PSAs from http://stillblowingsmoke.org/#bigtobacco hit the TV on Sunday and got us to stop our TiVo to see what the story was.
California is the newest case study in the e-cigarette information wars. On Sunday, California's public health department went live with an awareness campaign about e-cigarettes on a new website, Still Blowing Smoke. By the time of their official launch on Monday, vaping advocates were already on the offensive with a nearly identical site: Not Blowing Smoke.
Scroll right to see California's public health information website. Scroll left to see a similar website from the vaping industry.
The websites are easy to confuse. Backed by three vaping-advocacy groups, Not Blowing Smoke borrows font, design elements, and imagery from the state's website — except where California’s is filled with public-health warnings about e-cigarettes, the copycat site downplays the health concerns and says the science proving these devices are healthy is unequivocal.
While the state campaign reminds its citizens that all the Big Tobacco companies also own e-cigarette companies, the vaping site pushes the narrative that "vaping is small business, not Big Tobacco."
While California suggests there's still a lot we don't know about the health impact of e-cigarettes, the vapers are a lot more certain: "Long-term e-Cigarette use can decrease cigarette consumption in smokers not willing to quit," their site reads. "E-cigarettes are less addictive than tobacco cigarettes."
For public health workers, the quick counterattack is reminiscent of early fights over cigarettes. Cigarette companies, for decades, knew their products were harmful. But they denied those hazards, hiring prominent researchers and lobbyists to wage public-awareness campaigns unpicking and calling into question the mounting evidence about links between smoking and cancer, heart disease, and early death. Big Tobacco managed to divert the conversation about health and turn it into one about politics and governance.
E-cigarettes are much newer, their health impact is still unclear, and the research may eventually show that pro-vapers are correct and they are a helpful harm-reduction tool. But even if the science follows a different trajectory, the situation in California and elsewhere suggests the Big Tobacco marketing playbook is being rolled out once again.
The vaping camp also launched a Twitter account that uses the state campaign's name — Still Blowing Smoke — but with this tagline: "There's a lot public health isn't telling us about vaping."
While the e-cigarette market is growing fast in the US and around the world, particularly among adolescents, just about every national and international health group agrees the jury is still out on the health impact of these devices.
The World Health Organization has called e-cigarettes safety "illusive," since the ingredients they contain are not always disclosed and there is not "adequate data on emissions." The Centers for Disease Control takes a similar stance: that there is not enough evidence to understand the health impact of vaping. They warn of the potential for nicotine addiction and poisoning, and believe the devices should be more tightly regulated. Like many other research groups, both the CDC and WHO are concerned about the still-unknown long-term biological effects. What's more, when it comes to helping people quit smoking, the science is mixed at best.
Because of this uncertainty, the public health community is warning people to proceed with caution.
But when researchers, anti-tobacco advocates, or public heath officials voice their concerns, they say they are met with a combination of doubt, vitriol, and trolling.
"The California health department’s Twitter and Facebook pages are clogged with [messages from vaping advocates]," said Stanton Glantz, a University of California, San Francisco–based professor and longtime tobacco-control advocate who has been watching the campaign and counterattacks unfold this week. "It’s making it hard for them to communicate with anybody."
When you look at the California health department’s Facebook post about the e-cigarette campaign, you see it’s been carpet-bombed with hundreds of comments, some of them abusive and threatening, others suggesting public health officials are in the pocket of Big Tobacco, even though many vaping companies are actually owned by the tobacco industry. It's not yet clear whether the Facebook and Twitter attacks are organized and related to the Not Blowing Smoke website, though they follow a pattern others around the world have been observing.
In Australia, researchers who are critical of e-cigarettes have reported online trolling and abuse. Writing about the attacks in The Lancet, a group of researchers noted, "Anyone with the temerity to suggest that e-cigarettes are anything other than the game changing solution to the problem of tobacco will be subject to grossly offensive attacks, with growing evidence that these are being orchestrated." The researchers said they received a tweet that contained a picture of a noose, captioned, "Your days are numbered."
Martin McKee, one of the Lancet authors and a professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that whenever he or his research students write anything that's critical of e-cigarettes, they become the subject of "very abusive" attacks.
Tweets directed at researchers who have been critical of e-cigarettes. (Courtesy of Martin McKee)
"In the early days, I can certainly say the experience was very stressful," he said. "The impact is much greater on junior researchers. In some cases, the abusers go for them by making formal complaints about them, alleging breaches of ethics procedures."
He added: "Anyone who suggests e-cigarettes are anything short of miraculous seems to be targeted."
Peter Hamm, communications director at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the opposition to their awareness campaigns from vaping advocates often follows a similar script: "They say it's obvious these devices are safe, and that we're putting lives at risk by raising questions about them. They say we're in the pocket of Big Tobacco. Regardless of the point we make, they respond instantly with complete denial."
"When I put a blog post up related to e-cigs, if it takes them more than a few minutes to come back at me, it’s like a long time," said Glantz. "The reactions are hyper-aggressive. They are very fast."
Chicago is another case study in the e-cigarette information wars. The city’s department of public health launched an e-cigarette messaging campaign a week prior to a city council vote on clean air regulation last year. The new law would have limited where people can vape.
As soon as they began tweeting their public health messages, the account became a "Twitter bomb target," getting inundated with more than 600 tweets against the proposed regulation, according to a systematic analysis of the blowback in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Of the 683 tweets that mentioned the health department that week, 609 were anti-policy, they found. More than half of those suggested e-cigarettes help smokers quit and are healthier than cigarettes; over one-third "asserted that the health department was lying or disseminating propaganda." All told, the number of anti-policy tweets was more than 10 times higher than the number of pro-policy tweets. Curiously, they found that only a few of the Twitter users were from the Chicago area: "Twitter users from Chicago were significantly more likely than expected to tweet in support of the policy."
A timeline of tweets during the Chicago's e-cigarette regulation discussions. (Journal of Medical Internet Research)
In Michigan, the chief medical officer, Dr. Matthew Davis, came under intense scrutiny when he testified about changing the way e-cigarettes were regulated in his state. The industry was promoting the idea that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products and should not be regulated as such.
"What people forget is that a lot of e-cigarette companies are connected to Big Tobacco," Davis said. "What that means for the public health community is that proponents of e-cigs have very strong backing and very effective message generation honed over many years in the tobacco industry. This is a familiar adversary of public health, but the topic is slightly different."
E-cigarettes, he added, are not the same thing as conventional cigarettes. But even if the health science takes a different turn, for now, the information war appears to be following a similar path.
Running around Mexico City
Fox News anchor Bret Baier debunked the network's defense of Indiana's discriminatory "religious freedom" law, explaining that the law is broader than both federal law and similar measures in other states. Baier's comments echo what others have already noted: Indiana's RFRA is categorically different from other "religious freedom" laws, because it includes for-profit businesses under its definition of "persons" capable of religious expression. The Indiana law also allows private individuals and businesses to claim a religious exemption in court "regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding." Those differences -- which the ACLU has called "virtually without precedent" -- expand the scope of Indiana's RFRA and provide a legal defense for businesses and individuals who refuse service to LGBT residents.
The past two years were not McDonald’s finest. Sales declined; promotions fell flat; ugly labor disputes drew public ire. In January, Don Thompson stepped down as the company’s chief executive, and his replacement, Steve Easterbrook, was handed the monumental task of trying to turn the struggling chain around. Easterbrook finally might be onto a solution—in bacon, egg, and cheese form.
On Monday, McDonald’s said it will begin testing daylong breakfast—that means the Egg McMuffin, hash browns, and various other items—at certain restaurants near San Diego. Should the initial tests go well, the menu switch could end up being what McDonald’s desperately needs to get its business back on track. That’s because, by and large, people love McDonald’s breakfast. Matt Yglesias once wrote in Slate of the Sausage McMuffin With Egg: “Asking whether McDonald's can make a better breakfast sandwich than the Sausage McMuffin With Egg is a bit like asking whether God could make an object so massive that he couldn't move it.” Business Insider’s Sam Ro has declared a photo of an Egg McMuffin so “perfect” that it inspired him and two colleagues to order McDonald’s on Seamless.
In short, McDonald’s breakfast has somehow escaped the widespread consumer skepticism weighing down sales of most other items on the menu. It’s hard to know exactly why this is. Perhaps it’s because McDonald’s has been more successful at marketing its breakfast as fresh—as Thompson said last April, “we actually crack eggs.” Or maybe it’s because with breakfast, it’s easier to believe that marketing. As anyone who’s ever had an Egg McMuffin knows, it looks and tastes authentic in a way that the standard McDonald’s burger just doesn’t. Or maybe it’s simply that McDonald’s breakfast really does taste pretty good.
“Arguably, the two most craveable items on the McDonald’s menu are its French fries and breakfast items such as the various McMuffin permutations and the utterly delicious McGriddles,” Mark Kalinowski, an analyst at Janney Capital Markets, wrote in a Monday note to clients that announced the news of McDonald’s planned breakfast test. “Having those breakfast items available to sell all day would also serve as a reminder to customers (and the media ... and Wall Street ...) that McDonald’s does indeed have craveable food to sell.”
Whatever the reason, breakfast has remained a bright spot for the chain even as other sales have flailed. Breakfast makes up an estimated 25 percent of McDonald’s sales, which in 2014 would have translated to some $4.5 billion at company-operated restaurants. In 2012, food and restaurant research firm Technomic estimated the U.S. market for fast-food breakfast at $31.7 billion. Since then, breakfast sales have continued to grow, but competition has, too.
Considering how popular and successful McDonald’s breakfast is, it might seem odd that the company has historically offered it only until 10:30 a.m. The company says that’s because the grills in its kitchens aren’t big enough to accommodate both breakfast and lunch cooking. “Their equipment has been designed for efficiency,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. “So you’re looking at taking a very efficient and space-confined kitchen, and looking at 14,000 stores, and how you’re going to increase the griddle space for breakfast and burgers. It’s a major challenge.”
That said, McDonald’s is probably ready to try anything at this point. “They’re in a funk right now and for the last two years,” Tristano says. “Any move that gives your customers what they want, when they want it ... is a strong and positive move.” For once, this seems like a case where customers have spoken clearly. They want the Egg McMuffin. They don’t want to be asked to dance for it. And they want to be able to order it any time—not just until 10:30 a.m.
Don't believe in God? Chances are you are a white male.
CNN’s special report on atheists this week didn’t draw many viewers, and has been kicked around a bit in the blogosphere. Certainly the program had its gaffes. Most important, as other critics have noted, the report trotted out the hoary -- and ridiculous -- claim that 1 in 3 millennials are atheists. (The correct figure is closer to 3 percent.)
But that wasn’t the biggest mistake. By focusing on the lives of atheists, CNN swept into the wings, with only the briefest of mentions, atheism’s significant race and gender problems.
According to a much-discussed 2012 report from the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, only 3 percent of U.S. atheists and agnostics are black, 6 percent are Hispanic, and 4 percent are Asian. Some 82 percent are white. (The relevant figures for the population at large at the time of the survey were 66 percent white, 11 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian.)
The same report tells us that women are 52 percent of the U.S. population but only 36 percent of atheists and agnostics. The gender split has led some male atheists to muse about differences between the male and female brain -- which in turn unsurprisingly generated sharp ripostes. Certainly it makes the atheist movement less attractive to would-be adherents. As one commentator has put it, “Show me a party to which women are invited but that they overwhelmingly choose to avoid, and I'll show you a party to which I'd ask you to remember not to invite me.”
Some feminist atheists contend that the gender split is a distinctively U.S. phenomenon. They point to a 2012 WIN-Gallup International survey tending to show that outside the U.S., men and women describe themselves as atheists at about the same rate.
But the WIN-Gallup data also point to what might be atheism’s larger difficulty: race, nationalism and ethnicity. In the U.S., atheists and agnostics are disproportionately male and white, as we have seen. Around the world -- well, let’s let the data tell the story.
Seven of the 10 least religious countries are in Europe. The other three are China, Japan and South Korea. Seven of the 10 most religious countries are in the developing world, headed by Ghana and Nigeria. When the data are tabulated by region, those most likely to describe themselves as atheists are from north Asia (42 percent) and western Europe (14 percent). At the other end are south Asia (0 percent), and Latin America and Africa (2 percent each).
At some point one has to admit that there is a pattern here. And just to pile on a bit, the estimable Craig Keener, in his huge review of claims of miracles in a wide variety of cultures, concludes that routine rejection of the possibility of the supernatural represents an impulse that is deeply Eurocentric.
Richard Dawkins, well-known apostle of atheism, only damages his cause when he insists that atheists are a race. Even if he was being tongue-in-cheek (and one certainly hopes so), he’s more likely to stir an already boiling identity politics pot. Atheists themselves increasingly fight nasty battles over these issues -- at least online. (That’s how this sort of criticism leads to this sort of response.)
I had lunch a couple of years ago with a Yale colleague who is a committed atheist. He explained away the international data in pretty much the way one would expect: those other countries have to be liberated. They are mired in a false consciousness as the result of oppression and lack of education. In other words, people around the world who continue to believe in God are too stupid to understand the glittering truths that atheists see clearly.
The late Edward Said, in his classic work on imperialism, pointed out that an important step along the road is to describe those who are to be controlled as primitive. Not inhuman, but primitive. Therefore when the imperialist foists his system upon them, he is not oppressing them but improving them.
I’m not judging atheism here. There are atheists aplenty whose behavior is morally superior to that of many a religious believer. Activists in the atheist cause, however, would do well to come up with a better explanation than primitiveness of people of color for the rejection of their message in most of the developing world. In any case, these issues would offer a far meatier topic for CNN’s next exploration of atheism.
To contact the author on this story:
Stephen Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor on this story:
Stacey Shick at email@example.com
The worst form of rock music.
Sorry, but the Church of Harvey Fierstein has a strict "No Christians" policy.
Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...
Housing in Provo by BYU often advertises living standards that include following BYU's honor code.
On January 23rd, Andrew White was served an eviction notice by complex managers, ten days after a disagreement with his three male roommates escalated from gay slurs into physical violence.
A copy of the eviction notice alleges White had violated lease policies, including residential living standards, the "quiet enjoyment of others” and BYU's honor code. Details of the alleged violations were not provided in the notice.
However, in seeking more than $101,000 in damages, White argued he was wrongly evicted and said the apartment manager caused him emotional distress by disclosing information which had in the past "led directly to an assault on him and a loss of living quarters."
White says that when he refused to leave the apartment, the roommates entered his room, dragged him out of bed and began removing his personal belongings. The unnamed roommates are also alleged to have again threatened White with physical violence.
The suit was settled yesterday for an undisclosed sum. As part of the settlement, White said the lawsuit was a tenant dispute and not meant to imply discrimination by apartment management.
Earlier this month, Utah Governor Gary Herbert has signed a bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's nondiscrimination laws in housing and employment.
The 2015 New York State Budget now has $4.5 million in funding for homeless youth shelters, the first significant increase in seven years — thanks to Miley Cyrus. State Sen. Brad Hoylman said credit for convincing Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to include the funding belongs to the "Wrecking Ball" singer. "I want to thank Miley Cyrus for her advocacy in helping raise awareness through our #5000TooMany social media campaign," Hoylman said in a statement. "Miley’s advocacy on behalf of homeless kids made a difference and is a perfect example how star power can be used to help others." Cyrus sent a letter to the Albany power trio a week ago urging them to include the funding in the budget.State funding for homeless youth had been cut by two-thirds since 2008. The restored funding will reportedly pay for 1000 new shelter beds. The above-linked story does not specify how the new funding might be distributed to homeless LGBT youth services such as the Ali Forney Center.
Trollers going to troll
In an effort to improve its tanking image, SeaWorld launched a new advertising campaign this week to educate the public about its “leadership in the care of killer whales” and other work to protect whales in captivity and in the wild. “There’s been a lot of misinformation and even lies spread about SeaWorld, and we recognize that it has caused some people to have questions about the welfare of killer whales in human care,” David D’Alessandro, SeaWorld’s interim CEO, said in a release. “This long-term campaign will address those questions head on.”
As part of that head-on initiative, someone at SeaWorld decided to invite Twitter users to pose their questions to the company directly using the hashtag #AskSeaWorld. I’ll give you one guess as to how that went over.
As easy as it is to make fun of SeaWorld here, the real question is why any company still thinks hosting an open Twitter forum could be good for public relations. Let’s review some of the times this has backfired, starting with the infamous McDonald’s #McDStories Twitter campaign of January 2012. Rather than prompting customers to share their heart-warming McDonald’s anecdotes, the hashtag gave critics a highly visible forum to share their top McDonald’s horror stories. McDonald’s pulled the campaign, but the damage was done. “#McDStories: When a Hashtag Becomes a Bashtag,” Kashmir Hill quipped in Forbes.
Next up: In October 2013, British Gas set the Internet alight when it announced a major price increase in annual energy bills and then offered to field customer concerns on Twitter with the hashtag #AskBG. The company was quickly inundated with tweets demanding to know why prices had risen so much and why British Gas was so greedy. “My office has a window where the sun comes in and makes the side of my head really hot. How much do I owe you?” one user complained.
Just one month after that debacle, JPMorgan announced a “#TwitterTakeover” headlined with its first live Q&A. People were encouraged to submit their question using the hashtag #AskJPM. But before Jimmy Lee, JPMorgan’s vice chairman, could take the virtual stage, the bank started getting flooded with, er, pointedly critical queries from its audience. Here are a couple of the best ones:
JPMorgan canceled the Q&A.
I emailed SeaWorld to ask who at the company had dreamt up the #AskSeaWorld part of the new campaign; so far, no one’s responded. Meanwhile, the company’s PR team is clearly having a tough time. “We are trying to answer your questions but we have a few thousand trolls and bots to weed through,” SeaWorld’s main account tweeted, with a somewhat-disturbing GIF of a baby attached. Before that: “Jacking hashtags is so 2014. #bewareoftrolls” with a decidedly creepy GIF of a masked man frantically typing at a laptop, and “No time for bots and bullies.”
Let’s be honest: This is all a very bad idea. The “haters gonna hate strategy” is never particularly effective when you’re a brand under fire, and while puppies might help, weird GIFs don’t do much for the cause. So maybe SeaWorld’s social and PR folks just really have no idea what they’re doing. Even so, you’d think they’d have learned from the corporate failures before them. Twitter Q&As are a terrible idea. A well-meaning hashtag gives critics an easy way to assemble and voice their complaints in a public forum. Why companies still try them is a great mystery. Maybe they’ll all finally learn from SeaWorld and give this one horrible PR trick up for good.
I feel like we have known each other for so long, Mr. Pie Chart
Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer reunited on Thursday for a 50th anniversary screening of their hit film The Sound Of Music. The 79-year-old actress looked radiant in a loose white blouse, black jacket and matching trousers upon arrival at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Christopher, 85, was dapper in a black suit and blue dress shirt with dotted black tie. The screening featured a restored version of the musical and it opened the TCM Classic Film Festival that runs through Sunday. The restored 4K version of the film also will be screened at over 500 movie theatres in April. The 1965 film was an adaptation of the hit Broadway play by Rodgers & Hammerstein and both provided a fictionalized account of the life of Maria von Trapp.The first clip below is from last night's event.
I read this as Lincoln, the car line that has a hot guy just rambling on in self promotion with everyone looking on and expecting a crash.
I’d been a fan, but I’d never actually met her. Ten days before, she called and said, ‘I just want to be very sure that you’re OK with this, that I’m not offending in any way.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? Go for it. Enjoy it.’ We met face-to-face 45 seconds before we went on stage, so my actual first contact with her was when I walked on stage and gave her a hug. I subsequently spoke to her. We chatted for about 25 minutes. She sang very, very well. I was a fan, and now I’ve made a new friend… She did say, ‘It’s probably the biggest thing I’ve ever done.’ And so brave, in front of that audience to take that gamble. She worked very, very hard on it. I thought making that herculean effort and then handing it to me on a golden platter and walking off stage was amazingly generous. I’m the lucky lady that was asked to be in that great film. I never cease to be grateful, really.”
— Julie Andrews discussing Lady Gaga’s Academy Awards tribute to The Sound Of Music, which premiered 50 years ago and will be lavishly re-premiered tonight in Hollywood, in a new interview with Los Angeles Times
This (HOT) guy above is the coolest uncle EVER!
The Jewish Tinder? Like buttah.
Joe Simpson: Tongues are wagging!
1975 would be shocked by this 2015 Candy Bergen headline.
He didn't give up gay sex for Lent, he gave it up forever. (We'll see.)
Chris Hemsworth's hot butt.
King of pain.
Madonna still settling the score with Michigan.
College rugby studs get nude to fight LGBT domestic violence.
Workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory used organic cat litter to clean up nuclear waste. The litter triggered chemical reactions that later caused a drum to burst.
A yearlong investigation by government scientists has concluded that a major accident at a nuclear waste dump was caused by the wrong brand of cat litter.
The U.S. Department of Energy has released a 277-page report into an explosion that occurred on Feb. 14, 2014, at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. According to a summary of the report, the incident occurred when a single drum of nuclear waste, 68660, burst open.
As NPR reported shortly after the accident, cat litter was the chief suspect. The highly absorbent material is great at soaking up liquid nuclear waste, and it has been used for years in cleanup activities at the nation's nuclear laboratories.
Unfortunately, workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, also in New Mexico, apparently switched from inorganic clay litter to organic litter. According to the report, workers put the brand "Swheat Scoop" inside drum 68660.
"Experiments showed that various combinations of nitrate salt, Swheat Scoop®, nitric acid, and oxalate self-heat at temperatures below 100°C. Computer modeling of thermal runaway was consistent with the observed 70-day birth-to-breach of Drum 68660," the summary of the report concluded.
In other words, the litter caused the drum to burst after it arrived at the dump, releasing radioactive uranium, plutonium and americium throughout the underground facility.
WIPP has come under intense scrutiny since the accident for what critics say was a lax culture of safety and oversight. But the Energy Department wants the dump to get back to work. It hopes to reopen it early next year.
Evolutionary Biologists are evil people.
Hovertext: We're all doing relatively terrible. Thanks to the Information Age, we never forget!
Electromagnetic radiation might sound like something that you’d be better off avoiding, but electromagnetic waves of various kinds underpin our senses and how we interact with the world—from the light emissions through which your eyes perceive these words to the microwaves that carry the Wi-Fi signal to your laptop or phone on which you’re reading it.
More or less every form of modern communication is carried by electromagnetic waves. They whisk through the antenna on your car, travel through walls whenever you need to make a phone call inside, yet also inexplicably reflect from seemingly nothing in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
This happens because the atmosphere becomes a plasma at high altitudes—a state of matter where atoms split apart and electrons are no longer bound to their parent nuclei. Plasmas have interesting properties, as they react very strongly to electromagnetic fields. In this case usefully: At low enough frequencies it becomes possible to bounce radio signals around the world, extending their range.
It’s the interesting interactions between high-powered electromagnetic waves and plasmas that my research group and I study. The most intense electromagnetic waves in the world are found in the form of high-power laser pulses. The U.K. hosts some of the most powerful laser systems in rural Oxfordshire, and the same idea of using electromagnetic waves to accelerate particles is used at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
We can accurately predict the interactions of intense electromagnetic waves and plasmas, as the underlying physical processes are governed by Maxwell’s equations—one of the triumphs of 19th-century physics that united electric and magnetic fields and demonstrated that light is a form of electromagnetic wave.
Solving Maxwell’s equations by hand can be tortuous, but it transpires that a clever algorithm invented in the 1960s and rediscovered since makes the exercise relatively simple given a sufficiently powerful computer.
Armed with the knowledge of Maxwell’s equations and how to solve them, I recently turned my attention to a much simpler but more widespread problem, that of how to simulate and therefore improve the Wi-Fi reception in my flat. While “sufficiently powerful” in an academic sense often means supercomputers with tens of thousands of processors running in parallel, in this case, the sufficiently powerful computer required to run the program turned out to be a smartphone.
The electromagnetic radiation emanating from the antenna in your wireless router is caused by a small current oscillating at 2.4 GHz (2.4 billion times per second). In my model I introduced a current like this and allowed it to oscillate, and Maxwell’s equations dictated how the resulting electromagnetic waves flow. By mapping in the actual locations of the walls in my flat, I was able to produce a map of the Wi-Fi signal strength, which varied as I moved the virtual router.
The first lesson is clear, if obvious: Wi-Fi signals travel much more easily through free space than walls, so the ideal router position has line-of-sight to where you’ll be using it.
Sometimes it appears that the waves have stopped changing, and instead flicker in the same places. This is the phenomenon of a standing wave, where Wi-Fi reflections overlap and cancel each other out. These dark spots on the map (or “not spots”) indicate a low Wi-Fi signal, and are separated by several centimeters. Recently, a fellow enthusiast managed to map this phenomenon in three dimensions, as explained in this video.
So the second lesson is less obvious and more interesting: If reception is poor in a particular position, even a slight change of the router’s position may produce significant improvement in signal strength, as any signal dark spots will also move.
After publishing my findings I was struck by the number of people eager to perform simulations of their own. Ever eager to spread the gospel of electromagnetism, I bundled the simulation into an Android app to provide others with a simulated electromagnetic wave-based solution to a common modern problem: Where’s the best place for my Wi-Fi router?
Assuming few would be interested, I was surprised when news spread via social media and several thousand copies of the app sold over the course of a few hours.
Sales have gradually dwindled, but the message remains clear: Not only are electromagnetic waves fascinating, mathematically elegant, and supremely useful, they can make your life easier, your internet connection stronger, and even make you a bit of money too.
Australian comedian Jim Jefferies was the victim of a home invasion once. He was tied up and beaten, and his girlfriend was threatened with rape. So you might think he'd sympathize with the idea that Americans want guns to protect their families. Quite the opposite — he does an excellent job of summing up why so many foreigners are baffled by America's gun culture:
In Australia, we had the biggest massacre on earth, and the Australian government went: "That's it! NO MORE GUNS." And we all went, "Yeah, all right then, that seems fair enough, really."
Now in America, you had the Sandy Hook massacre, where little tiny children died. And your government went, "Maybe ... we'll get rid of the big guns?" And 50 percent of you went, "FUCK YOU, DON'T TAKE MY GUNS."
He continues with a blistering smackdown of the idea that Americans seek guns to keep their families safe:
You have guns because you like guns! That's why you go to gun conventions; that's why you read gun magazines! None of you give a shit about home security. None of you go to home security conventions. None of you read Padlock Monthly. None of you have a Facebook picture of you behind a secure door.
He doesn't see at all how a gun would have helped him when his home was broken into. "I was naked at the time. I wasn't wearing my holster." How exactly would a gun have protected him? he asks. Was he supposed to be crouched at his windowsill, gun cocked, waiting on high alert for intruders?
WATCH: 'What happens to your knuckles when you crack them'
By the way. Most people who are breaking into your house just want your fucking TV! You think that people are coming to murder your family? How many fucking enemies do you have?
Actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie Pitt says she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer.
Writing in The New York Times, Jolie Pitt, 39, who had a preventive double mastectomy two years ago, said she carried a mutation in a gene that gave her an "estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer." Both her mother and grandmother died of cancer, she said.
"It is not easy to make these decisions," she wrote. "But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue."
Jolie Pitt wrote that she had planned to have the procedure for some time, but her doctor called her two weeks ago with results from a blood test. She said he told her that there were some "inflammatory markers that are elevated, and taken together they could be a sign of early cancer." An ultrasound examination revealed nothing. She wrote:
"I was relieved that if it was cancer, it was most likely in the early stages. If it was somewhere else in my body, I would know in five days. I passed those five days in a haze, attending my children's soccer game, and working to stay calm and focused.
"The day of the results came. The PET/CT scan looked clear, and the tumor test was negative. I was full of happiness, although the radioactive tracer meant I couldn't hug my children. There was still a chance of early stage cancer, but that was minor compared with a full-blown tumor. To my relief, I still had the option of removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes and I chose to do it."
Jolie Pitt, a mother of six, said she had the laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy last week.
She said she made her decision public to help "other women at risk to know about the options." But she added:
"I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally."
You can read the full piece here.
so glad it is over. i just wanted to see what the next jump the shark show would be towards the end.
Glee — remember Glee? — the once enjoyable, then completely baffling, musical comedy about high-school glee club members ends its six-season run Friday, March 20, on Fox at 8 pm Eastern. The show ends with 121 episodes, seemingly every one a little more incoherent than the last.
I reviewed the first three seasons of the show for the A.V. Club and kept up fitfully with later seasons. The general consensus is that Glee's best season was its 22-episode first season, which is true. But I would go further than that. The best "season" of Glee is actually its first 13 episodes, produced in one chunk, before the last nine episodes of season one were produced later.
And I might go one further than even that. Though it produced better episodes, the best version of Glee is the one presented in the pilot — a story about high-school kids with big dreams and a teacher who screwed up all of his own dreams but wanted to give these kids a better shot.
Yes, it was funny. Yes, it was a little caustic. But it was, at its core, about sad, desperate people longing for a better life. It was the kind of conflict great shows are built around — think a sort of Friday Night Lights for kids who were really into show choir.
So if you want to know when Glee "turned bad," it wasn't somewhere in season two or three. No, it was in the second episode.
Near the end of the pilot, Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), the teacher who never saw his own performing career advance past his high-school glee club days, learns that his wife (Jessalyn Gilsig) is pregnant. The two don't have a healthy marriage, and they're clearly trying to have a child to save that marriage.
Facing the birth of his child, Will decides to stop teaching and become an accountant, where at least he'll make more money, even if he finds the work less rewarding. Then he walks into the school's auditorium and sees this:
End of pilot.
It's a great TV moment, filled with hope and sadness and dozens of conflicting emotions. You know Will is going to stay. You know he's going to put his life on the line to stay. And you know that these kids and their teacher are going to push one another to their furthest limits.
In the very next episode, though, the series completely reverses itself. Will's wife isn't pregnant. She's faking a pregnancy to keep her husband interested, and she'll fake that pregnancy for most of those first 13 episodes. That fake pregnancy was an early example of some of the show's faults, like its propensity to stack up campy, melodramatic storytelling against honest human emotion and its occasionally awful attitudes toward its female characters.
But this moment signaled that Glee was always going to fall apart in a more concrete way, as well. It indicated this was going to be a show where the characters never actually had to make hard choices or do difficult things. Will wouldn't have to choose between his dreams and his child, because he wasn't actually going to have a child. It immediately diminished the dramatic stakes, and it was indicative of many other choices the show would make in this regard through the years.
TV shows can't succeed without stakes — dramatic, for the plot, and emotional, for the characters. Yes, having Will choose his own happiness over his child's financial wellbeing might have made him harder to "like" on a superficial level, but giving him exactly what he wants without him having to work for it eventually made him insufferable.
By its end, Glee did something like that with nearly every character. Rachel (Lea Michele) didn't get into the performing arts school of her dreams, until she did. Quinn (Dianna Agron) gave up her baby for adoption, then became a part of the baby's life. And so on. Sacrifice was only illusory at best.
There were plenty of great moments, but one choice in episode two indicated that everything that came next would always be a little hollow. And, ultimately, that's what happened.
The Glee finale airs at 8 pm Eastern on March 20, 2015. Previous seasons are available on Netflix.
look for the beard necessities
There are a lot of beards and other types of facial hair in Major League Baseball. In case you're wondering how many and at what level, the Washington Post has you covered with a breakdown.
Patches of hair with varied density represent the hairiness of each team. Click on a team to see the beard style of each player, scored on a scale of 0 to 8. A score of zero means clean shaven and an 8 means the player probably has to spend time at the end of each day picking out food bits off his face.
The Washington Nationals top the list, and the New York Yankees, the only team with a clean-cut policy has zeros across the board.
Related: the trustworthiness of beards.
If he's a nurse anesthetist, he could be making $17,290 a year more than his female counterparts.
Women outnumber men in the nursing profession by more than 10 to 1. But men still earn more, a new study finds.
Even after controlling for age, race, marital status and children in the home, males in nursing outearned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.
And as men flowed into nursing over the past decades, the pay gap did not narrow over the years studied: 1988 to 2013. The report was published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.
Men made up about 9 percent of registered nurses in 2011, according to the Census Bureau, roughly a threefold increase from 1970. And even though men were not permitted in nursing programs at some schools until the 1980s, they have overall earned more, just as in society at large.
The biggest disparity was for nurse anesthetists, with men earning $17,290 more.
The data don't suggest why men earn more, according to Ulrike Muench, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, and the study's lead author. Though "some have suggested men have better negotiating skills" and are able to start out earning higher salaries, she says.
Jennifer Stewart, who oversees nursing and other workforce issues at the health research group The Advisory Board, agrees that's one possibility. "Also maybe some gender discrimination," she adds.
But most people who study nursing trends say this is a difficult problem to sort out.
For example, Stewart says that because men have joined the profession more recently, women tend to be more senior nurses. But as such, they get to work preferred day shifts, even though night and weekend shifts tend to pay more.
Peter McMenamin, a health economist at the American Nurses Association, says that while ANA policy "is that there should be pay equity," he's not convinced the problem is as large as the study suggests. For one thing, he says, with so many women compared to men in the study, the numbers for women "are much more precise."
But no one questions the overall finding that men outearn women. And that is "dismaying," says McMenamin. "We would like any differentials in pay to be based on skills and experience and not on gender," he says.
(A few years ago I was working as a hostess in a restaurant. One night, two men come in and ask for a table. I lead them to an available one.)
Older Man: “We can’t sit at this table.”
Me: “I’m sorry. Is there something wrong?”
Older Man: “We just can’t sit here; move us somewhere else.”
(I’m confused, as the table I was seating them at was actually our most popular one. I start walking toward a manager to ask where I should move them, when the two young, clean, nicely-dressed men at the next table happen to get up to leave.)
Older Man: “It’s okay! We can sit here now!”
(I realize this guy assumed the two young men were gay, and could apparently not eat in their vicinity. I relate what happened to my (gay) manager and the (straight) server.)
Manager: “[Server], you’re only allowed to talk to these guys as if you’re the gayest person on this planet.”
(I will never forget the look of horror on the men’s faces when the server, a huge, beefy black man, started telling them the specials while sounding like a drag queen.)
Emmy Noether was one of the most brilliant and important mathematicians of the 20th century. She altered the course of modern physics. Einstein called her a genius. Yet today, almost nobody knows who she is.
In 1915, Noether uncovered one of science's most extraordinary ideas, proving that every symmetry found in nature has a corresponding law of conservation. So, for example, the fact that physical laws work the same today as they did yesterday turns out to be related to the notion that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Noether's theorem is a deep insight that underpins much of modern-day physics and things like the search for the Higgs boson.
Even so, as one of the very few female mathematicians working in Germany in her day, Noether faced rampant sexism. As a young woman, she wasn't allowed to formally attend university. Even after proving herself a first-rate mathematician, male faculties were reluctant to hire her. If that wasn't enough, in 1933, the Nazis ousted her for being Jewish. Even today, she remains all-too obscure.
That should change. So it’s welcome news that Google is honoring Noether today with a Google Doodle on her 133rd birthday. To celebrate, here's an introduction to the life and work of a woman Albert Einstein once called "the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced."
Emmy Noether doesn't need your tenure-track position. (Wikimedia Commons)
Amalie Emmy Noether was born in 1882 in Erlangen, Germany, to a family of mathematicians. Her father, Max Noether, was a professor at the University of Erlangen. Her brother Fritz later proved worthy in the field of applied math.
Despite this fertile background, it wasn't obvious that Emmy could become a mathematician too. German universities rarely accepted female students at the time. She had to beg the faculty at Erlangen to let her audit math courses. It was only after she dominated her exams that the school relented, giving her a degree and letting her pursue graduate studies.
Her early work focused on invariants in algebra, looking at which aspects of mathematical functions stay unchanged if you apply certain transformations to them. (To give a very basic example of an invariant, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is always the same — it's always π — no matter how big or small you make the circle.) Noether studied invariants for polynomial functions and made some impressive advances.**
Her work got noticed, and, in 1915, the renowned mathematician David Hilbert lobbied for the University of Göttingen to hire her. But other male faculty members blocked the move, with one arguing: "What will our soldiers think when they return to the university and find that they are required to learn at the feet of a woman?" So Hilbert had to take Noether on as a guest lecturer for four years. She wasn't paid, and her lectures were often billed under Hilbert's name. She didn't get a full-time position until 1919.
That didn't stop Noether from doing trail-blazing work in a number of areas, especially abstract algebra. Rather than focusing on real numbers and polynomials — the algebraic equations we learn in high school — Noether was interested in abstract structures, like rings or groups, that obey certain rules. Abstract algebra was one of the big mathematical innovations of the 20th century, and Noether was hugely influential in shaping it.
But perhaps Noether’s most consequential work came in another field: physics. In 1915, Einstein published his general theory of relativity, showing that gravity was a property of space and time, and the University of Göttingen was all abuzz with the the discovery. Hilbert asked Noether to apply her work on algebraic invariants to the equations in Einstein's theory.
In the process, Noether made a startling discovery of her own.
The hunt for the Higgs Boson can be traced back to Noether's insight on symmetries. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
To put it very simply, what Noether's theorems show is that anytime there’s a symmetry in a physical system, there’s a related law of conservation.
Here's an example: Let's say we conduct a scientific experiment today. If we then conduct the exact same experiment tomorrow, we'd expect the laws of physics to behave in exactly the same way. This is "time symmetry." Noether showed that if a system has time symmetry, then energy can't be created or destroyed in that system — we get the law of conservation of energy.
Likewise, if we do an experiment, and then do the exact same experiment again 20 miles to the east, that shouldn't make any difference — the laws of physics should work the exact same way in both places. This is known as "translation symmetry." Noether showed that translation symmetry leads to the law of conservation of momentum.
Finally, if we put our experiment on a table and rotate the table 90 degrees, that shouldn't affect the laws of physics, either. This is known as "rotational symmetry." But if rotational symmetry holds in a system, then angular momentum is always conserved. (That is, if you have a spinning bicycle wheel, it should spin in the same direction forever unless friction slows it down.)
This was a stunning revelation. Noether had linked concepts as different as time and energy. What's more, she had showed there was a deep connection between certain abstract algebraic structures — those that deal with symmetry — and physics. As David Goldberg details in his book The Universe in the Rearview Mirror, physicists soon began hunting for yet more symmetries.
In 1954, Chen Ning Yang and Robert Mills showed that other types of algebraic symmetries could describe the behavior of a vast array of particles and forces. In 1962, physicist Murray Gell-Mann was able to predict the existence of a new particle after simply studying symmetries written on a blackboard. (That particle was later confirmed by a particle accelerator.) In 1964, Peter Higgs used symmetries to predict the existence of the Higgs boson — a particle that was found in 2012 by the Large Hadron Collider.
The idea that purely mathematical structures could help find new particles in the physical world is astonishing, when you think about it. And it traces back to a discovery Emmy Noether made in 1915.
A postcard showing the University of Erlangen in 1915. (Wikimedia Commons)
Noether continued doing vital mathematical work in abstract algebra and topology all through the 1920s and 1930s. But her career at at Göttingen was cut short when the Nazis came to power in 1932.
As a Jewish academic — and a woman at that — Noether didn't stand much of a chance in Nazi Germany. She was fired from her post, and, in 1933, she fled to the United States to teach at Bryn Mawr College. Unfortunately, her life was cut short. Less than two years later, she died at the age of 53, following surgery for an ovarian cyst.
Shortly after Noether's death, in 1935, Albert Einstein wrote a beautiful letter to The New York Times praising her genius and recalling fondly her time at Bryn Mawr:
In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraeulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since higher education of women began. In the realm of algebra, in which the most gifted mathematicians have been busy for centuries, she discovered methods which have proved of enormous importance in the development of the present-day younger generation of mathematicians.
Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. One seeks the most general ideas of operation which will bring together in simple, logical and unified form the largest possible circle of formal relationships. In this effort toward logical beauty spiritual formulae are discovered necessary for the deeper penetration into the laws of nature. ...
Her unselfish, significant work over a period of many years was rewarded by he new rulers of Germany with a dismissal, which cost her the means of maintaining her simple life and the opportunity to carry on her mathematical studies. Farsighted friends of science in this country were fortunately able to make such arrangements at Bryn Mawr College and at Princeton that she found in America up to the day of her death not only colleagues who esteemed her friendship but grateful pupils who enthusiasm made her last years the happiest and perhaps the most fruitful of her entire career.
Today, Emmy Noether remains relatively unknown outside of math circles. In 2012, physicist David Goldberg told the New York Times that most of his colleagues and students had never heard of her: "Surprisingly few could say exactly who she was or why she was important."
It's about time to fix that.
** In her 1907 dissertation, for instance, Noether studied degree-four polynomials with three variables. She found that these polynomials had 331 independent invariants, and all other invariants depended on these. This was a mind-numbing feat of calculation — she later described it as "a jungle of formulas." She soon moved on to bigger, conceptual insights.
-- In 2012, Natalie Angier wrote a beautiful profile of Noether for The New York Times. She's got some great additional biographical details.
-- This paper by UCLA's Nina Byers offers an excellent history of Noether's conservation theorems and their importance to physics.
-- This post at the blog Gravity and Levity offers a wonderful illustration of how Noether's theorem is useful in everyday physics.
-- The Princeton Companion to Mathematics, edited by Timothy Gowers, has a brief and lucid discussion of Noether's mathematical work.
[unable to retrieve full-text content]"States United To Prevent Gun Violence opens a fake gun store in NYC as hidden camera social experiment to debunk safety myths."
10% of California water is used on Almonds. Say goodbye to Blue Diamond for a few years.
As California limps through another nearly rain-free rainy season, the state is taking increasingly bold action to save water.
On Tuesday, the California state government imposed new mandatory restrictions on lawn watering and incentives to limit water use in hotels and restaurants as part of its latest emergency drought regulations. On Thursday, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced a $1 billion plan to support water projects statewide and speed aid to hard-hit communities already dealing with shortages. Last month federal water managers announced a “zero allocation” of agricultural water to a key state canal system for the second year in a row, essentially transforming thousands of acres of California farmland into dust.
This week’s moves come after the state has fallen behind targets to increase water efficiency in 2015 amid the state’s worst drought in 1,200 years. Last year, voters passed a $7.5 billion water bond and the legislature approved its first-ever restrictions on groundwater pumping, which won’t go into full effect until 2025. Stricter, more immediate limits on water use are possible as summer approaches.
But it’s not enough. These moves are small potatoes compared to what’s needed to rein in statewide water use, of which agriculture forms the vast majority. Last week, a pair of op-eds, one in the Guardian, the other in the Los Angeles Times, spoke with urgency about the West’s growing water crisis.
“California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain,” wrote NASA water scientist and University of California-Irvine professor Jay Famiglietti. A better plan, he said, was for “immediate mandatory water rationing” across the state. Famiglietti’s work has focused on the shocking recent declines in groundwater across the West, where excessive pumping has caused the ground to sink at rates up to a foot per year and a measurable rise in global sea levels.
Underlying the frantic, short-term search for water is an ominous underlying trend that threatens to fundamentally transform America’s most important agricultural state. Climate change may have already initiated a new megadrought.
But first, a reality check: California’s cities have more than enough water to withstand the current drought and then some. They simply don’t use that much. Not true for agriculture, which uses 80 percent of California’s water—10 percent of that just on almonds. Though it’s still a national powerhouse, fed increasingly by fast-depleting groundwater supplies, the state’s agriculture industry has likely begun a long-term decline due mostly to simple math. Abnormally dry conditions have dominated in 11 of the last 15 years, and the cuts have to come from somewhere. Agriculture is the elephant in the ever-shrinking room of California water.
Statewide, California’s snowpack is now at a record low—just 12 percent of normal, and less than half of last year’s astonishingly meager total. Normally, California’s snowpack holds the equivalent of about 15 million acre-feet of water around its traditional April 1 peak, about as much as all the state’s reservoirs combined. This year, it’s as if half of the state’s water reserves simply vanished. It’s difficult to imagine the hardship the state will face this summer as the rivers of snowmelt that normally feed the state during the dry season dwindle dangerously. As I wrote last year during my drought-themed reporting trip across the West, California just wasn’t built to handle a world without snow.
But it’s not just California. It’s been freakishly hot out West all winter. Other states are also suffering, with record low water levels expected this year in the two major reservoirs on the Colorado River—Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The warm winter has helped to dry up the land even more, and pre-emptively melt what little snow has graciously fallen.
If a megadrought has already begun—and there is increasingly strong evidence to support that it has, or will soon—there will be widespread implications, including a significant reshifting of California agriculture outside the state. The California of the past is gone, and climate change is bringing a new one faster than it seems we’re ready for.