Monthly Archives: February 2017

Artists Stand Together to Support Global Exchange of Arts and Ideas

Today’s political climate is seemingly more polarizing than ever. In addition to the uncertainty involved in American affairs, both domestically and abroad, the U.S. has another battle on its hands: a fight against literacy. According to the National Coalition for Literacy, nationwide, roughly 36 million adults lack basic literacy skills.

In recent weeks, in order to shine light on the importance of literacy and education, writers, authors, and artists have come together in solidarity.

According to the Boston Globe, an international group of writers even planned tongue-in-cheek pre-inauguration events designed to both promote literacy and poke fun at the new president. These counter-inauguration/anti-illiteracy events were held in about 50 cities around the world.

“People are hungry to have some sense of community and unity around a set of values that they’re not hearing articulated in public discourse right now,” said Daniel Pritchard, a Boston-based organizer. “Individual expression is the very heart of democracy, and we want to articulate a new vision.”

Pritchard helped organize a free reading at the Boston Public Library. And in New York City, the Writers Resist protests consisted of two parts: a series of readings outside of influential buildings and monuments like the New York Public Library, followed by a march on Trump Tower. The writers brought with them a petition in defense of “free expression” that was signed by more than 110,000 people.

This group of literary activists haven’t stopped protesting since the inauguration, either, but rather stepped up their demonstrations. In late February, 65 prominent writers, authors, musicians, and actors all signed an open letter to President Trump in reaction to the recent visa ban that blocked certain people from seven majority-Muslim countries.

The New York Times reports that these artists are worried about future bans that would impair the “global exchange of arts and ideas.”

“Vibrant, open intercultural dialogue is indispensable in the fight against terror and oppression,” the letter states. “Its restriction is inconsistent with the values of the United States and the freedoms for which it stands.”

The writers teamed up with PEN America, an advocacy organization representing the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists.

“At a moment like this it’s important for the public that’s weighing out these different cases and policies to recognize the breadth of concern,” said Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of PEN America.

Autonomous Vehicle Technology Getting More Road Time and Better Safety Features

carAutonomous vehicles have been receiving a growing amount of media attention over the last year or so, and for good reason. Companies like Tesla, Google, Lyft, and a number of other tech and automobile giants have made huge strides in getting this technology on the road. But one of the biggest questions regarding technology is this: are autonomous cars safer than those operated by human drivers?

According to data from the Insurance Research Council, approximately one out of every seven U.S. drivers is currently without insurance. This means that drivers are already taking risks with their vehicles that could have severe consequences.

A new government report released earlier this week revealed that Waymo, Google’s self-driving offshoot, has taken another step towards making fully-autonomous automobiles accessible to the mainstream population.

California’s DMV recently released the latest annual autonomous vehicles disengagement report, which tracks the number of times human drivers had to take control back from an autonomous vehicle. Waymo experienced a significant drop in disengagement numbers according to 2016 data.

Waymo’s drop in disengagements came with a 50% increase in distance traveled by autonomous vehicles in 2016. The company ramped up their total driving distance to 635,868 miles last year. Dimitri Dolgov, head of self-driving technology for Waymo, said in a blog post that the significant decrease in disengagements paired with the increase in distance “reflects the significant work we’ve been doing to make our software and hardware more capable and mature.”

While autonomous vehicles are becoming more common, it’s uncertain whether they’ll be available for the public to purchase anytime soon. Many experts assume that self-driving technology will make car ownership less appealing to many people. In fact, ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber are counting on it.

Most analysts believe that autonomous vehicles will have the biggest impact in major cities, where 70% of the world’s population currently resides. Despite promises of fully functional autonomous ride-hailing services being available to the public in just a few short years, many experts believe it could be decades before autonomous vehicles are fully capable of handling complex urban streets.

Driving may be one of the three or four activities that happy retirees report engaging in, and many argue that autonomous vehicles would allow those retirees who don’t want to drive the flexibility to still get out of the house. But autonomous vehicles still elicit feelings of unease. An article from Scientific American even stated that testing an autonomous vehicle is akin to “putting a teenage driver on the road.”

It’s uncertain when autonomous vehicle technology will be considered safe enough for private use, but it’s no secret that these tech giants are making big strides when it comes to their autonomous innovations.

LED Lighting on Roads Could Have Serious lmpact on Wildlife

LED lightThere are plenty of risks that come with driving, but one of the most serious risks is night travel. Not only are headlights blinding in the rearview, but flourescent street lights aren’t always enough to prevent a collision. While LED street lighting might seem like an incredible idea, new data suggests that it could have serious consequences for wildlife.

According to new research from a study done at the University of Exeter in the UK, predatory spiders and beetles were drawn to stretches of grassland illuminated by LED street lamps at night. The number of species affected decreased significantly when the street lamps were dimmed by 50% and turned off between midnight and 4 AM.

Lighting accounts for approximately 11% of energy used in residential buildings and 18% in commercial buildings, and LED is known as an energy-efficient light source. However, experts estimate that LED lights will account for about 69% of the global lighting market by 2020, which has raised concerns among researchers about their effects on wildlife.

Dr. Thomas Davies of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus explained in the study that changes humans make in lighting night-time environments could have serious impacts on the way a multitude of species function.

The study additionally found that when predatory insect species were drawn to LED-lit patches of land, vegetation was destroyed at an increased rate and other species suffered significant damage.

Many local authorities have switched to LED street lighting in an effort to be more energy-conscious. The LED bulbs provide more light and use less electricity than their sodium bulb predecessors, but the study completed by Davies and his team may hold enough data to warrant a second thought.

“Without appropriate management, our results suggest that the growing use of LED lighting will have impacts on the abundance of predatory invertebrates, potentially leading to knock on effects for other species in grassland food-webs,” Davies wrote in the study.

As the study revealed, dimming the LED lights by 50% resulted in a drastic decrease in predatory species present. Davies believes that while dimming the lights may decrease insect activity, “averting the ecological impacts of night-time lighting may ultimately require avoiding its use altogether.”

Local authorities may be able to effectively manage LED lighting in a way that, according to Davies, “reduces its environmental impacts.” However, more data is needed to determine whether more species will be negatively impacted by the use of LED lights at all.

At any given moment, approximately 660,000 drivers are using a cell phone or another electronic device and are unconcerned about how street lamps are impacting the environment. Perhaps a solution can be found that will enhance driver safety and reduce negative impacts on the environment.

The Amount of Millennials Living With Their Parents Grows to a 75 Year High

Even though 47% of Americans haven’t been able to update their home decor within the last five years, it looks as if some homeowners have to wait even longer to spruce up their home because their kids are moving back in droves.Money

In fact, the percentage of young Millennials that are moving in with their parents have reached a 75-year high. In total, about 40% of those between 18 and 34 are living with their parents, which is the largest percentage since 1940.

This percentage has been rising for the past 11 years and is the direct result of wavering economic cycles, high rents, and mortgage standards that are almost impossible to meet as a young professional. Plus, considering the high cost of simply moving, and it is no wonder why Millennials are headed back into their childhood bedrooms.

Back in 1940, the nation was reeling from the Great Depression and was involved in World War II. Nowadays, Millennials are facing similar economic challenges as they are earning less, and are bogged down by crippling student debt.

To put this number in perspective, according to the Institute of College Access and Success, the average undergraduate has $30,100 in student loan debt in 2016, which is an increase of 53% in 10 yearsva-move.

The last decade has posed a bunch of problems for America’s youngest generation, as they were growing up and trying to establish themselves in a nation that was characterized by an economic recession, tight credit margins, and high unemployment rates.

So why are Millennials still facing challenges when the economy has is on an upturn?

“Even though unemployment rates have decreased and the economy is picking up, we know wages are stagnant, so this will impact this generation of homebuyers,” making it more challenging to save for a down payment, said Cheryl Young, senior economist at Trulia explains to CBS. “The millennials are getting married later and having fewer children, and that’s particular to this generation.”

Parents hoping that their adult children will leave the nest soon are probably out of luck. Before the Great Recession, about 43% of Americans under the age of 35 owned a home, compared to just 35% today. And according to CBS, the declines in home ownership were highest among low-income and single Millennials, the most likely to live with mom and dad.