Monthly Archives: November 2017

Giant ‘Styrofoam’ Planet Could Help Scientists Find New Habitable Worlds

We?re all pretty familiar with objects made from styrofoam. Our daily lives intersect with disposable items like coffee cups, insulation, hot and cold coolers and those seemingly millions of little cushioning styrofoam-y ?things? that are put into mailing boxes to protect the more valuable contents. 

And styrofoam balls are often used in arts and crafts to create models of the planets for hanging mobiles in bedrooms, classrooms and museums around the world. 

But, now, who would?ve guessed? Researchers at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, recently discovered a planet approximately 320 light-years from Earth that, according to a university statement, ?has the density of styrofoam.?

And the planet could be useful for scientists looking to discover new habitable worlds

?This ?puffy planet? outside our solar system may hold opportunities for testing atmospheres that will be useful when assessing future planets for signs of life,? the statement said.

A global effort of university researchers, observatories and amateur astronomers resulted in an online paper published in The Astronomical Journal. The paper describes initial findings of the planet dubbed KELT-11b, which orbits the bright, subgiant star, KELT-11.

?It is highly inflated, so that while it?s only a fifth as massive as Jupiter, it is nearly 40 percent larger, making it about as dense as styrofoam, with an extraordinarily large atmosphere,? said Lehigh University astronomer and team leader Joshua Pepper in the university statement.

But it?s not just the styrofoam-like similarity of the planet that intrigues scientists. The star ? KELT-11 ? that KELT-11b orbits plays an important role. The star is so bright, as seen from Earth?s southern hemisphere, that it can shed light ? literally ? on KELT-11b?s atmosphere.  The high brightness of the star shining through the atmosphere of the planet allows Earth-based equipment to better observe the planet?s atmosphere.

This, in turn, gives astronomers the ability to develop new tools to help them determine if Earth-like planets are surrounded by atmospheres that might allow life to evolve.

KELT stands for Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope, referring to two small robotic telescopes ? one in Arizona and one in South Africa ? that scan the night sky, taking measurements of 5 million stars. Those who monitor the data searching for possible planets are looking for the type of star that becomes dimmer at regular times. This might indicate the presence and movement of a planet crossing the star, producing an eclipse effect.

If researchers want to learn more about KELT-11b, they?d better hurry.

Well, sort of.

The ?styrofoam? giant is so close to its parent sun that it takes less than five days to orbit KELT-11. KELT-11 has begun depleting its nuclear fuel as it evolves into a red giant, and at this rate, it will eventually envelop its puffy partner within the next 100 million years. 

The Lehigh research team says the KELT discovery will prove to be an important target to learn more about how atmospheres are formed in the search for habitable worlds.

What?s next to be discovered out there in the cosmos? A plastic asteroid?

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Single Dad Hosts Class For Men To Learn To Do Their Daughters’ Hair

When Darious Bland became a single father seven years ago, he was at a loss as to how to go about doing his daughter?s hair. He?s since picked up a few tricks, and now the Alabama native is sharing them with his fellow dads. 

On May 21, Bland held a hair workshop titled ?Can Daddy Do My Hair?? in Hunstsville, AL. 

The event allowed 12 dads to come with their 3- to 10-year-old daughters as Bland guided them in navigating the understated difficulty of styling black hair.

?These dads are learning a lot; not only about hair but what many moms go through,? he told WHNT. ?They didn?t understand the frustration that mothers have to go through while doing their daughters? hair.?

Videos of fathers doing their daughters? hair have made their rounds on the internet throughout the years. And an April BBC News video showed health and well-being guru Khembe Clarke hosting a similar event for black fathers in England.

As for Bland, he admits he still has a thing or two to learn.

?I?m learning how to do flat twists, bantu knots, I want to learn how to braid,? he said.

For those who couldn?t make the workshop, Bland also posts video tutorials on the event?s Facebook page. 

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News Roundup for May 25, 2017

More depressing news to start your day.

1. Trumpcare will leave 23 million people uninsured according to the CBO. Seems like a really comprehensive plan. Tremendous. More here.

2. Advertisers are pulling their ads from Sean Hannity?s Fox News show. Fake news doesn?t pay, Sean. More here.

3. Jeff Sessions omitted Russian meetings on his security clearance form. Ugh, the White House swamp is so murky these days. More here.

4. Tensions are extremely high in Brazil after anti-government protesters set a fire in the ministry of agriculture. More here.

5. UK police are investigating the Manchester bomber?s network. They have stopped sharing information with the US due to consistent leaks. More here.

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Food Waste Efforts Scrapped From EPA budget

By Ashley Stanley

The Trump administration unveiled its $4.1 billion budget Tuesday, and the shock waves are being felt far beyond Washington. For many working in especially-targeted agencies, the magnitude of these cuts will have considerable implications. Here in Boston, EPA workers are rallying against the proposed cuts by gathering at the State House in a show of opposition.

Essentially, the administration?s cuts decimate the EPA by 31 percent, eliminating almost 4,000 jobs from the agency itself. Efforts to keep clean our streams and waterways are being eliminated, and there are deep cuts to the monitoring of the safety of our tap water (even in communities like Flint, Mich.). Regional conservation efforts are being scrapped, along with funding for environmental disaster cleanup.

Wasted food is one of the most significant drivers of climate change. Efforts to reduce and control it are being eliminated under this budget. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter behind both the United States and China. 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide is the byproduct of the harvesting, production, packaging, and transporting of food that ends up rotting in landfills. The water wasted in those same processes is equivalent to the volume of Europe?s largest river.

We currently grow and produce more than enough food to feed every single person on the planet, and that includes the estimated 9 billion world population in the next 30 years. As a food rescue in Massachusetts, Lovin? Spoonfuls runs on the premise that hunger and food insecurity are not problems of supply, but rather of distribution. By summer?s end, we will have rescued and diverted 7 million pounds of food from landfills. Each week, the 50,000 pounds of food we recover reaches more than 35,000 hungry people in Massachusetts.

The proposed cuts by the Trump administration not only pose a severe threat to the health of the planet, but threaten public health, too.  Along with EPA cuts, over $4 billion is expected to be cut from HUD, where essential Community Block Grants live, and SNAP funding ? on which 45 million Americans rely ? by more than a quarter. The costs of defunding safety-net programs that feed, house and care for people only sets in motion a higher cost down the road. Keeping veterans and seniors in their homes with nutritious meal delivery offers dignity, respect and ultimately better health.

In the world we live in, food is political. But on the ground, the immediate work that can be done is logistical. Tailoring solutions within the supply chain, looking at communities by their demographics, geography and current resources all become valuable factors and tools that we use to move food with intent and purpose, creating best practices for safe, reliable and consistent distribution of healthy nutrition.

Wasting food is perhaps the most avoidable and solvable problem we?ll see in our lifetime. Reframing hunger and access as consequences of poor or nonexistent distribution rather than supply is our guiding principle. Our work is on the ground, accessible to the community at large each day. But we, like so many other social service providers are limited by policy, and the underlying priorities therein. When managed and stewarded properly, the arms of government that create policy are essential to the health and future of our planet. It is the responsibility of us all to call for the protection and preservation of these agencies. It is time to step up, and step in – to keep and defend these priorities, even when our leaders have abandoned them.

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We?re always game for adorable ways to drink Champagne.

Moët & Chandon just unveiled a six-pack of mini Champagne bottles that will make you the star of any summer picnic or barbecue. At $99.95, the pack isn?t cheap, but it comes with six little servings of bubbly that are tough to resist. 

Bottles in Moët mini share packs have 187 milliliters of the brand?s classic Imperial Brut, which is a bit more than the amount in an average glass of Champagne. Packs are currently only available online, while Moët?s individual mini bottles ? which come in other varieties including a sparkling rosé ? are sold in stores. 

If pricey bubbles aren?t your style, you can always opt for a $4 four-pack of canned wine instead. Cheers!

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Tituss Burgess Channels Ursula In ‘Little Mermaid’ Cover

Before Tituss Burgess sang about Pinot Noir on Netflix?s ?Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,? he was singing ?Under the Sea? as Sebastian in Broadway?s ?The Little Mermaid.?

And although his costume from the 2007 play looks like something his current character Titus Andromedon would wear to a casual Sunday brunch, he never felt like his role as a talking crab really suited him.

?And while I was playing Sebastian, I was like, ?I?m playing the wrong role,?? he told an audience Saturday at New York Magazine?s Vulture Festival.  ?I went to the producers when I was getting ready to leave the show to see if they would let me audition for this other role that I should have been playing. And they said no.?

That role? It was Ursula. And sea witch, please ? he really should have played her.


Just watch his cover of ?Poor Unfortunate Souls? in the clip below.

Here?s hoping he?ll be cast in the role he was meant to play in ABC?s ?The Little Mermaid? live musical, which will air this fall.

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Uber Vows To Repay NYC Drivers ‘Tens Of Millions’ After Tax Snafu

Uber says it will reimburse its New York City drivers ?tens of millions? of dollars in lost earnings for miscalculating its commission there for several years.

The ride-hailing company said it had inadvertently calculated its commission since November 2014 based on drivers? ?gross? fares ? before taxes and fees are taken out. Instead, it should have collected a percent of the smaller, post-tax ?net? fare.

Uber said it realized the error last Friday, after it revamped how it shows drivers their earnings and discovered their commissions violated the terms of service.

The company told HuffPost it would refund drivers? backpay they?re due, plus 9 percent interest. The average driver should receive around $900.

?We are committed to paying every driver every penny they are owed – plus interest – as quickly as possible,? said Rachel Holt, Regional General Manager, US & Canada, in an emailed statement. ?We are working hard to regain driver trust, and that means being transparent, sticking to our word, and making the Uber experience better from end to end.?

But New York?s Independent Drivers Guild said the news is just one more sign of an industry in need of regulation.

?Uber?s theft of drivers? hard-earned wages is the latest in a long history of underhanded tactics in this industry,? IDG founder Jim Conigliaro Jr. told HuffPost in an emailed statement.  ?Year after year, companies like Uber, Lyft, Juno and Gett become more valuable and year after year they find new ways to take advantage of hard-working drivers,? he added. ?This is exactly why we have been calling for industry-wide pay protections to stop the exploitation of New York?s drivers once and for all.? 

It?s unclear if Uber drivers in other cities have been subject to similar miscalculations. The company said it is reviewing that possibility but has yet to find another instance. 

While Uber calculates its take based on drivers? ?net? fares, ride-hailing competitor Lyft told HuffPost its commissions still are based on its drivers? gross fares, as its agreement specifies.

?In New York, we deduct commissions and administrative fees from gross fares, as per our driver agreement,? a Lyft spokesman said in an emailed statement. ?We also pay sales tax on gross fares as required by law.? 

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Donald Trump’s Meeting With Pope Francis Was Full Of Awkward Moments

President Donald Trump?s meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday was mostly cordial, but there were still plenty of uncomfortable moments.

The meeting was already fraught with prior tensions, given that Trump lashed out after the pope criticized him during his campaign.

The Wall Street Journal?s Carol Lee, the White House pool reporter documenting the scene, noted that the initial mood at Wednesday?s meeting seemed ?stiff,? and that the pope appeared ?rather stone-faced.?

The pope was not particularly warm when shaking hands with Trump. Per the pool report:

?Thank you so much,? President Trump said to Pope Francis when they
shook hands.

After shaking hands, the pope and POTUS walked into the pope?s
private study, which is just off the room where they shook hands.

When pool entered the study, the pope and the president were seated
across from each other at the pope?s wooden desk.

POTUS told the pope it?s ?a very great honor.?

The pope did not say anything. He did not smile. He looked at pool
several times.

Another bizarre moment occurred while the pope greeted Trump?s family. He asked first lady Melania Trump about her husband?s dietary habits.

?What do you give him to eat, potizza?? he said, referring to a dessert from her native Slovenia. (It was initially reported that he said ?pizza.?)

But the mood in the room reportedly ?lightened considerably? when Trump and the pope exchanged gifts.

Pope Francis gave Trump several documents that he typically gives to visiting dignitaries, including a copy of his lauded 2015 address on climate change. Trump has said he believes climate change is ?a hoax? created by the Chinese.

The president was reportedly ?effusive? in his thanks and told the pope, ?I?ll be reading them.?

Climate change is just one of several major issues on which Trump and the pope disagree. Last year, the pontiff was also highly critical of Trump?s signature campaign pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

?A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,? he said.

Trump responded by calling the pope ?disgraceful? and writing a threatening Facebook post.

?If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS?s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened,? Trump wrote.

The pope, who comes from an immigrant family, has also stressed the importance of helping immigrants and has encouraged more action on the international refugee crisis ? which sharply contrasts Trump?s anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric and his executive orders that target undocumented immigrants and halt refugee resettlement in the U.S.

Trump and the pope discussed ?the promotion of peace in the world,? according to the Vatican?s press office. The president described Wednesday?s meeting as ?great? and ?fantastic.?

?It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants,? the Vatican said in a statement.

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