Sesame Street introduces Lily, the first muppet to experience homelessness

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, isn't afraid to keep it real for kids. Last year they introduced Julia, the first muppet with autism. Now they've launched an initiative called Sesame Street in Communities that, amongst other things, will bring the first muppet to experience homelessness. Her name is Lily and she was originally introduced in 2011 as a character whose family was struggling with hunger.

Unfortunately, Lily’s path is common for many children experiencing homelessness.
“We know children experiencing homelessness are often caught up in a devastating cycle of trauma—the lack of affordable housing, poverty, domestic violence, or other trauma that caused them to lose their home, the trauma of actually losing their home, and the daily trauma of the uncertainty and insecurity of being homeless,” said Sherrie Westin, President of Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. “We want to help disrupt that cycle by comforting children, empowering them, and giving them hope for the future. We want them to know that they are not alone and home is more than a house or an apartment—home is wherever the love lives.”


"When Lily was first launched, she came out as part of the food insecurity initiative. So she's not brand new, but this seemed like a really perfect extension of her story, so that we could use her to help children identify with," Westin said. "With any of our initiatives, our hope is that we're not only reaching the children who can identify with that Muppet but that we're also helping others to have greater empathy and understanding of the issue."

Although her journey with homelessness will not appear in televised episodes of "Sesame Street" at this point, she will be in separate videos and materials in the initiative.

"The goal is really to give service providers, parents, teachers tools in order to address homelessness with children, in order to talk about it and raise awareness of the issue from a child's perspective and also to help children experiencing homelessness feel less alone," Westin said.

Bravo, Sesame Workshop!

Image via Facebook

Forcing a bread and water diet on Navy personnel is now illegal

Good news everybody! If you're in the Navy or Marines, it's now illegal to throw you in the brig and feed you nothing but bread and water as a punishment.

Yes, The American military is still into this sort of bullshit.

From Task & Purpose:

As Navy Times’ Geoff Ziezulewicz reports, the Obama-era Military Justice Act of 2016 and subsequent Trump administration amendment in March 2018 will outlaw the archaic punishment after Jan. 1, 2019.

The military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice previously allowed Navy commanders to confine personnel in the grade of E-3 and below who were attached or embarked upon a vessel to receive only bread and water for up to three consecutive days.

“Rations furnished a person undergoing such confinement shall consist solely of bread and water. The rations will be served three times daily at the normal time of meals, and the amount of bread and water shall not be restricted,” the order reads.

In order to offset the lack of nutrients, personnel that were subjected to the all-you-can-eat penal buffet (get your minds out of the gutter) were, as part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice's deal, to be excluded from any sort of duties or physical exercise. So that's nice.

From what I understand, the punishment was a rare one--but not that rare. According to The Navy Times, the Commanding Officer of the USS Shiloh submitted the cruiser's sailors to it so often that the Shiloh's crew, the base it sailed out of, and even taxi drivers plying their trade in and around the base knew the ship as the "USS Bread & Water."

That the punishment is coming to an end has got to be a good thing: convicted civilian criminals get Nutraloaf when they're locked down for misbehaving. You'd like to think that military personnel could expect at least the same standard of care.

Image: By User:Siqbal - Own work by the original uploader, Public Domain, Link

Cops are using GPS and doorbell cameras to catch package thieves

People who steal other people's packages off porches are the frigging worst. They've no idea of what's in the box they're swiping: they don't care what they get, so long as they get something. It's burgling a house blindfolded. It's the laziest form of break and enter. It's one of the lowest forms of causal criminality going. Also, it's wicked hard to stop. With the holidays coming on like a freight train, more packages than usual are showing up on front porches, ripe for the picking. This year, in at least one city, the cops are ready to put a stop to the package poaching nonsense.

From The Associated Press:

Police in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from New York, are teaming up with Amazon to install doorbell cameras and plant dummy boxes with GPS tracking devices at homes around the city.

They didn’t have to wait long Tuesday for someone to take the bait.

“We had a box out on the street for three minutes before it was taken,” said police Capt. James Crecco, who is overseeing the mission. “We thought it was a mistake at first.”

The suspect was caught, Crecco added.

Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly told The Associated Press that locations for cameras and boxes were selected using the city’s own crime statistics and mapping of theft locations provided by Amazon.

“Most of the package thefts we’ve made arrests on revolve around (closed-circuit TV) or private surveillance cameras that give us a still image,” Kelly said. “With the bait packages, some will be under video surveillance, and some will have GPS.”

According to AP, members of the Jersey City Police Department have been volunteering to have the cameras and GPS-equipped packages left outside their front door. That's pretty great. Now, something less than great: while Amazon has been informing law enforcement when one of their customers shipments has been reported stolen, they're less than forthcoming on how many packages are reported stolen during the course of the year. The same goes for FedEx and UPS.

No one likes to look incompetent, I suppose.

Image via Flickr, courtesy of Paul Sullivan.

Maria Butina pleads GUILTY. Russian spy “knowingly engaged in conspiracy against the United States”

Maria Butina, 30, stood in a D.C. federal court this morning and told the judge that she “knowingly engaged in conspiracy against the United States.” Then, one hour into the hearing, she stood again and said one word: “Guilty.”

The accused Russian spy acknowledged that she acted "under direction of" a Russian official who has been identified as Alexander Torshin.

She has signed a plea agreement with the U.S. that requires her to cooperate fully with any relevant federal, state, or local investigations. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office may want to talk with her about a few things.

The artist behind these spellbinding witch hats almost stopped making them after her first one

These stunning felted-wool witch hats are the handiwork of a Kentucky-based fiber artist named Kate.

The world of fantasy felted creations is her full-time job now. On top of creating them, which she sells in her shop Felt Wicked Art, she also teaches felting workshops all over the United States and offers downloadable tutorials to would-be hat makers. But she writes that she nearly gave up after making (and selling) her first hat at a craft fair:

I made a few "normal" hats before making my very first witch hat. It would be unrecognizable today as my style, with just a few wrinkles and some embellishments. At that point it was really more of an experiment and I was actually a little self-conscious of it. I took it to a craft fair though and it to my surprise it sold that day. It was a relief that someone else thought it was interesting too, as some part of me still just wasn't sure. And I almost didn't make any more. I didn't want to go through that vulnerable process of making something unique and then asking people to give me money for it. In the end though I just couldn't stop myself from making another one, and then another one, not necessarily because I even wanted to sell them but just because I loved the hats so much! I'm glad I stuck with it."

We're glad you did too!

Kate's bewitching hats are available through her Etsy shop and her website. Prices start at $350. She offers payment plans for people who want her art chapeaus but need more time to pay it off.

(Geeks are Sexy)

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo reaches space, bringing space tourism closer

Today in the Mojave desert, Virgin Galactic had a successful test flight that reached 50 miles above the surface of the earth, meeting the Federal Aviation administration's definition of space. This places the company one step closer to the long-awaited goal Richard Branson promised: space tourism.

Ajit Pai killed Net Neutrality and Trump gave away a huge tax break; Verizon got billions and killed 10,000 jobs

When Trump's FCC Chairman Ajit Pai killed Net Neutrality (by illegally ignoring legitimate comments in support of it in favor of millions of anti-Net Neutrality comments sent by identity-stealing bots), he promised that it would spur growth in the telcoms sector -- and of course, he should know, because he used to be a Verizon exec. Verizon agreed: they objected to Obama-era Neutrality orders by saying the measures would "severely curtail job growth." (more…)

Pay what you want for this massive Adobe designer's arsenal

Adobe's design software catalog is essential to any graphics program, as much for their simplicity as their versatility. Anyone can be an effective graphic designer with tools like Illustrator and InDesign - and the right training in their potential. That's where the Adobe CC A-Z Lifetime Bundle comes in.

Whether you're getting your feet wet in graphic design or want to dive deeper into the functionality of the Adobe suite, this is the resource. The full 12 courses here cover both beginner and master classes in the essential tools like Illustrator and InDesign, but that's just for starters. You'll also learn all you need to know about web design in Adobe XD and video production with Premiere Pro and After Effects.

That's more than 100 hours of exhaustive training and resources, and it's available for (potentially) a 99% discount. The Adobe CC A-Z Lifetime Bundle is now on sale for a pay-what-you-want price.

Elementary students assigned elf murder case

When eight- and nine-year-old students at Hyde England's Flowery Field Elementary School walked into class last week, they were confronted with a crime scene. Behind the police tape was chalk outline of an elfin figure and a desk smeared with blood. Their assignment? Solve the mystery of the murdered elf. Apparently it was a writing exercise. And surprise! Some parents were pissed.

"My daughter came home and she was absolutely traumatized," one parent said. "I'm not the only parent who felt like that. A lot of the kids in Year 4 were unsettled by it."

Apparently, that did not discourage head teacher Ian Fell who encouraged the students to continue their detective work.

"I have been a teacher for 30 years and this is, in my judgement, an appropriate, engaging and exciting thing that children aged eight and nine have done," Fell said. "They have been so up for it."

(UPI and Manchester Evening News)

Impressive robot praised by Russia state television revealed to be a man in a costume

State-owned TV network Russia-24 ran a story about an impressive humanoid robot named Boris that wowed attendees at a youth technology conference. Turns out, Boris the Robot was actually a man inside a commercially-available, high-end robot costume. From The Guardian:

A photograph published by MBKh Media, the news agency founded by the Vladimir Putin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky, appeared to show the actor in the robot suit ahead of the forum on Tuesday in Yaroslavl, a city about 150 miles north-east of Moscow.

The organisers of the Proyektoria technology forum, held each year for the “future intellectual leaders of Russia”, did not try to pass off the robot as real, the website reported.

But whether by mistake or design, the state television footage did just that. “It’s entirely possible one of these [students] could dedicate himself to robotics,” an anchor reported. “Especially as at the forum they have the opportunity to look at the most modern robots.”

Clash of the corporate titans: Who's spending what in Europe's Copyright Directive battle

There's been a lot of money thrown around to determine the future of the Internet in the EU, but despite the frequent assertion that every opponent of the new Copyright Directive is a paid puppet for Google, the numbers tell a different story: according to the watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the entertainment industry are the biggest spenders by far, and they have obscured that fact by using dodgy accounting to make it look like Google is buying out the European Parliament. (more…)

Bees wearing wireless sensors create a "living Internet of Things platform"

While researchers continue attempts to build practical insect-size flying robots, engineers at the University of Washington have prototyped a backpack for real bees that outfits the insects with sensing, computing, and wireless networking capabilities. From UW News:

“We decided to use bumblebees because they’re large enough to carry a tiny battery that can power our system, and they return to a hive every night where we could wirelessly recharge the batteries,” said co-author Vikram Iyer, a doctoral student in the UW Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering...

Because bees don’t advertise where they are flying and because GPS receivers are too power-hungry to ride on a tiny insect, the team came up with a method that uses no power to localize the bees. The researchers set up multiple antennas that broadcasted signals from a base station across a specific area. A receiver in a bee’s backpack uses the strength of the signal and the angle difference between the bee and the base station to triangulate the insect’s position...

Next the team added a series of small sensors — monitoring temperature, humidity and light intensity — to the backpack. That way, the bees could collect data and log that information along with their location, and eventually compile information about a whole farm...

“Having insects carry these sensor systems could be beneficial for farms because bees can sense things that electronic objects, like drones, cannot,” Gollakota said. “With a drone, you’re just flying around randomly, while a bee is going to be drawn to specific things, like the plants it prefers to pollinate. And on top of learning about the environment, you can also learn a lot about how the bees behave.”

Fascinating documentary about minimalist composers Young, Riley, Reich, and Glass

In the first part of the 20th century, classical music was stripped of its majesty and injected with a healthy dose of discord and dissonance by avant-garde pioneers like Arnold Schoenberg, Pierre Boulez, and John Cage. Then in 1950s California and New York, a new form of contemporary classical music emerged: minimalism. "Tones, Drones and Arpeggios" is a terrific two episode BBC Four documentary on American minimalism pioneers La Monte Young, Terry Riley (above), Steve Reich, and Philip Glass who reimagined "classical" music and had a massive and continuing influence on punk, experimental, ambient, and electronic music.

Watch Episode 1 below. More about the documentary here: "Tones, Drones and Arpeggios: The Magic of Minimalism"

Kate Hudson’s stripper pole, money-hungry Duchess Meghan, and Bruce Springsteen’s fear of fans, in this week’s dubious tabloids

Tabloid headlines are from Mars, tabloid stories are from Venus. That’s how far removed are this week’s stories and the headlines that top them.

“Scott Peterson murdered 2 other women!” screams the National Enquirer cover. No he didn’t, says the story inside, despite the spread headline: “Scott Peterson a Serial Killer!” Convicted wife-killer Peterson is nothing more than a possible suspect in two cold case deaths to which he has the most tenuous of connections.

“Jen Garner Recruited by Hollywood Cult!” proclaims the Enquirer. No she wasn’t, says the Enquirer story. Rather than being recruited, actress Garner is simply the subject of an alleged crush by Scientology chief David Miscavige. Garner herself appears unaware of any interest in her by Scientology, but that’s enough for the Enquirer to say: “Friends fear she’s vulnerable to recruiters.” Right.

“Money-hungry Meghan turns back on America!” yells the Globe cover. “Gives up U.S. citizenship to avoid taxes!” No, she hasn’t, says the story inside. The Duchess of Sussex “is still an American citizen,” an IRS source reportedly tells the Enquirer. And if she were to relinquish her U.S. citizenship it wouldn’t be to avoid paying taxes, but to avoid exposing the sources of her income – Prince Harry and the Queen – to unwanted scrutiny by America’s IRS. The Palace tells the Enquirer “there’s no truth” to the story. Indeed.

Cindy Crawford and husband Rande Gerber face a “billion dollar divorce shocker!" reports the Enquirer. No, they don’t. She’s simply been photographed without her wedding ring, for which there could be a hundred rational explanations not involving a marital split. And anyway, the couple aren’t worth anywhere near a billion dollars.
Other tabloid stories perpetuate their traditional tenuous connection with reality.

Singer Diana Ross is “broken down” and “could barely ‘keep on hanging on’” as she was pushed in a wheelchair through New York’s JFK airport recently, says the Enquirer. But literally hours before the photo was taken at JFK, thousands saw her perform at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, where she was clearly far from broken down. Can’t a girl just take a rest once in a while?

Bruce Springsteen “Lives in Fear of His Fans!” states the Enquirer, above a story claiming that the rocker has built a panic room in his Los Angeles home, “to protect family from kidnappers.” Let’s be clear: kidnappers aren’t fans. They’re businessmen with questionable morals and social issues.

“Kate Hudson’s Stripper Pole Secret!” is revealed by the Enquirer. Except it’s no secret. The actress has discussed exercising with a stripper pole for years, has been photographed on stripper poles before, and recently posted a heavily pregnant Instagram photo of herself standing beside her home stripper pole. Some secret.

T’is the season when a news-starved Globe fills its cover and 11 pages inside with “79 legends we loved and lost in 2018,” avoiding the necessity to come up with anything new. Rather than tributes to the dear departed, it’s a cavalcade of scandal and disdain: Aretha Franklin was a “royal pain,” Austin Powers’ Mini-Me actor Verne Troyer “killed himself with booze,” Burt Reynolds “lost [the] will to live,” Jerry Van Dyke was a “jealous monster,” John McCain was a “ladies man” who was “destroyed by Sarah Palin,” Margot Kidder “put herself out of pain,” and Harry Anderson “hated Night Court ’til the day he died!” All this under the banner: “Thanks For The Memories." With thanks like that, who needs criticism?

George H.W. Bush receives the tabloid equivalent of a hero’s farewell, with a spread in the Enquirer celebrating “A Life Well Lived!" while the National Examiner dedicates a full page to private love letters between Bush and wife Barbara that “reveal a love that never died.” I’m teary-eyed. Cue Celine Dion singing "My Heart Will Go On."

Fortunately we have the crack investigative team at Us magazine to tell us that Nicole Kidman wore it best, that Rachel Brosnahan "once burned spaghetti," that Jessie James Decker carries cash, gum and sunglasses in her Céline tote (revelatory, as always), and that the stars are just like us: they pump their own gas, play sports, and carry their own luggage. Like we’ve never seen that before.

Once again I can’t help wondering how sick and dying tabloid readers must be, judging by the advertisements aimed at them. This week’s offerings include ads for a medical alert panic button, anti-aging cream, a pad to “turn off your brain at night so you can sleep,” a therapeutic cushion to relieve sciatica, and a health supplement to reverse dementia. That’s in addition to editorials on flu shots, weight loss, heart disease, asthma, erectile disfunction, a mystery disease crippling children, how to "walk off 20 pounds in a month,” night blindness, baldness, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer and high cholesterol. Medical opinion is still clearly divided as to whether it’s reading tabloids that makes you sick, or if you have to be sick to want to read the tabloids.

Onwards and downwards . . .

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