This new clip from American Gods Season 2 is worrisome

The first season of American Gods was great. Ian McShane! Ricky Whittle! Gillian Anderson! Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy? Perfection.

And then, after the season wrapped up, shit went down. Show runners left. So did Gillian Anderson. Chaos ensued. The production finally managed to get their act together and BOOM, the trailer for Season 2 was released, promising us more dark whimsy than we deserve.

This new scene released by Amazon, however... isn't great. Maybe it's the fact that we're seeing it out of context. It's a wee bit of story in the middle of a much greater epic. But it feels a little bit off: there's no tension here. The level of creepy that Crispin Glover usually delivers isn't there. It's a quick clip, but damn, does it drag. If Amazon and Starz were looking to whip up excitement in the show's fan base, this seems like a really strange clip to release into the wild.

I'm hoping I'm wrong. I hope that, knowing all the behind-the-scenes drama, I'm reading into trouble that isn't there. But man, I'm kinda worried about the quality of Season 2 now. Read the rest

Japan opens its doors wide to immigration

As populism and a tilt to the political right has prompted many nations to question once welcoming immigration and refugee policies and embrace xenophobia, a nation with a centuries long reputation for insularity has decided to move in the other direction. With its rapidly aging population and an underwhelming birthrate, Japan is opening its doors to large-scale immigration.

From The New York Times:

Under a bill approved by Parliament’s upper house in the early-morning hours, more than a quarter-million visas of five-year duration will be granted to unskilled guest laborers for the first time, starting in 2019.

Under the new measure, between 260,000 and 345,000 five-year visas will be made available for workers in 14 sectors suffering severe labor shortages, including caregiving, construction, agriculture and shipbuilding.

The measure also creates a separate visa category for high-skilled workers, who will be allowed to stay for unlimited periods and enjoy greater benefits, including permission to bring their families to Japan.

As The New York Times points out, over the next 25 years, Japan's population is set to shrink by 16 million people, or 13 percent. During the same period, the number of old folks in Japan will increase to make up 1/3 of the population. This leaves an incredible vacuum of caregivers, laborers and other positions that must be filled.

Not everyone is thrilled with the country's fresh, welcoming approach to immigration. But their feelings on the matter are moot: unless the Japanese start having a shitload of babies, which they're not, the nation will be in a serious bind when the bulk of their current population becomes too old to be able to keep the nation's infrastructure and businesses humming along efficiently. Read the rest

Florida driver caught by cops for using James Bond-style license plate

A driver from Orange County Florida was dinged by the cops for using a very slick-looking device to obscure his license plate while using a toll road. It would have been the perfect crime, except for one thing: when the driver worked his license plate magic, he failed to notice that there was a police car rolling right up on his back bumper. Read the rest

United Nations: too many women are being killed by their loved ones at home

Despite gains over the past century in the area of equal rights, equal pay and, in some regions, not having some assclown with a penis dictate what they do with their bodies, women, on the whole, still hold the short end of a very shitty stick. While men might feel safest and most comfortable inside the walls of their home, a new report from The United Nations has reiterated what far too many woman already know: the place that women call home is more dangerous than anywhere else they might roam.

From The New York Times:

About one in five homicides is carried out by an intimate partner or family member, and women and girls make up the vast majority of those deaths, the report concluded after analyzing the available data.

Of the approximately 87,000 women who were victims of intentional homicide last year around the world, about 34 percent were murdered by an intimate partner and 24 percent by a relative.

The rate of women killed by a partner or relative was highest in countries in Africa, followed by the Americas. The lowest rate was in Europe.

The New York Times points out that the U.N.'s report comes with a few caveats. First, it's worth mentioning that the vast majority of those murdered every year are men. But they're far less likely to be killed by an intimate partner or family member than a woman is. Second, women are just as capable of killing a family member or intimate partner as men are. Read the rest

Video: Red Rose Tattoo offers to cover up racist ink at no charge in a stand against hate

Billy Joe White, the owner of Red Rose Tattoo in Zanesville, Ohio is taking a stand against hate.

Red Rose Tattoos has an open door policy to anyone who chose to adorn their flesh with swastikas, white power symbols and other racist bullshit: visit the shop and you'll receive a beautiful piece of body art to cover up your hateful ink, for no charge. It's a small, important gesture that can change the lives of formerly hateful folks in a powerful way. Read the rest

In the future we might paint our homes with dead Christmas trees

Lots of folks celebrate Christmas by stashing their presents under the same reusable plastic and aluminum wire Christmas tree every winter: it's a thoughtful, cost-efficient way to cut down on the amount of post holiday garbage that winds up in wood chippers or the local dump every year.

However, a lot of people still like to kick it old school with a cut-from-its-roots-and-left-to-slowly-die-in-a-pot-of-water conifer. They smell and look amazing...for a while. Once the presents have been unwrapped and the tree begins to brown, out the door it goes. Upwards of 30 million Americans wind up tossing out these Yuletide corpses every year. Happily, it looks like a scientist has sorted out a the means for making better use of these discarded trees once folks are finished getting their holly-jolly on with them.

The process involves breaking down a chemical called lignocellulose in needles of dead pine trees into a useful substance that could be used to make paint or artificial sweeteners and other wicked useful products.

From Futurism:

Lignocellulose is ugly. No, really. Its chemical structure makes it difficult to use for biomass energy, and it serves little industrial purpose. Sheffield PhD student Cynthia Kartey’s work has focused on examining ways to make use of this material, and now she may be on to something.

Using heat and glycerol, Kartey was able to break down the pine needles into two components, one of which was made mostly of materials like glucose, acetic acid and phenol. All three have uses in other industries — glucose is used to make food sweeteners, phenol is used in products like mouthwash, and acetic acid for making adhesives, vinegar, and even paint.

Read the rest

The Chinese government is putting tracking chips into school uniforms to watch every move kids make

Just when you thought that the Chinese government's extensive surveillance of the country's citizens couldn't get any creepier or more intrusive, Xi Jingping slyly raises an eyebrow and asks the west to hold his Tsingtao:

From The Epoch Times:

In China’s latest quest to build an all-seeing surveillance state, schools have become part of the state’s monitoring apparatus.

Students at more than 10 schools in Guizhou Province, one of China’s poorest provinces, and the neighboring Guangxi region are now required to wear “intelligent uniforms,” which are embedded with electronic chips that track their movements.

The uniforms allow school officials, teachers, and parents to keep track of the exact times that students leave or enter the school, Lin Zongwu, principal of the No. 11 School of Renhuai in Guizhou Province, told the state-run newspaper Global Times on Dec. 20.

If students skip school without permission, an alarm will be triggered.

If students try to game the system by swapping uniforms, an alarm also will sound, as facial-recognition equipment stationed at the school entrance can match a student’s face with the chip embedded in the uniform.

Each of the "intelligent uniforms" contain two tracking chips which, according to the company that makes them, can withstand temperatures of up to 150 degrees Celsius and at least 500 runs through a washing machine -- so much for accidentally destroying the hardware. In addition to keeping track of the whereabouts of the kids that wear them for every moment of their school day, the uniforms' chip set can also tell when a child is nodding off during the school day and be used to make cashless purchases of school lunches and other educational necessities. Read the rest

Weekend Tunes: DeVotchKa – Straight Shot

DeVotchKa's latest album, This Night Falls Forever, has been on near constant rotation in our home since I picked it up a few weeks ago. As usual, the band's music is heartrendingly beautiful. Straight Shot is the first track on the album and the one that, for me at least, has been the band's biggest ear worm this time around. Read the rest

Pipes under Portland produce power while they deliver water to homes and businesses

Apparently, this story popped up back in 2015, but it's so cool that it's still worth reading about now: the city of Portland, Oregon has water pipes buried underneath of it that not only carry clean drinking water to the locals, but also generate hydroelectric power at the same time!

From Fast Company:

In Portland, one of the city's main pipelines now uses Lucid's pipes to make power that's sent into the grid. Though the system can't generate enough energy for an entire city, the pipes can power individual buildings like a school or library, or help offset a city's total energy bill. Unlike wind or solar power, the system can generate electricity at any time of day, regardless of weather, since the pipes always have water flowing through them.

The pipes can't generate power in every location; they only work in places where water is naturally flowing downward with gravity (if water is being pumped, the system would waste energy). But they have another feature that can be used anywhere: The pipes have sensors that can monitor water, something that utilities couldn't do in the past.

Providing power to partially operate water treatment and pump facilities during the day and then juice up streetlights at night: what's not to love about that? Read the rest

Prominent newspapers across the United States come under cyberattack

2018 has been a dangerous year for those who bring us the news: according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 129 journalists were killed this year. For the first time in history, the United States has been listed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists to ply their trade. The President of the United States has been calling the media industry an "enemy of the people" for the past two years. Many of his acolytes have bought into his bullshit: news rooms have come under assault by gunmen. Bomb threats against TV stations have been made on a number of occasions. Nicaragua's government has hamstrung the nation's independent press. Jamal Khashoggi of The Washington Post was strangled and sawed to pieces by Saudi operatives. President Trump pretty much shrugged his shoulders and got on with his life. The hate and distrust showered on those working to cast light on the dark secrets that our governments would rather not be known are a budding fascist's wet dream.

And now, many of the nation's newspapers of record have suffered a cyberattack.

From The Los Angeles Times:

A cyberattack that appears to have originated from outside the United States caused major printing and delivery disruptions at several newspapers across the country on Saturday including the Los Angeles Times, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The attack led to distribution delays in the Saturday edition of The Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and several other major newspapers that operate on a shared production platform.

Read the rest

Teddy Ruxpin won't leave my tortured brain alone

Just now, I tried to recall what I had for lunch the other day. I had to wrestle with it for a few moments before I was able to pin a chicken chimichanga at Espi & T's to the mat for a ten-count.

I don't remember the face of the the woman who broke my heart while I was in my early 20s nor what happened to the boxes of the comic books I used to own. But my head absolutely refuses to let go of the theme song to The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin -- a cartoon that I watched MAYBE twice in my life. It's been slowly driving me insane for the past few days.

Share in my pain. Read the rest

Kevin Spacey's creepy Frank Underwood video: now with Director's Commentary

This director's commentary of the bizarre Kevin Spacey video that heralded his being charged with felony indecent assault and battery this week doesn't explain what in the hell Spacey was thinking when he filmed it. It is, however, an absolute improvement over having to listen to the cornered megalomaniac blather in that tired, far from endearing Frank Underwood drawl.

Thanks to James Urbaniak (AKA Skip Sullivan) for bringing us all a little holiday cheer. Read the rest

Medieval peasant food was frigging delicious

Hollywood would have you believe that if you lived during medieval times and didn't have the good fortune to be born into a noble family, you were forced to survive by eating thin soup, gruel and the occasional rabbit. In this video, the good folks at Modern History TV set the record straight. Read the rest

N64 modder re-imagines classic Super Mario

Classic games, computers and gaming consoles are a source of joy for those who came of age when the titles and hardware were cutting edge commodities. Few things can transport you back to your youth faster than playing with what made you happy back in the day. For some people, playing with the games of yore includes tinkering to make something new and wonderful.

From Kotaku:

Modder Kaze Emanuar has taken the 2D level design of that older game and crammed it into the engine of Super Mario 64. Judging from the video that announced the mod, this allows the player to do all the leaping, hopping, and air flipping that a modern Mario can do while still enjoying the “classic” feel of the levels.

Read the rest

New iPad Pros are coming out of the box already bent

It hasn't been a good year for Apple. The company's had to confirm that they've been throttling speeds of older iPhones to maintain battery efficiency. They were caught throttling their latest MacBook Pros to well below their advertised base processor speeds in order to deal with the thermal demands of the chipset inside of them. iOS 11 was buggy as all get out. Worst of all, the keyboards that are baked into almost all of the laptop computers sold by Apple over the past few years are so delicate that dust or a crumb getting beneath a key cap could be cause for costly repair.

The problem was such that a class action lawsuit over it was launched and Apple, caught up in a PR nightmare, was forced to start offering free repairs for their faulty input devices to all comers. The release of the company's latest crop of iPad Pro tablets, unfortunately, seems to have fallen into line with this new quality control status quo.

A few days ago, The Verge contacted Apple over the online rumors, later reinforced with hands-on demonstrations, that the new iPad Pro was so thin that it proved hilariously easy to bend. Some owners of the tablet also complained that the tablet came to them ever-so-slightly warped, right out of the box. The Verge's Chris Welch was among the victims of the industrial design tomfoolery. He reported that he could personally vouch for the issue:

...my 11-inch iPad Pro showed a bit of a curve after two weeks.

Read the rest

Fearing for their lives, 60,000 people have fled Nicaragua

Hundreds of Nicaraguans who took to the streets over the last eight months to protest President Daniel Ortega's corrupt government have been forced into hiding and, in some cases, to flee the country for their own safety. It's the end result of the Nicaraguan government's crackdown against protesters who voiced their outrage over Ortega's plans to gut the nation's social security system.

From The New York Times:

...many people in this desperately poor Central American nation now live in a bleak new reality. They have exchanged their routine lives as lawyers, engineering majors, radio broadcasters and merchants for one of ever-changing safe houses, encrypted messaging apps and pseudonyms.

They are hiding from an increasingly authoritarian state that is methodically tracking down those who participated in the large-scale and often violent protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

“They are hunting us like deer,” said Roberto Carlos Membreño Briceño, 31, a former legal clerk for a Nicaraguan Supreme Court justice, who gave up his law license and fled this year after his bosses saw a photo of him at a protest. He now lives in hiding on a ranch in Costa Rica with 50 strangers, including a ballet dancer who goes by code name “The Eagle.”

Instead of listening to the concerned voices of his constituents, Ortega, paranoid, autocratic shitbird that he is, declared that the uprising had nothing to do with anything he was doing. Rather, the protesters were in the street, acting on behalf of "well-financed political parties" who wanted to toss him and his cronies out on their ass as part of a coup. Read the rest

Donating unwanted LEGO to someone less fortunate is a great way to bring more joy to the world

Lots of folks continue to build fabulous creations out of LEGO well into adulthood. Others tire of it, as they do many of their other childhood belongings, at an early age. Both are fine. What's not OK is being a kid who, because of their parent's financial situation, doesn't know the joy of having a box full of LEGO to call their own. Given the years of imagination-stretching enjoyment the wee plastic blocks can bring into a life, that's a damn shame.

Here's what you can do to put a dent in this unfortunate state of affairs.

Lifehacker had a recent post on what to do with old LEGO, if you're not able to pass it down to a younger member of your family or hand it off to friends for their kids to mess around with. They mention that you can sell the blocks online but, better than this, there's organizations out there that specialize in putting LEGO bricks in needy hands:

Sites like Brick Recycler, The Giving Brick and Brick Dreams have launched in recent years in order to address the unique supply and demand problem presented by LEGOs. Each has its own requirements for donations, but in general they accept donations of LEGO bricks of all kinds: mixed up, all together, dirty or clean. Brick Recycler says it has “repurposed” more than 3 million LEGO pieces.

The groups clean and sort bricks and then donate them to children’s support groups, hospitals, daycare facilities and more. Some sell cleaned sets that were donated in order to pay for operations.

Read the rest

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