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When Buffy Sainte-Marie Met Sesame Street

Sesame Street may have only been on the air for six years in 1975, but the show had already changed children’s television and was considered a cultural institution. The kids’ show aimed to portray an accurate and nonjudgmental depictions of the lives of inner-city kids.

… it was set in a brownstone tenement, and the cast included strong African American characters Gordon and Susan (who were the cornerstone of the street) and Hispanic characters Maria and Luis (added in 1972). White characters were deliberately in the minority. They also cast everyday kids, not child actors, to play the children of Sesame Street.

In his 2008 book titled “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street”, author Michael Davis stated that at the end of its first year, Sesame Street was in the homes of 1.9 million Americans. A decade later, over 9 million American kids under the age of six watched the show daily.

One day, the producers of Sesame Street decided to call singer Buffy Sainte-Marie (which took her by surprise) to ask her to be a typical one-shot guest on the show. She almost said no to them.

She was busy with other ventures, and she didn’t really want to go all the way to New York just to count to ten like everyone else who made a guest appearance. But before she hung up she asked a question. “I said, have you ever done any Native American programming?” she recalls. They hadn’t, but they called her back with a new offer to include her as a writer and contributor and appear as a semiregular cast member. She knew it would be a good opportunity to reach millions of young children and their parents with the same message she had been bringing to her concert audiences for years: “Indians exist.”

The full story over at The Walrus.

(Image Credit: Drpeterstockdale/ Wikimedia Commons)


The History Of Collage

The term collage, taken from the French verb “coller” which means “to stick”, refers to the artistic technique of gluing different elements together. The term has its origins back in the early modernist movement, especially in Cubist works by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. But even centuries even before this movement, collage can already be seen through history and values cultures.

Check out this video posted by the National Galleries of Scotland to know more about the artistic technique.

Via Aeon

(Video Credit: nationalgalleries/ YouTube)


Tectonic Plates And The Ever-Changing GPS Coordinates

George Musser is a writer on physics who loves to seek new metaphors to better understand Einstein’s general theory of relativity. While working on his last book, which was titled “Spooky Action at A Distance”, Musser thought to compare the warping of space-time to the motion of Earth’s tectonic plates.

Einstein explained gravity as the bending of spacetime. A well-hit baseball arcs through the air to an outfielder’s glove because it is following the contours of spacetime, which the planet’s mass has resculpted. The mutability of spacetime also means that nothing in the universe has a fixed position, since the framework by which position is defined is fluid. And something like that is also true of Earth’s surface. Nothing on the ground has fixed coordinates because the landscape is ever-shifting.

This intrigued Musser.

If nothing has fixed coordinates, then how do Google Maps, car nav systems, and all the other mapping services get you where you’re going? Presumably they must keep updating the coordinates of places, but how?

He figured that he can just Google the answer quickly and get back immediately to Einstein. Unfortunately, what he thought to be just a 30-second Q&A turned out to be a several days’ search for answers.

I discovered a sizable infrastructure of geographers, geologists, and geodesists dedicated to ensuring that maps are accurate. But they are always a step behind the restless landscape. Geologic activity can create significant errors in the maps on your screens.
… The image above shows my position in Google Maps while I was standing on my back deck—a discrepancy of about 10 meters, much larger than the stated error circle. When I go to Google Earth and compare images taken on different dates, I find that my house jumps around by as much as 20 meters.

More details over at Nautilus.

(Image Credit: George Musser/ Nautilus)


Elephants Escape Circus To Play In The Snow

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⠀ Сегодня мы отправляем программу «Итальянский цирк» на гастроли в Большой Санкт-Петербургский государственный цирк на Фонтанке. Главными героями новогодних гастролей выступали индийские слонихи: 45-летняя Карла и 50-летняя Рании. Екатеринбургский цирк устроен так, что погрузка происходит за территорией. При выходе за пределы, слоны невероятно обрадовались снегу, обратили внимание на деревья, увидели проходящих пешеходов и приняли их за зрителей😃 Рании осталась около дерева, а Карла через дорогу пошла к горке снега! Слоны, конечно же, не реквизит – у них свой характер, свои манеры, эмоции и они, безусловно, очень умны. Они захотели получить эмоций перед длительным переездом – они их получили, и, конечно же, неожиданно доставили много радости жителям Екатеринбурга! ⠀ Так получилось, что в Екатеринбургском цирке сейчас большое количество животных, вот слоны и решили немного развеяться и выйти на прогулку в сопровождении итальянских дрессировщиков и служащих. Всё хорошо! В добрый путь, трёхтонные очаровашки!

A post shared by • ЦИРК ЕКАТЕРИНБУРГА • (@circus.ekaterinburg) on

RUSSIA — A pair of elephants have caused some traffic delays after they escaped from a circus so that they can play in the snow.

The Yekaterinburg Circus said in an Instagram post that Asian elephants Carla, 45, and Roni, 50, were being taken for a walk outside before they were due to be driven to St. Petersburg for an Italian Circus show hosted by the Bolshoi State St. Petersburg Circus when they pulled free from their handlers.

A video captured by one of the witnesses show the pair rolling and playing in the snow, as their handlers unsuccessfully try to put them back to the circus building.

"The elephants have their own character and emotions, they are very smart," the Instagram post said. "They walked outside and got very happy from seeing the snow, the trees and the pedestrians whom they took for spectators. Roni stayed by one of the trees while Carla walked towards a pile of snow."
The elephants were eventually led back to the circus building and loaded into a transport vehicle for the trip to St. Petersburg.


(Image Credit: circus.ekaterinburg/ Instagram)


The “Lennon Walls” Of Hong Kong

After months of anti-government protests, Hong Kong has changed much. Walls of Post-It sticky notes and other creative displays can be found in public places. Called “Lennon Walls” by locals, these spaces have emerged on buildings, walkways, underpasses, and storefronts. Messages like “Hong Kongers love freedom,” and “We demand real universal suffrage,” can be seen.

The original Lennon Wall was in central Prague, west of the Vltava River and south of the iconic Charles Bridge. Since the 1960s, the wall had been a location for romantic poems and anti-government messages. After Beatles legend John Lennon’s murder in 1980, someone painted a portrait of Lennon and some of his song lyrics on the wall. In time, messages evoking Lennon’s common themes of peace, love and democracy covered the space. It became a location for community-generated protest art that endures – yet is ever-changing – today.

More about this story over at Smithsonian Magazine.

(Image Credit: Wpcpey/ Wikimedia Commons)


Using Math To Understand Everything We See and Do

Galileo Galilei is the Italian mathematician and philosopher often credited with recognizing the essential role of mathematics in our attempt to understand the universe. In his essay “Il Saggiatore” (“The Assayer”), which was written in 1623, Galileo compares nature to a book laid open for us to read. However, he notes that we cannot understand this book unless we “comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed.” For Galileo, the book “is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth.”

While Galileo was thinking primarily of astronomy and physics, mathematical biologist Kit Yates shows us that there is no reason to stop with the physical sciences. In his new book titled “The Math Of Life and Death: 7 Mathematical Principles That Shape Our Lives”, the mathematical biologist argues that math, in a nutshell, is everywhere.

And, as his title suggests, math matters: We need it to understand how nuclear explosions work and how infectious diseases spread (and how they can be stopped); we need it to make sense of medical studies and crime statistics, and to evaluate the arguments that lawyers present in the courtroom; we need it to send rockets into space — and to understand why NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter crashed to the planet’s surface…
Though this is a fun and non-technical book (there are no equations), some of the topics are deadly serious. 

Yates also offers us some practical ways to apply math in our lives. Check it out over at Undark.

(Image Credit: geralt/ Pixabay)


It’s A Driverless Car Without A Steering Wheel Or Pedals

It is orange and black and white, and its size roughly the same as a crossover SUV. The vehicle has no obvious front. It has no hood, no driver or passenger side windows, as well as side-view mirrors. The symmetrical appearance of the weird-looking car brings a weird feeling of comfort.

This is “Origin”, the first fully driverless car of self-driving company Cruise.

Check out more details about this car over at The Verge.

(Video Credit: The Verge/ YouTube)


Who Really Invented Valentines Day?

Valentines Day came about like other holidays: an ancient pagan festival was rebranded by the Catholic Church in honor of a saint, after which it turned into a celebration that had nothing to do with that saint. Simon Whistler of Today I Found Out explains the many details around that bare bones outline as they pertain to Valentines Day.


Did The Mexica (Aztecs) Really Believe The Conquistadors Were Gods?

The legend can be dated back to 1552. It was Francisco López de Gómara who first said that the Spaniards conquered Mexico because the indigenous people had seen the conquistadors as gods. While he had never been to Mexico, López de Gómara was chaplain and secretary to the retired Hernando Cortés, the one who lead the conquistadors. But is the story true?

Cortés own letters during the conquest make no mention of being mistaken for or interpreted as a god. Nonetheless, López de Gómara’s version quickly became the accepted story, writes the historian Camila Townsend, even among the post-conquest indigenous peoples. The fleshed-out version of the story had it that “a god named Quetzalcoatl, who long ago had disappeared in the east,” had promised to return on a certain date. By extraordinary coincidence, Cortés appeared out of the east in that very year. Seduced by their religious credulity, the Mexica—“Aztec” was a post-conquest term—were ripe for conquest by their “white gods.”
Historians of early Mexico have buried the myth of the “white gods,” but this news hasn’t filtered into general knowledge. The story is clearly potent. After all, how else could just a few hundred Spaniards bring down a state with a capital city larger than any in Europe at the time?

Check out the full story over at JSTOR Daily.

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)


A Harvard Team Has Finally Solved The Mystery Of How Stress Turns Hair Gray

Over a decade ago, in 2009, the New York Times appeared with the headline, “After 44 days in the White House, Obama’s hair is grayer.” It was a reference to a common trend of presidents’ hair turning dramatically gray during their terms in the White House.

The idea of stress turning hair gray, is often called the Marie Antoinette syndrome, which is a reference to the often-told, but most likely apocryphal, story of the ill-fated French queen’s hair, which is said to have turned white overnight after she was captured during the revolution.

While the idea of one’s hair turning white in an instant after a sudden fright is an amusing cartoonish fiction, there is a solid body of anecdotal evidence describing instances where hair rapidly turns white after months, or even weeks, of stress or trauma.
“Everyone has an anecdote to share about how stress affects their body, particularly in their skin and hair – the only tissues we can see from the outside,” explains senior author on the new study, Ya-Chieh Hsu. “We wanted to understand if this connection is true, and if so, how stress leads to changes in diverse tissues. Hair pigmentation is such an accessible and tractable system to start with – and besides, we were genuinely curious to see if stress indeed leads to hair graying.”

Learn more details about this study over at New Atlas.

(Image Credit: Julim6/ Pixabay)


Baking Cookies in Space

In December, the crew of the ISS baked the first cookies in space. They managed to thoroughly bake two cookies, which were not eaten, but were returned to earth on a SpaceX supply flight to be analyzed. That may seem disappointing, but there was no way to share those two cookies with the entire crew, anyway. The experimental baking process was time-consuming to say the least, as Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano reported.

The first cookie — in the oven for 25 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius) — ended up seriously under-baked. He more than doubled the baking time for the next two, and the results were still so-so.

The fourth cookie stayed in the oven for two hours, and finally success.

“So this time, I do see some browning,” Parmitano radioed. “I can’t tell you whether it’s cooked all the way or not, but it certainly doesn’t look like cookie dough any more.”

Parmitano cranked the oven up to its maximum 325 degrees F (163 degrees C) for the fifth cookie and baked it for 130 minutes. He reported more success.

Additional testing is required to determine whether the three returned cookies are safe to eat.

Why did it take two hours to bake one cookie? A look at the oven's website has clues. They say convection cooking is not feasible in space. Then you remember that heat doesn't rise in microgravity the way it does on earth. A fan might help. And a maximum temperature of 325 degrees is low for cookies. But most pointedly, each cookie was enclosed in a silicon envelope to keep crumbs contained. Clearly, further research is needed. The upside of the experiment for the astronauts is that the baking session made the ISS smell better for a short time. -via Boing Boing

(Image credit: Christina H Koch)


A Ghost Town Unlike Any Other

In this place, there are no abandoned buildings, or homes, or any visible infrastructure that would suggest human habitation, except for a lonely stretch of road that cuts through this settlement. The once thriving mining town of Gagnon, in Quebec, became a ghost town unlike any other.

… less than four decades ago, [the town had] an airport, churches, schools, a town hall, an arena, a hospital, and a large commercial center, despite being isolated and accessible only by plane.
… The city was founded in 1960 following the discovery of iron ore in the region. The shore of Lake Barbel was chosen as the site to build the future town of Gagnon. The city rapidly grew in size. Infrastructure such [as a] hospital, airport, churches, primary and secondary schools and other businesses were quickly built to make life easier for new residents. At its peak, the city had about 4,000 inhabitants.

Because of the 1973-75 recession, however, steel production fell across North America. In 1977, the mines ran out of resources and mining operations were transferred to the mine in Fire Lake, which was located 90km northeast of Gagnon.

By the mid-1980s, the mines were no longer turning profit, and it was decided that the mines be closed. The city was evacuated, but instead of leaving the existing buildings intact, the entire town was razed to the ground in 1985. All that remains today is the town's deserted main street and the airport's runway.

Check out the old photos of the town over at Amusing Planet.

(Image Credit: Donnacona/ Wikimedia Commons)


Your Unread Books Have More Value Than Those You've Read

Kevin Dickinson loves to go to the bookstore to check a price. However, he ends up walking out of the bookstore with three books that he “probably didn’t know existed beforehand.”

I buy second-hand books by the bagful at the Friends of the Library sale, while explaining to my wife that it's for a good cause. Even the smell of books grips me, that faint aroma of earthy vanilla that wafts up at you when you flip a page.

The problem is that his book-buying habit outpaces his ability to read them, which leads to FOMO and occasional feeling of guilt over the large amount of unread books across his shelves.

But it's possible this guilt is entirely misplaced. According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, these unread volumes represent what he calls an "antilibrary," and he believes our antilibraries aren't signs of intellectual failings. Quite the opposite.

More about this over at Big Think.

What are your thoughts about this one?

(Image Credit: Pixabay)


When a Man Took a Joke in a Pepsi Ad Seriously

In 1995, Pepsi ran a promotion in which they offered merchandise for "Pepsi points." You could redeem your Pepsi points for clothing and accessories and all sorts of neat stuff, as you can see in the original ad. The prizes ran all the way up to a Harrier jet for seven million Pepsi points.

The joke is simple enough: they took the idea behind Pepsi Points and extrapolated it until it was ridiculous. Solid comedy writing. But then they seemingly didn’t do the math. Seven million sure does sound like a big number, but I don’t think the team creating the ad bothered to run the numbers and check that it was definitely big enough.

But someone else did. At the time, each AV‑8 Harrier II Jump Jet brought into action cost the United States Marine Corps over $20 million and, thankfully, there is a simple way to convert between USD and PP: Pepsi would let anyone buy additional points for 10 cents each. Now, I’m not familiar with the market for second-hand military aircraft, but a price of $700,000 on a $20 million aircraft sounds like a good investment. As it did to John Leonard, who tried to cash in on this.

Leonard did the math, and bought enough Pepsi points to get the jet. The company was caught by surprise, because they didn't do the math. Read how that turned out, and why the ad company couldn't see it coming at Literary Hub.  -via Digg


The History of Tennis Rackets

Tennis. An old sport with a history filled with technological development in equipment. Through the years since the sport has been created, the tennis racket has changed considerably, from its length to the material it is made of, as well as its shape.

More details about this over at The Conversation.

(Video Credit: Tom Allen/ YouTube)

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