Month: August 2013

The Blue Moon Cometh

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That’s no moon.
Everyone is all abuzz about tonight’s blue moon. Of course, the name is something of a misnomer as the moon is never blue, but just a term used to describe the rare occurrence of a full moon occurring twice in one calendar month. The last time was in August 2012 and the next time will be in July 2015. The origin of using the word “blue” to describe it is somewhat wrapped in mystery, as even the questionably authoritative Wikipedia entry can only grasp at straws for an explanation. I mean, it’s the internet, so at least just make up something that sounds good.
It all plays well into the realm of puns, though, as “moon” is another term for displaying one’s posterior to others, a decidedly lewd but amusing act. This plays into the concept of “blue” comedy, which is humor that skews more towards the profane and inappropriate. So I’ll insist that the origin of “blue moon” refers to the rare occasion where people traditionally moon people while telling off-color jokes.

RACCOON-ish IN THE NEWS: New Species Revealed to the World

Welcome to the family, pal.
The zoological world was surprised to identify a new species of mammal it had known about for decades.  The olinguito, a small omnivorous mammal from Ecuador and Columbia, has been on display in zoos throughout the United States since the late 1960’s.  So how come scientists didn’t “know” about this animal?  Because they’d mistakenly grouped it as a member of the olingo species, which is similar in appearance enough to fool its handlers.  The animals knew the difference, though; the females refused to mate with males that the zookeepers saw no reason for them to rebuff.  You know what they say; olingos are from Mars and olinguitos are from Venus.   
It should be noted that both of these species are members of the procyonidae family, which includes raccoons. 

Put Your Faith in Electronic Arts

Mirror’s Edge’s Faith Connors Battles a Totalitarian Regime, 
I Wonder What the Origin of it Was
Nothing beats playing some good games, except maybe playing those games cheaply.  The latest Humble Bundle is a collection of six PC games from the much-malignedElectronics Arts (EA.)    Some are older titles that can be found fairly cheap or you probably would have played by now if you had any interest, such as Mirror’s Edge and the first Dead Space.  Still, there are newer releases included such as one of the more recent Medal of Honorgames and Dead Space 3.   You can have all this gaming goodness for as little as one measly little penny, but if you want to be a big spender and beat the average (currently hovering around $4.75, for you big spenders) you get last year’s awesome multiplayer FPS-fest, Battlefield 3 and The Sims 3 along with some DLCfor it!
However, all this gaming goodness comes at a price (beyond what you pay for it); you’ll need to install EA’s DRM-laden Origin software to get and play some of these titles on your computer (mainly the newer releases require it, older ones can be redeemed through Steam.)  Is it worth it to you to do that?  EA is already not getting any of your money because 100% of the proceeds go to a charity of your choose from among the American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, and Human Rights Campaign among others.  So for all that, you can’t find it in your heart to let EA have a little room on your computer?
Make up your mind fastl; the deal expires on August 27th! 

Just Call ‘Em Dr. DJ

I recently listened to a report on NPR’s Science Friday titled “Teaching Newton’s Laws Through Rhyme,” in which they interviewed Christopher Emdin on his campaign to bring science to the “hip hop generation” by creating educational rap songs (excuse me if I proceed to use hip hop and rap interchangeably; I don’t know or care about the distinction between the two the same way I’m unconcerned with techno and its myriad subgenres.)  One particular exchange between the host, Ira Flatow, and guest struck me as being very disingenuous:

IRA: “I’m interested in learning what connections did you see between rap and science.”
CHRIS: “Dude, the connections are endless! Right? So the first thing is that, you know, the iconic role that scientists play in society.  It’s almost analogous to the role hip hop artists play within the hip hop community.  Scientists are often times the voices of the community.  They share the newest ideas and it’s the same thing the hip hop artists do.  Scientists are increasingly more diverse in the way they share information and so are hip hop artists. …Hip hop artists are anti-establishment.  They have to have evidence for the facts they produce.”

I find educational music a dubious proposition at best.  It’s like the edutainment games of the early 90’s which provided neither education nor entertainment.  Plenty of people joke about dying of dysentery in Oregon Trail, but nobody claims to have learned much from playing it.

  1. I’m unsure about the contention that science is inherently anti establishment.  There are many maverick scientists out there and they’re rightly labeled as crackpots.  Some are proven right afterwards, and their work is accepted into the body of knowledge, but even then that’s the establishment working the way it always has.  A scientists who goes out and decides to flout the scientific method is going to end up against the wall.
  2. The thing that usually causes a maverick scientist to be ostracized by the scientific community is a lack of evidence.  According to Mr. Emdin, rappers don’t make claims without evidence, just like scientists aren’t supposed to.  I’m not sure how much rap he’s listened to, but even the most cursory examination of the genre shows a tendency toward making outlandish claims.  Most concerning money and drugs. True, both of these articles were about rappers being called out on their claims, but the one from Reuters is about how Rick Ross’s career was in danger because evidence contrary to his claims might come to light.  Nobody asked him to prove his street cred up front. Is Pitbull’s career in danger because he hasn’t turned over his latest tax return to prove he’s worth billions? Nope. 
  3. Do rap artists often present new things? I thought the whole idea of it, when it’s not just meaningless boasting, was to report on the realities of the world the rappers are from.  That’s an inherently non-forward-thinking perspective.  It’s about the here and now.  Or does he mean that rappers develop their art?  Is he under the mistaken impression that rap is the only musical genre that’s evolved over time?  That’s going to come as a real shock to rock, techno, and pretty much all other forms of music out there. 
  4. I’m really unclear on what is meant by “the voices of their community” means, if anything.  It’s the same as saying “the President of the United States speaks for politics in the United States.”  Yes, scientists speak for the scientific community the same way clowns speak for the clowning community.  It’s such a vague, meaningless analog.

As I said before, the claims by Mr. Emdin were very disingenuous.   That he wants to encourage the “hip hop generation” to learn science is not a bad thing at all, and if he thinks this is the way to do it then good on him for making that effort.  But he’ll do well to come up with less patronizing, nonsensical reasons for doing so.  A simple “this seems like a good idea” would suffice rather than presenting explanations that potentially undermine his credibility.


I think it’s a raccoon.

Netflix recently added the ability to have multiple user profiles tied to an account.  This was a feature they had back when the service was centered around mailing discs to customers. but got dropped at some point.  I was happy to set up a profile for myself, and ecstatic to find a raccoon-like avatar (I’m not sure what else it could be) as an option for my profile!

Also, I’d like to point out some raccoon material to enjoy on Netflix:

  1. Raccoon Nation, an excellent documentary following groups of raccoons in Canada.Very educational and filled with cute footage.
  2. The Regular Show is supposedly a very funny, although it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.  It gets by on randomness. Still, one of the protagonists is a raccoon who loves things from the 80’s and his brother, also a raccoon, is an accountant.  What more could you want?
  3. Episode 3 of the first season of Animal Planet’s Infested is about roaches, mice, and raccoons.  I’m not sure I like the grouping here.  Mice can be cute, but roaches?  Well, I guess Animal Planet does maintain a Cockroach Cam, so I suppose some people see an appeal to them.