April 12th, 2014

Apr-12-2014 | Comments (0)

Tikkunista’s back, and before we get to Canadian politics and how the world’s struggles for power play out, here are some music and sounds. Groove to an awesome video, upbeat visually, spiritually, and musically. It’s from the Brown Rice Family, and it’s called Latin Goes Ska. You’ll feel happier for watching it. If you want to learn about some of those strange dance moves, this 3 minute video covers the A–Z of Dance. There’s a new Wu-Tang Clan album out, one that challenges the structure of the industry. Read about it: one copy only, sold by auction. (Didn’t work for Van Gogh, did it?) The Flaming Lips’ ‘Flaming Side of the Moon‘ syncs up with the Pink Floyd classic (as well as ‘The Wizard of Oz’). And they’re not dead yet (except for Graham Chapman): Monty Python releases a new video: The Silly Walks Song. A fascinating piece on Tom Lehrer explores where he is now, and why he gave up fame and stardom. It also features some previously unreleased songs. Jesse Winchester died this week– here’s a fine obituary, and a last great song, “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding.” And if none of this music gets your cochlea dancing, here’s a useful link to hundreds of hours of high-quality nature sounds: birds, rivers, oceans, rain, or clouds. (Really, that’s what it says. Let me know…)

And now, it’s on to the Meaning of Life, or some approximations there-to. Alan Lightman, who is a dual professor of Literature and Physics at MIT, has some thoughts about Science and Spirituality, and finding Godliness in the Known and the Unknowable. Also from Brainpickings, a fascinating exploration of mood science and the evolutionary benefits of depression. (Tnx, Gord.) Too black? Here’s something I wouldn’t have believed: “Unsung Hero” is a deeply moving 3 minute meditation on kindness by Thai Life Insurance. Next week features the coming of the Apocalypse, with a Blood Moon eclipse on April 15th (CNN’s saner explanation here). After the IPCC report George Monbiot ponders which parts of the world to give up in the “adjustment” to climate change. Progress does depend on perspective: in The silencing of the Deaf, high-tech implants are being blamed for killing an entire subculture. (If you’ve read this and are curious, here’s a simulation of cochlear implants listening to speech and music. )

And after the chaotic noise of those implants, what could be more appropriate than looking at Canadian politics? The voices of the Québeçois were loud and clear this week, as they rejected the Parti Québeçois. Michael Den Tandt explores four catastrophic miscalculations in the Pauline Marois’ election campaign, Gerald Caplan makes the provocative assertion that the NDP was the landslide winner of Quebec’s election (they weren’t running, though that’s not why). For those of you who don’t have the numbers memorized, this interesting graph shows the percentage of popular vote in the last 44 years of Quebec provincial elections. Outside of Quebec, Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, risks Canada’s democratic legitimacy and future fair elections. Why are the PC’s doing this? Two clues: in “Is Canada Tarring Itself?” the NY Times chronicles Harper’s desperado petro-state strategy. And CTV reports that the richest 86 people in Canada have as much wealth as poorest 11 million. Side note: your editor noticed this week that “Stephen Harper” is an exact anagram for “Panther Herpes”

So it’s a power struggle between the .01% of the haves, and the rest of us? The Guardian reports “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet: the supreme court just made US elections even more undemocratic and corruptible.” In Australia, the government may ban environmental boycotts. Venezuela’s struggle is widely misrepresented in western media. It’s the same struggle, between right and left, rich and poor. And there is resistance: while Donald Trump muses on the millions that stand to be made by privatizing education, Common Dreams offers four arguments that scream “save public education!”, and Esquire Magazine argues Edward Snowden is the best kind of American leader. On the other side, Doonesbury shows the GOP trying to buy a narrative from MyFacts©, supporting your reality since 2003. It’s almost enough to make one join the people who opt out of society—homesteaders, back-to-the-landers, anti-government survivalists.

Perhaps it’s time to move somewhere else? A useful first step is comparative homicide rates by country, world wide (2012). Globalpost offers possibly (?) useful listing of the cheapest and most expensive places in the world to get your drugs. How others see us: 10 Japanese Travel Tips for Visiting America (#4: Nobody is impressed by how much you can drink.) Know your competition: here are 10 great entrants from The 2014 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest (one taken with an iPhone!). Do you know the difference between a cruise liner and an ocean liner? Or what a bulbous bow is? All that, and some fine photos on Twisted Sifter. Either liner sounds way better than this, the least appealing form of transport you’ve ever seen. And on Reddit, a guy posts the story of meeting – and losing- love of life while travelling. Love of life shows up and posts back. Awww.

“It’s just a little bug in the system.” Some bugs are harmful, some are amusing, and some are helpful. It all depends on the colour of hat you’re wearing. Heartbleed is the big one this week, so you can either read Mashable on “The Passwords You Need to Change Right Now”, or The Guardian’s “Don’t Rush To Update Passwords, Security Experts Warn .” A man in China found a bug that allowed him to use his first-class airline ticket to get free meals in airport’s VIP lounge for almost a year…and then get a refund on the ticket. Learn the bug trick Dropbox uses to know when you’re sharing copyrighted stuff without actually looking at your stuff (and compress your files to get around them.) Here’s the website that will let you watch any sports event live, free. A little bug in the weather system results in the stunning photo of a tornado approaching a minor league baseball game. And a bigger bug in the military system: after Iraq and Afghanistan nearly 1 million soldiers traumatized with PTSD.

A selection of short and funny items. A class pranks their teacher for April fools’ day; teacher is very cool. Honey Maid Makes Love (and a Great Ad) Out of Homophobia. Eleven Weird Books that really exist (i.e. #6 Does God Ever Speak Through Cats?) If you ever have a lot of apples to peel, here’s how to use a power drill to peel them in seconds. Here’s a graphic showing the little-known fact that pregnant women are good sources of wifi. But the ne-plus-ultra is this great Generic Brand Video. Hilarious!

Sometimes when you try something really challenging, it works. Sometimes, not so much. Here’s a great video demonstrating the dangers of insecure high pressure cylinders in a highway accident. I think you’ll find it convincing. Some people do marvellous tricks and make it look easy– viewer discretion advised. Here’s a double backflip over a 180 ft wide halfpipe, and double something on a bicycle. Chance can make anything more challenging: this skydiver is almost struck by meteorite: his camera films it whizzing by. If you can find 11 like-minded friends, here’s a cool skipping-rope trick you can do. Or not. Everything is tougher the first time: here are 17 baby elephants learning how to use their trunks. (Tnx, Diana). The New Zealand All-Blacks perform their ritual dance, The Haka, in a rainstorm after winning the Hong Kong Sevens Tournament. Randall Rosenthal carves a block of wood so that it looks like a stack of magazines and papers; Bing Wright photographs sunsets, projects the images onto broken mirrors, then re-photographs the reflection; Liu Bolin paints his body to merge with his background. Go one, try to find him hidden in those Columbian bags. That’ll keep you going until the next issue, I suspect.

March 28th, 2014

Mar-28-2014 | Comments Off

Hey, we’re back! And with a way longer overview than ever before thanks to recent advances in science, which let us see back to a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. The NY Times broke the news, with “Detection of Gravity Waves in Space Buttresses Landmark Theory of Inflationary Big Bang”; The New Yorker simplified it a bit, with “A scientific breakthrough lets us see to the beginning of time”. PHDComics explains cosmic inflation in a mere 20 panels. On a human level, watch this awesome film of Stanford Professor Andrei Linde and his wife being surprised at home with the news his theory of cosmic inflation was right. Still on space, Chris Hatfield has a wonderful TED talk on what he learned from going blind in space: “There is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.” Words to live by, say I. And for those of you who want to print BIG pictures, here’s a link to Nasa’s 867 billion pixelmosaic image of the moon (Tnx, Spidey).

Science leads into education. But, really everything leads into education. Read David Foster Wallace’s sole public speech, his wise and compassionate Kenyon commencement address, “What is Water?”. Sir Kenneth Robinson has his excellent speech on changing educational paradigms animated by the clever hands at RSA, while a kindergarten teacher eloquently explains why now that “My job is now about tests and data — not children. I quit.” Useful personal education section: even if YOU don’t know what faith you are, Belief-O-Matic knows. Answer 20 questions… and it’ll tell you. (I scored 100% Unitarian. But I knew that.) What I didn’t know (and you probably don’t either) is how to escape from a stuck elevator. May you never need that knowledge. And learn why Chris Grayling, (UK ‘Justice’ Secretary) has banned prisoners from being sent books.

War Tard is back! His sterling piece on Russia vs NATO: Ukraine, Crimea and the new Cold War. (“The lesson is never give up your nukes.”) is essential to understanding what’s happening, though Al Jazeera’s external perspective, “Reckless in Kiev: Why Obama and Putin must desist from military interventions in other countries’ affairs.” isn’t at all bad. Useful for quick one image insights (equivalent to 989 words, at the current exchange rate) is this look at majority languages throughout the Ukraine, as of 2001.

A quick set of interesting pieces on other conflicts: Aljazeera’s “Death in the Desert” looks at the dangerous trek between Mexico and Arizona (Tnx, Gabe). The Atlantic’s “My Life as a Retail Worker: Nasty, Brutish, and Poor” is an excellent look at those trickled down on. Once again fashionable fascism dominates the scene, as the Parti Québécois proposes banning the burka. And in the conflict between politics and reality, Stephen Harper has steered Canada into dead last in ranking for environmental protection of 27 countries in OECD. Quel surprise. Pas. In a fascinating AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, two nuclear engineers debunk some Fukushima fears. (Eating a pound of pacific tuna every day for a year would increase your chances of getting cancer by 1 in 5 million.)

And now we’re building up to architecture. Check out, before you spend it, how many square feet of property a million dollars will buy you in various American cities. Perhaps a wiser alternative is to invest in a collapsible woven refugee shelter powered by the sun (tnx, Linda). Unavailable for sale, but hugely worth a visit is the Nasir al-Mulk ‘Pink Mosque’ Of Iran, which is much like stepping into a kaleidoscope. Now that we have shelter, we need some food. Start with a cup of coffee (which is fuelling drugs for diseases from Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s), made with an Aeropress: the $30 plastic device which makes the world’s best cup of coffee (Thanks, Wendy!). Here’s a set of foods painted to look like other foods. Can you guess the originals? Meet sexy Ms Radish, and spot the monkey in the shadow of the bananas. You found it? Congratulations– have a yummy cactus muffin. OK, have two.

On to the animals. Here’s “My Dog Days”, a moving NY Times’ essay by Arthur Phillips on the passing of life, and dogs. Or take a gander at Crufts 2014: the world’s biggest dog show, where dogs are coiffed to within an inch of their lives. For a more active dog, check out this video of what might be the World’s Fastest Trail Dog. The Winners Highlights from the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards aren’t all dogs, but they start with one at least. Here’s a close-up photo shows really clearly why you don’t want to fight with eagles. And if you’re a fish, you don’t want to fight with pelicans. But you might want to sock it to a shark. (Available on Etsy, btw)

March 7th, 2014

Mar-07-2014 | Comments Off

We start by catching up on the Crimea, and offer some perspectives that aren’t getting traction in the western media. Eric Walberg gives a good background on Russian and Ukrainian history, contrasting the Ukrainian coup with the Egyptian. The Guardian gives a look at how the Ukrainian coup is being portrayed as a fight against fascism in Russia, and the Toronto Star similarly examines how the Crimean takeover looks to Russia. Widening the lens from the specific, Stephen Walt, (now emerged from behind the FP firewall), takes a realist’s view on how Obama gambled that U.S. power would trump Russia’s interests in Ukraine. (He was wrong.) And Juan Cole looks at the ripples he sees spreading into the Middle East, arguing that Syria and Iran will gain. Interesting times…

On a cheerier note, Jan Brewer, Governor of Arizona, vetoed the “right to discriminate against gays” bill, saying, “Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is nondiscrimination.” The New Yorker explores her view, while the Washington Post looks at how Apple, the NFL and other big businesses helped kill the Arizona bill. According to the most recent polls, over half of Americans, (and 69% of people in their 20’s and 30s) now support gay marriage. That’s a 21% jump in the past decade. So to help prepare you, here’s a cartoonthat shows how to explain gay marriage to kids.

There’s a tendency among the right to view privatization as a solution to all problems (in particular the politicians’ problem of taking responsibility). Ian Welsh has a wonderful piece on this, “The Four Principles of Prosperity” an intelligent analysis of how to make society work. Would that it were required reading! Moving from the general to the specific, Yes Magazine examines the myths behind public school failure: how privitization destroys schools. Truth Out looks at America’s for profit private prison system, within which states guarantee that there will be enough prisoners to keep the prisons full. (By contrast, the Netherlandsis just closing 19 prisons due to lack of criminals.)

So what are we learning about how people think, and what are best practices should you have to deal with other people? Well, Megan McArdle writes entertainingly (and convincingly) in Bloombergs on why it’s vitally important to let kids fail. In On Being, a deeply moving film shows a World War II veteran’s story of what happens when we choose vulnerability and love over anger and hatred. In a startlingly titled piece, Tiffany blogs why “I’m Giving Up the Fight Against Cancer. And You Should Too”. (Tnx, Gabe) More universally applicable, perhaps, is an analysis of the data on how long to nap for the biggest brain benefits. A cartoon that’s been wending its way through the web delightfully contrasts the difference between Mind Full and Mindful. And (related) Tara Brach reads from Mary Oliver’s “Dog Songs”: the beauty of unconditional love, at its sweetest.

It seems to have been an excellent few weeks for quizzes, and here are some that may entertain you. Find out what famous work of art you are. (I seem to be “The Treachery of Images”, by René Magritte (AKA Ceci n’est pas une pipe.)) Test whether you can recognize the artist from just a small piece of his piece? (Apparently, I can: 14/15). A clever idea for a short quiz looks at whether you can spot the difference between Islamophobia and Nazi propaganda. In the Guardian, John McNally looks at his top 10 true or false science facts. (How can it be a fact, if it’s false?) And answering these 15 questions will determine how food literateyou are (or aren’t). (Tnx, Murray!)

We start into a longish art section by looking people making art. NPR takes on the myth that good art is popular because it’s good. Right? (No, and they have a study that proves it.) The Guardian looks at the surprisingly complex question of who’s the vandal: Ai Weiwei or the man who smashed his Han urn? (tnx, Gabe) The New Yorker suggests using a camera to get a first draft of a written piece (after all, you can get the equivalent of a thousand words done in 1/500 of a second.) And the mighty Twisted Sifter offers a surprisingly easy way to make gifs look three dimensional in one step, with some clever and fun examples. (Even if you can’t imagine ever doing such a thing, it’s a fascinating revelation on how we perceive depth.) And for some examples of art, here’s Latvian photographer Kaija Straumanis’ work, “Stuff Being Thrown at My Head.” Two from the Sifter, Christopher David White’s hyperrealistic ‘Wood’ Sculptures are actually ceramic, and the melting paper sculptures of Li Hongbo. A very cute optical illusion uses coloured after images, and 27 beautiful mosques and synagogues(distinguishing hint: the mosques have minarets, and the synagogues don’t.)

The last piece leads smoothly into the around-the-world section. Here’s a map of the world, divided into regions with a population of 100,000,000. Heck, here are 57 maps that claim to “challenge what you thought you knew about the world”. (Some are excellent, others are …uh … less challenging.) Fascinating photos of ration packs tell us how the world’s armies feed their soldiers in the field. (Most interesting fact? Only the Italian army includes alcohol.) A simple map with arrows overlaid shows the favourite vacation destinations of EU residents (France wins, but there are lots of strange and wonderful details.) In Focus offers 33 photos of Carnival 2014, (but none of Québec– guess they got cold feet before they went.) And for a bonus on Carnivals, here’s Jim Zuckerman’s photo gallery of the Venice Carnival.

Some animal entertainment, as that’s why we have the internet. Here are goats having fun balancing on a flexible sheet of steel. Looks more exciting than whatever is in front of this meerkat, who is desperately trying not to fall asleep. A fascinating four minute Vimeo film looks at how the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park causes a remarkable “trophic cascade”. and you see birds individually, in this gif of a smart budgie or en masse, in 22 glorious photos of the murmurations of starlings. We close with some nature shots, beginning with the very beautiful top 9 microscope images of 2013, followed by 26 photos of Kelud and Sinabung: Indonesia’s two erupting volcanoes, a flooded farm from the UK, and Lake Superior’s ice caves, in a rare freeze. And as it appears that winter is never going to end, here is a beautiful time lapse film of snowflakes being formed. It may help.

February 21st, 2014

Feb-21-2014 | Comments Off

Welcome back to Tikkunista, (which may be a bit more infrequent over the next couple of months, as the writers of the Writers’ Croft steal my time away.) But we still need news, as the world keeps changing. The Guardian notes that climate change is here now (and it could lead to global conflict.) Juan Cole finds optimism in looking at the spread of green energy in Africa and Asia, though he offers a terrifying series of charts from crime sentencing to income on racial inequality in America. When Tom Geisen adds this all up, he has with a depressingly defensible list of 8 unsustainable delusions of the American way of life. His number four delusion is that markets produce the best results, and two stories that show they don’t are Truth-Out’s powerful expose of America’s For-Profit prison industry, and “15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher’s Tale”, which looks at what happens when the market takes over education. The fish market just sells images of less and smaller, as shown in this intriguing piece using tourist photos of their fish catches to illustrate “shifting baseline syndrome” (Tnx, Dennis)

But some change is positive: through a week’s worth of work, 101 women artists got Wikipedia pages (tnx, Diana). A response to a weight-loss ad goes viral, and is hugely entertaining: Mermaid or Whale? In the midst of the polar vortex, a Muslim woman notices that when her hijab is hidden under a knitted hat, the world responds very differently to her. And, if you’ve been curious, life as a gay imam isn’t as bad as it sounds. (Tnx, Q!) Some restrictions are loosening: Facebook went from 2 to 52 gender options (in the US. In Canada it’s M or F or “custom”). How wonderful that we’re recognizing that individuals are individual, not fitted into some binary scale. Here are a few individuals, some of whom you know; some you’ll see for the first time. Known? Last week on Reddit we got, “Hello Reddit – I’m Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation & Microsoft founder. Ask me anything.” Lots of interesting Q & A! Two photos of people you don’t know are artist Samuel Fosso, of the Central African Republic, seen in this selfie; and Mongolian hunter Ardak, posing with his golden eagle. A lovely animation of a speech by Ira Glass illustrates how to fight past our awareness of our creative inadequacy, while if your ego needs deflating, you can read about MIT’s “Mr. Everything”, who finished two degrees and competed in 2 winter Olympic Games in a 5 year period (while being ranked 9th in men’s singles in tennis in the US.)

Now that you feel humiliated, we’ll look at some of what’s happening in psychology to rebuild people. Here’s a wonderful commercial about what’s being done to help people with PTSD. In the Netherlands, an entire village with fake shops and restaurants is actually a care home for elderly dementia patients. A Reddit comment looks at how one might conclude that there is reason to believe that mobile hunter-gatherer societies are ‘more free’ than others. An interesting analysis looks at how people view risks along the two dimensions of hierarchy-egalitarianism and communitarian-individualism, while the risk of GMO foods and why some people find them more frightening than others do is explored here. (It’s not information that makes the difference!) Do you know the Edge, the site that every year asks one Big Question, and gets a lot of experts to answer it. This year the question was “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” One excellent answer: Race.

Learning and testing… here’s a surprisingly fun game. You listen to someone speak for 10 seconds in a non-English language and select language it is. It can be very easy…Chinese or Spanish? Gradually more choices are added, and they get tougher. Try it (my score: 500) A crow amazed pretty much everyone by solving a problem that took eight steps (tnx, Dave!) Here’s a possibly useful website with free lessons on computer basics (Mac, Excel, Word) and general life skills, and another free learning site, focussed on high school maths and sciences largely. And (mostly for the great pictures), look at HuffPo’s 41 Things You Need To Know Right Now, For No Reason In Particular. Learn from Brainpickings what famous scientists, from Galileo to Sagan, said about the art of wonder, the mystery of the universe, and the heart of science. A Canadian astrophysicist believes there are even more super habitable worlds than once thought, while it turns out there’s a high potential for life circling Alpha Centauri B, our nearest neighbour.

And now it’s time for the arts! Starting with music, where we have something new, then a pair of seriously golden oldies. The new is Storyboard P, who performs in this video in a street dance style called Flex, or Mutant. (The New Yorker just ran a feature, “The Impossible Body”, on him, if you’re curious to know more.) The first oldie is a stellar performance of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”, featuring George Harrison, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and Roger McGuinn. And older than that is a recording of the classic Miles Davis album, “Bitches Brew”. On into a very mixed bag of video, starting with an animated self-portrait, using just a woman’s face and makeup, exploring the idea of rebirth and transfer of energy from one incarnation to another. Then an utterly convincing film showing why no outdoor travel is permitted during category 1 storms in Antarctica. A videocam falls off a plane, lands in a pig pen, and is discovered by the pigs. Watch this one to the end!(Tnx. Gabe!) And we end with a very well done looping gif of a ski jump and a magical collection of chemical/ physical reaction gifs.

And some wonderful collections of stunning pictures. Browse the 33 most amazing science images of 2013; the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards (33 photos); 20 great National Geographic photos taken in the perfect moment; and 23 photos of the amazing and gruesome world under a microscope (tnx Gabe!) And to round it all off, here’s some very cool 3D tattoos (tnx, Diana) and the work of a snowplow driver with anger management issues.

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