• Documentary Now! spoof of Burden of Dreams and Werner Herzog is a winner

    If you're a documentary fan, no doubt you've enjoyed the first three seasons of Documentary Now!, the mockumentary series created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas. Their takes on classic documentaries are just so funny and so well done—it's one of my favorite things on television. Well, Season Four recently dropped and if you haven't watched it yet, you should go do so. I've only seen the premiere two-part episode, which they've titled "Soldier of Illusion." It's a spoof of the documentary Burden of Dreams (1982), directed by Les Blank, which was a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982). AMC Networks describes the episode: 

    The two-part, season premiere episode, "Soldier of Illusion," written by John Mulaney and starring Alexander Skarsgård (The Northman, Big Little Lies), Nicholas Braun (Succession, Zola) and August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds), was inspired by the Werner Herzog-focused documentary Burden of Dreams. In the early 1980s, a visionary German filmmaker (Skarsgård) tries to will his magnum opus into existence while working in the remote, punishing conditions of the Russian Ular mountains. Kevin Bishop (Miracle Workers, The Tracey Ullman Show), Gana Bayarsaikhan (Wonder Woman), Matthias Rimpler (Ludzie i Bogowie) and Fred Armisen will also star, with Documentary Now! ensemble alumni Deb Hiett returning as narrator.

    I have to say, Alexander Skarsgård is absolutely perfect as Werner Herzog. If you've seen Burden of Dreams or any Herzog film—Soldier of Illusion also makes reference to Herzog's AguirreGrizzly Man, and My Best Fiend—you'll find this episode especially hilarious, but even if you haven't, it's still absurd enough to make you laugh, even if you don't get any of the allusions.

  • How to take a quokka selfie

    If you ever find yourself on Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia, you're probably there for the quokkas. And if so, you're gonna need to be prepared to take the best quokka selfies possible, because, let's face it, for most of us that would be a once in a lifetime trip, and you're gonna want to get it right. Here's a video tutorial by Daxon, a wildlife photographer, filmed on Rottnest Island alongside many quokka friends. Daxon gives you all the info you need to master the quokka selfie. And as a bonus, you get to see footage of lots of quokka cuties. And here's another awesome quokka video—a compilation of folks visiting Rottnest Island and taking selfies with quokkas. I just can't get enough of these quokkas! Visiting Rottnest Island is on my bucket list, that's for sure!

  • December 5 is "Celebrate Shelter Pets Day"

    December 5 is "Celebrate Shelter Pets Day," which, yes, is one of those fairly recently made-up holidays, but who cares?? It's definitely one I can get behind! National Today explains:

    Celebrate Shelter Pets Day started in 2010 as a collaborative effort among the Humane Society of the U.S., the Ad Council, and Maddie's Fund. The event, which started on Facebook and was called "Shelter Pets Take Over Facebook Day," has grown to include all social platforms, and over 100 pets and their owners are now involved.

    The Humane Society of the United States (H.S.U.S.) is a non-profit organization in America that specializes in animal welfare and is against animal cruelty in the country. The organization works on different issues, including companion animals, farm animals, wildlife, and equines. H.S.U.S., based in Washington D.C., was founded in 1954 by Fred Myers, Helen Jones, Marcia Glaser, and Larry Andrews. H.S.U.S. does not oversee local shelters, animal care, or control agencies. It is known to promote best practices with a range of services throughout the country.

    The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed in 1824 in Britain, and the women in the association formed the first official animal shelter in the country. In 1974 it was reported that about 60% of American households were pet owners, and that number has increased as 67% of American households today own, and pamper, pets. The percentage of pet dogs adopted from shelters increased from 15% in 2006 to 35% in 2016. The internet and social media have helped with the increase in shelter pet adoption.

    Head over to National Today to see a quick timeline of animal shelters (the first shelter was formed in the U.S. in 1869 and the American Humane Association was founded in 1877) along with some ideas about how to celebrate, including: 1. Support a shelter; 2. Adopt a pet from a shelter; 3. Spoil your pet.

    Celebrating this holiday is easy! Go rescue a shelter pet! And if you already have a rescued pet, love them even more today (if that's even possible!). I am forever grateful for my family's two rescues, Henry Rollins and Jaxson Pawlick, pictured here. I'll give them even more treats and walks and hugs to celebrate!

  • A love song to an angry chihuahua

    Everyone, meet Robbie Pfeffer's angry son. I can't stop watching this ridiculous rendition of Dancing Queen, courtesy of the lead singer of Playboy Manbaby, and his angry Chihuahua. Oeoeoeoleo, commenting on the video, stated, "I am a vet and this is the finest TikTok I have ever seen. I have no notes." I agree 100%. Enjoy!

  • New podcast combines up two loves: The Mountain Goats and Magic: The Gathering

    The Mountain Goats and Magic: The Gathering fan "TheOtherTracy," as he goes by on Reddit and YouTube, just released the first episode of his new podcast, which is a mashup of his two loves—it's called "Mountain Goats X Magic: The Gathering." He describes the first episode this way:

    In the first episode of TMGxMGT, Tracy takes on The Mountain Goats' most famous song, No Children, and builds a deck that you'll need permission to play at your table.

    I watched the first episode on YouTube, and in the first few minutes he says, ""Maybe this is a niche thing," which made me laugh out loud. Ya think? Of course it's niche, but that's ok! I'd recommend it if you're a fan of either The Mountain Goats or Magic: The Gathering. And if you happen to sit at the intersection of the two, you'll probably be in heaven! 

    As a fan of one (The Mountain Goats), but woefully ignorant about the other (Magic: The Gathering), I admit that I was pretty lost during the discussion of the game. I loved Tracy's description of the inspiration behind the first deck he cultivated, though. It's based on the Goats' hit "No Children," which tells the story of the "Alpha Couple," a thoroughly dysfunctional couple that unravels completely throughout Tallahassee, the album that contains "No Children." He does a great job describing the album, the song, and the connections between the themes of the songs and the cards he chose for the deck. My attention span drifted off while listening to the second half of the episode when he dives deeply into the game, however—sorry, Tracy!

    Still, I appreciate Tracy's passion for this project, and absolutely love the image he chose for his podcast. It's his take on the cover of "All Hail West Texas," which is a simple white background with the name of the band and album in gold letters at the top. At the bottom of the album are the words: "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys." In Tracy's version, we see words in gold letters at the top that read: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS X MAGIC: THE GATHERING, and at the bottom of the image, "a podcast about 100 pieces of cardboard, a stack of LPs, a microphone, and telling stories in unexpected ways". I'll check back to see what he does for the second episode and beyond, but probably only for The Mountain Goats content. Who knows, though, maybe this is what it will take to convert me to a Magic: The Gathering fan?

    You can view and buy the cards here

  • Galleries of AI art from Midjourney

    AI art is hot right now, that's for sure. I'm fascinated by what folks are creating—some of it is just so terrific. I recently joined the "Official Midjourney" Facebook page, where folks post the art they're generating, and I thought I'd share some of my favorites.

    If you don't know what Midjourney is, here's a quick primer from How-to Geek:

    Before we talk about Midjourney, let's start with DALL-E 2, the one you may have heard about. DALL-E 2 sits at the high end of these AI-based image generator tools. It can create completely brand new images from a simple text prompt. You enter "a robot eating a taco," and it creates an image depicting a robot eating a taco.

    At the more basic level is Craiyon, formerly known as "DALL-E mini." This is a free web tool that anyone can use, but it's not nearly as sophisticated as DALL-E 2. The results are often strange and somewhat creepy, but it's still very fun to play with.

    Midjourney sits somewhere in the middle of DALL-E 2 and Craiyon. It also uses AI and machine learning to generate images based on text prompts. The results are usually quite good, but not as mind-blowing as DALL-E 2. The important thing is anyone can try the beta version of Midjourney right now (as of August 2022,) unlike DALL-E 2. No waiting period required.

    If you want to start generating your own AI art on Midjourney, How-to Geek also explains how to sign up. Here are the first parts of their instructions; you can head here to read the rest:

    The only thing you need to use the Midjourney Beta is a Discord account. That's where you will give text prompts to the Midjourney bot. You can sign up for a free account on Discord's website. After that, you can use Discord in a web browser or download the app for WindowsMacLinuxAndroid, and iPhone. Once you're all set up with Discord, we'll head over to the Midjourney website and select "Join the Beta."

    Here are two of my favorite Midjourney galleries to inspire you: First, check out this wild set of images by Cesare Parmiggiani: "Grannies are preparing to face a cold winter." Next, have your mind blown by Matt Panfil's "A Very Lisa Frank Apocalypse." 

  • "ATM Leaderboard" displays users' bank account balances

    A redditor just posted a video, in the subreddit r/WTF, of an installation currently on display at Art Basel Miami Beach. It's a repurposed ATM by art collective MSCHF that displays bank account balances of folks who insert their cards into it. 

    Art News reporter Shanti Escalante-de Mattei explains:

    At art fairs, gallerists have the difficult job of sizing up each person who comes by their booth and trying to answer a simple question: exactly how much money does this person have? But with a new work by the Brooklyn based art collective MSCHF, presented by Perrotin, the guesswork is taken out of the equation. Anyone who wants can approach an ATM that MSCHFset up at the booth and reveal their bank account balance. 

    ATM Leaderboard (2022) is an ATM that MSCHF acquired from an ATM manufacturing company, but then retrofitted with a screen emblazoned with the word "leaderboard" and a camera. When someone inserts their debit card and plugs in their pin, the camera takes a picture as the account balance flashes on the screen and an animation spins around, declaring the participant well endowed or…not so much. 

    When there's nobody actively inserting their card into the machine, the ATM displays account balances and pictures of previous users, in a loop. Shanti Escalante-de Mattei further describes the experience:

    Watching people approach the work is its own kind of show as they realize what it is and what it does, and have to make the calculation: do they really want people to know how much money they have in their bank account? One VIP present on preview day told a MSCHF member he could run the card on his behalf because he wasn't comfortable showing his face. What happens most often, according to Kevin Wiesner, a MSCHF artist, is that a group of four or so will approach the machine together, with one person ready and confident to put their card in the machine, but once faced with it, they hesitate, "'Actually…maybe not,'" Wiesner pantomimes. And perhaps that decision is warranted, because the judgements do come. On First Choice day, Weisner recounts people coming up to watch the screen and say, "Oh, that person should have more money…"

    What do you think about this installation? Would you put your card into the machine?

  • Qatar hosts Camel Beauty World Cup, assures they are cracking down on painful and disfiguring cosmetic procedures

    Since November 24, Qatar Camel Mzayen Club has been hosting the Camel Beauty World Cup, which wraps up tomorrow. The Daily Mail features a story about the competition along with a video showing both human and camel participants in the competition. At the beginning of the video Hamad Jaber al-Athba, President of the Qatar Camel Mzayen club, explains:

    The idea is similar to the soccer World Cup. We did a Camel Beauty World Cup. We have participants from the Gulf Corporation Council, we have big names, and today is the fifth day of the tournament. We saw that this has a lot of success, and the price of camels reached 10 million (about 2,750,000 USD), 15 million (about 4,120,000 USD), or 20 million (about 5,495,000 USD). So this success encouraged us to care for the sport. The camel has high regard in the Gulf countries because it was our companion during the formation of the state—the beginning of civilization in the Gulf. 

    He also explains how they judge the animals:

    The characteristics to measure the beauty of a camel differ from one group to another. For instance, the Black Camels are judged according to the size of the body and the head and the location of the ears. But the Maghateer-type camel, we look for proportionality and the ears should be dropping down, not standing straight, in addition to the way the mouth is curved. As far as Asel are concerned, they have special characteristics. The location of the ears is important. There should be delicacy in the bones, the hooves, so there are characteristics that need more detail.

    Next in the video, a man dressed in scrubs who looks to perhaps be a veterinarian explains that they are carefully inspecting each animal before they can compete, to crack down on the kinds of illegal enhancements that have plagued other similar contests:

    We are examining all the camels before they are allowed to participate in the competition to uncover any foul play or 'cosmetic surgery.' It causes tissue laceration, cuts the nerves, causes inflammation, fibrosis, fillers, Botox, silicone, everything that comes or doesn't comes to mind.

    The Daily Mail explains that camels in previous beauty contests had been subjected to procedures that caused permanent damage and painful injuries:

    In 2021, 43 camels were disqualified from a Saudi Arabia beauty contest after they were given Botox, face lifts and muscle-boosting hormones to make their lips droopier and their humps more shapely. The procedures can leave the camels with horrific injuries.

    Indeed, referencing a similar beauty contest that took place in Saudi Arabia last year, The Guardian reports:

    Authorities discovered dozens of breeders had stretched out the lips and noses of camels, used hormones to boost the animals' muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.

    Illustrating the horrific results of such procedures, The Daily Mail article also features a viral video from August 2021 showing camels whose lips ruptured after being pumped full of Botox for a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia. The video is incredibly disturbing, to say the least. The Daily Mail also reports that the Qatar contest has sought to cut down on these kinds of procedures:

    Hamad Jaber Al-Athba, the chief festival organiser, said work had been done to stop tampering, which includes the use of Botox and fillers, with the camels being put through X-rays and other monitoring. 'We had a professional veterinary staff and advanced equipment and we worked to combat tampering and limit the spread of cosmetic materials,' he said. 'Corruption was fought seriously at the Qatar Camel Festival.'

    I sincerely hope this is true, because this kind of animal abuse is unconscionable. But unless there is some kind of financial incentive for this animal abuse to stop, I'll remain skeptical. The Guardian explains that camel festivals and contests like the one currently happening in Qatar are extravaganzas that seek "to preserve the camel's role in the Bedouin tradition and heritage as the oil-rich country ploughs ahead with modernising mega projects." The Guardian also reveals that camel breeding is a "multimillion-dollar industry and similar events take place across the region." 

    According to the Gulf Times, while the contest ends December 2nd, the second edition of the Qatar Camel Festival will be kicking off January 28, 2023, also held by the Qatar Camel Mzayen Club. 

  • 16 cover versions of Three is a Magic Number, which turned 50 this year

    Bob Dorough's sweet little ditty, Three is a Magic Number, turned 50 this year. Pop Culture Experiment explains the origins of the song:

    In the early 1970s, Bob Dorough began writing music for advertising. Almost 50 years old, Dorough had already had a storied career as a jazz musician. He had a few albums under his belt, not mention that he had co-written a song that Mel Tormé later recorded.

    David McCall, who worked in advertising, had a problem he hoped the jazz veteran could solve: "My sons cannot memorize their times tables — yet they sing along with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, and they get their words." Dorough's challenge was to write a song — or songs — that could help kids like McCall's learn their multiplication tables. And while children were going to be the target audience, McCall gave Dorough one more directive: "Don't write down to children." Dorough's response was "Three Is A Magic Number," which sang of the significance of the number while also listing off multiples.

    McCall, pleased with the result, passed it along to his art director, who set to work on an animation to accompany Dorough's quirky song. Quickly, the project was no longer the record-and-workbook package as had been originally intended. Dorough's song was presented to Micheal Eisner, the head of ABC's daytime programming, and Chuck Jones, who had directed "Looney Tunes" and "Tom and Jerry." With their blessing, "Three Is A Magic Number" and many of Dorough's other songs made it onto ABC as part of "Schoolhouse Rock!"

    Debuting on Jan. 13, 1973, "Schoolhouse Rock!" was not a show, but rather a series of short videos that appeared in between episodes of longer shows. The inaugural week's song was "My Hero, Zero." The second week featured "Elementary, My Dear," focusing on multiples of two. And it was the third week, on Feb. 3, that ABC aired the song that inspired the whole project.

    However, the song originally had aired before 1973, as part of the pilot of Schoolhouse Rocks. The pilot, called "Curiosity Shop," debuted on September 2, 1971. According to Wikipedia:

    The Curiosity Shop version is an extended cut which includes an additional scene/verse that explains the pattern of each set of ten containing three multiples of three, animated in the form of a carnival shooting game.[6] This scene has never been rebroadcast on ABC, nor has it been included in any home media releases.

    You can watch the original pilot here (the song starts at 25:44).

    As a child of the 1970s, I've long been a fan of the tune. I fell in love with the song again in the late 1980s as a college student in Jackson, Mississippi, when I heard Hattiesburg, MS-based band Beagle Voyage cover the song at a local dive bar (sadly, I've searched high and low for a recording of Beagle Voyage covering Three is a Magic Number and haven't yet found it, please let me know if you run across it). Since the 1980s many other bands have covered the song. In 2018, Pop Culture Experiment dedicated one of its Cover Songs Uncovered columns to the song, which has a long history of delightful covers. Here are some versions they highlight:

    De La Soul (1989) 

    Crashdog (1992)

    Blind Melon (1996)

    Jeff Buckley (probably 1995)

    Embrace (2000)

    Elizabeth Mitchell (2002)

    Stevie Brock, Greg Raposo, & Matthew Ballinger (2004) (From the "Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers" musical)

    Rachel Garlin (2004)

    The Jellydots (2006)

    Lumiere (2013)

    In addition to all of those delightful covers, I searched around on YouTube and found some more: Here's a trombone cover by Paul Hefner (2000), a ukulele cover by Todd Lorenc Ukulele Music (2018), a cover played by three mandobasses by the Ecco Mandolin Ensemble (2022), a folksy version played live by Key of G at People Fest 2021, and a really sweet kind of smooth jazz vibe version by Ed Mount (2020). Somehow, they all work, and for me, hearing the song never gets old. I think Three is a Magic Number must be a magical song.

  • The Devon Maid is walking again!

    Thanks to a kind soul on the BB discussion boards, I now know who created the 'how food walks' videos. She's called "The Devon Maid" on TikTok and her page is a wondrous collection of truly inspired comedy. Here's her interpretation of how 'crisps' would walk. Not only is it funny, it's also informative—I learned about flavors of chips (crisps) that I never knew existed, including cheesed off red onion, firecracking lobster, smoky bacon, and flaming hot twisted. Wild!

    Here's her take on how milkshakes would walk. And office supplies. And various items of clothing. And chocolate bars (again, I learned about brands I've never heard of–Lion, Curly Wurly, and Crunchi). Her TikTok also includes glimpses of what it's like to be "63 and single." Here she is at 63 doing a flip over a bar—impressive! 

    I scrolled all the way through hundreds of TikToks to find her first ones, which she published under her real name, Jane McKennan, and was able to find an article about her in Wales Online. They explain:

    Having posted her first TikTok video in March 2021, the childminder of 30 years is quite incredulous about how her online fame has skyrocketed. Such is her newfound notoriety, she has even been scouted to appear on Britain's Got Talent, an invitation she is keen to take up.

    "Imagine watching Simon Cowell's face if he saw me walking like a Mars bar or something," she laughed. Jane, who is happily single, worked as a childminder until July this year when two families she worked for relocated.

    She credits her youthful humour as the potential reason behind her unexpected success. "It's just crazy at my age," she said.

    "I think a lot of people my age might do grandmother cooking videos and a lot of people comment saying I'm really young in my ways, so they can relate to that.

    "I think everyone is quite surprised about how I think. Maybe I've got a childish sense of humour."

    Read the rest of the article here, and watch more of her videos on her TikTok!

  • Send happy thoughts for our favorite pig, Esther!

    I've previously written about Esther the wonder pig, internet sensation and inspiration behind the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary in Campbellville, Ontario, Canada, that Esther's humans Steve and Derek were able to open in 2014.

    Well, Esther's been having some health issues and had to go under sedation today for some tests. Her dads posted about her procedure on Instagram this morning:

    We're at the hospital for Esther's CT Scan and with any luck, we'll be going home today with answers regarding what's causing her trouble lately. If you can spare some happy thoughts and well wishes we would very much appreciate them. 

    Esther was sedated at 9:30 am EST and we hope to have her back in her recovery space by early afternoon. We will keep you all posted as soon as reasonably possible.

    Stay up to date on her condition on her Instagram page, and send some good healthy piggie vibes into the universe for this awesome beast!

  • Who is "Loab" and what lesson about AI is she trying to teach us?

    Check out this super creepy AI creation, called "Loab." She was created by accident, but keeps appearing online, often in really scary and violent depictions and scenes. Smithsonian Magazine succinctly explains Loab: 

    Earlier this month, Twitter user Supercomposite posted a thread of spooky images featuring a woman she calls "Loab," who usually has red cheeks and dark, hollow eyes. Since then, the images, which range from unsettling to grotesque, have gone viral.

    The images of Loab all come from an artificial intelligence (A.I.) art tool. These tools, like DALL-E 2, create images based on text prompts users input into the platform—and they are having a cultural moment as of late. Just last month, a piece of A.I.-created art won the Colorado State Fair art competition. Plenty of artists are experimenting with such tools to merge art with technology and create new, avant-garde pieces.

    I also just read this fascinating deep dive into the promise and pitfalls of Artificial Intelligence by Ange Lavoipierre, writing for ABC News (Australia), which tells the story of Loab. ABC News explains:

    Loab (pronounced "lobe") was first discovered in April this year by 31-year-old artist Steph Swanson, known online as Supercomposite.

    Steph was at home in Uppsala, Sweden, experimenting with one of the many game-changing AI image generation tools which are now publicly available.

    These tools produce original images that are based on the description you type in.

    That day, she was using negative prompt weights, a technique which produces the theoretical opposite of whatever you ask for.

    Steph's request for the opposite of Marlon Brando produced a business logo.

    But when she asked the AI for the opposite of the description of the logo, something unexpected happened.

    "I got four images of the same woman," she says.

    Steph had never seen the AI behave in such a way before.

    "If you use negative prompts … a lot of times it's really varied. So it was really unusual to get a bunch of images of what was recognisably the same woman," she says.

    "Even if you describe a person in a positive prompt … you get people that match that description, but you don't get literally the same person.

    "I immediately recognised this is an anomaly."

    She repeated the experiment straight away, to test whether it was a fluke – it wasn't.

    "As I ran this prompt more and more and kept getting [Loab], it was like, 'Oh, this is like the only thing that this prompt makes, this woman.'"

    The woman in the image was always sad, sometimes wet-cheeked like she'd been crying, with her mouth half open "like she's sobbing", says Steph.

    Once, she appeared next to some garbled text spelling "Loab", and the name stuck.

    Stranger still, Loab always appeared in the same location: a house with brownish-green walls, alongside cardboard boxes, junk, and the occasional stuffed toy.

    The rest of the article describes the Loab saga in more detail, and dives into the sometimes fascinating, sometimes disturbing world of AI—a sector that, according to Ange Lavoipierre, is "having a breakthrough moment, fuelled by hype, venture capital, and a decade of generous research funding." But the Loab phenomenon, Lavoipierre argues, "exposes just how little we understand about AI." Is it true that "AI itself is advising caution"? And if so, what are the warnings and will anyone heed them?

    If you want to see more images of Loab, here's artist Supercomposite's Twitter thread.

  • Baby capybaras take their first soak at Shizuoka Zoo

    As we recently shared, it's been scientifically proven that capybaras love hot baths. Turns out that finding seems to hold across all ages of capybara. Ten capybara babies were born at Shizuoka Zoo in central Japan this fall, between August and October. Those babies just enjoyed their first hot bath, which the zookeepers enhanced by adding yuzu citrus fruit. NHK World Japan News reports that:

    The younger ones dived into the hot water and played around. They provided the visitors with great photo opportunities.

    You can watch the babies enjoying their first bath here.

  • Cruise ships continue to carry COVID-19

    The Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, which is operated by Cunard and owned by Carnival Corporation, is currently floating somewhere in the Indian Ocean, making its way from Bali to its final port at Freemantle, Western Australia. It's currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak and was blocked by Indonesia from making a scheduled stop in Bali; the cruise will cut the last week of its journey, which was supposed to have been spent exploring Bali. We don't know how many people onboard are infected with COVID-19, but it's clearly enough to have caused alarm for Indonesian officials. Jim Walker, writing for Cruise Law News, explains:

    ABC News in Australia reports that the "WA (West Australia) government said it had received information that 10 to 15 percent of the people on board are COVID-positive."

    With nearly 2,100 passengers and a crew of around 1,000, that means that between 310 and 465 people on the Cunard ship were positive for COVID-19.

    The Australian newspaper added that the "abandonment of the ship's Bali tour follows the berthing of the Majestic Princess in Sydney earlier this month, carrying 800 COVID-positive passengers and crew."

    Jim Walker goes on to list many other COVID-laden cruise ships that have approached ports in Australia within the last month:

    Majestic Princess – 800 infected guests (Sydney); 

    Quantum of the Seas – 400 infected guests (heading toward Queensland)

    Coral Princess – 290 infected guests and crew (Fremantle);

    Grand Princess – 200 infected guests (Melbourne);

    Ovation of the Seas – 129 infected guests and 2 crew member (New Zealand)

    Majestic Princess – 116 infected guests (Tahiti).

    I wouldn't go on a cruise if you paid me, but that was true even before the pandemic. If you like cruising, go for it, just be prepared that there might also be COVID-19 on board!

  • Why are period products still so poorly engineered?

    Watch this eight-minute explanation of the history of period paraphernalia by Montreal video artist Arizona O'Neill. She created this project out of her frustration with current products on the market that are all pretty 'meh' in their own ways: the pad, the tampon, the menstrual cup. She explains, in the accompanying article on CBC News:

    Our silence on the subject of staunching period blood goes a long way to explaining why each of the most commonly used products — the pad, the tampon and even the menstrual cup — is so poorly engineered.

    She then deconstructs the failings of each current product:

    Pads are bulky and uncomfortable. They chafe. In tight leggings, you worry a pad will be noticeable through the thin material.

    My grandmother says the Kotex pads she wore were so thick, she could not even get into her pants with one on. I associate them with an older generation that wore a lot of skirts and dresses.

    Tampons come in different sizes: light, regular, super, super plus and ultra. But sizing is far from a perfect science. It is difficult to predict your own flow. Sometimes they hurt. Sometimes they leak.

    Then there are the horror stories: I know one woman who accidentally put in a tampon, forgetting she already had one in place. The first tampon stayed lodged inside her for two weeks before she had to be rushed to the doctor in severe pain.

    She's not alone. It is easy to forget you have a tampon in, and leaving it in too long can lead to infection and, in rare cases, toxic shock syndrome.

    Finally, there are menstrual cups, commonly known by the brand name DivaCup. They are not exactly user friendly. They are tricky to put in, as they need to slip directly over your cervix. An imperfect fit can cause leakage and a mess. They are also hard to take out without spilling blood.

    In the video, she explores the taboos around menstrual products and then dives into their history. She explains that the Kotex brand of menstrual pads was created in 1921 as a way use the excess Cellucotton that had been manufactured by Kimberly Clarke as dressings for wounded soldiers in World War I. Tampax started creating commercial tampons in 1933, and menstrual cups began being manufactured in the 1930s. She then asks, "How is it, since people have been menstruating since the beginning of time, that this is the best the marketplace has to offer?"

    She doesn't cover the recent trend of period panties, but perhaps they are a step in a better direction?

  • Pandemic Memes Collection helps you laugh when you want to cry

    If, like me, you subscribe to the 'laugh so you won't cry' approach to the pandemic, I've got a Substack for you. It's called "Pandemic Memes Collection" and features user-made memes and infographics on a variety of pandemic-related matters: masks, "hybrid immunity," long COVID, and more. Be forewarned, though: this collection of memes is very pro-mask, pro-science, pro-reality, and pro-public health. Along with the memes, users often share links to participate in online campaigns for better masking, better ventilation, and more.

    My current favorite meme featured on the site is called "This is Fine: Too Many Variants," which the site describes as the "This is Fine meme but with an evolutionary flow chart." Pandemic Memes Collection also adds this alt text:

    Meme: "This is fine dog" removed from his house, but remains at his table enjoying coffee. Flames surround the table. He is superimposed over an evolutionary flow chart starting with SARS-CoV-2 variant BA.2 before fracturing off in to an overwhelming number of branches, sub branches, and iterative branches demonstrating a complexity I don't know how to convey in alt text. There are too many evolutionary branches.

    The original image that you see in the background, which maps out current COVID-19 variants, was created by Daniele Focosi, who describes himself on his Twitter as: "MD, specialist in Hematology, PhD in Virology, MSc in clinical trials in oncohematology, transfusion physician." He recently tweeted the image used in the meme along with the text describing it: "Convergent evolution chart UPDATE 11/14. New entries: BQ.1.25, DE.2, DF.1, BF.34, XBB.1.5, CM.8.1, BA.5.2.41, and especially BE.9 from Amazonas."

    Pandemic Memes Collection is run by Chloe Humbert, who describes herself succinctly: "Chloe Humbert. I want better for us." I want that, too, Chloe. Thank you for your work!

  • In the U.S. you can now report at-home COVID test results

    It is well known that the official COVID numbers represented in the CDC maps are undercounts—for many reasons, including that many state and local public health departments are no longer reporting cases regularly, and because the results from home tests aren't included. Up until now, there's been no easy way to report an at-home rapid antigen test. That has changed, recently, however. The National Institutes of Health have released a website where you can anonymously report at-home rapid antigen tests. The NIH explains:

    Reporting a positive or negative test result just became easier through a new website from the National Institutes of Health. MakeMyTestCount.org, developed through NIH's Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx®) Tech program, allows users to anonymously report the results of any brand of at-home COVID-19 test.

    COVID-19 testing remains an essential tool as the United States heads into the holiday season and people navigate respiratory viruses. While taking a rapid COVID-19 test has become commonplace, test results are not often reported. COVID-19 test results provide valuable data that public health departments can use to assess the needs and modify the responses in the local community, the state or the nation.

    Lab tests have a well-established technology system for sharing test results. RADx Tech has been working on a system to standardize test reporting for at-home tests in a secure manner. The MakeMyTestCount.org website is built on this system for logging test results.

    The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) supported development of MakeMyTestCount.org through the RADx Tech program.  

    Here's the website to report your home tests. And if you're concerned about privacy, the website makes it very clear that: "Your answers are anonymous, secure, and cannot be traced back to you."

    This won't suddenly solve all of the issues with official counts under-representing the actual risks of COVID transmission, but it's a step in the right direction. 

  • Amazon's high injury rates under scrutiny

    Just in time for the holidays—which for many folks will include ordering mounds of gifts from online sellers—here's an informative and disturbing podcast about worker safety (or lack thereof) at Amazon, the leading online retailer in the United States. The investigative journalists at Reveal have just released "A Reckoning at Amazon," which provides a deep dive into Amazon and its abysmally high injury rates. Reveal explains that, "As Amazon has made huge profits, their worker injury rates are higher than other companies"–Business Insider specifies that "While Amazon workers are twice as likely as non-Amazon warehouse workers to get hurt, per the federal data, they're four times as likely to incur a musculoskeletal disorder." Reveal further describes the episode:

    Host Al Letson speaks with Reveal's Will Evans, who's been reporting on injuries at Amazon for years. By gathering injury data and speaking with workers and whistleblowers, he has shown that Amazon warehouse employees are injured on the job at a higher rate than at other companies. Evans' reporting has focused national attention on the company's safety record, prompting regulators, lawmakers and the company itself to address the issue more closely. Members of Congress have scrutinized Amazon's working conditions – and at the state level, lawmakers and safety regulators are taking action against Amazon in ways they never have before.

    To read more about Amazon's injury rates, here's an in-depth report by the National Employment Law Project and another one from the Strategic Organizing Center. And if you want more hard-hitting investigative journalism, subscribe to Reveal, it's terrific:

    Reveal is the country's first weekly investigative public radio show and podcast. Peabody Award-winning host Al Letson takes listeners across the country and the world, exposing wrongs and holding the powerful accountable. Whether it's Amazon's poor workplace safety record, inequity in the juvenile justice system or exploitation at drug rehabs, Reveal connects with listeners through gripping and compassionate storytelling. Reveal is co-produced with PRX.

  • Reading Rainbow, remixed

    Check out this hot, fresh, new reimagining of the "Reading Rainbow" theme, "In Your Imagination," starring your favorite book and reading advocate, LeVar Burton. I grew up with the old theme, which I loved ("Take a look, it's in a book, a Reading Rainbowwwww"), and I'm here to report that the Reading Rainbow Remix, "In Your Imagination," by John D. Boswell (also known as melodysheep) is just as catchy as the old one—"A book lets you zoom (zoom!) through time and space!"

    While you're at it, check out the other PBS remixes – here's a Bob Ross "Happy Little Clouds" remix, and here's a Julia Child remix, "Keep on Cooking." They're all terrific! Thanks, melodysheep!

  • Archaeologists reveal the white supremacist nonsense behind Netflix's "Ancient Apocalypse"

    I watched all eight episodes of the Netflix 'docuseries' Ancient Apocalypse, so you don't have to. The series is hosted by Graham Hancock, who's been on a mission for decades to disrupt "big archaeology" (as someone with a master's degree in archaeology and who worked in the field for a few years, the idea of "big archaeology" makes me literally laugh out loud) and their supposed power, which he posits has been used to suppress his important findings about the existence of some kind of lost, ancient advanced civilization of the Ice Age that was nearly wiped out by a cataclysmic cosmic (meteor) event 12,000 years ago and whose few survivors worked their way around the world to teach later communities their wise ways. It's a frustrating watch, that's for sure–each episode hints at some big revelation, and you have wait until the last episode to see the full spectacle that's on display. Spoiler alert: the big, final reveal is that the Ice Age ancients didn't just get almost wiped out and then come back to teach their ways to folks thousands of years ago – they're also issuing a warning to US – that we're all about to be destroyed by meteor particles. Cool.

    Needless to say, most actual archaeologists think this is all pretty much bunk. I knew this going in, but wanted to see the series for myself. I knew I was in for a wild ride when within the first minute of the first episode, we see clips of Graham Hancock being interviewed by Brian Rose and Joe Rogan (who shows up again in the last episode). 

    In the beginning sequences of the first episode, Hancock sets the stage:

    I don't claim to be an archaeologist or a scientist. I am a journalist, and the subject that I'm investigating is human prehistory. My suspicion is, humans are a species with amnesia. We have forgotten something incredibly important in our own past. And I think that that incredibly important forgotten thing is a lost, advanced civilization of the Ice Age. I've spent decades searching for proof of this long lost civilization at sites around the globe. Now, my aim is to piece together these clues to show you evidence that challenges the traditional view of human history: Ancient structures built with surprising sophistication, revealing the fingerprints of an advanced prehistoric civilization. The possibility of civilization emerging earlier than we think gets much stronger. Of course, this idea is upsetting to the so-called experts who insist that the only humans who existed during the Ice Age were simple hunter-gatherers. That automatically makes me enemy number one to archaeologists. Perhaps there's been a forgotten episode in human history. But perhaps the extremely defensive, arrogant, and patronizing attitude of mainstream academia is stopping us from considering that possibility. I'm trying to overthrow the paradigm of history.

    Later in the series, upon pointing out that prehistoric structures all over the world share elements such as terraces, inner chambers, and astronomical (as in, the planets and stars) orientations, he asks, "Could we be witnessing the unfolding of some extraordinary master plan? A shared legacy from a lost global civilization that provided the seeds and the spark of inspiration from which many later civilizations grew?"

    Sure, the series is entertaining, I guess, and it's cool to see many of the ancient structures he visits. If it were just a wacky tale of Atlantis or aliens or such, it might be easy to laugh off. But the whole theory is steeped in racism and white supremacy, so it's not just harmless entertainment. Rebecca Onion, writing for Slate, interviews an actual archaeologist, John Hoopes, who teaches at the University of Kansas. Dr. Hoopes explains:

    Here's something else that happens in the second episode. The first person he talks to is Geoff, on this tour of Cholula, but the second person who he talks to, who takes him to a couple of different sites? This is a guy named Marco Vigato, who last year published a book on the lost continent of Atlantis called The Empires of Atlantis, which is one of the most white supremacist, racist books that I have ever seen. He's not an archaeologist; he's not a historian. He's sort of an entrepreneur who has been able to get some permits to work at archaeological sites in Mexico. You could not have a more stark contrast between Geoff McCafferty, who is a highly respected qualified archaeologist, and Marco Vigato, who is basically a hack who writes very bizarre things, including this Atlantis book.

    He goes on to reveal more about Graham Hancock's troubling engagement with white supremacy:

    If you research Graham Hancock and look at his books over time, as I have, one of the things that you discover about him is that he self-edits. He doesn't use the word Atlantis now except very sparingly. He has also edited himself since 1995, when, in Fingerprints of the Gods, he came out and said that it was an ancient white civilization. He no longer says the "white" part in the series. If you pay careful attention, he does talk about "heavily bearded Quetzalcoatl" who arrives, according to myth, to give the gift of knowledge, but he doesn't mention the other part of that trope, which all of us know about, which is that this visitor supposedly had white skin.

    It's similar to the way that Donald Trump operates. He will get to the edge of something, but he won't say it, because he knows that his followers already know it. He can say, "I didn't say that," and he didn't say it, but everyone knew what he said because it was already known, right?

    So why is this on Netflix? Lots of people are asking that question. Stuart Heritage, writing for the Guardian, provides one possible explanation: 

    If you don't like Hancock's story about the super-intelligent advanced civilisation being wiped off the face of the planet, here's another that might explain how Netflix gave the greenlight to Ancient Apocalypse: the platform's senior manager of unscripted originals happens to be Hancock's son. Honestly, what are the chances?

    Correction: Brian Rose, not Jordan Petserson