Remember the dress color controversy?

Back in 2015, there was this interesting phenomenon about people seeing a photograph of a dress and coming down sharply on two different sides of what colors the dress was, with some saying it was white and gold and others that it was blue and black.

This short video explains what is going on and this phenomenon shows dramatically that our perception of color is not due exclusively to the spectrum of light wavelengths that is reflected off the image and enters our eyes, and thus entirely objective, but also depends on the way that our brain processes sensory input which in turn depends on factors such as the context in which the image is embedded, and thus has a subjective element as well.

The Satanic Temple holds a convention

I have been aware of the Satanic Temple as largely a group that seeks to dethrone religion’s dominance in US culture by demanding that the same privileges that are given to traditional religions, such as monuments in public lands, also be allowed to them. I knew that they use Satanic rituals and regalia even though they do not believe in Satan or the afterlife. It is political activism mixed in with cosplaying and performance art. They are in fact secular and supporters of a science-based worldview and fight racism and homophobia.

However they seem to be much larger than I had thought as evidenced by their convention currently underway at a Marriott hotel in Boston.

The Satanic Temple is recognised as a religion by the US government, and has ministers and congregations in America, Europe and Australia.

More than 830 people snapped up tickets for its late April convention, dubbed SatanCon.

Members say they don’t actually believe in a literal Lucifer or Hell. Instead, they say Satan is a metaphor for questioning authority, and grounding your beliefs in science. The sense of community around these shared values makes it a religion, they say.

They do use the symbols of Satan for rituals – for example when celebrating a wedding or adopting a new name. That might include having an upside-down neon cross on your altar while shouting: “Hail Satan!”

For many Christians, this is serious blasphemy.

“That’s not wrong,” agrees Dex Desjardins, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple. “A lot of our imagery is inherently blasphemous.

The event takes up the whole fourth floor of the hotel. The Satanists fill it with androgynous goth chic, flamboyant robes, hand-painted horns, diabolical tattoos, and high-maintenance moustache choices. Most people here are old enough to be parents, and several are. I spot at least one pushchair.

Presentations are given, including one called “Hellbillies: Visible Satanism in Rural America”, and a seminar on Satanism and self-pleasure.

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The puzzling appeal of Nazism in the US today

We know that Hitler and the Nazis were impressed by racist and eugenics ideas in the US and that they coopted many of those ideas in their theory and program of Aryan supremacy that led to the mass killings of Jews, the Romani people, and others. We now have the reverse phenomenon, where some Americans are taking inspiration from those Nazi ideas and express admiration for Nazis. As a result, we have had various groups of white nationalists and anti-Semites recruiting people to their cause using neo-Nazi rhetoric..

I have been struggling to figure out what exactly is the contemporary appeal of Nazism in the US. Let me be clear about what puzzles me. The appeals to quasi-eugenics ideas such as the ‘great replacement theory’ according to which there is a deliberate plan to displace white Christians from their dominant position by immigrants and people of color and Jews and other religions, have been around in the US long before the Nazis came to power in Germany.
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Floating solar panels

I posted recently about the idea of covering large parking lots of stores like Walmart with solar panels. This would provide two benefits. One is that it would provide shade for their customers’ cars, no small benefit in hot areas when going to a car that has been baking in the sun can result in the door handles being too hot to touch and the inside stiflingly hot. The second is that it provides quite a lot of energy that could be used to service their buildings, provide charging stations for electric vehicles, and even sell surplus energy to the grid. I noticed that the parking lot nearby that services the city hall and public library has installed solar panel coverings and has a charging station. It is small in size but the idea seems to be catching on.

Now comes along another idea that also seeks to cover large expanses with solar panels, and this is to put them on floating rafts over large bodies of calm water, like lakes.
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Laughter is the best medicine

That saying has been around for a long time, usually invoked to recommend to people that they laugh off some problem or misfortune rather than letting it get them down. But recent research by a former colleague of mine suggests that there may be actual therapeutical benefits to laughter.

  1. Laughing benefits you neurologically.
  2. Laughing improves your physical health.
  3. Laughing increases your emotional well-being.
  4. Laughing benefits your cognitive function.
  5. Laughing impacts your social health.

This article brought to mind a 1968 hit song We Have Ways of Making You Laugh by Don Partridge that was about the benefits of laughter.

Partridge started out in life as a street performer (known as ‘buskers’ in the UK), a one-man band who played all the instruments with cymbals and tambourine using his elbow, bass drum on his back, guitar, and harmonica and kazoo with his mouth. It gave his music a very distinctive and raw quality. He was ‘discovered’ and then had a series of hit songs. He was well known in the UK and in Sri Lanka where I grew up. I do not know if his reach extended to other countries.

If you want to see how he did all these things by himself, here is a live performance of another of his hits Blue Eyes.

Bringing back knobs and buttons for car controls

Unlike in similar countries, the pandemic brought some bad news on the roads for the US.

Unlike in most peer countries, American roadway deaths surged during the pandemic and have barely receded since. Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities recently hit their highest levels in 40 years, but U.S. transportation officials continue to ignore key contributing factors.

One of the causes for the increased accident rate may be the proliferation of touch screen controls that can lead to more distracted driving.

As I explained in a 2021 Slate article, the trend toward car touch screens has been a dangerous one for road safety. Those who drove in the 1990s will remember using buttons and knobs to change the radio or adjust the air conditioning without looking down from the steering wheel.

Despite their name, touch screens rely on a driver’s eyes as much as her fingers to navigate—and every second that she is looking at a screen is a second that she isn’t looking at the road ahead. Navigating through various levels of menus to reach a desired control can be particularly dangerous; one study by the AAA Foundation concluded that infotainment touch screens can distract a driver for up to 40 seconds, long enough to cover half a mile at 50 mph.

“The irony is that everyone basically accepts that it’s dangerous to use your phone while driving,” said Farah. “Yet no one complains about what we’re doing instead, which is fundamentally using an iPad while driving. If you’re paying between $40,000 and $300,000 for a car, you’re getting an iPad built onto the dashboard.”

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The wellness craze

Desi Lydic was last week’s the rotating host for The Daily Show and she had some thoughts about the wellness craze and how some influencers are promoting dangerous practices.

What strikes me is that the people who fall for these practices seem to act as if they are at war with their bodies, that their bodies are trying to kill them and they must be constantly vigilant to fight them, and are willing to do the most bizarre things that random people suggest.

Sex and seances

The 1920s were a high point in people believing that they could communicate with the dead. This may well have been due to two major events: the First World War of 1914-1918 and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919. Both of them resulted in many millions of deaths, many of them sudden and of young people, causing deep grief among the survivors. One can well understand the yearning of people to somehow connect with the ones they had lost.

Naturally this created a market for those who could claim to channel the spirits of the dead and as a result there was a cottage industry of people conducting seances, where you go to talk with a loved one through an intermediary. Belief in this was widespread and indeed this form of ‘spiritism’, the belief in the existence of an afterlife where the deceased lived and could be communicated with, was viewed as a kind of religion that was independent of other religions and devoid of beliefs in any particular god. Belief in communicable spirits was supported by many eminent people of that time, including scientists such as Sir Oliver Lodge, whose son had died. Another notable believer was Arthur Conan Doyle whose son Kingsley had died during the war and Doyle believed that through a medium, he had been able to talk with him. His wife Jean also claimed to have the ability to communicate with the dead using the mode of spirit writing, where her hand would be guided over paper by the spirit.
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Making surface parking lots into solar farms

On hot days, if one parks one’s car in the sun for any length of time, the temperature inside can rise to values much higher than the ambient temperature, making the interior extremely hot to the touch. This is another example of the greenhouse effect, similar to what is heating up the Earth.

It’s only early April, but we’ve already had our first report of an infant found in a hot car in Tucson.  We talk about this every Spring and Summer in Arizona: the dangers of cars heating up in the sun.

Afternoon temperatures are about 20 to 25 degrees lower now than they will be in June, but it’s still hot enough to raise the temperature up to 120 degrees in about 45 minutes.

The air inside the car heats up so fast because of the “greenhouse effect”.  Here’s what it means:
Incoming solar radiation, known as “shortwave radiation”, shines through the windows and is absorbed in the car’s interior.

The heat released from the interior is known as “longwave radiation”, and is much weaker than the shortwave radiation.  The heat becomes trapped inside the car.  Heat continues to enter the car, but struggles to exit.

It only takes 10 to 15 minutes for a car in direct sun light to heat up above 100 degrees when it’s 80 degrees outside, even if the window is cracked.  When the air temperature climbs above 100 degrees here in June, the temperature inside a car can soar above 150 degrees to 170 degrees in less than an hour.

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The ethical dilemma posed by AI generated art

Take a look at this photograph that won a prize at the prestigious Sony world photography awards last week.

After being awarded the prize, the winner Boris Eldagsen declined it saying that the photo was AI generated and that he had submitted it to start a conversation about how to deal with AI in the art world.

“We, the photo world, need an open discussion,” said Eldagsen. “A discussion about what we want to consider photography and what not. Is the umbrella of photography large enough to invite AI images to enter – or would this be a mistake?

“With my refusal of the award I hope to speed up this debate.”

He said this was a “historic moment” as it was the first time an AI image had won a prestigious international photography competition, adding: “How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI generated? Something about this doesn’t feel right, does it?

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