• Watch woodpecker happily destroy wildlife camera disguised as tree bark

    Staff at at a nature reserve in Leningrad Oblas, Russia thought they were clever by disguising a wildlife camera as tree bark. It did not go as planned. Video below. Translation of the Nizhne-Svirsky Nature Reserve's Facebook post originally in Russian:

    Vandalism in the reserve! The black woodpecker decided that there should be no interference in the privacy of animals and birds – and destroyed the photo trap. Zhelna [the woodpecker] easily detected a disguised device, and for several days she methodically disconnected the hole she liked. Scientific staff who arrived to check the camera had to regret to state that it will not be able to get new shots from this place for a long time.

  • Juneteenth: "Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones"

    Tomorrow is Juneteenth, commemorating the freeing of enslaved Black people in Texas on June 19, 1865. That was the day that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger delivered a message to the people of Galveston, Texas that the Union had won the Civil War and they could enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. (Of course, slavery in the US wasn't officially abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment six months later.) Finally, this week, the US government has recognized June 19 as a national holiday—Juneteenth National Independence Day. But as historian and Columbia University journalism professor Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker last year, "Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones." From the New Yorker:

    […] Juneteenth exists as a counterpoint to the Fourth of July; the latter heralds the arrival of American ideals, the former stresses just how hard it has been to live up to them. This failure was not exclusive to the South. Northern states generally abolished slavery in the decades after the American Revolution, but many slaveholders there, rather than free the people they held in bondage, sold them to traders in the South, or moved to states where the institution was still legal. The black men, women, and children who heard [Major General Gordon] Granger's pronouncement [of emancipation] a hundred and fifty-five years ago in Galveston were not slaves; they were a barometer of American democracy.

    There's a paradox inherent in the fact that emancipation is celebrated primarily among African-Americans, and that the celebration is rooted in a perception of slavery as something that happened to black people, rather than something that the country committed. The paradox rests on the presumption that the arrival of freedom should be greeted with gratitude, instead of with self-reflection about what allowed it to be deprived in the first place.

    "Juneteenth and the Meaning of Freedom" by Jelani Cobb (The New Yorker)

    image: "An early celebration of Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) in 1900" / Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray) – The Portal to Texas History Austin History
    Center, Austin Public Library (public domain)

  • What is… the Alex Trebek Open Space?

    Tucked away in Los Angeles's Santa Monica Mountains, between Hollywood Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, there are 62 acres of unmarked trees, brush, and dirt where the public can hike or just sit quietly and remember the iconic Jeopardy! host who died last year, George Alexander Trebek, OC. This is the Trebek Open Space that Alex Trebek donated to the City of Los Angeles in 1988. As Julie Tremaine writes in SFGATE, it "isn't really a park, and it isn't really not a park. It's an in-between place." From SFGATE:

    There are no signs for it anywhere, nothing to let you know that you've arrived other than maybe a car or two parked on a little dirt patch off Nichols Canyon Road. Its only marking is a tucked-away gate that, if you're driving up into the canyon, you will definitely miss on your first (and probably second) attempt.[…]

    It's scenic but not showy. There's a well-worn uphill path with some trees and chaparral, at not too steep of an incline as long as you're not hiking it in a heat wave. The path overlooks the roofs and pools of some of the canyon homes, which are spread out enough that there's plenty of green in between them, and connects to a few more paths carved into the hillside. On clear days, there's a nice enough view of the buildings rising up out of Melrose and La Brea and mid-Wilshire. But Trebek Open Space doesn't feel like it was set aside to be especially scenic. There are plenty of other nearby hikes, like Runyon Canyon, for that. The open space is a place that, more than anything, is dedicated to the health and future of the city. 

    Trebek Open Space (MRCA)

    images: MRCA

  • 160,000 condoms are readied for Olympic athletes yet regulation requires they "avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact"

    At every Olympics since 1988, organizers have distributed more than 100,000 free condoms to the 15,000 participating athletes who live together in the Olympic Village for weeks. The condoms have been readied for this year as usual, and the manufacturers are pumped about the marketing opportunity, yet the Olympic rulebook states that the athletes must "avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact." From The Guardian:

    The mixed messaging has baffled observers, including the celebrated Japanese mountaineer, Ken Noguchi, who said handing out prophylactics while imploring their owners to keep them under wraps was "something I just can't comprehend".

    Games organisers have belatedly spun the anomaly into a safe sex message. The condoms are not intended for use in the athletes' village, they said. Instead, they are meant to be taken home and used to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS[…]

    While the IOC has said up to 80% of prospective Olympic and Paralympic village residents will be fully vaccinated by the time the Tokyo Games open on 23 July, they will spend much of their time there a safe distance from their fellow residents.

    Organisers were originally planning to provide meals in vast dining halls, but are now encouraging athletes to eat – and sleep – alone.

    image: commemorative vintage pin on eBay

  • "Die and go to hell, mother*****er!": Utah Assistant Attorney General's email to city council member who woke him from a nap

    Darin Mano, Salt Lake City's first Asian American council member, was going door to door campaigning on Saturday when he knocked at the home of Utah Assistant Attorney General Steven Wuthrich. Apparently, Wuthrich was napping and was quite unhappy to be disturbed, so he emailed the following to his colleague:

    "I will do everything in my power to see you never get elected to any office higher than dog catcher. I hate you. I hate your family. I hate your solicitors. I hate your contributors. I hate your sponsors. Kindly die and go to hell motherf—–!!!!"

    Mano told NBC News that given the increase in anti-Asian crimes and and racism he felt that it was important to inform the public of the matter. Wuthrich has since apologized. From NBC News:

    "Last Saturday I was awakened from a nap and reacted with undue anger based solely on the interruption to my tranquility," Wuthrich said in a statement. "Since then I have regretted the ferocity and language of that email. My words were uncivil and unprofessional."

    In his initial email, Wuthrich said he had an "unwanted solicitation" sign on his door. Mano said he saw the sign, but clarified that "solicitation and campaigning are not the same thing."

    "Our understanding of the law is that campaigning is protected under the First Amendment — that's why we were particularly shocked because one would think that the assistant attorney general would know the difference," he said.

  • New streetwear line with art by legendary Black Panther designer Emory Douglas

    From 1967 through the 1980s, Emory Douglas was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, the revolutionary social justice and political organization founded in Oakland, California. Douglas was the art director, designer, and primary artist for The Black Panther Newsletter and created the iconic Black Panther flyers, handouts, and posters. (Learn more about his work in the video below.) Art historian, artist, and professor Colette Gaiter famously referred to Douglas as "the Norman Rockwell of the ghetto, concentrating on the poor and oppressed." His work is as relevant, and as necessary, right now as it was 50 years ago.

    Now, Douglas has collaborated with Dutch streetwear brand Patta on a capsule collection of hoodies, jackets, t-shirts, and hats bearing his artwork.

    From HighSnobiety's interview with Patta brand director Lee Stuart:

    How did this collaboration even come about? What were some of the challenges?

    I literally followed Emory Douglas on his tour of Amsterdam. With a little help from his chaperones, I approached him, introduced myself and the brand briefly, and got his email address. I emailed him with the request to collaborate on a capsule collection but he shut that down real quick. From the start, the Black Panthers have understood that to really be about equality, you have to be anti-capitalist. All forms of oppression and inequality are tools of our capitalist system. It seemed impossible. But I know our intentions are good, so we stayed persistent. Mr. Douglas got more familiar with our brand and our ethics through repeated emails but also with some help from our mutual friends. He made some ground rules clear and then we got permission to work with his catalog.

  • Creepy scenes of Australian town blanketed in spider webs

    Flooding in Victoria, Australia this week has driven people, and apparently spiders, out of their homes. The mass arachnid migration resulted in a blanket of webs across East Gippsland. Australia's 7News quoted University of Sydney integrative ecologist Dieter Hochuli:

    "This is a surprisingly common phenomenon after floods. These are a group of spiders called sheet web spiders that spend their lives quietly catching a range of different insects from the ground layer.

    "They build a web that is a little bit different to the ones we're more familiar with, like orb webs, their ones are flat and the spiders often live between two layers of webbing.

    "When we get these types of very heavy rains and flooding these animals who spend their lives cryptically on the ground can't live there anymore, and do exactly what we try to do.

    "They move to the higher ground (and build a new house there)."

    The pictures remind me of the creepy ending scene of Kingdom of the Spiders (1977).

    image: jk409/Reddit

  • Aviation geek recreates airline meals at home

    Self-described "aviation geek" Nik Sennhauser of Glasgow, Scotland has missed air travel so much during the pandemic that he's been recreating inflight meals at home. I bet Nik's meals taste better though. He even uses airline dishes to serve such delicacies as lobster thermidor, meat patty and gnocchi, and fried chicken with waffles. From the BBC:

    "Then one Sunday I was making sausages, eggs and hash browns and thought it looked a bit like a plane meal," said Nik, a business support manager for a Glasgow-based e-commerce start-up.

    It was the spark which gave him the idea to recreate meals he had enjoyed on flights all over the world.

    "Being a plane geek I have a trolley filled with glasses, plates and cutlery," said Nik, who bought the authentic inflight items online.

    He now spends Sundays recreating meals for himself and his husband Graham.

    (via Kottke)

  • Watch this brazen Walgreens shoplifter fill a garbage bag with stolen stuff and ride a bike out the door

    Remember in October when we posted about a man brazenly shoplifting at a San Francisco Walgreens while TV news was in the store reporting on brazen shoplifting? The craziness continues, again captured on video (above) by a news reporter who happened to be in the store. I like how the reporter asks the security guard if she should call 911 and he responds with an "eh" shrug. Apparently, theft from San Francisco Walgreens stores is four times higher than their other US stores. Meanwhile, the company claims that their expenditures on security guards in San Francisco is 35 times more than they spend in other cities. Basically, the thieves know they are highly unlikely to get caught so they just have at it. From ABC7 News:

    "And even if somebody does get arrested, we can all talk about the track record of the D.A.'s office," said Tony Montoya of the Police Officers' Association, who has criticized that office for failing to prosecute certain robberies.[…]

    The Public Policy Institute of California compiled numbers showing San Francisco has the lowest arrest rate of any police department in California.

    "That answer does speak to staffing. I mean it's direct and this is not an excuse, this is a reality. In order for us to be at these locations when these things happen, the officers have to have time to be there," explained San Francisco Police Chief William Scott.

  • What are these strange videos of quick-cut random images accompanied by chaotic beeping noises?

    About 6 years ago, someone, or some thing, posted a slew of videos to YouTube of strange images quick-cut together with a backing track of chaotic electronic beeps. There are hundreds of them and each is 11 seconds long. The channel is called dailybleep. While there are other projects online with that name, I'm not convinced they are related. The Redditors at /rDeepIntoYouTube suggest the clips could be remnants of an alternate reality game. In any case, they certainly screw with my reality. What the hell are these things?

    (Thanks, UPSO!)

  • Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the first mobile phone call

    On June 17, 1946, a fellow driving through St. Louis made the first mobile phone call. It was the result of decades of engineering work at Bell Labs and Western Electric. Two years later, the service was available in nearly 100 cities and counted 5,000 subscribers. The monthly fee was $15, equivalent to $207 in today's dollars, plus around .35 per call, or $5 in today's dollars. From Today's Engineer:

    This wireless network could handle only a small volume of calls. A single transmitter on a central tower provided a handful of channels for an entire metropolitan area. Between one and eight receiver towers handled the call return signals. At most, three subscribers could make calls at one time in any city using the single transmitter and the tiny amount of spectrum allocated by the Federal Communications Commission to this service. It was in effect a massive party line, where a tightly controlled number of subscribers had to listen first for someone else on the line, and, if finding the line free, signal an operator, who would place the call. During the call, the user depressed a button on the handset to talk and released it to listen. The equipment, of course employing vacuum tubes, weighed eighty pounds, filled much of a vehicle's trunk and drew so much power that it would cause the headlights to dim.

  • Principal busted for plagiarizing another principal's reflections on the pandemic year. Twice.

    Greg Wilkey, principal of East Side Elementary in Chattanooga, Tenn, wrote a moving letter to staff reflecting on the pandemic year. The letter was so good that it spread on Facebook and was even covered by some media outlets. One of the readers was Stacie Bonnick, principal of Washington Technology Magnet School in St. Paul, Minnesota. Wilkey's message resonated with Bonnick so much that she sent it out to her staff. With no attribution. As if she wrote it. In fact, she was so pleased with the letter that she sent it again later in a newsletter to the entire school community. From the Pioneer Press:

    To at least one staff member at Washington Technology Magnet School, the principal's weekly message sounded a little too good.

    "Upon reading this it did not seem like her usual writing which is typically of poor academic quality. With a quick google search I was able to determine this in fact was not her work and the entire thing was plagiarized from another principal in another state," the staffer wrote Dec. 23 in an anonymous email to Superintendent Joe Gothard and school board members, which the staffer later forwarded to the Pioneer Press.

    Weeks later, Bonnick met with her supervisor and an investigator from the district's human resources department and admitted she plagiarized another principal's work.

    "You indicated that this was a poor decision on your part," assistant superintendent Andrew Collins wrote in a discipline letter the school district released this week, four months after the Pioneer Press asked for information about the incidents.

    Bonnick received a one-day suspension. Seems to me that she should receive a big fat F that would go on her "permanent record."

  • Painting by David Bowie found for $5 in a thrift store is now up for auction

    Last summer, someone scored an original painting by David Bowie at a thrift store in Ontario. The unidentified buyer paid $5 for the artwork, titled DHead XLVI. The painting is currently up for auction with a high bid of $18,000. From the Globe and Mail:

    "She was taken by the painting itself at first," said Rob Cowley, of the Toronto auction house Cowley Abbott, referring to the mystery owner. "Then she saw the printed label on the back that identified it as a work by David Bowie.[…]

    DHead XLVI is from Bowie's Dead Head series of portraits of friends, family members and bandmates painted from 1995 to '97. Self-portraits were also part of the series – one of which sold at auction in Glasgow for £22,500 in 2016.

    Bowie's signature has been independently verified by a London-based expert. According to the Toronto auctioneers, there are "no issues" with the canvas. "The frame has a few scrapes and scratches," said Cowley, "which is not uncommon with a work that has not been hanging on a wall."

  • Florida town accidentally sold its water tower to local businessman

    In Brooksville, Florida, personal trainer Bobby Read purchased a municipal building to convert into a fitness center. He paid $55,000. Turns out though that the deed also included the town's water tower. While the right thing to do would have been for Read to start selling the water back to the town at inflated prices, he instead initiated the process to legally return the tower to the city. From NPR:

    Mark Kutney, the Brooksville city manager, says the building Read wanted to buy was never split off from the parent property where the water tower is based, even though city leaders were aware it was supposed to be. City code allows properties to be split one time from their parent parcel, Kutney said.

    Kutney says he directed his staff to provide the city attorney with a legal description that separated the parcel. But the description that went to the attorney was still for the full property.

    "If there was any error, it was on my part," Kutney said. "I should have looked at it more closely, because that's where we dropped the ball."

    (Thanks to our Florida bureau chief, Charles Pescovitz!)

  • These are the rules for airplane armrests

    With more people flying, there's also been a noticeable increase of in-flight fights. Inspired by news of a physical altercation resulting from armrest conflict, Jason Torchinsky reminds us of the sane rules for armrest allotment that travelers with even a modicum of experience or common sense have been abiding by for quite some time. In summary, the aisle seat passenger the outside armrest. The window seat passenger gets the window armrest. And the middle seat?

    This seat gets the both armrests. The center seat has none of the benefits of the aisle or window, and as such is compensated with the use of both the armrests that border the seat.

    It is generally agreed to be the worst seat in the row, and as such deserves the compensatory extra armrest.

    "These Are The Definitive Rules For Airplane Armrest Allocation" (Jalopnik)

    image: El Gringo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

  • Check out LEGO's new model of Adidas Superstar sneakers

    LEGO showed off its buildable brick version of the iconic Adidas Superstar sneakers.

     "As shoes represent very organic objects, made from flexible material that also look different on every person, it was a fun challenge to translate this into the Lego System in Play, which by nature is square and blocky," said LEGO senior designer Florian Müller.

    The LEGO Adidas Originals Superstar Shoe is the size of an actual US 7.5 shoe and will sell for $90.


  • Olympic athlete banned for steroids, blames it on a burrito she ate

    Just weeks before the Olympic track trials US runner Shelby Houlihan has been suspended after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone. Houlihan insists that she wasn't doping but the positive test was caused by the burrito she had eaten earlier. From CNN:

    Houlihan said in a post on Instagram Monday that a burrito she ate before the test contained pig organ meat, or offal, which she said can lead to a positive test for nandrolone. A study funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found trace amounts of nandrolone can be found in that kind of meat and warned about the possibility of a false positive[…]

    "We concluded that the most likely explanation was a burrito purchased and consumed approximately 10 hours before that drug test from an authentic Mexican food truck that serves pig offal near my house in Beaverton, Oregon," she said.

    Nevertheless, Houlihan is now banned from competing in the US Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Olympic Games.

    image (cropped): jenaragon94 (CC BY 2.0)