A shrewd guess about the Haunted Mansion's mysterious Squeaky Door Ghost

One of the most exciting elements of Imagineer Christopher Merritt's astounding, essential Marc Davis in His Own Words -- a two-volume set of one of Disney's most storied Imagineers, whose contributions to the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and other rides cannot be overstated -- was the revelation that there was a fully prototyped ghost for the Haunted Mansion that appears to have never been put into production. (more…)

Pick from over 1,000 new skills with this eLearning pass

Everybody could use a little improvement, especially those of us on the hunt for new careers. Each job requires a different set of skills, and that list can change from year to year or even month to month as new technologies emerge.

When you're in that race and need to learn fast, the old model of schooling can seem, well ... a little too old school. So what's the alternative?

Enter StackSkills, a subscription service that opens up a library of more than 1,000 eLearning courses.

Both beginning and established coders will find a ton of great resources here, with classes on blockchain, app development, project management, data analytics and much more, frequently updated for the latest programming languages and platforms.

But that's just one broad subject area. You'll also find courses on graphic design, personal finance, entrepreneurship, speed reading and a ton of other disciplines. There are even ways for you to learn a new hobby or monetize an existing one with masterclasses on things like photography and podcasting.

They're all taught by top instructors in the field, and they're all open for you to use. StackSkills is essentially a virtual university, minus the lifetime debt. In fact, it's just $59 now for an annual pass.

There will be another HOPE hacker con in 2020!

Aestetix writes, "We have good news. There will be a HOPE [ed: Hackers on Planet Earth, a beloved, NYC-based hacker con put on by 2600 Magazine] in 2020. And we expect it to be better than ever. For several months, we have been looking for a venue that would have the needed space and flexibility for HOPE. Thanks to the efforts of many - and the massive amount of suggestions and support from attendees - we've found a new location for the conference that's much, much better than what we had before. HOPE will take place at St. John's University in Queens from July 31st to August 2nd, 2020. It's still in New York City, easily accessible by mass transit, and well positioned to do everything we've done in the past."

Talking corruption, technology, empiricism and fairness with the Bitcoin Podcast

I'm something of a Bitcoin skeptic; although I embrace the ideals of decentralization and privacy, I am concerned about the environmental, technological and social details of Bitcoin. It was for that reason that I was delighted to spend a good long time chatting with the hosts of the Bitcoin Podcast (MP3), digging into our points of commonality and difference; despite a few audio problems at the start, the episode (and the discourse) were both fantastic.

Rep Katie Porter: an Elizabeth Warren protege and single mom who destroys bumbling, mediocre rich guys in Congressional hearings

In 2018, Katie Porter flipped a Republican safe seat -- it had literally never been held by a Democrat-- in California's 45th District, and since then, she has been a delightful, brilliant terror of a lawmaker, using her deep background in finance law (she's a tenured finance law prof at UC Irvine who literally wrote the textbook on consumer finance law in the wake of Dodd-Frank and Elizabeth Warren's establishment of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau). (more…)

This is the best kind of Apple Watch band

I got one of these bands for my Apple Watch a couple of years ago. It replaced the stock rubber band that's like a little belt with holes and a buckle. This one automatically adjusts to any size wrist and stays in place with a magnet. It's so much better than any other kind of band I can think of. It's usually $12.99 on Amazon but if you use code SSBZ7IR8 it's about half that price.

Students wore boxes on their heads during exams to prevent cheating

Last week, students at Haveri, Karnataka, India's Bhagat Pre-University College wore boxes on their heads to prevent cheating on exams. Apparently the front of the boxes were cut away so the students could see their papers while not allowing for peripheral vision. According to school officials, this was a trial of the anti-cheating measure and that parents had approved. In fact, the students brought the boxes from home. From CNN:

Before long, the school was facing widespread criticism on social media. Even government officials weighed in -- S. Suresh Kumar, the state education minister, said in a tweet that the school's practice was "unacceptable."

"Nobody has any right to treat anybody more so students like animals," Kumar wrote. "This (perversion) will be dealt with aptly."

The school has provided authorities with a written explanation of the trial and an apology, Sateesh said.

This 3 minute video will make you love mealworms

Dr. Adrian Smith of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at North Carolina State University has been raising mealworms as ant food for many years. He had little interest in the creatures, but then starting taking time-lapse photos of them and discovered how truly amazing they are.

Here are some things I learned about them:

  • They are called mealworms not because they are commonly used as meals for pets, but because they often invade stored grains.
  • After several molts, they go into a pupal stage, which can last for days or weeks.
  • When they emerge as beetles, they are pale and soft. It takes several days for their cuticle to darken and get hard.

Dr. Smith runs a YouTube channel called Ant Lab, which I just subscribed to. The videos are excellent and not always about ants, but most of them are, like this one about a certain kind of ant that collects the skulls of an enemy ant.

Russian CRISPR scientist announces new controversial effort to edit genes that cause deafness

Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov claims that he's begun a gene-editing process to eventually enable couples who both carry a specific genetic mutation that causes deafness to birth children who can hear. Rebrikov formerly announced his effort to use the CRISPR tool for gene editing to create babies resistant to HIV. From Nature:

In his e-mail to Nature, Rebrikov makes clear that he does not plan to create (a gene-edited) baby yet — and that his previously reported plan to apply this month for permission to implant gene-edited embryos in women has been pushed back.

Instead, he says that he will soon publish the results of his egg experiments, which also involved testing CRISPR’s ability to repair the gene linked to deafness, called GJB2, in bodily cells taken from people with this mutation. People with two mutated copies of GJB2 cannot hear well without interventions, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. Rebrikov says these results will lay the groundwork for the clinical work.

Rebrikov adds that he has permission from a local review board to do his research, but that this does not allow transfer of gene-edited eggs into the womb and subsequent pregnancy...

Some scientists and ethicists also call into question the benefits of this procedure because hearing loss is not a fatal condition. “The project is recklessly opportunistic, clearly unethical and damages the credibility of a technology that is intended to help, not harm,” says Jennifer Doudna, a pioneer of the CRISPR gene-editing tool and a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Buy Banksy's disco ball/riot helmet hanging lamp

Available from Banksy's delightful new homewares shop Gross Domestic Product, the "Met ball" "home entertainment lighting system is made from an old Police riot helmet and approximately 650 little mirrors." It is a limited, signed edition of 15 and sells for £500.00.

The Gross Domestic Product shop will reportedly only be open for business for a couple of weeks as it was created to thwart a stupid trademark claim on the artist's name.

Gentleman accused of hiding manbun under MAGA cap, also arrested for spraying crowd with bear repellent

David Nicholas Dempsey, 32, was arrested in Santa Monica, CA after he was found to be concealing a manbun under his red MAGA cap. He received an additional charge for spraying a crowd of Trump protesters with bear repellent. (Where is Mitt Romney when you need him?)

"Police announced Sunday that they arrested David Nicholas Dempsey, 32, on felony charges for allegedly violating his parole, using a prohibited tear gas weapon and assaulting the crowd with a caustic chemical," according to The Washington Post.

From KTLA 5:

[Dempsey] was seen in witness video arguing with protestors opposed to President Trump when he began spraying the crowd with a large canister of pepper spray intended for deterring bear attacks. At one point, he's seen walking up to a man who was lying on the ground and spraying him directly in the face at close range.

Dempsey was pointed out by bystanders as the person who sprayed the bear spray and he was taken into custody at the scene.

As a convicted felon, Dempsey is barred from possessing pepper spray or other tear gas weapons, police said.

In Los Angeles County, Dempsey was convicted of burglary in 2006 and again in 2009, and he was convicted of larceny and conspiracy in 2012, court records show.

Image: NBC News screenshot

You can now enjoy a whiff of T. Rex's foul breath

Researchers at Chicago's Field Museum collaborated with fragrance chemists to recreate what is likely the foul odor of a T. Rex's breath. Now, museum visitors can push a button for an olfactory experience of the dinosaur age. The new sensory station is part of an exhibit centered around the most complete T. Rex skeleton ever discovered. From Atlas Obscura:

They quickly gave up on imitating T. rex poop. Most of the commercially available synthetic feces scents are imitations of human waste, and our generally omnivorous diets stray too far from SUE’s carnivory. Cat poop is slightly better, because they’re obligate carnivores, (exhibit developer Meredith) Whitfield says, but hyena droppings would be ideal, because that includes both chewed-up meat and ground bones, just like SUE’s deuces. Turns out synthetic hyena poop scent is hard to come by, so the team moved on. (But, Whitfield adds, “If you’re at the hyena enclosure at the zoo and smell their poop, that’s probably close to what T. rex poop smelled like.”)

Dino breath, on the other hand, was both tempting and feasible. “From anatomical studies of SUE’s teeth, we can say, ‘Well, you have the kind of anatomy that might suggest that you have some nasty raw meat decaying in your mouth,’” Whitfield says. “What did that smell like? The answer is: Bad.”

The team found a service that manufactures a range of prepackaged smells—mainly pleasant air fresheners for hotel lobbies and other benign places, but also stinky ones for police training exercises, so that officers can learn to detect stuff like meth labs, decomposing bodies, and other malodorous things. The one called “decaying flesh” fit the bill quite nicely—but the challenge for the design team was making sure the smell didn’t clear the exhibit with its foulness or make visitors retch when they caught a whiff. “One of the variants was so bad that I said, ‘This is probably really accurate, but I don’t think we can expose visitors to this,’” Whitfield says.

Mitt Romney likes everyone in the Senate except Bernie Sanders, because he "scowls"

“People [in the Senate] are really friendly, they’re really nice—except Bernie,” Romney said of fellow senator Bernie Sanders in an interview in The Atlantic.

“He’s a curmudgeon. It’s not that he’s mean or whatever; he just kind of scowls, you know” — Romney hunched his back and summoned a Scrooge-like grunt. “For Bernie, it seems like this is kind of who he is. It’s defining. It’s his entire person. For me, it’s part of who I am, but it’s not the whole person.”

It's a good thing for Bernie that Romney doesn't disapprove of his hair style.

Image: By Ben P L from Provo - Mitt Romney, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Bloomberg News: Mark Zuckerberg privately advising Pete Buttigieg's election campaign

And you thought Facebook was in the bag for Trump! Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have privately made hiring recommendations for Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign, and the recommendations were hired by it.

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg sent multiple emails to Mike Schmuhl, Buttigieg’s campaign manager, with names of individuals that he might consider hiring, campaign spokesman Chris Meagher confirmed. Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg’s wife, also sent multiple emails to Schmuhl with staff recommendations. Ultimately, two of the people recommended were hired.

Buttigieg's centrist presidential campaign floundered until recently, but has enjoyed a surprise surge as Joe Biden's risen star sputtered. Buttigieg recently became conspiciously defensive of billionaires and big corporations, and maybe now you know why.

Facebook isn’t free speech, it’s "algorithmic amplification optimized for outrage"

Jon Evans of TechCrunch zeroes in on Facebook's big problem. Mark Zuckerberg wants you to believe that Facebook was designed as a platform where anyone can share their ideas, but as Evans points out, it's Facebook's algorithm that decides which ideas you see.

When Zuckerberg talks about giving people a voice, he really means giving those people selected by Facebook’s algorithm a voice. When he says “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate,” what he actually means is that Facebook’s algorithm is itself that Fifth Estate.

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