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DIY method for transmitting audio in large spaces directly to people's hearing aids

IEEE Spectrum's David Schneider participates in Quaker meetings where there are many elderly people who, even though they are wearing hearing aids, have a hard time catching comments from others around the room. One common solution to this problem is to provide headphones with FM receivers to pick up the sounds of the microphones. That approach isn't ideal, Schneider writes, because "a little awkward, in part because it makes you stand out. So Schneider and a friend bought a 1,000 feet (304 meters) roll of two-conductor, 20-gauge wire $125 and homebrewed an audio frequency induction loop that transmits the sound so it can picked up directly by hearing aids that contain a telecoil (T-coil). From IEEE Spectrum:

These hearing aids can be switched to a mode whereby they pick up audio-frequency signals electronically instead of using their built-in microphones. This system for passing the signal wirelessly doesn’t involve radio transmissions—it just uses magnetic induction. Suitable audio induction loops for energizing T-coils are found in all sorts of places, including museums and theaters; even some taxicabs are equipped with them...(S

I constructed an induction coil from a six-turn square loop of magnet wire that was about a half meter on a side (I taped the wire to a flattened cardboard box), using wire of the right diameter to make the loop resistance 8 ohms. I then attached it to the speaker terminals of an ordinary stereo receiver, one that was collecting dust in the back of my garage....

(Encouraged by initial tests and further refinements of the , another friend and I recently placed a similar wire loop in the attic of the building—which was a lot harder than laying it on the floor because we had to snake the wire around an obstacle course of roof trusses and HVAC ducting.

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U.S. State Department issues "Do Not Travel" advisory for China

The U.S. State Department is warning Americans not to go to China because of the risk of getting ill from the coronavirus, reports the New York Times. "The department set the new advisory at Level 4, or Red, its highest caution, which is reserved for the most dangerous situations," said the paper.

Image by Gianluca Tomasello - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link Read the rest

Can you jam with the console cowboys in cyberspace?

Apparently a 13-year-old Julia Stiles appeared in an episode of PBS' Ghostwriter series, playing the hacktivist editor-in-chief of the Hurston High School newspaper in "Who is Max Mouse?" Do let us revel in the memories of a simpler time, full of long-forgotten promises of a better world brought on by Gibsonian buzzwords and the promise of equality and opportunity through a technological utopia.

How naive we once were.

In case you aren't familiar with Ghostwriter, it was a PBS show about a group of kids who solved mysteries with the help of an invisible ghost who could manipulate letters and words to create sentences and clue the kids in to whatever information that they needed at the time. No one ever knew who this Ghostwriter was, or how it came into its knowledge or abilities, but a 2010 interview with producer and writer Kermit Frazier revealed the surprisingly dark that really puts a fascinating twist on my childhood: “Ghostwriter was a runaway slave during the Civil War. He was killed by slave catchers and their dogs as he was teaching other runaway slaves how to read in the woods.  His soul was kept in the book and released once Jamal discovered the book.”

That's a lot darker, and more powerful, than this old kids' show ever let me know.

Image by SlimVirgin - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link Read the rest

Sex pheromone named after a character in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" changes mice brains

Darcin is a pheromone found in the urine of male mice. It's used to mark territory and signal mating availability, and was named after the character Mr. Darcy who appears in Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice. In the new issue of Nature, researchers at Columbia University report on how darcin "takes hold in the brains of female mice, giving cells in the brain's emotion center the power to assess the mouse's sexual readiness and help her select a mate."

From the press release:

Pheromones, such as darcin, are processed somewhat differently. They interact with a second, parallel olfactory system, which exists in animals like mice but not in people.

"Unlike people, mice have essentially two functional noses," said Dr. Demir. "The first nose works like ours: processing scents such as the stinky odor particles found in urine. But a second system, called the vomernasal nose, evolved specifically to perceive pheromones like darcin."

For today's study, the research team, which also included Dr. Hurst, Dr. Beynon and co-senior author Adam Kepecs, PhD, of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, first exposed female mice to darcin-scented urine and monitored their behavior. Nearly all of the female mice showed an immediate attraction to darcin. Then, after about 50 minutes, some females began leaving their own urinary scent markings. They also started to sing, at ultrasonic frequencies too high for the human ear to hear. Both of these behaviors are an indicator of increased sexual drive.

Image by Rama - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 Read the rest

Ajit Pai promised that killing net neutrality would spur network investment, but instead Comcast cut spending by 10.5%

When Trump FCC Chairman Ajit Pai used fraud and skullduggery to kill net neutrality, he promised that clearing away the allegedly burdensome regulation of delivering the data your customers request would finally spur investment in America's worst-of-bread, ancient network infrastructure. Read the rest

Albatrosses deployed to detect illegal fish vessels out at sea

With their massive wingspans and high speed, albatrosses fly across the seas in search of food. That's why marine ornithologist Henri Weimerskirch of the French National Center for Scientific Research calls the birds the “sentinels of the sea" and is using them to survey the ocean for illegal fishing boats. Apparently, the operators of these vessels frequently turn off their automatic identification system (AIS) that broadcasts who they are and their location. From Katherine J. Wu's article in Smithsonian:

(Weimerskirch) and his colleagues have outfitted nearly 200 albatrosses with tiny GPS trackers that detect radar emissions from suspicious ships, allowing the birds to transmit the locations of fishers in the midst of illicit acts...

The range of these signals isn’t big enough to be reliably picked up by stations on shore, keeping the ships’ movements mostly discreet. Radar can be detected within a few miles of the vessel itself, however—as long as something, or someone, can get close enough...

Over the course of six months, the team’s army of albatrosses surveyed over 20 million square miles of sea. Whenever the birds came within three or so miles of a boat, their trackers logged its coordinates, then beamed them via satellite to an online database that officials could access and cross-check with AIS data. Of the 353 fishing vessels detected, a whopping 28 percent had their AIS switched off—a finding that caught Weimerskirch totally off guard.

"Ocean sentinel albatrosses locate illegal vessels and provide the first estimate of the extent of nondeclared fishing" (PNAS)

image: "Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) in flight, East of the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia." Read the rest

New Vermont bill introduced to permit emoji on license plates

Vermont State Rep. Rebecca White (D-Windsor) introduced legislation in the Vermont House of Representatives that would enable citizens to pick one of six emoji to include on their vehicle's license plates. (Last year, Queensland, Australia also began offering emoji on plates.) The Vermont bill doesn't specify which emoji will be included as choices. From the short form description of bill H.866:

This bill proposes to create a new special registration plate with the choice of one of six emojis in addition to the distinctive number assigned by the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles or the numerals and letters selected by the registered owner of a vehicle as a vanity plate.

(Engadget)

Modified image based on original by Jaycarlcooper (CC BY-SA 3.0) Read the rest

Basketball legend Kobe Bryant, RIP

Kobe Bryant, 41, has died in a helicopter crash. He was 41-years-old. Eight others, including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna, were killed in the crash in Calabasas, California. From ESPN:

A 6-foot-6 small forward with the ability to swing up front and play point or shooting guard, Bryant entered the NBA out of high school. In 1996, at age 18, he became the youngest player in NBA history.

He won five NBA titles in his time with the Lakers, as well as two Olympic gold medals playing for the United States....

A Philadelphia native, Bryant was selected No. 13 overall in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets before being traded to the Lakers. With the Lakers, he wore Nos. 8 and 24, both of which were retired by the franchise. He was credited with changing how NBA front offices viewed wing talent entering the draft out of high school...

While Bryant was an unqualified star on the court, he had controversy off it. He was accused of sexual assault in Colorado in 2003. The criminal case was dropped the next year, but Bryant still issued an apology. He said he considered the encounter to be consensual but recognized that the woman "did not and does not view this incident the same way I did."

After his playing days ended, Bryant transitioned into a post-basketball life that was far from retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for the animated short "Dear Basketball." He also created a children's book series, inspired by his love for "Harry Potter," and it became a New York Times bestseller.

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Police accidentally auction off car with big stash of drugs hidden in its bumper

In Thailand, police auctioned off a Honda CRV that had been seized in a drug bust. The buyer spent 586,00 baht (US$19,000) on the vehicle. Later, a mechanic discovered a secret compartment behind the bumper that contained nearly 100,000 amphetamine pills. From the BBC News:

Officials said they would conduct more thorough searches in future.

"According to protocols, we search every vehicle we have received and this case was no exception. However, we couldn't find anything at the time, perhaps because the pills had been well hidden," said Niyom Termsrisuk, secretary general of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), according to the Bangkok Post.

image for illustration only: "Ritalin" by Sponge (CC BY-SA 3.0) Read the rest

Two years after a federal law banning shackling women during childbirth was passed, prisoners in America are still giving birth in chains

In 2010, the UN adopted a rule regarding incarcerated pregnant women: "instruments of restraint shall never be used … during labour, during birth and immediately after birth." In 2018, the Federal First Step Act banned shackling pregnant women, women giving birth, and women caring for newborns; but the law does not extend to local and state jails, where 85% of the incarcerated women in America are locked up. Read the rest

The cum-ex scam stole $60b from European tax authorities: it's monumentally boring, complicated, and very, very important

Cum-ex (previously) is a technical, boring financial engineering technique that lets fraudsters file multiple tax-refund claims for the same stock transactions (they called it "dividend arbitrage"); from 2006-2011, the EU's largest, most respectable banks, law firms, and investors used the scam to steal $60,000,000,000. Read the rest

I'm loving this Reggae, Dub, Ska and Rocksteady internet radio station

LISTEN: 'Heavyweight Reggae.' Yep, the name is right, and the channel delivers. Read the rest

If everyone hates Spirit Airlines, how is it making so much money?

Everyone likes to make fun of budget airline Spirit, which charges extra for almost everything besides a small hard seat. And yet it is very profitable. In his new role as a Medium columnist, the inimitable Rob Walker explains why the derided brand is rolling in cash. The short answer: Spirit might not be an enjoyable way to travel, but passengers know what they are getting into.

Spirit is successful, Engel suggests, “because it is grounded in honesty.” By this, he means the carrier is quite clear about its value proposition and who its target customer is, and there’s none of the “brand confusion” a customer experience when a mainstream carrier suddenly offers a bare-bones experience. “Their customer proposition is easier to understand, and in some ways has more integrity, than the offering from many other airlines,” he says. “It’s just that the product offering is not attractive to all customers.”

Spirit has delivered on what it actually promises — not on what somebody else suggests it might have promised. The brand might be a joke to pop culture but not to its customers, and it’s the latter that counts. “There’s a sizable market segment who is willing to forgo the frills for rock bottom price,” Engel says.

Image by Sunnya343 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link Modified Read the rest

Youtube's Content ID has become the tool of choice for grifty copyfraudsters who steal from artists

Last year's EU Copyright Directive will require online services to install upload filters similar to Youtube's Content ID system, a $100m, voluntary tool that allows rightsholders to claim video and audio and either censor or earn money from any user videos that matches their claims. Read the rest

After health expert in China said new coronavirus was "under control," he himself became infected

Twelve days ago, a Beijing pulmonary expert traveled to Wuhan, the epicenter of China's coronavirus, and declared on China Central Television that the outbreak was "under control" and a "mild condition." Eleven days later, according to The New York Times, he himself became infected with the virus.

From The Japan Times:

Wang Guangfa, who heads the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at Beijing’s Peking University First Hospital, was part of a team of experts that earlier this month visited Wuhan, where the virus emerged...

Wang, who conducted research on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, said he was receiving treatment and would receive an injection soon. He did not give details on how he may have been infected.

"I was diagnosed and my condition is fine,” Wang said on Cable TV yesterday. "I don’t want everyone to put too much attention on my condition.”

This SARS-like coronavirus has mostly infected people in Wuhan, but has also spread to other regions of the country, as well as Japan, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan, the United States, Hong Kong, and Macau. When blogged about on Boing Boing just yesterday, the virus had infected almost 300 people and caused six deaths. And then last night when blogged again, the number changed to 440 people with nine deaths. As of right now, so far, the numbers have changed again to 540 and 17.

Image: By Hwangxiheng - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link Read the rest

Insect apocalypse - mayfly population has dropped 50% since 2012

Insect populations around the world are plummeting. The latest indicator of the insect apocalypse is the sharp decline in the number of mayflies, reports National Geographic. The winged insects can form swarms of up to 80 billion and are an important source of food for fish, birds, and bats.

According to a study published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mayfly populations throughout northern Mississippi and Lake Erie have dropped by over 50%.

NatGeo cites a number of possible reasons for the precipitous decline: an abundance of pesticide pollutants in freshwater systems, mayfly nymph-killing algae blooms caused from fertilizer runoff, and higher water temperatures brought on by climate change.

From the article:

Unfortunately, they’re not alone: Studies around the world have shown alarming declines of a wide variety of insects. A study published in the journal Biological Conservation in April suggested that 40 percent of all insect species are in decline and could die out in the coming decades. (Learn more: Why insect populations are plummeting, and why it matters.)

Image by Michael Palmer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link Read the rest

FDA expands access to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the US FDA is clearing the way for ten clinics around the United States to treat PTSD patients with MDMA. It's likely that the FDA will grant full approval for the therapy in 2020, reports New Atlas. From the article:

MAPS has previously hypothesized thousands of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy clinics will open up across the United States. In the near future these clinics may not only administer MDMA for PTSD but also psilocybin, which is currently proving promising for a variety of conditions, including major depression.

The FDA approval for Expanded Access is yet another validation of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy’s safety and efficacy following extraordinarily positive early clinical trial results. Current Phase 3 trials are set to run until 2021 and complete market approval could come as early as 2022.

Image by DMTrott - Own work. Originally published in The Drug Users Bible [ISBN: 978-0995593688]., CC BY-SA 4.0, Link Read the rest

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