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Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday September 9, 2014 8:38 pm

 

Tonight’s music video is “Desiree” by Sean Rowe from the album Madman. 

This summer, many buildings in Johannesburg were mysteriously splashed with pink paint.

A paintbrush coated in pink paint

“Together, we dress fear in pink in hopes that she will smile a little and join us in reinventing much” – Beware of Colour

Now, a group of art activists called Beware of Colour has admitted to the deeds, a protest against the city’s abandoned and crumbling infrastucture. From the Guardian:

The striking colour trickled out of broken windows, over the dirty sills and down the sides of some of the city’s most precious – and most neglected – heritage high rises.

Bloggers asked who was behind the mysterious paint jobs that appeared from June to August, but it is only recently that the instigator of the project revealed himself and his purpose.

New York-based artist Yazmany Arboleda had arrived in the city for a different assignment at the beginning of summer, but was soon struck by the number of large buildings ‘with broken windows, totally dilapidated, filled with debris.’ Some areas of Johannesburg that were left to decay during spiralling crime rates in the 1990s have now undergone successful regeneration programmes, but others have not been so fortunate.

Arboleda contacted Johannesburg artists, who told him that some buildings had been derelict for years, while others are filled with hundreds of squatters, forced to pay rent to unofficial landlords who ‘hijack’ buildings that don’t belong to them. They often have no running water or electricity.

‘Every citizen is supposed to have a constitutional right to housing, and safety is a real issue downtown,’ Arboleda told the Guardian by phone from New York. ‘If the authorities were serious about fixing these problems, then wouldn’t programmes like Operation Clean Sweep start with these properties? They embody the injustices in the city.’

Around 30 South African artists joined Arboleda for the urban art project they dubbed Beware of Colour. It is intended to revive conversation about the well-documented dilapidation of the city’s centre and the lack of adequate housing for thousands of people living under the poverty line, which Arboleda believes contributes to ‘the climate of crime and fear’ on the streets. Though crime rates are reported to be falling, Johannesburg is still considered one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

The Beware of Colour collective’s tumblr offers more documentation of the artistic actions.

Bonus: The Unwritten Rules of New York City in comic form, via Distractify.

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Monday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Monday September 8, 2014 7:52 pm

 

A gender neutral restoom sign depicting both male & female & a disabled individual.

Many Austin bathrooms will soon become gender neutral.

Tonight’s music video is “Simplethings” by Miguel.

In a victory for equality, Austin City Council approved converting the city’s single stall toilets into gender neutral bathrooms.

Bathrooms across the city of Austin will soon be losing their customary ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ signs in favor of gender-neutral labels. The Austin City Council approved a measure Thursday that requires businesses to post the new signs on single-occupancy restrooms.

[...]Nancy Lynch calls Epoch Coffee her home away from home; she spends time there for business and pleasure. Lynch says she has no problem sharing the bathroom with both women and men. ‘I don’t see any problem whatsoever. It’s never, ever been a problem for me,’ she said.

The coffee shop adopted the gender neutral philosophy when it first opened eight years ago. Employees are also happy to hear some other local businesses could soon be following in their footsteps. ‘I think it shows willingness to be welcoming for all types,’ Ben Lance told KXAN.

Sponsored by councilman Chris Riley, the point of the new ordinance is to make everyone feel comfortable — including those in the transgender community, those who are disabled and rely on someone for help, as well as parents who have children of the opposite sex.

‘I’ve always thought it was ridiculous anyway. Everybody’s just the same,’ Lynch said.

Of course it might be better if the sign they used was also gender neutral!

Bonus: Photos from the Days When Thousands of Cables Crossed the Sky” on io9

And in closing …

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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: Blackford Manor

By: Kit OConnell Friday September 5, 2014 7:59 pm

 

A spooky gothic mansion behind an iron fence, under an ominous cloudy sky

Not pictured: Free Bertha Rochester protest rally outside the East Wing.

It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

What’s lurking in Blackford Manor?

Josette is a sweet and curious young maid at gloomy Blackford Manor, whose master has a very disturbing secret. Starring Martin Rayner, Ashly Burch, and Billy West. Created by Jiwook Kim.

A bit of playful, gothic horror for you tonight! I enjoyed this short film’s silly send-up of all those Brontë-esque tropes. Previously on Cartoon Friday, we also visited with Chainsaw Richard, another animated short from Cartoon Hangover.

Some other cartoon news for you today …

Legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki will receive an honorary Oscar award in November. Via the Wall Street Journal:

Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary Japanese animator and Studio Ghibli co-founder, will receive an honorary Oscar in November, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said.

It will be Miyazaki’s second Oscar, having won in the animated feature film category for his 2001 movie Spirited Away. He was also nominated for Howl’s Moving Castle in 2005 and The Wind Rises last year. In September, the 73-year-old filmmaker reportedly retired, creating doubt about the future of Studio Ghibli, which he co-founded in 1985.

Here on the Watercooler we previously enjoyed a Miyazaki music video. But if you haven’t seen more of his beautiful, stunning animated work, fix that ASAP!

Mother Jones reports that The Simpsons have secretly been teaching you math. It’s too long and detailed to excerpt here so read the whole article, especially if you’re a math geek.

And NPR became the latest media outlet to praise the quirky, sex-positive feminism of Bob’s Burgers. Alexander McCall once again singles out the example of Tina Belcher in his article “Feminism In a Run-Down Taffy Factory.”

[W]hen the show premiered in 2011, the pilot had been streamlined. The animation was better. The dialogue was longer, and most notably, Daniel, Bob’s awkward teenage son, had been replaced with Tina, a female doppelgänger –– a pivotal choice.

Tina is weird. She’s a nervous, idiosyncratic teenager, visibly experiencing the miseries of puberty. She likes horses and describes her relationship with zombies as ‘complicated.’ She sports thick-rimmed glasses and plain clothes. At first glance, Tina might not seem all that unusual. But Tina has a lot going on. When she isn’t working in the restaurant or looking after her younger siblings, she might be pursuing the affection of Jimmy Pesto, Jr., penning another volume of her signature “Erotic Friend Fiction,” or daydreaming about men’s butts.

Most animated sitcoms have ugly histories when it comes to female characters. Women are frequently there to be mocked or to represent men’s sexual desires. But instead of using Tina as an arbitrary tool for cheap laughs, the writers of Bob’s Burgers –– several of whom are women –– have given audiences the opportunity to see adolescence through the lens of a central female character. The show, in fact, embraces Tina’s own sexuality for all its uncomfortable awkwardness.

In the show’s four seasons, Tina has become a fan favorite — and she’s in good company, too. Bob’s Burgers features a number of well-rounded female characters who are clever, strong and entertaining. And in that, the show is progressive without being straightforwardly political.

Tina Belcher’s most obvious influence might seem to be Lisa Simpson, but the two are intrinsically and essentially different. Lisa Simpson is precocious and articulate. Tina is painfully gawky. She’s terrified of being put on the spot, often staring blankly into space and groaning for prolonged periods of time.

[...] The other noticeable difference between the two, however, is that Lisa self-identifies as a feminist. Tina’s unassuming confidence, on the other hand, can fly under the radar, but she still experiences moments of extreme feminist clarity.

‘I’m a smart, strong, sensual woman,’ she proclaims in the first episode of the show’s second season, while trapped in a dilapidated taffy factory. In that episode, Tina decides she doesn’t need to act vulnerable to attract male attention. And in ‘Two For Tina,’ she pursues her own desires without embarrassment, courting two different dates to the school dance, forcing them to compete for her, even if she ultimately ends up alone.

[...] ]I’m no hero,’ Tina declares in season three. ‘I put my bra on one boob at a time like everyone else.’

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

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Thursday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Thursday September 4, 2014 8:27 pm

 

A group of wild boars of various sizes

“And we glow in the dark!”

Tonight, the Firedoglake Watercooler is in solidarity with Emma Sulkowicz and her protest / final art project “Carry That Weight.”

For her visual arts senior thesis, Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15, will carry a dorm room mattress with her everywhere that she goes for as long as she and her alleged rapist go to the same school.

Sulkowicz—who has been active in protesting Columbia’s sexual assault policy and who filed a police report against her alleged rapist in May—said the performance art piece, titled ‘Mattress Performance’ or ‘Carry That Weight,’ contains elements of protest.

NYMag is one of several outlets to cover Sulkowicz’s protest.

Emma Sulkowicz says she was raped in her own dorm bed by a classmate on the first day of her sophomore year of college. Since then, a substantial amount of her time at Columbia University has been spent trying to convince college administrators, police, and even friends that what happened to her really happened, that it was rape, and that her rapist deserves to be punished for what he did.

Sulkowicz is one of 23 students who are part of a federal Title IX complaint filed against Columbia in April for mishandling sexual-assault cases. Though she and two other students reported that the same student had assaulted them, all of their claims were swept under the rug, and the male student was not expelled from campus.

They also interviewed her about the project.

The Telegraph reports that much of Germany’s wild boar population is radioactive, a side effect of lingering Chernobyl radiation.

Wild boars still roam the forests of Germany, where they are hunted for their meat, which is sold as a delicacy.

But in recent tests by the state government of Saxony, more than one in three boars were found to give off such high levels of radiation that they are unfit for human consumption.

Outside the hunting community, wild boar are seen as a menace by much of Germany society. Autobahns have to be closed when boar wander onto them, they sometimes enter towns and, in a famous case in 2010, a pack attacked a man in a wheelchair in Berlin. But radioactive wild boars stir even darker fears.

They are believed to be a legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, when a reactor at a nuclear power plant in then Soviet-ruled Ukraine exploded, releasing a massive quantity of radioactive particles into the atmosphere.

Even though Saxony lies some 700 miles from Chernobyl, wind and rain carried the radioactivity across western Europe, and soil contamination was found even further away, in France.

Wild boar are thought to be particularly affected because they root through the soil for food, and feed on mushrooms and underground truffles that store radiation. Many mushrooms from the affected areas are also believed to be unfit for human consumption.

Since 2012, it has been compulsory for hunters to have wild boar they kill in Saxony tested for radiation. Carcasses that exceed the safe limit of 600 becquerels per kg have to be destroyed. In a single year, 297 out of 752 boar tested in Saxony have been over the limit, and there have been cases in Germany of boar testing dozens of times over the limit.

Bonus: Mo Costandi offers “The Secret History of Psychedelic Psychiatry.”

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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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