Why Can’t We Have Traffic-Calming “3-D” Crosswalks Like Iceland?

Why Can’t We Have Traffic-Calming “3-D” Crosswalks Like Iceland?

Federal transportation engineering guidelines conflate conformity with safety.

People around the world are fascinated by the 3-D illusion of this painted crosswalk in the small town of Ísafjörður in Iceland. It’s a creative and simple way to get motorists to slow down.

But if you try to make an eye-catching crosswalk design in the United States, the transportation engineering establishment won’t approve. That’s what happened to a group of neighbors in St. Louis who painted their local crosswalks and were told by the city the new markings were a safety hazard.

There’s no good research to support that position, so why do authorities frown at any deviation from standard crosswalk design? The Federal Highway Administration’s guidance outlines the agency’s thinking:

In 2011, the FHWA issued an additional Official Ruling4 that crosswalk art — defined as any freeform design to draw attention to the crosswalk — would degrade the contrast of the white transverse lines against the composition of the pavement beneath it. In deviating from previous Official Rulings on the matter that concluded an increased factor of safety and decreased number of pedestrian deaths were not evident after installation, this 2011 Official Ruling stated that the use of crosswalk art is actually contrary to the goal of increased safety and most likely could be a contributing factor to a false sense of security for both motorists and pedestrians.

Despite the FHWA’s apparent certainty, there is no rigorous empirical evidence that crosswalk art reduces safety for pedestrians.

It would be one thing if the U.S. had an exemplary pedestrian safety record to uphold. Then strict conformity with the “rules” would make good sense. But American streets are dangerous places to walk, and pedestrian fatalities are skyrocketing — rising nearly 50 percent since 2009.

Meanwhile, FHWA is still using discredited studies from 40 years ago to discourage the installation of crosswalks. It’s clear that the flow of car traffic is still prioritized over public safety at the top levels of the American engineering establishment. Instead of overhauling guidelines to reduce the death toll, we get stale guidance that discourages grassroots interventions to make streets safer.

The bottom line: Federal traffic safety officials take conformity with an unsafe system much more seriously than actual safety outcomes.

More recommended reading today: Transportation for America reports that a program that addresses neighborhood public health disparities is under threat in the Trump administration’s heartless budget proposal. And the State Smart Transportation Initiative shares a new tool that can help communities measure walkability.



IBM’s Quest To Design The “New Helvetica”

IBM is no stranger to icons. Over the years, it’s created quite a few: the mainframe computer, the ThinkPad laptop, the Selectric typewriter, the Eye-Bee-M logo. The company hopes its new bespoke typeface IBM Plex, which launched in beta this week (though the official version won’t be released until early 2018), could become just as iconic–a kind of Helvetica for this century.

“When I came to IBM, it was a big discussion: Why does IBM not have a bespoke typeface? Why are we still clinging on to Helvetica?” Mike Abbink, the typeface’s designer and IBM’s executive creative director of brand experience and design, says in a video explainer. “The way we speak to people and the conversations we need to have and we’d like to have, is that still the right way to express ourselves? We should really design a typeface that really reflects our belief system and make it relevant to people now. Helvetica is a child of a particular sect of modernist thinking that’s gone today.”

To uncover what the typeface should express, Abbink and his team took a deep dive into IBM’s archives. They were especially interested in the company’s history in the postwar years, when its design-led business strategy first took shape and the legendary practitioner Paul Rand, who defined design as a system of relationships, created its famous eight-bar logo. In Rand’s logo, Abbink and his team saw a contrast between hard edges–the engineered, rational, and mechanical–and curves–the softer more humanistic elements. It’s a reflection of the man-and-machine relationship that runs through the company’s history–a dynamic that is reflected in the final form of IBM Plex. Each of the letters and glyphs has those hard “engineered” edges and soft “humanistic” curves, just like Rand’s logo.

The Plex family includes a sans serif, serif, and monospace versions. The designers also created a rigorous style guide that’s akin to a digital standards manual and includes a type scale, which plays into responsive displays; eight different weights (a nod to how the IBM logo is composed of eight horizontally stacked bars); and usage guidelines, which dive into everything from information hierarchies to color and ragging. All together, it’s easy to see Plex as a gentler, friendlier, more casual Helvetica for a broad range of uses both digital and print-based.

Historically, IBM has used design to distinguish itself, whether it’s creating a better typewriter by introducing the “font ball” or defining laptop computing through the “TrackPoint nub.” Now the company is throwing its weight behind its $1 billion artificial intelligence unit Watson and is–in an effort to allay fear about this technology–positioning it as an assistant to humans rather than a replacement for them. A design tool at its core, IBM Plex is an expression of that same intersection between humans and technology. IBM will make the typeface free for anyone to download and is encouraging its widespread adoption. “If shoe stores or coffee shops or small businesses are using it for their identity, awesome,” Abbink says in the video. “They’re agreeing they want to be part of a discussion around machines and how they’re going to evolve and progress our world.”
So far, the response has been mixed: a thread on Hacker News reveals that many commenters agree with IBM’s decision to create its own consistent visual language. “I think this is all about establishing a new distinctive look,” commenter Ged Byrne writes. “The current one screams ‘1990’ at anybody reading. Now they need something that is distinctly IBM while gently whispering ‘2020’ into the reader’s ear.” Others argue the execution isn’t as sharp as they would like. Some don’t agree with the decision never to use true black, some believe the lighter weights won’t work on screens with low resolution, some nitpick on the 75-character-per-line limit.

The typeface is still a work in progress, but the company is sure about what the end result will be, at least–as Abbink proclaims in the video, “IBM Plex is the new Helvetica.”


Long Sleeves on Doctors’ White Coats May Spread Germs

Long Sleeves on Doctors’ White Coats May Spread Germs

SAN DIEGO — Doctors may want to roll up their sleeves before work, literally. A new study suggests that long sleeves on a doctor’s white coat may become contaminated with viruses or other pathogens that could then be transmitted to patients.

In the study, the researchers had 34 health care workers wear either long- or short-sleeved white coats while they examined a mannequin that had been contaminated with DNA from the “cauliflower mosaic virus.” This virus infects plants and is harmless to humans, but it is transmitted in a way that is similar to that of other, harmful pathogens, such as Clostridium difficile, a bacteria that causes severe diarrhea, said Dr. Amrita John, an infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, who led the study. John presented the research here on Friday (Oct. 6) at an infectious disease conference called IDWeek 2017.

The health care workers wore gloves while they examined the mannequin, then removed the gloves, washed their hands and put on a new pair of gloves before examining a second, clean (non-contaminated) mannequin. After the health care workers had finished examining both mannequins, the researchers swabbed the workers’ sleeves, wrists and hands, and tested the samples for DNA from the cauliflower mosaic virus. Each of the 34 participants completed the exam twice (once wearing short sleeves and once wearing long sleeves), for a total of 68 “simulations.”

They found that, when the health care workers wore long-sleeved coats, 25 percent of the simulations resulted in contamination of their sleeves or wrists with the virus DNA marker, compared with none when the health care workers wore short-sleeved coats.

In addition, about 5 percent of health care workers who wore long sleeves contaminated the clean mannequin with the virus DNA marker, while none of the health care workers who work short sleeves contaminated the clean mannequin.

These results provide support for a recommendation “that health care personnel wear short sleeves to reduce the risk for pathogen transmission,” John said. [10 Deadly Diseases That Hopped Across Species]

Such a recommendation already exists in the United Kingdom — in 2007, the country’s department of health introduced a “bare below the elbow” policy for hospitals, which recommended that health care personnel wear short sleeves. In the United States in 2014, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America said that health care facilities might consider the adoption of a “bare below the elbow” policy.

Some U.S. facilities have subsequently adopted this policy within their institutions, and the new findings suggest that “more people should consider it,” said study co-author Dr. Curtis J. Donskey, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Still, the policy has been met with some resistance, with some doctors calling for more evidence showing that long sleeves really do increase the likelihood of transmitting pathogens. The new study provides some evidence, but additional, larger studies are still needed before some hospitals may adopt the policy, John said.

In addition, future research is still needed to show that a short-sleeve policy actually reduces the number of infections spread in a hospital, the researchers said.

But John said the study has changed her personal preference for the way she wears her white coat. “I role up my coat sleeves above my elbow,” John said.


Pastry Chefs Forced to Get Creative as Vanilla Prices Soar

Pastry Chefs Forced to Get Creative as Vanilla Prices Soar

As Hurricane Harvey barreled toward Texas, Rebecca Masson, owner of Houston’s Fluff Bake Bar, thought about what was most important to her; what she had to keep safe. She ran to her pantry, grabbed the last 10 quarts of vanilla she had, and sped to shelter. At a time when top vanilla producers are charging $600 to $750 per kilogram for vanilla beans, Masson’s stash of vanilla was nothing short of liquid gold. “I could not risk it being flooded or stolen,” she says. “To lose all my vanilla? That would be no joke.”

Bakers and ice cream makers across the country have been crushed by the price surge for vanilla, which spiked after a cyclone hit Madagascar, the world’s leading producer of vanilla, on March 7. The current $600 per kilogram price is up from around $100 in 2015, and near $500 per gallon for pure vanilla extract, which sold for $70 a gallon in 2015.

While price hikes due to weather or a poor harvest are nothing new, the current vanilla crisis is unique. “The increase feels different than any other price hike we have seen because it is both prolonged and dramatic,” says Allison Kave, who co-owns Brooklyn bar and bakery Butter & Scotch.

“I’ve seen hikes before,” Masson says, recalling a 2005 surge when vanilla bean prices doubled. “But six to seven months later, prices went back down.” Not so this time. Instead, prices have showed no signs of softening.

Craig Nielsen, VP of sustainability at Nielsen-Massey, which has been in the business of making vanilla since 1907, says his company does not expect a change in price anytime soon. Vanilla plants take about three years to mature and produce beans. When the cyclone hit this spring, it tore through the main vanilla-growing areas in Madagascar, known as the SAVA region. Not only were crops devastated, but the surrounding trees, essential to filter sunlight and diffuse the heat hitting the vanilla vines, were also decimated. This means future crops may also be damaged or die from the stress of too much sun.

But Nielsen says the price hike is about more than the cyclone. In 2007, vanilla production began to decline in alternate growing regions (regions outside of Madagascar) because prices had fallen so low. It makes sense: farmers were not willing to invest the time and labor to grow and harvest vanilla in that depressed market, and supply started to decline.

Then, in 2015, vanilla prices started to climb as consumers began demanding natural ingredients in their candy bars, ice cream, and cakes. In November 2015, Hershey’s announced that it would swap out the artificial ingredient “vanillin” for the real deal in its kisses and chocolate bars. The move was the first in a series of changes to remove all artificial ingredients from the chocolates. With big food demanding real vanilla, prices started to climb to $150, then $200, then $275 a gallon, according to Masson. Add on a cyclone, and the three- to four-year life cycle of the crop, and prices went through the roof.

Some makers, like Amy Keller of Jane’s Ice Cream in Kingston, New York, were smart enough to stockpile vanilla at the first sign of a price surge a few months ago. But Keller is already worrying about what will happen she runs out, as prices have gone up not only for Madagascar vanilla (which accounts for 75 to 80 percent of world supply) but for vanilla from other sources — Indonesia, Mexico, Uganda, India — because of the heightened demand.

“If I could increase the price of my ice cream at the same percentage as the rising price of vanilla, I’d be doing really well right now — like, really well,” says Peter Arendsen, owner of the wholesale ice cream company Ice Cream Alchemy. Unfortunately, he can’t, so for now, he eats the cost. As does Ample Hills Creamery in Brooklyn, where co-owner Jackie Cuscuna says she will not pass the cost onto her customers, but notes that she has stopped introducing any new flavors made with vanilla.

Others have had to take more severe action. This summer, the organic ice cream company Blue Marble stopped selling its vanilla base to its wholesale customers, instead offering sweet cream or buttermilk flavors. Elsewhere, New York City pastry chef Fany Gerson, who relies on vanilla for her La Newyorkina popsicles and her doughnuts at Dough, took to milking the most out of every pod: She uses the beans once, then soaks them, uses the liquid that results, then dries them and grinds them into a vanilla sugar.

Four months ago, when Eric Berley, who co-owns the Philadelphia ice cream shop Franklin Fountain with his brother Ryan, started paying $544 a gallon for vanilla, he crunched the numbers and estimated that he would have to spend $22,000 more on vanilla this summer than last. To mitigate losses, he painstakingly reviewed every ice cream recipe and held blind taste tests with lower amounts of vanilla. The tweaked recipes have helped somewhat. “We didn’t have to take the full hit,” he says.

The soaring cost of vanilla did force prices up at Butter & Scotch; on August 1, the price of its whole vanilla birthday cake went up to $72, up from $60. “It was a really hard decision, but we’d seen the price increase so dramatically,” says Kave. Kave and co-owner Keavy Blueher have also abandoned offering homemade cream soda (made from whole vanilla beans), and, like Berley, have tweaked recipes to use the least amount of vanilla possible. They’ve even looked into making their own vanilla extract, but after doing the math on pricing on the beans and labor, found it would not make sense.

Imitation product is available, sure, but most bakers worth their weight in frosting won’t touch the stuff. “I don’t use anything artificial or made in a lab,” says Masson, who managed to find a blend of Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla extract at $1.72 an ounce ($500/case) in July. But she’s not sure what she will do when her vanilla runs out: She says the case is already up to $991. “Vanilla is all I think about,” she says. “I dream about it. Because at this rate, I just won’t be able to afford it.”

While bakers and makers are reeling, there may be a silver lining in this story after all. Nielsen points out that previously low price levels were not sustainable for the farmers, because of how labor intensive the crop is to grow, harvest, and produce. “There needed to be an adjustment in price to keep farmers interested in growing and maintaining the vines,” he says.

Nielsen predicts future vanilla prices will undergo a measured, not dramatic, price decline because of the continued strong global demand, tied to a commitment by large food manufacturers to use natural versus artificial flavors. A more moderate price, somewhere around $100 or $150 a gallon, might be the best of both worlds.


The Dark History Behind Ouija Board’s Baltimore Origins

The Dark History Behind Ouija Board’s Baltimore Origins

Charles Kennard always had his eye out for a chance to make a buck, but he was not the greatest, nor the luckiest, businessman. It appears that he wasn’t the most honest guy, either. The second child of a successful Delaware merchant, Kennard moved to Maryland’s Eastern Shore in the late 1880s after developing “secret” bone-mix recipes for fertilizer. (In fairness, everyone in the fertilizer business claimed a “secret” recipe.) Following initial success, his Chestertown plant went to auction due to a combination of drought, competition, and debt. But all was not lost. A Prussian immigrant named E.C. Reiche kept an office next to Kennard’s on the first floor of the four-story, wood-frame hotel in Chestertown’s tiny business district. A furniture maker turned coffin maker turned undertaker—not an atypical career progression for the day—Reiche was also an inveterate tinkerer and Kennard had another plan.

Back story: Two generations earlier, a pair of girls in upstate New York named the Fox sisters, claiming to be mediums able to interpret mysterious “knocks” from the other side, had launched a spiritualist movement that continued to hold sway across the country. In fact, in the aftermath of the Civil War, with so many husbands, fathers, and sons lost in the conflict’s bloody battles, spiritualism—the belief the dead can speak to the living—had only gained steam with people desperate for a connection to departed loved ones and greater meaning for their own lives.

It’s in this context in 1886, during the period Kennard and Reiche shared a hallway, that newspaper reports began appearing about a “talking board” phenomenon sweeping Ohio, including an Associated Press story that ran in the local Kent County News. It’s also about this time, according a later Baltimore American story, that Kennard and Reiche—most likely inspired by the AP account—began collaborating and making at least a dozen of their own “talking” boards.

“Reiche, the biggest coffin maker in town, is making these on the side,” explains Robert Murch, the world’s foremost talking-board historian, and it’s these prototypes that became the Ouija board. “But it’s Kennard, when he leaves Chestertown for Baltimore in 1890, where he continues in the fertilizer game, and starts a real-estate business, who begins pitching what he says is his talking-board invention to potential investors.”

After numerous rejections, Elijah Bond, a local attorney who claimed his sister-in-law was a strong medium, finally took an interest. Soon enough, the Kennard Novelty Company, which incorporated the day before Halloween 125 years ago, began manufacturing Ouija boards much as they appear today. Bond was right about his sister-in-law, too: Helen Peters proved convincing enough with Kennard’s new talking board to win over a skeptical U.S. patent office. She not only gets credit for earning the stamp of legitimacy from the federal government, certifying the board delivered as promised, but also for “receiving” the O-U-I-J-A name from the board itself, which told her the strange word meant “good luck.”

(In truth, the name “Ouija” was written on the necklace locket that Peters was wearing at the time.)

So, yes, an undertaker and an opportunist named Kennard invented the only patented board game—billed as both a mystical oracle for communicating with the spirits and wholesome amusement—ever to outsell Monopoly in a given year.

“It comes straight from the 19th-century séances,” says Nic Ricketts, curator at The National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, noting that a glow-in-the-dark board and a classic version are still sold today. “There has never been another brand board game like it, and I don’t see it fading away any time soon.”

The story of the Ouija board, however, is more than a tale of snake oil salesmen duping the Victorian masses or, subsequently, a game of harmless fun at a million junior-high sleepovers. While it remains an amazingly enduring pop-culture phenomenon—tied to the rise of the horror movie/paranormal industrial complex—its saga is also about the universal desire to find answers to life’s biggest questions, the history of psychology, and even the development of neuroscience.

“It’s always been a board game, a parlor game, but it has always been more than a board game for some people, too,” Murch says. “In the 19th century, people had a much different relationship to death than we do today—it was much closer to their everyday experience. Now, we do everything we can in hopes of avoiding aging, let alone engage in any real thoughts of death. But in the 1800s, people only lived to be 50 years old. Mothers would have 12 children and six of them would die. Their parlor rooms were also their funeral rooms.”

Not surprisingly perhaps, there’s a dark side or two buried in Ouija’s origin story. There always is when money is at stake, and by the early 1890s, some 2,000 Ouija boards were already being sold a week. William Fuld, who worked for and invested in the Kennard Novelty Company—and eventually gained control of the Ouija business after the founder cashed out too early—went on to make millions manufacturing the board in Baltimore and elsewhere, but only after his brother was cut out of the company. Their ensuing lawsuits were no mere spat. William’s brother, Isaac, became so embittered that he had his baby daughter exhumed and relocated from the Fuld family gravesite during a cemetery renovation. The two sides of the family would not speak for 96 years.

And, tragically, William Fuld would suffer a fatal accident at his Harford Avenue factory, one he claimed in a 1919 Baltimore Sun story that the Ouija had told him to build. (“Prepare for big business.”) Overseeing the installation of a flag, an iron railing gave way and he fell off the roof of the structure, which still stands and has been converted into a senior apartment complex. “On his death bed—the coroner’s report said a broken rib pierced his heart—he made his children promise to never sell the Ouija out the family,” says Murch.

Of course, Fuld’s family did sell—but not for four decades—to Parker Brothers, which promptly moved Ouija to its base of operations in Salem, MA. In 1967, the first year it was headquartered in the town infamous for its witch trials, Ouija sold two million boards.

By comparison, Monopoly—an early version was invented in 1903—wasn’t popular until the Great Depression, when it fulfilled a kind of fantasy escapism. Ouija, on the other hand, was a sensation from the outset, long before even its first film appearances, which date back to Hollywood’s beginnings.

But Ouija’s public image has always been complicated. Initially, the “mysterious oracle” was marketed as a game to enliven a party or encourage a little light-hearted intimacy for romantic—or would-be romantic—couples, who are often depicted in early advertisements with the board resting on their knees as they sit across from each other, both of their hands on the planchette. Norman Rockwell, who was fond of depicting the revealing moments of everyday life, painted a well-dressed suitor and young woman, chairs pulled face-to-face, playing with a Ouija board for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1920.

Less well known is the Ouija board’s use as inspiration or as an “automatic” writing tool by acclaimed novelists and poets, such as Sylvia Plath, who wrote “Dialogue over a Ouija Board,” and Pulitzer Prize winner James Merrill. Merrill used notes from Ouija “consultations” in his 560-page epic poem, The Changing Light at Sandover, which contained messages from W.B. Yeats, friend Maya Deren, and the Archangel Michael.

But over time, the relative innocence of the Ouija board—or at least its nonpartisan relationship between good and evil—gave way to a more sinister reputation as Hollywood began utilizing it for darker purposes. After The Exorcist, in which actress Linda Blair’s character Regan explains to her mom, played by Ellen Burstyn, how she used the family’s Ouija board to ask questions of “Captain Howdy”—the demon who eventually takes possession of her soul—the board’s occult status was cemented.

Since then, it has shown up in more than 20 films, and made countless appearances in the ever-growing number of paranormal-themed TV shows. Forums around Ouija-associated phenomena populate the Internet, of course. Most recently, the 2014 movie Ouija did so well at the box office that Ouija 2 is already in the works. When it was released last fall, the movie so dramatically boosted board sales that petitions by evangelical Christian groups to ban the Ouija started popping up again. Catholic.com, a lay-run Catholic apologetics and evangelization website, describes Ouija as “far from harmless.”

Still, the most interesting thing about the Ouija board might be the latest research around it from University of British Columbia that shows it actually does work—just not in the way we might assume.

A few years ago, Sidney Fels, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UBC, brought out a Ouija board at a Halloween party attended by graduate students, including many who were foreign-born and unfamiliar with how it works. They assumed it required batteries. “‘No, you don’t need batteries. It will move,’ I told them,” Fels recalls. “I gave them some mystical explanation tied into Halloween and they had a good laugh.”

But lo and behold, when Fels returned later, the grad students were enthralled because the planchette was moving on its own. Or so it appeared. The mechanism at work was actually something known as the ideomotor effect, which refers to the influence of the unconscious mind on muscle movements. (First identified in 1852, preceding Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious mind by decades, Dr. William Benjamin Carpenter discovered the ideomotor effect while investigating the unconscious mind’s ability to direct motor activity. Shortly thereafter, other researchers began linking that discovery to—you guessed it—spiritual phenomena.)

Days later, still fascinated by the students’ experience, Fels shared the story with colleague Ron Rensink, a psychology and computer science professor, and that got the ball rolling about whether the board could serve as a tool to look at unconscious knowledge.

“We didn’t know if we’d find anything, but when we did, the results really surprised us,” Fels says. When study participants were asked to answer or guess at a set of challenging questions, they were correct about 50 percent of the time. But when responding while using the board—which participants believed had the ability to “receive” correct answers from another person teleconferencing via a robot Ouija partner—they scored correctly upwards of 65 percent of the time.

In actuality, the robot was a ruse; it was not responding to the video-conferencing player, but subtly amplifying the study participants’ tiny, unconscious movements. “It was significant how much better they did on these questions,” Rensink says. “If you don’t think so, consider the difference playing roulette when the odds are 50-50 versus 65-35.”

The implication is that one’s unconscious is much smarter than anyone knew, capable of pulling up bits of stored information not accessible to the conscious mind.

Results in a follow-up study replicated the findings, which they reported in the academic journal, Consciousness and Cognition.

Rensink believes the results open greater possibilities for further study. For example, is unconscious memory affected by Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases in the same way as conscious memory?

It’s work that William Fuld—the guy who fell from the factory roof and is considered the “father” of the Ouija (he was also a state delegate and philanthropist)—would probably appreciate. When asked directly by a reporter if he believed in the Ouija’s mystical powers, he replied: “I should say not. I’m no spiritualist. I’m a Presbyterian.”

The discovery of the Ouija’s ability to tap into unconscious knowledge is not the only development in the talking board’s 125-year-old story, however. The reconciliation of William Fuld’s family with his brother Isaac’s clan after nearly a century of silence is the other compelling occurrence.

The two sides had long lost contact until Murch began posting his research on the web nearly two decades ago. That’s when Stuart Fuld, the then-sixtysomething grandson of Isaac Fuld, and Kathy Fuld, the granddaughter of William Fuld, separately reached out to Murch, in hopes of learning more about their ancestors. “I was talking to each one individually at first without the other one knowing it,” Murch recalls. “I was aware of the feud and didn’t want to upset either one, but then Kathy called one night and asked for Stuart’s phone number.”

“It turned out we were living five miles apart while growing up and didn’t know it,” says Kathleen Fuld, Stuart’s wife. (Stuart Fuld passed last year.)

The two sides of the family, which now include great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of the brothers, have been getting together regularly ever since.

While some of the descendants did hold on to Ouija and other talking-board memorabilia—Isaac later attempted to launch a talking board competitor named the “Oriole” board—no one, apparently, ever took a serious spiritual interest in Ouija. Not even when they were kids.

“Not me,” says Kathleen Fuld, chuckling. “I was a good Irish Catholic girl.
I had eight cousins who were nuns.”

She adds, however, that Stuart did take a great deal of interest in learning about his grandfather and ancestors, as well as the history of the former family business—if not the surrounding mysticism—especially as he got older.

“I’ll tell you a funny story,” she says. “We went up to the Poconos for a golfing trip one year and there was a conference of priests taking place at the hotel where we stayed. I don’t remember why or how it came up, but Stuart ends up telling
a group of priests we’re talking with that his family once made the Ouija board.

“All the priests immediately started making little crosses with their fingers,” Fuld continues. “They started asking Stuart all kinds of questions. They wanted to know the whole story and got the biggest kick out of that.”

Even better, the priests invited the couple to take advantage of the conference’s complimentary evening cocktail parties for the weekend—which they did.

“But it didn’t matter,” she adds. “Every time we saw those priests, in the elevator, or wherever, they’d start making those crosses with their fingers.”


Brooklyn Orthodox synagogue hires woman as spiritual leader | The Times of Israel

Brooklyn Orthodox synagogue hires woman as spiritual leader | The Times of Israel

A Modern Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn has hired a woman as its spiritual leader, the latest in a handful of Orthodox synagogues to hire a woman to a clergy position.

Prospect Heights Shul, a congregation in the Brooklyn neighborhood of the same name, has hired Michal Kohane as its interim spiritual leader, to serve under Senior Rabbi Ysoscher Katz. Her title, “Rosh Kehila,” translates in English to “head of the community.”

Because the synagogue is Orthodox, Kohane will not lead services, nor will she have the authority to rule on matters of Jewish law. A press release Tuesday from the synagogue said Kohane will host community events and serve as a “teacher and spiritual guide.”

“Michal has all the essential qualities necessary for successful spiritual leadership: she combines knowledge of Torah, passion for Yiddishkeit, and extreme sensitivity to others,” Katz said in the press release, using a Yiddish term for Judaism.

As of May, four Orthodox synagogues in the United States employ women as clergy. All are graduates of Yeshivat Maharat, a liberal Orthodox seminary for women, where Kohane is a student, set to graduate in 2020.

Since its founding in 2009, the school has drawn controversy. Although graduates of the school eschew the title “rabbi,” the Orthodox Union has ruled that women cannot serve as clergy, and has asked women serving in clergy roles to change their titles. The Rabbinical Council of America also opposes women serving as clergy.

Prior to entering Yeshivat Maharat, Kohane worked in various roles at Jewish organizations in northern California. In 2013, she was fired from serving as director of the San Francisco federation’s Israel center after writing an essay criticizing the Jewish community’s focus on young adult engagement. In parallel to Yeshivat Maharat, she is pursuing a doctorate in organizational psychology.

“Combining Jewish learning and community work has been central to my life since very early on,” Kohane said in the press release. “And I’m extremely honored and excited to begin the New Year as Rosh Kehila of this vibrant shul.”


Oracle Wants to Give Java EE to the Open-Source Community

Oracle Wants to Give Java EE to the Open-Source Community

Oracle said this week it plans to transfer management of the Java EE project to an open-source foundation, such as Apache or Eclipse.

The announcement came ahead of Java EE 8’s release this fall when Oracle seems poised to announce to whom Java EE development will be transferred.

The Java EE (Enterprise Edition) project is a collection of APIs for the Java platform that were specifically built to help developers create enterprise-scale applications.

Oracle to withdraw from a leadership role

The project, along with Java SE (Standard Edition) were already managed in a semi-open-source fashion.

Up until now, Oracle has welcomed the participation of the open-source community with suggestions and plans on how to develop the Java SE and EE platforms but has always kept a leading role over Java SE and EE’s future, always having the final say in all matters.

According to a statement from David Delabassee, Java Evangelist at Oracle, the company plans to withdraw from its leadership role for the Java EE platform.

“We believe that moving Java EE technologies including reference implementations and test compatibility kit to an open source foundation may be the right next step, in order to adopt more agile processes, implement more flexible licensing, and change the governance process,” said Delabassee.

“We plan on exploring this possibility with the community, our licensees and several candidate foundations to see if we can move Java EE forward in this direction,” he added.

Apache and Eclipse foundations are main favorites

The Apache Foundation and the Eclipse Foundation are the primary candidates for taking over Java EE. Both manage a slew of Java-based projects and Oracle has previously off-loaded other tools in their laps.

For example, Oracle dumped the NetBeans IDE and the OpenOffice app suite to the Apache Foundation, and the Hudson server to Eclipse.

    If Java EE were to be moved to a foundation outside Oracle, which one would you prefer?

    — Reza Rahman (@reza_rahman) August 11, 2017

Oracle said it will continue to provide feedback for Java EE development, but not from a leadership role. The company did not reveal a similar plan for Java SE.

Oracle has been leaving Java to die

Oracle has been moving away from Java to cloud-based solutions in recent years. In September 2015, the company fired most of its top Java evangelists.

The Java community felt that Oracle was starting to ignore Java development and in 2016 created the Java EE Guardians project to force Oracle to focus more resources on Java EE.

In January 2016, Oracle announced that they will be deprecating the use of Java browser plugins starting in JRK 9, with it ultimately being removed altogether in future versions of the Java runtime environment.

Java 8 is set to be released this fall, while Java 9 is scheduled for next year.

[Claiming Oracle is abandoning Java for cloud computing is nonsense.  They are two different things. The problem Oracle has with Java is they never found a way to make money off of it. Oracle got Java when they bought Sun Microsystems.]


Why Are Penguins’ Sex Lives So Scandalous? | Atlas Obscura

Why Are Penguins’ Sex Lives So Scandalous? | Atlas Obscura

This past fall, a popular TV channel aired a very brief, very controversial documentary. It was debauched and violent, packing a betrayal, a screaming match, and a bloody fight into fewer than three minutes. Outlets including Entertainment Weekly and USA Today covered the clip and the fervent social media response, calling it “shocking” and “disturbing.” “This is why I don’t want to be in a relationship,” one viewer Tweeted.

This contentious clip wasn’t on A&E or Fox News. It was a National Geographic wildlife documentary called “Homewrecking Penguin,” about three Magellanic penguins caught in a love triangle. When the first penguin returns from fishing, he’s confronted by his mate and her new boyfriend, who has moved into his nest. The two males scream and beat each other up—one even loses an eye—and after watching them battle for her affections, the female eventually chooses her new paramour, leaving her original mate out in the cold.

As Twitter user Javi Moreno said, “he should of just skipped the bullsh*t and taken her to Maury.”

This clip’s massive popularity and outsized response—according to Nat Geo News, hundreds of thousands of people watched it the day it was released—rides on the apparent ridiculousness of the pairing: all this blood-soaked drama from penguins? But if you look back at the history of human-penguin relations, this clip isn’t really an anomaly. Over and over, through centuries of shifting scientific standards and evolving social mores, humans have been scandalized by penguins.

A fight breaks out when a husband comes home and finds his wife with another penguin. pic.twitter.com/9ejYGcJ5TJ

— Nat Geo Channel (@NatGeoChannel) November 4, 2016

As far as we know, the first person to be shocked by penguin depravity was a surgeon named George Murray Levick. Part of an early British expedition to Antarctica, Levick spent much of his free time observing the large colonies of Adélie penguins that live on Cape Adare, and he later published several family-friendly descriptions of the species’ lifestyle, habits, and characteristics.

“When seen for the first time, the Adélie penguin gives you the impression of a very smart little man in an evening dress suit,” begins one chapter of the very pleasant Antarctic Penguins, published in 1914. “His carriage is confident as he approaches you over the snow, curiosity in his every movement.”

But eventually, Levick’s experience took a darker turn. The Cape Adare penguins, being animals, treat sex differently than most humans do, and Levick was sufficiently outraged by some of their predilections that he sometimes abandoned the pretense of scientific objectivity. “Cocks were often seen whose passions seemed to have passed beyond their control,” he wrote in an early journal entry.

He began referring to these unattached males as “hooligans,” and described their activities—mating with injured females, with dead penguins, with each other, and occasionally with the snow itself—with breathless fury. “I saw another act of astonishing depravity today,” he wrote on December 6th, 1911, after witnessing a group sex act. “There seems to be no crime too low for these penguins.”

Levick was disturbed enough by what he saw that he did his darndest to make sure his accounts of it would never fall into innocent hands. When he remembered, he switched into the Greek alphabet to write about penguin sex, in order to assure that people without a university education—in other words, the innocent—couldn’t read the offending sections. When he forgot, he went back and rewrote his original observations, pasting the coded Greek version over the original in his notebook.

Levick did try to publish the fruits of these notes as part of a longer paper, but his editors cut all the graphic parts out. (They did keep some copies for their own use, though.) It took until 2012 for ornithologists at London’s Natural History Museum to finally dig up Levick’s “Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin”—by which point scientific inquiry had matured enough that they were able to publish it.

In the meantime, humans were busy making a huge deal out of entirely different penguins. In the mid-2000s, the scandal spotlight landed on Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo. When the two first started hanging out in 1998, they were merely one of the world’s many same-sex penguin couples. They eschewed female companionship, and spent their days entwining their necks and singing to each other.

After zookeepers observed them pretending a round rock was an egg, they gave them a real one, and the two raised up a baby female named Tango. When they eventually broke it off, in 2004, it shouldn’t really have made ripples outside their immediate circles.

But thanks to their location (New York City, a gossip hotbed) and their timing (right in the thick of contemporary gay rights activism) it caused an nationwide incident instead. The breakup “rocked the gay scene,” wrote Andrew Sullivan in the Times of London. Conservative groups—who had, just months before, extolled March of the Penguins for its celebration of traditional family values—jumped in to slander the ex-couple, going so far as to use Silo’s new partner—a female—to delegitimize his old relationship. According to the American Library Association, And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about Roy, Silo, and their baby, was the fourth most controversial book of the 2000s.

Remember the gay penguins, they are very important. pic.twitter.com/8yug00ID8T

— nic (@JustAFanMore) March 10, 2017

To this day, same-sex penguin couples—both their existence and their occasional separation, for breeding purposes—continue to rile up people across the globe. Although many scientists are scandalized by the scandals, others understand where our hysteria comes from. “We tend to identify with penguins because they walk upright and are social,” writes Dr. P. Dee Boersma, a penguin expert at the University of Washington, in an email. She also points out that many do act like humans in other ways too—many do pair off and stay faithful, sometimes for many years.

In the end, it’s probably these similarities that make us so prone to judging these penguins. If these animals—which look like us, but cuter—are capable of cheating, or of attempting to raise stone eggs, or to mate with the snow, what might be lurking just beneath our socialized veneer? As Twitter user BeautifulChaine put it, after watching that National Geogaraphic video, “I never knew I could relate to one until now.”

[Still want to show your kids the cute penguins?]