This Week In Culture: November 2–8, 2019

November 6, 2019
Looking for stories about a talking dog, a curved universe, and the insult that defines our era? Good news! We've assembled this list of terms from the week's top tech, entertainment, and science news.
A speech pathologist named Christina Hunger claims to have taught her dog Stella to communicate by stepping on buttons, each of which says a word like "walk", "park", or "eat". She says the dog can even form short phrases by pushing buttons in a certain order. She posted a video of Stella pushing "happy ball want outside" on her Instagram. Her cat probably pushes "hate dog hate vacuum outside inside outside inside want food hate dog" over and over again.
Hunger, who works in San Diego with 1- and 2-year-old children, many of whom also use adaptive devices that help them communicate, began teaching Stella words when the canine was about 8 weeks old.
People (Nov 4, 2019)
Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry had surgery on his left hand after suffering an injury in a game against the Houston Rockets. He will be out for at least three months but is expected to return to play. After winning three championships in four years, opinions are flying about the future of the Warriors dynasty and Curry's status among the all-time greats.
He was a superstar the minute he ambled into the league wearing jorts.
ESPN.com (Nov 6, 2019)
A new book celebrates the hand-drawn infographics made by W.E.B. Du Bois for the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. The charts and graphs illustrate black population, land ownership rates, income, and other demographic statistics in the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War. Don't confuse discrete, meaning "separate", with discreet, which means "private".
The exhibition won awards in Paris, and it then toured the United States, where Americans were beginning to regard the decades since the Civil War as a discrete epoch.
New Yorker (Nov 6, 2019)
A year ago, Voyager 2 officially left our solar system, crossing the heliopause — the area where the sun's influence ceases — and into interstellar space. Recently published data from that event show that this passage was quick compared to Voyager 1, which took a month to traverse the border region. Scientists are working to understand how this area can vary so much in size, and what its overall shape might be.
Until then, humanity’s two intrepid interstellar travellers will continue to define our current understanding.
Scientific American (Nov 4, 2019)
A lot of today's economy depends on GPS, and the system is more fragile and vulnerable to hacking than many people would like. Besides obvious things like navigation, everything from cell networks to banking to shipping to first responders rely on the accuracy of the satellite system. Other countries are developing their own networks, and alternative technologies are being tested.
But is it wise for the rest of the world to rely on their continued largesse?
BBC (Nov 6, 2019)
New evidence suggests that the universe might be spherical. Much debate on the subject has focused on the amount of matter in the universe; a curved shape would mean that it's sufficiently massive to stop expanding at some point and begin contracting. Surfeit is a cool Old French word meaning "surplus" or "excess": surfaire literally means "to overdo". Impress your family at Thanksgiving by saying "I fear I have eaten a surfeit of pumpkin pie and am expanding like the universe".
A surfeit of gravitational lensing events — caused by massive objects bending light — exceeded what was expected, and was affecting the cosmic microwave background radiation, according to the study.
Salon (Nov 5, 2019)
Some senators are proposing a bill they call the Filter Bubble Transparency Act (FBTA), which will regulate the way social media sites use consumer data to show users content like ads. The bill will also allow users to opt out of receiving targeted content. Critics of the bill say the terminology used is too vague and that the bill is too confusing to be effective.
And it super-pinkie-promises that nothing untoward will ever happen to Americans’ data.
The Verge (Nov 6, 2019)
As antibiotic-resistant bacteria become a serious problem, some people are looking to phages as a possible solution. Phages are a type of virus that attack bacteria, hijacking their metabolism to reproduce. Unlike antibiotics, they each target only one specific species of bacterium and may not have side effects. Studies are underway, but many questions remain before these treatments can enter widespread use.
Given the vagary of cocktails, some researchers say phages should be genetically engineered to bind to specific receptors and also to kill bacteria in novel ways.
Scientific American (Nov 7, 2019)
This roundup of noteworthy new science books includes a review of Lightspeed, the history of efforts to measure the speed of light. Since the speed of light — which is constant, and which cannot be exceeded — is central to physics, it's an important story. Vignette refers to a short description, like the reviews in this list of books. It also means an image with faded edges; there's a vignette function in Instagram's editing tools that darkens the corners of your selfie.
Despite its appealing vignettes of great physicists, this is a challenging read.
Nature (Nov 6, 2019)
"OK, boomer" has fast become the ultimate put-down for young people to deploy against their elders, including members of Generation X who aren't boomers at all. To illustrate its effectiveness, many older commentators have expressed outrage at the phrase, an age-specific "whatever" well-suited to a time when young people are mobilizing to solve problems that their parents have not been willing or able to address. Vitium means "fault" in Latin; it's the word we get vice from.
Millennials have allied with Gen Z, and managed to vitiate the meme in the process by, basically, overdoing it.
Washington Post (Nov 5, 2019)

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