene’s character gets wonderful one-liners like, ‘You don’t just throw away satin!!’ in ‘A River Runs Through Bob.’ Whether it’s secret spa days with Linda or dressing up in a sequin gown and wig to perform with the girl group he creates at school, Gene isn’t afraid to embrace his feminine (effeminate?) side.

But there are also plenty of times when Gene acts like a ‘normal’ 11-year-old boy. Whether it’s recording fart noises on his electric keyboard, talking about poop, or eating the orange foam from Family Frackus, Gene is just as likely to be grossing out the family as being fabulous.

[...] That definition seems to fit Gene, whose character mixes and matches gender and sexuality stereotypes at will. In ‘OT: The Outside Toilet,’ for example, Gene’s maternal insticts mix with his love of toilets. In the episode, Gene’s class is doing a parenting exercise and he declares to the family, ‘I was born to be a mother.’ Unable to properly care for his bag of flour in class, however, Gene instead cares for an expensive toilet abandoned in the woods. Gene would rather be a mother than a father, but has a love of toilets our culture would not ascribe to the same group who normally mothers children.

Food for thought for my fellow queer pop-culture junkies.

What are you watching?

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Tar Sands Healing Walk 2014

By: Kit OConnell Friday July 11, 2014 6:39 pm

 

Late last month, indigenous activists from Canada’s Athabasca region and their allies took part in the fifth and final “Tar Sands Healing Walk.” Over a route of about 10 miles, they marched and gave witness to the devastation that Tar Sands extraction has brought to the land.

In Yes! Magazine, Liana Lopez shares a beautiful, photo-filled essay about this direct action:

‘This isn’t protest or a rally,’ organizer Crystal Lameman told the participants in the walk. ‘This is a spiritual gathering with prayers and ceremony in order to help bring all of us to an understanding about how bad this is and why it has to stop. The best way to stop it is at the source. So we need to start here.’

The Healing Walk gathering took place from June 27 to 29, with workshops and traditional ceremonies leading up to Saturday’s walk. A lot of discussion this year centered on the Canadian Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling, announced the day before the gathering, which granted aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot’in Nation. The decision may set a precedent for other First Nations, allowing them better footing in their fight against tar sands pipelines and other forms of industrial development.

Groups even came from the United States:

In this final year of the Tar Sands Healing Walk, organizers were quick to point out that their fight is not yet won. Far from it, as tar sands extraction is ramping up in Canada. Yet, just within the last five years, awareness about the issue has spread at a tremendous pace. And this year’s Healing Walk drew participants from all over world, including, for the first time, a Gulf Coast delegation from Houston, Texas, and Mobile, Ala., where tar sands refining and storage is set to take place this year.

‘We wanted to come see the source of what will be coming to our area and learn what can be done to stop it,’ said Mae Jones, who came with the Alabama delegation. ‘We are honored to be part of the walk this year.’

As noted in Lopez’s article, the Healing Walks are ending after five years but the work is just beginning.

A row of drummers marching as they drum on the Healing Walk.

Solidarity to all the earth justice superheroes that joined this Walk! -Kit

Thursday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Thursday July 10, 2014 8:44 pm

 

Nikola Tesla

A museum in Tesla’s honor is closer to reality.

With tonight’s video we offer solidarity to the Detroit Water Brigade and its members who blockaded water shut off trucks today.

A group of ordinary Detroit residents acted early Thursday morning to intervene in the continuing shut-off of water at city residences. Among them were a retired religious sister, two pastors, a member of Detroit School Board, a veteran journalist, a building manager, and a local seminary professor. Several were grandparents of children in Detroit.

With a banner that read, ‘Stop the Water Shut-offs’ they blocked the 2660 East Grand Boulevard entrance to Homrich Wrecking Inc., the private corporation contracted to shut-off residential water service. Homrich is under at $5.6 million two-year contract.

The group appealed to Homrich workers to honor the international human right of access to water. They delivered copies of the June 1, 2014 complaint filed with the United Nations on behalf of Detroiters, along with the response of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Water and Sanitation which reads in part, ‘Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.’

Firedoglake is raising money for the Water Brigade and the people of Detroit. Please consider donating or sharing the campaign with your friends!

After opening up Tesla electric car patents, Elon Musk followed it up with another act of generosity today: honoring Nikola Tesla’s 158th birthday with a $1 million donation to the creators of a future Tesla museum. LiveScience reports:

For his 158th birthday, Nikola Tesla got a day named in his honor and a new science museum with $1 million in funding from billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. Musk, the CEO of electric car company Tesla Motors and rocket company SpaceX, pledged the money in support of a new Tesla museum to be built on the grounds of the Serbian-American inventor’s laboratory at Wardenclyffe in Long Island, New York. The announcement was made today (July 10) at a birthday celebration on the historic site.

‘We’re happy to be gathered at the laboratory of Nikola Tesla, the person we’ve come to celebrate,’ a museum official said at the event. ‘Thank you, Elon Musk!’The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located on the site where Tesla once built a 187-foot (57 meters) transmitter tower to experiment with sending messages and distributing wireless electricity, will feature his inventions and their impact on people’s lives today, museum organizers said. It will also include a hacker lab where people can build prototypes of their own inventions, and an innovation station where entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into real products.

The museum is the pet project of the creator of popular webcomic The Oatmeal, who ran a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised over a million dollars to purchase and restore the site. But more was needed, leading to a comic challenging Musk to support the Tesla name and today’s success.

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Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday July 9, 2014 8:53 pm

 

Old Growth Trees in Humboldt County

Watercooler solidarity: A new direct action campaign seeks to protect old growth trees in Northern California.

Tonight’s video is “7 Myths About The Brain You Thought Were True” from ASAPScience.

Earth First! reports on a new ongoing blockade against logging in the old growth forest near the Mattole River in Northern California.

A blockade was deployed on a logging road in the Mattole forest yesterday morning, preventing the extraction of over 1,000 acres.of old-growth forest

There has been communication between the company and the blockaders, but efforts to remove the technically complicated monopod-tripod complex had not been made as of last contact with the forest defense team.

This marks the second action in as many weeks. Last week a tree sitter going by the name Skunk climbed into the canopy, insisting, ‘Our main demands to Humboldt Redwood Company are very simple—don’t cut unlogged forest, and don’t cut old-growth. This road threatens to destroy forest that has never been logged before, and will pave the way for logging even more important habitat if the community does not rise up to stop it.’

Bonus: 23 Amazing Things America Would Be Missing Without Queer People, via Huffington Post Gay. Thanks Dana Sayre for this link.

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The Watercooler is an open conversation. Ask questions, share links and your thoughts. How is your week so far?

Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday July 8, 2014 8:10 pm

 

A tea pot, honey and other tea items.

Sounds like tea time?

Tonight’s video is the Raging Grannies singing “If My Uterus Was A Gun” at a Hobby Lobby protest near Madison, Wisconsin. Occupy Riverwest reports the event’s attendance was over 300. Please share your protest videos with me — I’d love to feature them in future Watercoolers.

A study by marketing scientists suggests that most humans can detect the difference between hot and cold fluids by sound alone. NPR reports:

Can people hear the difference between a hot cup of tea being poured and, say, a cold beer? [...] They played sounds of hot and cold water being poured into glasses and asked people to guess: hot or cold? The results were kind of insane. Ninety-six percent of people can tell the difference between hot and cold, just by the sound.

Condiment Junkie, the sensory branding company behind these sounds, is trying to isolate exactly what it is about the sound of hot or cold water that tips people off to its temperature. And the answer isn’t the difference between cups and mugs, as some commenters guessed — Glass 1 and Glass 2 were identical containers.

Scientists have long known that cold water is more viscous than hot water, because the molecules are wiggling less rapidly, so they are effectively stickier. How viscous a liquid is affects how it pours, and therefore how it sounds. Scott King, one of the founders of Condiment Junkie, says bubbliness is also a factor.

‘There tends to be more bubbling in a liquid that’s hot,’ he explains. ‘As you have more bubbling, you tend to get higher frequency sounds from it.’

If you visit the original story, you can listen to the sounds and try for yourself. A fascinating bit of human science, but arguably in the service of evil — making us thirstier than ever when you hear that fizzy, pouring sound on commercial breaks.

Bonus: “That Time Two Bots Were Talking And Bank Of America Butted In,” on The Atlantic.

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Monday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Monday July 7, 2014 8:20 pm

 

A young chimpanzee plays in the grass

Selecting the perfect blade of grass?

Tonight’s music video is Pomplamoose performing the Beatles “Come Together.”

Chimpanzees in Zambian animal sanctuary have begun putting blades of grass in their ears, an apparent simian fashion trend with no purpose beyond aesthetic enhancement. From The Dodo:

The ‘grass-in-ear behavior,’ as scientists have termed it, seems to be one of the first times that chimpanzees have created a tradition with no discernible purpose — a primate fashion statement, in other words. There’s no doubt that chimpanzees have culture, as different chimp groups will use unique tools: to groom, to crack open nuts, to fish for termites.

[...] ‘Our observation is quite unique in the sense that nothing seems to be communicated by it,’ says study author Edwin van Leeuwen, a primate expert at the Max Planck Institute in The Netherlands. To figure out if this was really a tradition, and not just chimpanzees sticking grass in their ears at random, van Leeuwen and his colleagues spent a year observing four chimp groups in Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, a sanctuary in Zambia. Only one troop performed the grass-in-ear behavior, although all of the chimps lived in the same grassy territory. There’s no genetic or ecological factors, the scientists believe, that would account for this behavior — only culture.

[...] The cultural quirk first popped up in 2010 when a chimpanzee, named Julie, was spotted sporting a long-stemmed piece of grass. Julie acted as a role model for the other 11 chimpanzees in her group. As van Leeuwen points out, ‘everybody can wear rings in their ears, but you just have to come to the idea to do it.’ The seven chimps who adopted the grass-in-ear tradition — and who would continue it after Julie’s death — repeatedly inspected her behavior before trying it themselves.

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The Watercooler is an open conversation. Ask questions, share some links, and tell me about your weekend!