Author Archive | majestic

Electric YouTube Acid Test: A Brief Guide to Tripping on the Internet

Hopes and Fears explores hallucinating on web browser tabs and talks to philosopher Ned Block about optical illusions:

You probably spent a week or two in high school learning about optics, occasionally finding relief from lectures in illusions projected onto the whiteboard. In my case, public school budgets meant that the projectors were routinely dim, out of focus, and off-color. The examples yielded an anemic crop of effects that lasted a few seconds. What little knowledge I acquired in class was muddled and superficial: cones and rods got “fatigued” and “adapted” in response stimuli, creating afterimages. Our retinas translated photons into electrical signals, which, after being “processed” in various parts of the brains, emerged miraculously as non-electrical visual experiences. Little did I know, it gets so much better.

YouTube and more generally, the internet paired with a computer screen, offer the chance to revisit these visual experiments and the scholarship behind them.

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Mission Unstoppable: The CIA Is Pulling The Strings Of US Foreign Policy

“From drone strikes to prison torture, the CIA has been pulling the strings of US foreign policy since 9/11. And if history is a guide, the agency will be calling the shots in the middle east for years to come,” write Yochi Dreazen and Sean D. Naylor at Foreign Policy:

Dennis Blair was itching for a fight. In May 2009, the retired U.S. Navy admiral was serving as the director of national intelligence (DNI). Theoretically, Blair’s title gave him oversight of the CIA and Washington’s constellation of 16 other spy agencies. Yet, in reality, the director was powerless even to designate the senior American spy in a given country—a rank that, for decades, had traditionally been given to the CIA station chief in capitals from London to Beirut. Blair felt entitled to have charge over this. So sidestepping the White House, he sent a written order codifying that the DNI would now be the one to select the most senior spies.

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Talk With The Dead Using New Virtual-Reality Software

elysiumBlack Mirror fans, doesn’t Project Elysium, VR software enabling you to talk with the dead, remind you of “Be Right Back,” the first episode of the second season in which a young widow signs up for a new online service that lets people stay in touch with the deceased? Needless to say, the outcome was quite bizarre; what’s the prognosis for Project Elysium then? MarketWatch reports on this real world software:

Communing with deceased loved ones usually involves a visit to the graveyard. Project Elysium, by Paranormal Games, is attempting to turn the experience into a 3D virtual-reality simulation.

Paranormal Games is the brainchild of Steve Koutsouliotas and Nick Stavrou. Before Project Elysium, they released titles such as “Flappy Ears” (in which a player takes the role of big-eared Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and dodges spiky pillars, using only the flapping power of his ears), and Dead Kitty Racket (in which you … yes, hit dead kittens with a racket).

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Florida Man Believes He Is Thor, Tries To Have Sex With Tree After Trying Designer Drug Flakka

Thor, Hymir and the Midgard Serpent.jpgThe headline from AP (via MLive) was actually “Man believes he is Thor, tries to have sex with tree after trying new designer drug flakka,” but needless to say he’s from Florida. Why Florida you ask? Check out our recent story on Florida Man. Meanwhile, back to Thor on flakka:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — One man ran naked through a Florida neighborhood, tried to have sex with a tree and told police he was the mythical god Thor. Another ran nude down a busy city street in broad daylight, convinced a pack of German shepherds was pursuing him.

Two others tried separately to break into the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. They said they thought people were chasing them; one wound up impaled on a fence.

The common element to these and other bizarre incidents in Florida in the last few months is flakka, an increasingly popular synthetic designer drug. Also known as gravel and readily available for $5 or less a vial, it’s a growing problem for police after bursting on the scene in 2013.

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Water Theft Rising In Wake Of Ongoing California Drought

I suppose it was inevitable that water theft would become a thing in California first. As we all know from experience, the trend will soon spread to the rest of America and then the world. From Accuweather:

With the state of California mired in its fourth year of drought and a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water usage in place, reports of water theft have become common.

California water system

In April, The Associated Press reported that huge amounts of water went missing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a state investigation was launched. The delta is a vital body of water, serving 23 million Californians as well as millions of farm acres, according to the Association for California Water Agencies.

The AP reported in February that a number of homeowners in Modesto, California, were fined $1,500 for allegedly taking water from a canal. In another instance, thieves in the town of North San Juan stole hundreds of gallons of water from a fire department tank.

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How A Single Yeast Cell Can Cook Up Morphine From Scratch

The economics of home brewed heroin must have drug lords quaking in their boots. This is worse than Walter White! The New Yorker looks at how a single yeast cell can cook up morphine from scratch:

For as long as humans have been farmers, we have been drinkers. Wild yeast was the first microorganism that we domesticated, more than ten millennia ago. But archaeologists believe that we have been harvesting the gum of opium poppies for even longer. Across a broad swath of the Middle East and Asia, our ancestors tapped, dried, boiled, and consumed the poppy pod’s sticky secretions. The flower provided one of the first medicinal substances known to humanity, as well as a potent high. But not even the Romantic poets, ensconced in their stately pleasure-domes and out of their minds on smack, could have imagined what a paper published today in the journal Nature Chemical Biology describes: turning yeast, a simple fungus, into a narcotics lab to rival the poppy.

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Who Killed Captain Morgan? The Battle of Freemasonry In America

William Morgan (anti-Mason).jpg

Drawing of William Morgan, whose disappearance and presumed murder in 1826 ignited a powerful movement against the Freemasons.

“In 1826, a shadowy cabal kidnapped a man who had threatened to expose the rites of the secretive brotherhood. American politics were never the same again,” writes Andrew Burt, leading into an essay on Freemasonry in America at Slate:

To this day, nobody knows the true fate of Capt. William Morgan. A failed businessman and citizen of generally low repute, Morgan was abducted from his home, in the town of Batavia, New York, in the early morning of Sept. 11, 1826. He soon found himself in a Canandaigua jail cell, about 50 miles away, imprisoned for a debt of $2.65. The whole ordeal was doubtless confusing to Morgan, a man best known for his drinking. It likely became even more confusing when a stranger paid his bail. But that man had no intention of setting him free.

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Science Seeks to Unlock Marijuana’s Secrets

Hampton Sides (surely a pseudonym?) investigates the science behind marijuana’s magnificent properties, for National Geographic:

There’s nothing new about cannabis, of course. It’s been around humankind pretty much forever.

Prozac Makes Better Christians but Marijuana Makes Better Brownies

wackystuff (CC)

 

In Siberia charred seeds have been found inside burial mounds dating back to 3000 B.C. The Chinese were using cannabis as a medicine thousands of years ago. Marijuana is deeply American too—as American as George Washington, who grew hemp at Mount Vernon. For most of the country’s history, cannabis was legal, commonly found in tinctures and extracts.

Then came Reefer Madness. Marijuana, the Assassin of Youth. The Killer Weed. The Gateway Drug. For nearly 70 years the plant went into hiding, and medical research largely stopped. In 1970 the federal government made it even harder to study marijuana, classifying it as a Schedule I drug—a dangerous substance with no valid medical purpose and a high potential for abuse, in the same category as heroin.

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CDC Predicts How You Will Die Based On Where You Live

OK, this is creepy: the US Centers for Disease Control has released a map that predicts how you’ll die based on which state you live in:

death map

The authors of the study, Francis P. Boscoe, PhD and Eva Pradhan, MPH, explain:

Background

Maps of the most distinctive or characteristic value of some variable at the state or country level became popular on social media in 2014. Among the most widely shared examples have been maps of state-level birth name preferences, music-listening preferences, and mortality from among the top 10 causes of death (1). This form of data presentation has a long history in economic geography, where the mapped values are known as location quotients (2). We use the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision (ICD-10), List of 113 Selected Causes of Death file published by the National Center for Health Statistics (3) to present a more nuanced view of mortality variation within the United States than what can be seen by using only the 10 most common causes of death.

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The Culture Wars Invade Science Fiction

1991 Hugo award (with variant base).jpg

Hugo Award. Photo by Shsilver (CC)

Sci Fi fans, are you pro or anti Puppies? Or if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, the Wall Street Journal reports on the internecine war amongst science fiction aficionados over the Hugo Awards:

Theodore Beale had a big day when the nominations for science fiction’s annual Hugo Awards were announced last month: He received two nominations for his editing work, and nine stories and books from Castalia House, the tiny publisher where he is lead editor, won nominations.

Quite a feat, since Mr. Beale—better known in the science-fiction world by his pen name, Vox Day—is probably now the most despised man in science fiction. In 2013, he was expelled from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America after he used the group’s Twitter feed to link to his criticisms of a black female writer as an “ignorant half-savage.” He has called women’s rights “a disease” and homosexuality a “birth defect.”

So why are he and the Castalia House authors being honored?

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