May 17, 2013 10:19 am
There are still some pretty annoying things about being left-handed. But in America, at least, we’ve mostly stopped forcing lefties to learn to use their right hand. That’s not the case everywhere, though. China, for example, claims that less than one percent of students are left-handed. If that were true, it would be strange: the global average of lefties comes in at 10-12 percent. A study in the journal Endeavor recently took on this question: Why are there no left-handers in China? The researchers also looked at India and Islamic countries and discovered that nearly two-thirds of the world’s lefty population faces discrimination.
There’s nothing special about the genetics of people living in China that makes them less likely to be lefties. Chinese-Americans are just as likely to be left handed as any other Americans. The lefties in China are actually switching their dominant hands. Why? Because it’s simply more difficult for them to stick with their naturally dominate hand than for people in Europe of the United States. Many Chinese characters require a right hand, says Discovery News.
Elsewhere, stigma against lefties still exists. Discovery News reports:
In many Muslim parts of the world, in parts of Africa as well as in India, the left hand is considered the dirty hand and it’s considered offensive to offer that hand to anyone, even to help. The discrimination against lefties goes back thousands of years in many cultures, including those of the West.
Even the word left comes from “lyft” which meant broken. The German words “linkisch” also means awkward. The Russian word “levja” is associated with being untrustworthy. Synonyms for left in Mandarin are things like weird, incorrect and wrong.
And for a long time there were all sorts of ways to “retrain” lefties. An article in The Lancet explains the “scientific” rationales used:
The methods used to obtain this result were often tortuous, including tying a resistant child’s left hand to immobilise it. Typical of the reasoning to justify such practices is a 1924 letter to the British Medical Journal endorsing “retraining” of left-handers to write with their right hands, because otherwise the left-handed child would risk “retardation in mental development; in some cases…actual feeble-mindedness”. As late as 1946 the former chief psychiatrist of the New York City Board of Education, Abram Blau, warned that, unless retrained, left-handed children risked severe developmental and learning disabilities and insisted that “children should be encouraged in their early years to adopt dextrality…in order to become better equipped to live in our right-sided world”.
While today in the United States and Europe, left handed kids aren’t punished and retrained, these same sorts of biases still exist in large parts of the world, proving that righties are just as capable as being sinister as lefties.
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May 17, 2013 9:16 am
Picture a mountain climber, trekking up Mount Everest. Is he kind of burly? Does he have a beard? He’s probably a man—a white man. That’s about accurate: 78 percent of Americans who took part in activities outdoors last year were white. Only 37 percent of African American kids between 6 and 12 did any sort of outdoor sport, from hiking to fishing.
Expedition Denali, a group of teachers and students dedicated to promoting hiking and outdoor activities among minority groups, just ran a successful Kickstarter to fund 12 teachers and students who will become the first African American team to reach the top of Denali—North America’s highest mountain. Here is their video:
Other organizations are trying to increase the diversity of their outdoor groups as well. Outside Magazine reports on the National Outdoor Leadership School:
In 1994, the Lander, Wyoming, nonprofit devised a diversity program that has since doled out more than $1.5 million in scholarships to help get minority youth into its courses, which teach wilderness and leadership skills through extended adventure trips. “We work hard to recruit young people of color, but we still struggle,” says Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, who manages NOLS’s diversity program. “There are many barriers, including the lack of role models.” That’s where Expedition Denali comes in, and NOLS has budgeted nearly $250,000 for the group’s efforts.
Another website, Outdoor Afro, tries to encourage minorities to get outdoors as well. The group’s founder, Rue Mapp, explains why she started Outdoor Afro in this NPR interview. Her site describes the group’s purpose this way:
Outdoor Afro is a social community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing — and more!
Outdoor Afro disrupts the false perception that black people do not have a relationship with nature, and works to shift the visual representation of who can connect with the outdoors.
Together, these sites and expeditions hope to communicate with communities that don’t tend to participate in hiking, climbing, fishing and biking. And while they acknowledge that 12 people reaching the top of one mountain won’t solve all the problems, it can help raise awareness of the tiny numbers of minorities who hike in the first place.
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May 16, 2013 12:01 pm
There is no plumbing on Mount Everest. When nature calls, climbers must use makeshift holes dug by sherpas, or use buckets as substitute toilets. With the ever-increasing number of climbers attempting to scale the mountain, containing all of that human waste is no small problem.
Currently, National Geographic reports, much of the excrement is carried in sealed containers on the backs of porters to the nearby village of Gorak Shep (which also lacks plumbing or sanitation facilities), where it is emptied into open pits. Up to 12 metric tons of the stuff can be hauled to Gorak Shep in a single year. But the village is running out of space for containing the mess, and last year researchers discovered that the refuse had contaminated one of the village’s two major water sources.
Seattle climber and engineer Garry Porter witnessed the problem first hand when he attempted to scale Everest ten years ago. Since then, the image of all of that waste has stuck with him. ”I couldn’t shake the feeling that my final tribute to Nepal and the people of Everest was having my waste dumped in these open pits. It just didn’t seem right,” he told National Geographic.
Porter decided to found the Mount Everest Biogas Project as a potential fix, along with Everest guide Dan Mazur.
In biogas production, bacteria feed on organic waste (like feces) and produce several gases as a byproduct. One of these is methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and can be burned for heat and light, or converted to electricity. One cubic meter of biogas provides about two kilowatt-hours of useable energy. This is enough to power a 60-watt light bulb for more than a day, or an efficient 15-watt CFL bulb for nearly six days. A biogas reactor at Gorak Shep could address the fecal contamination problem while providing the perennially low-income community with a sustainable source of methane gas for energy, especially for cooking, Porter says.
The team plans to keep the biogas digester tanks warm (they stop working if temperatures drop below freezing) with solar panels.
In addition to getting rid of all the feces, the team hopes that the biogas project will relieve some of the pressure on Everest’s natural resources. All of those poop-producing climbers also need to eat, and cooking fuel often takes the form of native plants harvested around Everest, including an endangered species, the alpine juniper. If successful, the project will be the world’s highest elevation biogas reactor and could be introduced to other high altitude areas around the world.
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May 16, 2013 8:55 am
Those who logged into Facebook recently might have noticed some new faces—emoticons that users can now tack on to their status updates. These emoticons are highly engineered: Facebook teamed up with a Pixar illustrator and a psychologist to make the most emotive emoticons it could.
UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner studies how people emotionally interact on social media. Pixar illustrator Matt Jones knows all too well how to manipulate our emotions with little animated characters. Together, they created the set of emoticons that Facebook settled on. Popular Science reports:
They started looking at how compassion research could help Facebook address the kind of interpersonal conflicts the company saw emerge in issue reporting. When people inserted a little more emotion into their messages asking friends to take down photos, Facebook found, the friend was more likely to respond or comply rather than just ignore the message.
So Facebook started thinking about how to add more emotional information to Facebook messaging. “There’s all this communication that happens when you’re talking to someone face-to-face–you can see that they’re nodding and you can see their smile–that is not present when you’re communicating electronically,” Bejar explains. “One of the questions that we asked was, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a better emoticon that was informed by science?’”
Of course, Pixar and Facebook aren’t the first ones to think of using emoticons to help people express emotions. That’s what the things were invented for. Mashable has a brief history of emoticons, which traces the murky beginnings of the little faces. A transcript of one of Abraham Lincoln speeches included a winking face, but most agree that was probably just a typo. Mashable writes:
Various reports (that we’ve been unable to verify) suggest that in 1979, an ARPANET user called Kevin MacKenzie, inspired by an unidentified Reader’s Digest article, suggested using punctuation to hint that something was “tongue-in-cheek,” as opposed to out-and-out humorous.
Apparently, MacKenzie thought a hypen and a bracket — -) — would be a suitable symbol: “If I wish to indicate that a particular sentence is meant with tongue-in-cheek, I would write it so: ‘Of course you know I agree with all the current administration’s policies -).’
Last year, the classic yellow smiley face turned 30. It was originally the face of State Mutual Life Assurance Company. ABC News explains:
The “smiley face” designed by Harvey Ball has become a ubiquitous symbol since the Worcester, Mass., designer was hired by the e State Mutual Life Assurance Company to design a morale-boosting symbol for the company. Ball’s design, which was first used on buttons, desk cards and posters, has since become a lasting international symbol.
Today, Facebook has added a bit of science to that yellow smiley. And they tackled some emotions that aren’t usually represented by emoticons, like sympathy and gratefulness. Here’s Popular Science again:
Sympathy, for example, can be hard to really get across in traditional emoticon form. “It’s an under-appreciated emotion in Western culture,” Keltner explains. “We now know what it looks like and sounds like because of science. They created this dynamic emoticon that when you see it, it’s really powerful.”
Using little pictures to convey feeling, rather than words, might elicit more of a personal response from users. Or, at least, that’s what Facebook hopes.
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May 15, 2013 1:19 pm
Hollywood has long had trouble depicting women. But for a while, things were looking up. Bridesmaids, a movie written by, for and about women, did well at the box office. The Hunger Games had a female heroine. Disney’s Brave won Oscars with a strong female protagonist. But don’t be fooled: women are still extremely underrepresented in Hollywood. According to a recent study, the representation of women is now at its lowest in five years.
The study looked at the top 500 grossing films from 2007 to 2012. In 2012, women represented less than one-third of the speaking characters. For every one female on screen, there are two and a half men. And when women were on the screen, a third of them were in skimpy, sexualized clothing. And 2012 was one of the worst years. Over 50 percent of female teens on screen in 2012 were shown in sexy clothing. So were nearly 40 percent of women between 21 and 39.
And it’s not just women on camera either. The study looked at the top 100 grossing films and found that only 16.7 percent of those films’ directors, writers and producers were women. The authors of the study have some ideas about why that might be. “Industry perceptions of the audience drive much of what we see on-screen,” study author Stacy L. Smith told the Los Angeles Times. “There is a perception that movies that pull male sell. Given that females go to the movies as much as males, the lack of change is likely due to entrenched ways of thinking and doing business that perpetuate the status quo.”
So why does it seem like things are getting better, when they’re not? Flavorwire hypothesizes that it’s because we notice and make a big deal of women lead movies:
We make a big deal when a breath of fresh air like Bridesmaids comes along but forget that every year we also get two braindead Adam Sandler vehicles where the only female role of note is a blankly smiling, blandly supportive wife. Katniss may be the star of The Hunger Games, but for every Collins adaptation, there are a dozen action blockbusters that only make room for women as eye candy. We only got Brave after more than a decade of male-led Pixar ensembles. And there’s certainly no big box-office equivalent to last year’s #5 and #13 movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Lincoln, each of which had two or fewer female roles.
And the idea that women should be depicted more in movies is questioned even by the L.A. Times, which headed the story by asking readers: “Should Hollywood put more and better female characters on screen?” Clearly Hollywood has some work to do.
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