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16 Jan 19:21

'Why the Foundations of Physics Have Not Progressed For 40 Years'

by msmash
Sabine Hossenfelder, research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, writes: What we have here in the foundation of physics is a plain failure of the scientific method. All these wrong predictions should have taught physicists that just because they can write down equations for something does not mean this math is a scientifically promising hypothesis. String theory, supersymmetry, multiverses. There's math for it, alright. Pretty math, even. But that doesn't mean this math describes reality. Physicists need new methods. Better methods. Methods that are appropriate to the present century. And please spare me the complaints that I supposedly do not have anything better to suggest, because that is a false accusation. I have said many times that looking at the history of physics teaches us that resolving inconsistencies has been a reliable path to breakthroughs, so that's what we should focus on. I may be on the wrong track with this, of course. Why don't physicists have a hard look at their history and learn from their failure? Because the existing scientific system does not encourage learning. Physicists today can happily make career by writing papers about things no one has ever observed, and never will observe. This continues to go on because there is nothing and no one that can stop it. You may want to put this down as a minor worry because -- $40 billion dollar collider aside -- who really cares about the foundations of physics? Maybe all these string theorists have been wasting tax-money for decades, alright, but in the large scheme of things it's not all that much money. I grant you that much. Theorists are not expensive. But even if you don't care what's up with strings and multiverses, you should worry about what is happening here. The foundations of physics are the canary in the coal mine. It's an old discipline and the first to run into this problem. But the same problem will sooner or later surface in other disciplines if experiments become increasingly expensive and recruit large fractions of the scientific community. Indeed, we see this beginning to happen in medicine and in ecology, too.

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16 Jan 19:17

The Muppets Take Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas

by Rebecca Saltzman

We were somewhere east of Fraggle Rock when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, “I feel a bit light-headed, Miss Piggy. Maybe you should drive.” And suddenly there was a terrible sound around us, and the sky was full of what looked like alien squids going, “Yip yip yip! Uh-huh. Uh-huh,” swooping all around the car, which was going 100 miles per hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming, “Holy Jesus! What are these fucking puppets?”

Then it was quiet again. Miss Piggy, my attorney, had taken her top off and was pouring beer on her chest to prevent her felt from pilling.

“What the fuck are you yelling about, Gonzo?” she asked. I rubbed my long blue nose.

It was almost noon and we had more than 100 miles to go. My editor had given me $300 cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous puppeteering supplies. We had two bags of grass (the cellophane kind they put in Easter baskets, green); 75 pellets stuffed with stuffing (cotton, unbleached); six packages of jumbo pipe cleaners (multi-colored); and a salt shaker full of glitter cocaine (holographic).

Miss Piggy saw the hitchhiker before I did. “Let’s give this frog a lift,” she said, and before I could mount any argument, she had stopped, and this poor Okie frog was hopping up to the car with a big grin on his face saying, “Hot damn! I never rode in a convertible before!”

“Helloooo,” said Miss Piggy, batting her big felt eyelashes.

“Hello?” he said. “Last night you never even said goodbye. You lied to me! You used me!”

“Oh Kermie, let me explain,” she said.

“I saw you dancing with that mangy cookie thief, you sow,” he said.

“Sow? HI-YAHHH!” she shouted, nearly smacking him right out of the car.

Now, I’ve spent enough time in Muppet Country to know most of them lead pretty dull lives. Eat. Sleep. Fuck. Teach toddlers the alphabet. No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in awhile. But eventually, you start burning out the marionette strings like a 440-volt blast in an inflatable kiddie pool.

Maybe I’d better have a chat with this frog, I thought.

“How about some ether?” I said. “Helium? Perler beads?”

The only thing that worried me was the helium. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a puppet in the depths of a helium binge.

Kermit shook his head. His mouth fell open, as though he were a puppet with a limited number of ways to simulate human emotion.

Miss Piggy was now fumbling with the salt shaker containing the glitter cocaine. Opening it. Snorting it. Spilling it. Then screaming and grabbing at the air, as our fine iridescent dust blew up and out across the desert highway. A very expensive, very sparkly twister rising up from the convertible.

Her snout had more spangles than Abby Cadabby after a night working the pole at Brought To You By The Letter XXX.

“You’re a fucking narcotics agent!” I shouted. “I was on to your stinking act from the start, you pig!"

And suddenly she was waving a fat black .357 magnum hot glue gun at me. One of those snubnosed ones they sell at Jo-Ann Fabrics. "You flammable lint ball! You polyester turkey! I’ll glue your fucking eyes shut!”

“You swine!” I said. "I’ll cut you into felt bacon strips! Some kid will be frying you on a plastic stove in their Christmas jammies.”

The frog was climbing out of the back seat. “Thanks for the ride,” he yelled. "Thanks a lot. It isn’t easy being green, that’s for fucking sure.” His big webbed feet hit the asphalt and he started hopping back towards Fraggle Rock.

Out in the middle of the desert, not a tree in sight. We continued on to Vegas.

16 Jan 19:03

Astronomers Detect Second Planet Orbiting Nearest Star

by Ryan Whitwam

Scientists used to wonder how common planets were throughout the universe, and now we know — they’re everywhere. Even with our relatively rudimentary methods of detecting exoplanets, we’ve identified thousands of alien worlds, including some in our own backyard. In 2016, astronomers discovered an exoplanet around Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun. Now, it looks like there might be a second “super-Earth” exoplanet orbiting that star. 

Proxima Centauri sits a mere 4.2 light-years away from Earth. It’s part of a triple star group along with the nearby Alpha Centauri AB binary system. Proxima Centauri is smaller and cooler than those stars — it’s what’s known as a red dwarf, the most common type of star in the Milky Way galaxy. 

While Proxima Centauri is very close in cosmic terms, its planetary plane doesn’t align with Earth. That means the common transit method of exoplanet detection doesn’t work. Instruments like Kepler and the new TESS satellite use the transit method to detect small dips in light output as planets pass in front of their home stars. Since that doesn’t work with Proxima Centauri, astronomers used the star’s radial velocity (also called Doppler spectroscopy) to spot Proxima b in 2016. An international team of astronomers used the same “solar wobbles” to detect the new Proxima c exoplanet candidate. 

Image by Wikipedia. Alpha Centauri AB is on the left, Beta Centauri on the right, and Proxima Centauri is at the center of the red circle.

Proxima c is a relatively low-mass exoplanet, believed to be about six times more massive than Earth. Whereas Proxima b orbits the star once every 11 Earth days, Proxima c has an orbital period of five years. It’s 50 percent farther from Proxima Centauri than Earth is from the sun, and Proxima Centauri is a much cooler star. As a result, scientists predict Proxima c is far outside the star’s habitable zone with temperatures as low as -388 degrees Fahrenheit. Proxima b is inside the habitable zone, but radiation from the red dwarf might render it inhospitable. 

The team analyzed 17 years of data from the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) and the UVES (Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph) instruments to identify Proxima c. The study reports that the new exoplanet best explains Proxima Centauri’s peculiar gravitational wobble. Now, it’s up to other teams to study the star and confirm the findings. Even if there’s no chance for life on Proxima c, it could be a real boon to the study of exoplanets to have a system with two of them right on our cosmic doorstep.

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16 Jan 19:01

The Non-Human Living Inside of You

by Azra Raza

Carrie Arnold in Nautilus:

The human genome contains billions of pieces of information and around 22,000 genes, but not all of it is, strictly speaking, human. Eight percent of our DNA consists of remnants of ancient viruses, and another 40 percent is made up of repetitive strings of genetic letters that is also thought to have a viral origin. Those extensive viral regions are much more than evolutionary relics: They may be deeply involved with a wide range of diseases including multiple sclerosis, hemophilia, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), along with certain types of dementia and cancer. For many years, biologists had little understanding of how that connection worked—so little that they came to refer to the viral part of our DNA as dark matter within the genome. “They just meant they didn’t know what it was or what it did,” explains Molly Gale Hammell, an associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. It became evident that the virus-related sections of the genetic code do not participate in the normal construction and regulation of the body. But in that case, how do they contribute to disease?

An early clue came from the pioneering geneticist Barbara McClintock, who spent much of her career at CSHL. In the 1940s, long before the decoding of the human genome, she realized that some stretches of our DNA behave like infectious invaders. These DNA chunks can move around through the genome, copying and pasting themselves wherever they see fit, which inspired McClintock to call them “jumping genes.” Her once-controversial idea earned her a Nobel Prize in 1983.

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16 Jan 18:59

In India, a Wave of Political Webcomics Are Chronicling Huge Nationwide Protests

by Krish Raghav
A single-panel illustration that plays with the acronym for the contentious legislation that sparked the protests, CAA, with the sound of crows cawing, seen as a bad omen (courtesy of @whackonondo)

In January 2020, an estimated 250 million people have marched in protest across India, joining  a movement that began in opposition to a contentious “Citizenship Amendment Act” (CAA). It’s a piece of legislation that explicitly excludes Muslim immigrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh from being fast-tracked for Indian citizenship. Many see it as an overt erosion of India’s secular identity, and when paired with a “citizenship test” called the National Register of Citizens (NRC), could be used in draconian ways to exclude vulnerable groups from the Indian polity.

The movement was rooted initially in India’s northeast region and on university campuses, but brutal police actions in the state of Assam and at Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi brought millions more on the streets in solidarity. The protests are now a cross-cutting, multi-generation movement, and it’s being chronicled and defined by a new wave of artists, both on the streets and across the Indian diaspora. Webcomics, in particular, are being used to cut through the noise, explain complicated issues, and spread the word online. In a fiercely divided social media landscape, these comic creators are representing the movement with style and wit.

Since the CAA was passed in parliament on December 11, 2019, artwork from established Indian comic creators like Orijit Sen and Appupen have become common sights on Twitter and Instagram. During some of the earliest protests,  many creatives banded together in collectives to release posters that could be printed and shared.

Watching from afar, the USA-based duo Meher Manda and Mayukh Goswami felt compelled to start a “webcomic of dissent” that they called “Jamun Ka Ped” (which translates to “The Jamun Tree” and takes its name from a 1960s satirical short story about bureaucratic inaction). “It came out of a profound helplessness,” Manda told Hyperallergic. “It felt like none of us could afford to be centrist or apathetic.”

The pair releases weekly comics that are sharp, insightful and timely, amplifying voices from pockets of protest around India, like the women who occupied the roads in the South Delhi neighborhood of Shaheen Bagh. The panels also make connections with broader governmental issues such as the state of Kashmir, which has been under an internet and communications blockade for over 150 days.

A comic calling attention to the situation in the state of Kashmir (courtesy Jamun Ka Ped)

Manda and Goswami are animated by a sense that the mainstream media is “failing” to present an accurate picture of the movement, with important context getting lost in the cacophony of editorials and online disinformation. India’s raucous TV news channels, in particular, have come under fire as a toxic news source.

“Webcomics and illustrators have an advantage,” said Manda. “They can make a succinct point by marrying essential thesis arguments about the movement with images that can stick and invoke curiosity from the fence-sitters.”

A popular illustration shared on social media that parodies posters from the 1980s and 90s that taught school kids good moral behavior. (Courtesy of Adarsh Balak)

On the night of January 5,  a large group of armed, masked men entered Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), muscled their way into dorms and hostels, and violently attacked students with rods. For artists like Vivekananda Roy Ghatak, the incident was a shocking escalation of violence that spurred him into action.

“More than the art, the amazing copywriting that goes into these works shows what super sharp, mature, aware and intelligent citizens of this country feel,” said Ghatak. “Their honesty and selflessness propel them further than any fake news or publicity stunt.”

Creatives like Ghatak, Goswami, and Manda have to frequently face online trolls. Protestors and groups associated with the protests are constant targets for harassment and the subject of rumors and insinuations that they’re “separatists” or have secret associations with neighboring Pakistan. As a result, many public figures — especially India’s powerful Bollywood film stars and cricket players — have been largely silent on the movement. In the absence of solidarity from the country’s icons, art and comics have stepped into the void to redefine the iconic, creating new symbols.

“As shareable commodities, they can combat the right wing-led propaganda,” Manda said. Creating symbolic images is key, she added, helping sustain what both Manda and Ghatak consider a “long movement.”

Despite waves of escalating protests, the government of India has made little attempt at compromise or conciliation. Another round of coordinated action is being planned during India’s Republic Day on January 26. Comic creators see their role expanding, from signal boosters for protests to bridge-builders, explaining and clarifying the issues and being a witness to what might come next. “Hum Dekhenge” (“We Shall Witness”), the title of an iconic Urdu poem by the Pakistan poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is a common catchphrase. What started as art in response to state violence is now something more lasting: a political consciousness.

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The general strike today is in protest against the government's unconstitutional policies. What I didn't find a mention in news articles about the strike however, was one of the most unconstitutional moves of the ruling government, which has been going on for several years now: tampering with wildlife and environment protection laws and facilitating hasty, unplanned and unmitigated 'development' in some of India's most important eco zones. So here's a cartoon from 2015 as a humble reminder. And before practitioners of blind faith come and say "what about the growing forest cover under our supreme leader and God?", allow me to remind you that these 'revised' definitions of green cover include cash crops and monoculture. Cartoon from 2015, first published in BLink. #generalstrike #moef #greenhumour #tiger #wildlife #development #india

A post shared by Rohan Chakravarty (@green_humour) on

“The true progress of any nation can be seen by how its art and its artists flourish,” said Ghatak. He’s confident that even more comic artists will join the fray, and the scene will only grow richer. “There’s a phrase someone came up with online that I love. It goes, ‘You divide. We multiply’.”

16 Jan 18:59

Jayadev Athreya: A New Discovery about Dodecahedrons

by S. Abbas Raza

16 Jan 18:58

Rush's Neil Peart talks Tom Sawyer, with vintage studio footage

by David Pescovitz

From the 2010 Rush documentary "Beyond the Lighted Stage," Neil Peart, who died last week, talks about the power of Tom Sawyer. What you say about his company is what you say about society.

(via Dust to Digital)

16 Jan 18:56

Navy Confirms It Has a Secret Classified Video of an Infamous UFO Incident, Says Releasing It Would Threaten National Security

by msmash
The US Navy says it has classified documents and video related to a 2004 UFO encounter and releasing those materials would threaten national security. From a report: The Pentagon has Top Secret-classified briefings and a Secret-classified video about an infamous UFO incident, the U.S. Navy said in response to a public records request. The files concern the 2004 encounter between the USS Nimitz and a with strange unknown aerial objects. In 2017 and 2018, three videos of bizarre aircraft taken by Navy pilots from their fighter planes made national news. In December 2017, The New York Times ran a story about Navy pilots who intercepted a strange object off the coast of San Diego on November 14th, 2004, and managed to shoot video of the object with their F-18's gun camera. In September of 2019, Motherboard reported that the Navy confirmed the videos contained footage of "unknown aerial phenomena." In response to a Freedom of Information Act request sent by researcher Christian Lambright seeking more information on the incident, the Navy said it had "discovered certain briefing slides that are classified TOP SECRET. A review of these materials indicates that are currently and appropriate Marked and Classified TOP SECRET under Executive Order 13526, and the Original Classification Authority has determined that the release of these materials would cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security of the United States." "We have also determined that ONI possesses a video classified SECRET that ONI is not the Original Classification Authority for," the letter continued.

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16 Jan 18:49

Shocking study of 26,828 women finds that sexual harassment gets even worse with career advancement

by Arianne Cohen

Supervisors experience 30-100% more harassment.

Congratulations on your promotion! It comes with a side of sexual harassment. And no, taking a post abroad won’t help.

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13 Jan 16:55

The one thing resilient leaders do differently

by Kate Snowise

It’s all about your “stress mindset.” The good news is, with a bit of effort, you can improve your reaction to daily stressors.

Pressure has become an inevitable part of daily life. It’s unavoidable. But the best leaders and organizations adapt promptly without getting thrown off course by the uncertainty and the rapid rate of modern business.

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10 Jan 21:05

Boeing Employee: 737 Max Is ‘Designed by Clowns…Supervised by Monkeys’

by Joel Hruska
Boeing 737-MAX9 Artwork K65780. Credit: Boeing

Ever since two Boeing 737 Max planes crashed, Boeing has been playing a frantic game of damage control. In our early reporting on this issue, we emphasized the need for deliberate analysis and evaluation rather than leaping to conclusions. Nearly a year after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 slammed into the ground, killing all aboard, it’s evident that the rot at Boeing went very deep indeed.

The company has turned over a tranche of internal email documents that emphasize just how ugly the situation got — and how much Boeing knew about it. I’ve personally read all 117 pages of Boeing emails and created a series of images to illustrate what, exactly, Boeing employees were talking about. In the documents, which cover a period ranging from 2013 – 2019, employees discussed various aspects of the situation. “Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee wrote to another in a February 2018 message. The second employee agrees that they wouldn’t, either.

In another case, one employee remarked that it (the 737 MAX) is “such a shitshow.” A second employee agrees, saying they’d be shocked if the FAA passes the aircraft.

The FAA has also been upset about emails showing that employees were aware that the 737 Max simulator was in bad shape and worrying about how to clear that issue with regulators.

We’ve heard about problems with the 737 Max simulators before — in October, evidence surfaced that one of Boeing’s test pilots had raised serious concerns about the safety of the 737 Max and the simulator’s performance, before admitting he had inadvertently lied to the FAA. That didn’t stop the pilot, Mark Forkner, from requesting that the FAA allow Boeing to remove any mention of MCAS in the 737 Max pilot’s manual. The FAA, believing that MCAS only could activate remotely (and also believing that it functioned differently than it did), approved the request. Boeing employees referred to “Jedi mind tricking” regulators into believing they didn’t need to engage in an in-depth evaluation of the 737 Max.

Boeing Actively Discouraged Simulator Training, Declared It Would Strong Arm Regulators

This email, from 2015, illustrates who Boeing believed would control the regulation of the aircraft: Boeing. All of the emails shown as being from the 737 Chief Technical Pilot are from Forkner.

Forkner was critical to the effort to emphasize that the 737 Max and 737 NG had no differences between them save for “no OFF position on the gear handle.” I’m summarizing this bit, because Forkner wrote a number of these emails to various airlines, for example: “Boeing does not understand what is to be gained by a 3 hour simulator session, when the procedures are essentially the same.” When airlines specifically requested information on simulator time, Forkner pushed back on this option. In another email, he writes: “A simulator training requirement would be quite burdensome to your operation,” and “There is absolutely no reason to require your pilots to require a Max simulator.” These quotes are on pages 59 and 60 / 117 in the Scribd document. The phrase “Jedi mind trick” seems to be one that Forkner loves; you’ll see it used repeatedly in other internal emails identified as being from him.

I’m going to speed up at this point, because honestly, there are 117 pages of this sort of thing.

Boeing Employees Declare They Require Forgiveness From God

I’m not even being snarky.

Boeing Employees Would Rather Quit Than Lie to the FAA

Boeing Employees ‘Produced’ Emails to Make Regulators Feel Stupid About Requiring Training

Some Boeing Employees Were Aware of Problems and Tried to Raise the Alarm

Next, I’m going to include some snippets of different conversations here. These conversations were between two unnamed Boeing employees. It’s not clear if it’s always the same two employees talking or not. Each of these images should be read independently.

It’s not clear that this is in reference to canceling the entire 737 Max project or pausing the ramp to fix issues and bring the plane into a better position for eventual launch.

Boeing Employees Thought the Aircraft Was Designed By Clowns Being Supervised By Monkeys

Ethical Boeing Employees Didn’t Feel Like There Were Very Many of Them

This one builds on a screenshot I showed you before, but it gives a good deal of additional context around the email. Unfortunately, expanding context doesn’t make the situation any better. In fact, it makes it worse. This one is a two-parter. There’s a brief overlap where I clipped, to show that I captured the entire section.

The FAA Is Incompetent (or Possibly Bribed) and Boeing Is a Company of Liars

Boeing-Damning-15

This request appears to be about the 777, not the 737, based on the subject line of the email, which reads,”- 777 ECL COC Update request”). But it still raises serious questions about how the FAA does its job and the degree of closeness between the FAA and Boeing. It would be very interesting to know why the email opens with a discussion of what a brown envelope can achieve. The implication of the statement as written is that Boeing straight-up bribed the FAA to overlook problems.

I asked a pilot friend of mine, who confirmed he didn’t know “brown envelope” as any kind of aviation slang or reference. That isn’t to say “brown envelope” doesn’t have a meaning. “Brown envelope journalism” is defined as “a practice whereby monetary inducement is given to journalists to make them write a positive story or kill a negative story. The name is derived from cash inducements hidden in brown envelopes and given to journalists during press briefings.” I’m not sure I’ve heard the term in the US, but it’s widely used in both the UK and Nigeria. And Boeing’s top-level employees clearly travel a great deal, as a number of emails in this tranche refer to various traveling schedules and trips around the world.

It’s possible that the author of the post was simply joking. I’ve made similar jokes before to people, about taking my AMD-funded limo to my Intel-funded jet so I can relax on my Nvidia-purchased private island. The problem is, it’s also possible to read the first paragraph as a series of statements: The 777 “isn’t anywhere near as good as it would appear to be.” Why not? Because the FAA “were neither thorough nor demanding and failed to write up many issues.” Why did they do this? “Amazing what a brown envelope can achieve.”

Could that be a joke? Absolutely. It could also be an admission that the FAA was bribed to look the other way and “miss” problems on the 777 by failing to document them in its report. It’s impossible to separate these questions from the fact that the FAA knew the 737 Max was dangerous after the first crash (but kept it flying) and then refused to immediately yank the aircraft after the second crash, doing so only after significant international pressure from other regulatory agencies. The fact that the FAA failed to act even after two crashes has been a topic of interest for investigators.  The 737 Max may not be the only aircraft impacted by lax or corrupt regulation.

 Everything Is Broken

This last one sorta wraps everything up, at least according to one unnamed Boeing employee. Based on the text color, it could be Forkner, but just because he uses that color in other emails doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be him using it here.

When the 737 Max jets went down in Ethiopia and Singapore, some people blamed pilot error. Some assumed the aircraft were in poor condition. A lot of people wanted to hand Boeing a pass, based on the company’s long, generally excellent track record.

It is clear beyond doubt now, if it was ever doubted before, just how far-ranging and deep the rot went in the 737 Max’s design. Boeing employees knew it — and lied. They lied, and used “Jedi mind tricks,” and sent messages to airlines and regulatory agencies fighting back, hard, against anyone performing training on a 737 Max. They may have bribed an FAA official, but, even assuming that didn’t happen, there’s no evidence of appropriate oversight. Boeing employees worry about what regulators will do in these 117 pages of email, but there’s no sign that they actually put an effort into building a quality plane. The 737 Max was conceived, from the beginning, as an aircraft that would be economical. Any attempt to raise safety concerns that could require additional simulation training was rejected.

Boeing has announced it will now require simulation training for all pilots who wish to fly the 737 Max.

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08 Jan 21:34

Happy Bowiemas! Celebrate by listening to Bowie yucking it up impersonating other singers

by Gareth Branwyn

Today is David Bowie's birthday (born Jan 8, 1947, died Jan 10, 2016). Here's a great example of our favorite leper messiah's sense of humor as he impersonates a number of fellow singers during the Absolute Beginner's recording sessions in 1985.

In the six-minute clip, you hear David doing his best impressions of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Anthony Newley, Iggy Pop, and Neil Young. Some of them are quite good, especially Springsteen.

And, if you (like me) are going full Bowiemas this week (can I get an alien mullet amen?), check out this 19-hour Bowie playlist on Spotify:

"If you're going to be a fucking rockstar, go be one. People don't want to see the guy next door on stage; they want to see a being from another planet."
-Lemmy Kilmister

Happy Birthday, David. We miss you!

17 Dec 19:04

How We Learned to Love the Pedagogical Vapor of STEM

by Virginia Heffernan
Science and mathematics somehow got yoked to the vocational field of engineering and, worst of all, to "technology," which can mean almost anything—and nothing.
17 Dec 19:04

The Largest Scientific Structure Ever Powers Up in Africa

by Laura Mallonee
When the Square Kilometre Array is complete, the telescope will scan the universe to probe some of science's deepest mysteries.
17 Dec 17:43

The Perils and Promise of Artificial Conscientiousness

by Matt Beane
AI doesn't know when it creates unintended consequences. As builders try to fix this, they may actually contribute to the problem.
17 Dec 17:42

On The Curiously Self-Tortured Legacy of Post-Grunge Music

by Morgan Meis

Eli Zeger at The Baffler:

Godsmack is part of an aggressive, no-cowards-allowed milieu of hard rock known as “post-grunge” (or pejoratively “butt rock”), which was at its most lucrative during the late 1990s and throughout the aughts, when it dominated both the rock and pop charts. Obscuring the stylistic boundaries between neighboring genres—country, grunge, and the genre which grunge supposedly killed, hair metal—post-grunge is characterized by its dragging tempos, down-tuned chord progressions, sporadic twanginess, and overly passionate vocals. If you took an eighties power ballad’s major key and turned it minor, you’d have a post-grunge song more or less. Even today, as its pop appeal has vanished, it remains viable in the realm of mainstream rock, selling out amphitheaters and filling up the playlists on “Alt Nation”-type stations. It soundtracks WWE pay-per-views; it’s what plays over the loudspeakers in Six Flags food courts.

more here.

17 Dec 17:39

Scattering a Mother’s Ashes: On Grief, Intimacy, and Renewal

by S. Abbas Raza

William Pierce in Literary Hub:

Dad called us, Thom and me, into the office. Its bifold louvre doors opened just behind my dining chair. He showed us the safe deposit key again. He showed us his will again. He showed us the folders of information about the condo in Florida, about his car, the binders of account statements, his credit cards, his social security, pension, and insurance policies. Part of me resisted.

And then he sprang a big one on us: he wanted to spread Mom’s ashes today. She wanted half to be spread in the gardens, and half at Jones Beach, where as a child she’d gone with her mother and sister nearly every summer day. That sun exposure, when she was immunosuppressed years later, had given her nearly twenty lesions a month, across her arms, legs, neck, and face, that her dermatologist would burn and freeze off: squamous, pre-squamous, and twice—jobs too dire for that simple burning—melanomas on her face.

More here.

17 Dec 17:38

Why should you read Dune?

by Mark Frauenfelder

This episode of TED-Ed is about Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction novel, Dune, and why you should read it.

A mother and son trek across an endless desert. Wearing special suits to dissipate heat and recycle moisture, the travelers aren’t worried about dying of thirst. Their fears are much greater. Soon, the sound of the desert is drowned out by a hissing: a mound of sand 400 meters long bursts from the desert floor and races towards them. This is the world of “Dune.” Dan Kwartler dives into the epic story.

Image: YouTube

16 Dec 17:20

Will AI Take Your Job—or Make It Better?

by Tom Simonite
Governments need to plan now for the day automation makes many workplace skills obsolete. 
16 Dec 17:01

Orlando Jones says he was fired from ‘American Gods’ because its white showrunner found his character ‘angry’

by KC Ifeanyi

Mr. Nancy won’t be returning for season three of ‘American Gods,’ and Jones took to Twitter to give his side of the story.

Actor and comedian Orlando Jones claims he was fired from American Gods because its showrunner felt his character was sending the “wrong message for black America.”

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13 Dec 16:35

Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall talks season 12 and the return of the Cybermen

by Baraka Kaseko on TV Club, shared by Baraka Kaseko to The A.V. Club

Last year’s run of Doctor Who episodes were among the most anticipated, highly-scrutinized in the show’s 50-plus-year history. In addition to being a coming-out party for the first-ever female regeneration of the Doctor (played brilliantly by Jodie Whittaker) and her family of companions (Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill,…

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13 Dec 16:34

New Instagram account must be the place ... to announce a Talking Heads reunion

by Reid McCarter on News, shared by Reid McCarter to The A.V. Club

It’s been almost three decades since Talking Heads called it quits and in the time since there’s been little reason to expect a reunion tour. The appearance of an Instagram account, though—even one with no posts to date or official verification—has fans going flippy-floppy over the potential that, at long last,…

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13 Dec 16:33

Cringe at Mayor Pete declaring he is “100% that nominee” right next to Lizzo

by Kevin Cortez on News, shared by Kevin Cortez to The A.V. Club

Avid Spoon fan and presidential nominee Pete Buttigieg made an appearance on CBS This Morning Thursday, where he let the audience know that his musical tastes extend well beyond Panic! At the Disco’s “High Hopes.”

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13 Dec 16:29

R.I.P. Danny Aiello, star of Do The Right Thing and Moonstruck

by Randall Colburn on News, shared by Randall Colburn to The A.V. Club

Danny Aiello, the Oscar-nominated actor who appeared in movies like Do The Right Thing, The Godfather Part II, and Moonstruck, has died. Fox News confirmed the news with Aiello’s literary agent after TMZ reported that he died following complications related to an infection. He was 86.

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13 Dec 16:29

Breathable atmospheres may be more common in the universe than we first thought

The existence of habitable alien worlds has been a mainstay of popular culture for more than a century. In the 19th century, astronomers believed that Martians might be using canal-based transport links to traverse the red planet. Now, despite living in an age when scientists can study planets light years from our own solar system, most new research continues to diminish the chances of finding other worlds on which humans could live. The biggest stumbling block may be oxygen—human settlers would need a high oxygen atmosphere in which to breathe.
03 Dec 17:44

An Enormous Smoke-Spewing Dragon Roves the Streets of Calais, France

by Laura Staugaitis

La Machine, the group of inventors, designers, artists, and builders responsible for 46 foot-tall minotaurs and massive tarantulas roving the streets of Europe, has most recently unleashed the Dragon of Calais. The moveable beast, complete with articulated limbs and a smoke-spewing snout, was paraded around Calais for 3 days at the beginning of November. It has now been installed as a stationary sculpture, on which visitors can climb up and walk around. Follow the latest projects from La Machine on Instagram. (via Laughing Squid)

 

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03 Dec 17:43

The World’s Largest Freshwater Lake Becomes a Magical Landscape in Photographs by Kristina Makeeva

by Laura Staugaitis

All photographs © Kristina Makeeva, shared with artist’s permission

Photographer Kristina Makeeva creates captivating scenes centered around Lake Baikal. The lake, located in Russia, is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, holding nearly a quarter of the world’s fresh surface water. Makeeva takes advantage of its vastness in forming otherworldly images that seem totally separate from the built environments most of us reside in. “The first time I visited Baikal, I had no expectations, and yet what I saw and felt kept me awake for the three days I was there, Makeeva tells Colossal. “I was exploding with inspiration. Now, having traveled to many countries around the world, I still think of Baikal as one of the most beautiful places.”

Makeeva uses Lake Baikal as both the stage and the star in her striking photographs. Often, a single figure centered in the image poses in a manner that draws attention to the surprisingly vibrant colors, shapes, and textures in the frozen landscape. The photographer frequently outfits her models in ruffled tulle dresses with impossibly long trains or minimalist white suits that call to mind astronauts or acrobats. Makeeva explains that depending on the shoot, she either brings models from Moscow or hires local models to work on location, or the models are integrated into the frigid landscape in post-production if their costumes are tricky to travel with.

The artist explains that after a childhood in Moscow’s “grey and boring suburbs”, she is eager to incorporate the magical energy of fairy tales and fantasy into her photographs. “As I travel and read more, I’ve been able to add an element of cultural understanding and context to some of my favorite fairy tales,” says Makeeva.

I always have a movie playing in my head. As a photographer, you still need to do your homework if you want to create something unique in that location. So I immerse myself into history, landscape, and pictures. It’s important to have a special inventory list. As weather conditions play a major role in shoots, we will often order special clothes and dresses that fit with the landscape. We envision and look at several dresses in advance of a shoot. And, of course, we also buy thermal clothes for the model so that she’s as comfortable as possible in the climate.

In reflecting on the end results of her meticulously researched work as an artist, Makeeva tells Colossal, “How I feel about my art and how others feel is often very different. This is natural because our experience of art depends on our life experiences. As a rule, I try not to title my photos, so that everyone is free to interpret my photography however they’d like.”

To take a look behind the scenes of Makeeva’s photographic process, watch a short feature on her work produced by SmugMug, and see more of her finished works on Instagram.

18 Nov 23:18

Howto: Extend your wrists' duty-cycle

by Cory Doctorow

People make fun of me when I talk about extending my wrists' duty cycle, but I earn the vast majority of my living with the parts of my body north of my chin and south of my elbows, and those are all pretty fragile, easily-damaged parts of your body.

Ergnomic Trends' list of "8 Best Hand and Wrist Exercises for Computer Users" were largely familiar to me, but I'm seriously loving "thumb touches."

Thumb touches help to increase coordination in the thumb and forefingers, and also help to reintroduce blood flow back to the area:

1. Hold your hands outwards with your palms facing the ceiling

2. With your right hand, slowly bring your thumb to touch the tip of every finger

3. Repeat on the other hand

4. Return to the starting position

5. Repeat five times with both hands

Preventing Injury: 8 Best Hand and Wrist Exercises for Computer Users [Ergonomic Trends]

(via Four Short Links)

18 Nov 23:14

Improving autonomous autos by having them guess which humans are selfish

by John Timmer
Image of a person standing near a vehicle with autonomous driving sensors on its roof.

Enlarge / But what does that car think that the spectator is thinking? (credit: China News Service)

Imagine you're trying to make a left turn onto a busy road. Car after car rolls past, keeping you trapped as your frustration rises. Finally, a generous driver decelerates enough to create a gap. A check of the traffic from the opposite direction, a quick bit of acceleration, and you're successfully merged into traffic.

This same scene plays out across the world countless times a day. And it's a situation where inferring both the physics and the motives of your fellow drivers is difficult, as evidenced by the fact that the United States sees 1.4 million accidents each year from drivers in the process of turning. Now imagine throwing autonomous vehicles into the mix. These are typically limited to evaluating only the physics and to make conservative decisions in situations where information is ambiguous.

Now, a group of computer scientists has figured out how to improve autonomous vehicle (AV) performance in these circumstances. The scientists have essentially given their AVs a limited theory of mind, allowing the vehicles to better interpret what the behaviors of their nearby human drives are telling them.

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18 Nov 22:47

The Best Modern Sci-Fi Books

by Josh Tyler

Make sure you own a copy of these must-read modern sci-fi masterpieces.

The post The Best Modern Sci-Fi Books appeared first on Giant Freakin Robot.