Monday, July 28, 2014

Pyramid of Mexico

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Beyoncé sample of Challenger disaster prompts NASA response

NASA has responded to Beyoncé's use of an audio clip from the Challenger disaster on her new album, which has had critics labeling the singer as insensitive. "The Challenger accident is an important part of our history; a tragic reminder that space exploration is risky and should never be trivialized," Lauren Worley, NASA's press secretary, says in a statement to the Associated Press. "NASA works every day to honor the legacy of our fallen astronauts as we carry out our mission to reach for new heights and explore the universe." "NASA works every day to honor the legacy of our fallen astronauts." The controversy has risen around a six-second audio sample used to open "XO," a Beyoncé song released last month. The sample — which is presented out of context on the song — comes from NASA's first announcement following the space shuttle's explosion: "Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction." Over the past week, NASA employees and some family of those who died in the disaster have criticized its placement in a pop song. Though NASA doesn't explicitly condemn Beyoncé's use of the sample, it appears that the agency considers the song a trivialization of the tragic incident. Beyoncé responded to the criticism earlier this week, explaining to ABC News that the sample is thematically relevant to the song and is in honor of the crew's work. "The song 'XO' was recorded with the sincerest intention to help heal those who have lost loved ones and to remind us that unexpected things happen, so love and appreciate every minute that you have with those who mean the most to you," Beyoncé tells ABC News, saying that her heart goes out to the families of lost crew members. It's clear why the sample is a questionable choice nonetheless, even if it was used with good intentions.

Amazon is now charging sales tax in Indiana, Nevada, and Tennessee

Three more states have joined the growing list where you'll be charged sales tax on Amazon purchases: Indiana, Nevada, and Tennessee. Amazon already collected tax in 16 states, and in 2016, South Carolina will join them, bringing the number up to an even 20. Technically speaking, you're supposed to add up purchases on your tax returns (the "use tax") no matter where you are, but that oft-ignored rule has increasingly given way to automatic point-of-sale charges. This hasn't happened without strong pushback from Amazon and other online retailers, though; they've gone through several long legal slogs as states pursue sales revenue and parity for local brick-and-mortar businesses. Amazon's warehouse expansions have given it a physical presence in more and more regions, speeding up deliveries but also opening it up to taxes, but pulling out of a state isn't necessarily a panacea. Recently, the Supreme Court declined to hear an Amazon lawsuit against New York, after the company attempted to fight a ruling that its relationships with local affiliates constituted a physical presence. Though it opposes what it calls a patchwork of state-level taxes, Amazon supports Congressional efforts to establish nationwide online sales tax rules.

The bitter truth about making a natural sugar substitute

Sugar in soft drinks and other processed foods may be bad for us, but cheating our taste buds has proved difficult — and the substitutes we do have (like the coal derivative found in Sweet'n Low) can sound even worse. A more "natural" solution is sweetener derived from plants like stevia, which has made its way into the recently launched Coca-Cola Life and other beverages. But as Daniel Engber writes inThe New York Times, stevia's bitter aftertaste can easily turn a diet soda sour. Over the past several years, food scientists have struggled to make this raw material more palatable, but is a heavily processed version of a plant extract really any more natural than a synthesized chemical? And is "natural" a meaningful benchmark to try to reach?

Dolphins caught chewing on fish to get high

A new BBC documentary will show adolescent dolphins getting high by chewing on pufferfish. The fish secrete a toxin that gives the dolphins a buzz, and the crew on the upcoming show filmed male bottlenose dolphins passing around a puffer fish before acting "most peculiarly." The program's executive producer John Downer notes the dolphin were in a trancelike state, "hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection." Dolphins aren't the first animals caught getting high — moose have for many years been observed getting drunk by eating fermented apples. The footage was captured thanks to a number of bizarre contraptions created for the documentary Spy in the Pod. The crew modified remote-controlled cameras to resemble a tuna (pictured above), turtle, squid, and dolphin in order to film the animals without disturbing them.

In addition to inebriated Cetacea, the show will also feature evidence of symbiotic relationships between dolphin, stingray, and other fish, which teamed up on film to hunt smaller prey. The two-part show will premiere January 2nd in the UK, but the high dolphins won't make an appearance until the second episode airs on January 9th.