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Thursday, 29 January 2015

"a man of remarkable character and courage”

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (from: Wikipedia)
“Mind-bogglingly, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey is sponsoring an essay contest at the National Defense University to honor Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah, whom he praises as 'a man of remarkable character and courage' presumably on the basis of Abdullah's remarkable achievements - his arresting, jailing, torturing, mutilating and killing of hundreds of his own citizens found to be 'criminals' for offenses like questioning Saudi policies; his denying of basic human rights to migrant workers, domestic workers, peaceful protesters and women forbidden under law from getting passports, driving, studying, traveling or leaving the house without permission from a male guardian, including his own daughters whom he reportedly held under house arrest for years; his sanctioning of domestic violence and child abuse; his financing of terrorism around the world including most of the 9/11 attackers; his dismal record of human rights abuses and brutal punishments said to rival those of ISIS; and his beheading of 87 people, mostly poor guest workers, in 2014, and ten more people so far this year, including a woman whose daylight beheading was recently captured on video. The person who filmed it has now been arrested.”
— Abby Zimet, CommonDreams
Read more…

“[…] Yet although IS [ISIS/ISIL] is certainly an Islamic movement, it is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century. In July 2013, the European Parliament identified Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism, and yet the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, condemning IS in the strongest terms, has insisted that ‘the ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism do not belong to Islam in any way.’ Other members of the Saudi ruling class, however, look more kindly on the movement, applauding its staunch opposition to Shiaism and for its Salafi piety, its adherence to the original practices of Islam. […]”
— Karen Armstrong, New Statesman
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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

killing me softly (PART II)

Photo: Michael Hale

“I watched The Duke of Burgundy with someone who experiences ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), whereby certain stimuli that brush against the threshold of nonexistence create a tingling sensation in one’s upper body; it’s said to be pleasant. Some typical ASMR triggers — which have become something of a YouTube phenomenon — include running water, the rustling or crunching of leaves, personal attention (like being measured, getting one’s hair cut), and whispering, all of which are used in hypnotically controlling repetition by writer/director Peter Strickland throughout the film. Strickland also adds some new triggers to the mix, such as popping soap bubbles, and, more strangely, the high-frequency sounds certain moths’ genitals make to confuse approaching, echolocating bats.”
— Moze Halperin, flavor wire
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“For me, one key ingredient always produces the ASMR sensation: specific behavior or mannerisms of other people while they are engaged in rather ordinary tasks, such as giving directions on how to do something, handling objects, or just speaking. These tasks are known as triggers to people in the ASMR community. Here are some examples of triggers that stimulate the ASMR response for me:

Watching someone draw or paint (especially if they are narrating the drawing/painting process)

Listening to the narration or reading of a story

Watching someone gently scratch something or other movements of the hands and feet

Having my face painted

Being asked questions by a doctor

Having my ears checked

Having my breathing monitored with a stethoscope (like when the doctor says “take a deep breath”)

Being instructed on how to do a task such as homework problems or how to do something on a computer.”

— Devon King, Charged Magazine
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eye candid

From: Ptak Science Books
“Even if you get the surface appearance of a digital face right, the movements can do you in. As efforts to build android robots have demonstrated, manufactured blinks often seem owlish, and artificial mouths can appear to snap open too wide or too precisely. (Human lips stick together for a fraction of a second at the corners after we open them to speak.)
     [Masahiro] Mori’s original paper on the Uncanny Valley was more of a thought experiment than a formal study: he didn’t test his hypothesis about virtual humans on any actual humans. But the argument has been borne out in several formal studies since then. It’s not yet clear why not-quite-humans provoke so much anxiety. Maybe characters that fall into the Uncanny Valley remind us of corpses. Perhaps they flood us with uneasy intimations of soullessness. Maybe they confound the brain’s ability to distinguish what is alive and human from what is neither.
     Thalia Wheatley, a neuroscientist at Dartmouth who has studied how we recognize animacy in others, told me, 'Think of horror movies—zombies, vampires, or even clowns, because they have faces painted on that don’t move. It looks like a person’s face but it doesn’t move like one. A conflict arises in the brain, which is unsettling.'”
— Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker
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Monday, 26 January 2015

"Take my horse. Please..."

Variable Pitch Pipe (from: Wikipedia)
“[…] Their study has revealed that languages with a wide range of tone pitches are more prevalent in regions with high humidity levels. In contrast, languages with simpler tone pitches are mainly found in drier regions. This is explained by the fact that the vocal folds require a humid environment to produce the right tone.”
— via New Shelton we/dry

“[…] A person with poor pitch perception may be able to improve his or her ability to differentiate pitches or mimic them, but a person who is truly tone deaf may not have the capacity to improve whatsoever no matter how much he or she practices.
     The level of exposure to music as a child may play a part, in that the brain may have reduced capacity for pitch mimicry. But this -- nor any other environmental factor -- doesn't account for tone deafness.
     Tone deafness seems to be entirely hereditary, and identical twins score similarly when taking pitch tests. As we mentioned earlier, it's not the reception of the tone that is compromised, but the brain's processing of it.”
— Tom Scheve, How Stuff Works
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“So, you'd think that a tone-deaf [Mandarin] Chinese [-speaking person] would be stuck. How can [she/] he tell the difference in speech between, say, ‘woman’ and ‘horse’ with only their distinct tones to distinguish the meanings?
     Easily enough, it turns out. Mostly, he [/she] uses context and other language clues. Homonyms in Chinese (or English: 'I'm a little hoarse'), rarely confuse a listener — when heard in context. But also, it's easier to distinguish varying tones. Moreover, the tones we use in languages are coarse discriminators that even a disabled person can manage. To convey meaning differences, speech requires tone distinctions three to six times greater than melodies do for musical nuances.”
— April Holladay, USA Today
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Sunday, 25 January 2015

You never really know who your friends are..." — Al Kooper

From: Addicting Info

“The ISIS punishments are taken from documents which the group recently circulated. The list of crimes and their punishments was published by ISIS on December 16th of last year. The punishments are gleaned from both the Koran and the Hadith, Middle East Eye notes, but are rarely given out in other Muslim countries.
     What ISIS and Saudi Arabia have in common is Wahabism, a fundamentalist sect of Islam. Experts on Islamic history call Wahabism 'ahistorical' as are the punishments handed down in its name. The fact is that Saudi judges hand these sort of punishments down despite doctrine that sets a high bar for doing so. […]
     What ISIS and Saudi Arabia do not have in common is publicity. ISIS loves it, thrives on it. They want the West to see their barbarism. They want to be called 'Islamic terrorists' because it feeds their egos and validates their twisted form of that religion.
     Saudi Arabia is not so open about their system of punishment. Western media seldom talks about it.”
— T. Steeman, Addicting Info
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road less traveled

From: National Geographic
“Humans made an unwitting but fateful choice 10,000 years ago as we started cultivating wild plants: We chose annuals. All the grains that feed billions of people today—wheat, rice, corn, and so on—come from annual plants, which sprout from seeds, produce new seeds, and die every year. 'The whole world is mostly perennials,' says USDA geneticist Edward Buckler, who studies corn at Cornell University. 'So why did we domesticate annuals?' Not because annuals were better, he says, but because Neolithic farmers rapidly made them better—enlarging their seeds, for instance, by replanting the ones from thriving plants, year after year. Perennials didn't benefit from that kind of selective breeding, because they don't need to be replanted. Their natural advantage became a handicap. They became the road not taken.
     Today an enthusiastic band of scientists has gone back to that fork in the road: They're trying to breed perennial wheat, rice, and other grains. Wes Jackson, co-founder and president of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has promoted the idea for decades. It has never had much money behind it. But plant breeders in Salina and elsewhere are now crossing modern grains with wild perennial relatives; they're also trying to domesticate the wild plants directly. Either way the goal is crops that would tap the main advantage of perennials—the deep, dense root systems that fuel the plants' rebirth each spring and that make them so resilient and resource efficient—without sacrificing too much of the grain yield that millennia of selection have bred into annuals.”
— Robert Kunzig, National Geographic
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dogs are children too

From: FUREVER network
“UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS) - When the East African nation of Somalia, once described as a ‘lawless state,’ ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) early this week, it left two countries in splendid isolation from the rest of the world: South Sudan and the United States.
     South Sudan?
     Understandable, say human rights experts, because it was created and joined the United Nations only in July 2011 – and has since taken steps to start the domestic process in ratifying the treaty, probably later this year.
     But the United States?
     Kul Gautam of Nepal, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS the United States did sign the CRC back in February 1995 when Ambassador Madeline Albright was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.
     But the U.S. government has never submitted the treaty for ratification by the U.S. Senate, he added (where it needs a two-thirds vote for approval).
     Asked if there is ever a chance the United States will ratify the treaty, bearing in mind that a conservative, right-wing Republican Party now wields power on Capitol Hill, Gautam said: “With the current composition of the U.S. Congress, there is no chance for its ratification.”
— Thalif Dee, CommonDreams
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“WASHINGTON (March 15, 2000, APBnews.com) -- The House of Representatives today voted to upgrade federal regulations on air travel safety for animals for the first time in more than 22 years. […]
     ’This bill will hold airlines to a higher standard of conduct in the way they treat cats and dogs and other pets that belong to caring families. 'This should put an end to the horror stories of animals being treated like luggage,’ [Frank] Lautenberg said in a recent statement.
     The measure was also hailed by Carol Brandwein of Woodbridge, Va., whose cat, Toddy, a 9-month-old smoke tortie Persian, suffocated in the cargo hold of an American Airlines jet, covered with luggage piles on top of her kennel, in 1998. […]
     ‘This is a major win for the animals. Now the public will know which airlines have the best [safety] record when it comes to shipping animals," Brandwein said.’”
— Julie Catalano, ABC News
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Saturday, 24 January 2015

find yourself

From: worldatlas
If your sense of place is a little shaky, or your knowledge of world geography is less than reliable, this interactive map is a great place to start your journey.

"fat cats in SPACE!!"

From: Traveltalk
“Decreasing seat pitch — the distance between the same point on two consecutive seats — was once just the territory of budget airlines like Ryanair and Spirit Airlines.
     However, the legacy airlines are following the trend, and an economy seat that used to have a seat pitch of 32 to 34 inches now typically has 31 inches. an economy seat that used to have a seat pitch of 32 to 34 inches now typically has 31 inches. United isn't the only airline making more room on existing planes with smaller seats.
     According to data from SeatGuru, the roomiest economy seats on the four biggest airlines are all smaller than the smallest seats were in the 1990s."
— Jessica Plautz, Mashable

“The case of the shrinking airline seat is getting so ludicrous that aircraft giant Airbus has stepped in and called for action.
     It wants the aviation industry to set a minimum standard of 18 inches (45.72 centimetres) in order to improve the comfort of long-haul flying.
     That's because an 18 inch limit improves passenger sleep quality by 53 per cent when compared to the 17 inch standard set in the 1950s, according to new research by The London Sleep Centre that was commissioned by Airbus.
     Conditions, including lighting and background noise, were carefully controlled to mimic the experience of a long-haul flight.
     ‘All passengers experienced a deeper, less disturbed and longer nights' sleep in the 18 inch seat,’ Dr Irshaad Ebrahim from The London Sleep Centre said.
     ‘They went from one sleep stage to the next as you would expect them to do under normal circumstances. Whilst in the narrower 17 inch seat the passengers were affected by numerous disturbances during sleep - which meant they rarely experienced deep restorative sleep.’
     Despite the population's growing waist lines, most planes still have 17 inch seats, and in some cases passengers have to squeeze into 16 inch seats.'”
Read more…

"the Republican senator from Israel"

Traitor's Gate, Tower of London (from: tripadvisor)
“Throughout Obama's tenure, he has clashed with Netanyahu. That is no secret, and it's nothing new for American and Israeli leaders to disagree, sometimes very publicly. But Netanyahu, beginning in May 2011, adopted a new strategy to try to deal with this: using domestic American politics as a way to try to push around Obama.
     During a trip that month to Washington, Netanyahu publicly lectured Obama at a press conference and then gave a speech to Congress slamming the president. That speech, also hosted by Republicans, received many standing ovations for Netanyahu's finger-wagging criticism of Obama.
     At first it appeared that Netanyahu was merely trying to steer Obama's foreign policy in a direction that he, Netanyahu, preferred. Obama wanted Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank, for example; Obama has also sought, in his second term, to reach a nuclear deal with Iran that Netanyahu earnestly believes is a bad idea.
     Netanyahu's first responsibility is to Israel's national interests, not to Obama, so it makes sense that he would push for policies that he thinks are good for Israel.
     But in 2011 Netanyahu started going a step further, and appeared to be working to actively remove Obama from power. During the 2012 election cycle, Netanyahu and his government were increasingly critical of Obama and supportive of Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for whom he at times appeared to be actively campaigning. Netanyahu's criticisms of Obama were so pointed that some of Obama's opponents cut a campaign ad out of them. It became a joke within Israel that Netanyahu saw himself not as the leader of a sovereign country, but as the Republican senator from Israel.”
— Max Fisher, Vox
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Tuesday, 20 January 2015


From: Amazing Planet
"An average automobile tire can travel around 30,000 kilometers before they need to be replaced. Tires that have reached the end of their lifetime are usually recycled, but in Kuwait, they are dumped into one of the biggest landfills on earth in Sulaibiya area near Kuwait City. Every year gigantic holes are dug out in the desert and filled with old tires. There are already seven million tires out there. The expanse of rubber is so vast that they are now visible from space."
Amazing Planet

Saturday, 10 January 2015

offensive ≠ funny

by Joe Sacco (from: The Guardian)

mucilage in a bottle

I grew up on this stuff — till we emigrated to Canada when I was seven years old I didn't know coffee could taste better than this; or that chips (French fries) could be eaten with anything other than "brown sauce."
     On our first return visit to Liverpool in the sixties I remember my uncle sadly announcing to my mother that her favorite fish and chip shop had "gone curry."
    Needless to say, the U.K. had "gone curry" (and beyond) long before that.

From: cybertramp

“Created in the late 1800s, brown sauce reads, tastes and smells like the idle creation of some Phileas Fogg-type, just back and hugely, over-excited about his adventures in the British empire. Dates! Molasses! Tamarind! Cloves! Cayenne pepper! It is not so much a recipe as chauvinistic flag-waving, a smug, muscle-flexing case of: 'Look at the size of our spice cupboard.' Said exotic ingredients were combined, moreover, with all the sensitivity of the period. Just as in the age of empire we ignored or abused indigenous peoples, so too their ingredients. In brown sauce, they were used to produce an unholy trinity of brutal sweetness, acrid spiciness and vile vinegary twang — one peculiarly British in its lack of culinary sophistication.
     That brown sauce was actually invented, more prosaically, by a Nottingham grocer hardly matters. Everything about it, and particularly that picture of the houses of parliament on a bottle of HP, surely confirmed it as the sauce of the establishment. This was the perfect table sauce for jowly, Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen whose palates were so befogged by years of brandy and cigars, grouse and spotted dick, that only this shrill alarm of a sauce could pierce that bleary, weary gastronomic gloom.”
— Tony Naylor, (The Guardian) via NDTV Food
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Photo: Robert Pool (via flikr)

"The Paterson Company of Glasgow was catapulted to fame with the world's first instant coffee in 1876: Camp Coffee (an essence of coffee-beans, chicory and sugar poured from a distinctive bottle). The origin of Camp Coffee is believed to have come from a request from the Gordon Highlanders to Campbell Paterson for a coffee drink that could be used easily by the army on field campaigns in India.”
Read more…

Friday, 9 January 2015

"the sons raise meat... the sun’s rays meet... the sons raise meat..."

Source images: Robert Patterson's Weblog; CatholicMom.com
“[…] early pre-humans moved from a fruit-based diet – like most of today’s great apes – to meat. The new diet required novel social arrangements and a new type of co‑operative strategy (it’s hard to hunt big game alone). This in turn seems to have entailed new forms of co‑operative thought more generally: social arrangements arose to guarantee hunters an equal share of the bounty, and to ensure that women and children who were less able to participate also got a share.
     According to the US comparative psychologist Michael Tomasello, by the time the common ancestor of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis had emerged sometime around 300,000 years ago, ancestral humans had already developed a sophisticated type of co‑operative intelligence. This much is evident from the archaeological record, which demonstrates the complex social living and interactional arrangements among ancestral humans. They probably had symbol use – which prefigures language – and the ability to engage in recursive thought (a consequence, on some accounts, of the slow emergence of an increasingly sophisticated symbolic grammar). Their new ecological situation would have led, inexorably, to changes in human behaviour. Tool-use would have been required, and co‑operative hunting, as well as new social arrangements – such as agreements to safeguard monogamous breeding privileges while males were away on hunts.
     These new social pressures would have precipitated changes in brain organisation. In time, we would see a capacity for language. Language is, after all, the paradigmatic example of co‑operative behaviour: it requires conventions – norms that are agreed within a community – and it can be deployed to co‑ordinate all the additional complex behaviours that the new niche demanded.”
— Vyvyan Evans, aeon

Read more…
“As we began to shy away from eating primarily fruit, leaves and nuts and began eating meat, our brains grew. We developed the capacity to use tools, so our need for large, sharp teeth and big grinders waned.
     At the same time our gut shrank by 60%. A Chimp spends 6 hours a day chewing and digesting. We eat quickly leaving lots of time to invent new things and ways. […]
     Only meat has this quality and concentration of protein. It is indeed ‘Brain Food.’
     Meat made us human. It is not some rare thing at the top of the food pyramid but it is the base of the pyramid.”
Robert Patterson’s Weblog
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Thursday, 8 January 2015

dactyls n' amphimacers

From: The Telegraph
“[…] researchers have encoded the contents of a whole book in DNA, demonstrating the potential of DNA as a way of storing and transmitting information. In a different vein, some artists have begun to create living organisms with altered DNA as works of art. Hence, DNA is a medium for the communication of ideas. Because of the ability of DNA to store and convey information, its regulation must necessarily raise concerns associated with the First Amendment’s prohibition against the abridgment of freedom of speech. […]”
— via the New Shelton wet/dry
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“A genetic disease has been cured in living, adult animals for the first time using a revolutionary genome-editing technique that can make the smallest changes to the vast database of the DNA molecule with pinpoint accuracy.
     Scientists have used the genome-editing technology to cure adult laboratory mice of an inherited liver disease by correcting a single 'letter' of the genetic alphabet which had been mutated in a vital gene involved in liver metabolism.”
The Independent
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What is the verse that you've encoded?
It's a very short poem; a very masculine assertion about the aesthetic creation of life. The organism reads the poem, and writes in response a very melancholy, feminine - almost surreal in tone - poem about the aesthetic loss of life. The two poems are in dialogue with each other.

How do you encode your verse into DNA?
There's a standard convention of assigning certain letters to certain amino acids, but this convention is arbitrary. I'm likewise assigning a certain DNA codon to a letter of the alphabet. But there's a series of added constraints. Because I want the genetic sequence enciphering my poem to produce a protein that is, itself, yet another poem, there has to be a mutual correlation between those two sequences. In effect, I'm producing a kind of cryptogram, like something you might see in The Sunday Times, except that my cryptogram is itself a meaningful message that can be deciphered into yet another meaningful message. That's what's made this project very challenging.”
— Jamie Condliffe in conversation with Christian Bök, New Scientist
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je suis charlie

From: banksy

“'Our hearts are with staff of Charlie Hebdo and their families,' [Jon] Stewart stated. 'I know very few people go into comedy as an act of courage, mainly because it shouldn’t have to be that. It shouldn’t be an act of courage, it should be taken as established law. But those guys at Hebdo had it, and they were killed for their cartoons.'”
— Sarah Gray, Salon
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