Orange Tangent Study

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Kameelah Janan Rasheed

Weekly Tangents

Orange Tangent Study is excited to share weekly links to content that might spark some tentacular thinking! Weekly Tangents will be posted on our


as well as here every Monday! 

Week 6

➕ Week 005-009: August 23 - September 27, 2021

Weekly Tangents have been away for a minute, but we are back AND better.

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This week: potty trained cows, ugly laws, prosthetic building birds, and molecule-sized cameras!

Researchers Potty Trained Young Cows, a Promising Measure to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

(Smithsonian Magazine | David Kindy | September 15, 2021)

“Cattle pee a lot—up to eight gallons a day per cow. That urine contains nitrogen, which turns into ammonia when mixed with feces—an all-too-common problem in the barnyard, reports Hannah Devlin of the Guardian. So researchers wanted to see if they somehow could capture urine from cows to reduce agricultural pollution.”

The Ugly History of Chicago’s “Ugly Law”

(JSTOR Daily | Livia Gershon | September 3, 2021)

“In 1881, apparently with little debate or controversy, Chicago’s City Council passed a law barring all “diseased, maimed, mutilated” people from the city’s public streets. This was just one of a number of “ugly laws” passed in different parts of the country in the second half of the nineteenth century, as Adrienne Phelps Coco explains. Such legal discrimination against disabled people may be shocking to us today, but the context in which the law was passed and enforced also reflects patterns that still resonate.”

Bruce Is a Parrot With a Broken Beak. So He Invented a Tool.

(The New York Times | Nicholas Bakalar | September 10, 2021)

“He is about 9 years old, and when wildlife researchers found him as a baby, he was missing his upper beak, probably because it had been caught in a trap made for rats and other invasive mammals the country was trying to eliminate. [...] But Bruce found a solution: He has taught himself to pick up pebbles of just the right size, hold them between his tongue and his lower beak, and comb through his plumage with the tip of the stone. Other animals use tools, but Bruce’s invention of his own prosthetic is unique.”

Scientists Build Molecule-Sized “Camera” To Watch Chemical Reactions in Real-Time

(Futurism | Dan Robitzski | September 3, 2021)

“The device, little more than a clump of gold nanoparticles, semiconductor nanocrystals called quantum dots, and a molecular “glue,” uses a process similar to photosynthesis to reveal exactly what’s happening while various molecules interact with each other during a reaction, according to research published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on Thursday.”

➕ Week 004: August 16, 2021

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This week: Faked warship locations, spiders using spider webs as extended cognitive systems, gene-hacked mosquitos, and ants that shrink their brains to become queens 

Phantom Warships Are Courting Chaos in Conflict Zones

(WIRED | Mark Harris | July 29, 2021)

“According to analysis conducted by conservation technology nonprofit SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch, over 100 warships from at least 14 European countries, Russia, and the US appear to have had their locations faked, sometimes for days at a time, since August 2020.”

The Thoughts of a Spiderweb

(Quanta Magazine | Joshua Sokol | May 23, 2017)

“They argued in a review paper, published in the journal Animal Cognition, that a spider’s web is at least an adjustable part of its sensory apparatus, and at most an extension of the spider’s cognitive system. This would make the web a model example of extended cognition, an idea first proposed by the philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers in 1998 to apply to human thought.”

Residents Furious at Release of 500 Million Gene-Hacked Mosquitoes

(Futurism | Dan Robitzski | April 26, 2021)

“Oxitec, with the cooperation of the Environmental Protection Agency and local governments, plans to release 500 million mosquitoes, into each of which its scientists have inserted a gene called OX5034 [...] Oxitec says the mosquitoes, all males — which don’t bite humans — will then breed with wild females, which do bite. But they’ll pass on the OX5034 gene, a hereditary payload that prevents any female offspring from reaching adulthood. The theory is that the more the gene-hacked mosquitoes and their descendants reproduce, the fewer biting female mosquitoes there will be in the area.”

These Ants Shrink Their Brains for a Chance to Become Queen

(The New York Times | Annie Roth | July 19, 2018)

“Although other insects, including honeybees, have been known to possess the ability to increase their brain size, the Indian jumping ant is the first insect known to be capable of both increases and decreases in brain size. The researchers behind the study say that females of the ant species use this ability to prepare their bodies for reproduction.”

➕ Week 003: August 9, 2021

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This week: Octavia Butler telling us about the future, spiky genitalia, new members of the exclusive fundamental particles club, and build-a-human 

Octavia Butler: Science Future, Science Fiction

(Panel at UCLA, moderated by Arthur Cover | 2002)

“It's dangerous to assume that whatever we've been doing we're going to keep doing that - you know the future is more of the same more only more advanced. During the frenzy about the new millennium I reread an old book - I think was a collection by Harry Harrison called the year 2000 and it was done back in 1970 and that means the stories were written in the 60s thereabouts and over and over again you saw that what the writers were writing about was their own time but just more of it or harder or higher or whatever. You know more of the same. I think the one thing we can be sure of is that we won't have you know straight-line prophecy coming true that whatever technological things we're doing now will just do more of and better. I think we'll get surprises.”

The Pros and Cons of Spiky Genitals

(The Atlantic | Katherine J. Wu | July 6, 2021 )

“The story of seed-beetle sex has often been told in a very particular way, with the male in the evolutionary driver’s seat, his hapless mate taken along for a grudging ride. A quick glance at the insect’s penis makes it easy to see why: The appendage is tipped with hundreds of sharp, hard spines that give it the appearance of an elaborate mace. This terrifying surfeit of spikes riddles the female’s reproductive tract with punctures and scrapes that can leave, as the biologist Göran Arnqvist puts it, some ‘quite massive scars.’”

The Near-Magical Mystery of Quasiparticles

(Quanta Magazine | Thomas Lewton | March 24, 2021)

“‘Quasiparticles are kind of particles. Barred entry from the exclusive club of 17 ‘fundamental’ particles that are thought to be the building blocks of all material reality, quasiparticles emerge out of the complicated interactions between huge numbers of those fundamental particles. Physicists can take a solid, liquid or plasma made of a vast number of particles, subject it to extreme temperatures and pressures, and describe the resulting system as a few robust, particle like entities. The emerging quasiparticles can be quite stable with well-defined properties like mass and charge.

How to Create a Human Being

(JSTOR Daily | Amelia Sloth | July 19, 2018)

“According to The Book of Stones, the diligent student of alchemical wisdom could learn to manufacture living things: scorpions, snakes, even a human being. The Book of Stones was many things: a scientific treatise, a discourse on mysticism, an enigmatic allegory that has yet to be fully deciphered. The putative author, Jabir ibn Hayyan (c. 721 – c. 815), is almost a legend.”

➕ Week 002: August 2, 2021

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This week: interdisciplinary thought, ant collaboration, birds falsely advertising their mating qualifications, and synthetic voices!

Public Thinker: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein Looks To The Night Sky

(Public Books | Katherine McKittrick | March 9, 2021)

“CPW: I’m sure someone’s going to say, “I knew it!” But the truth is that I’m trying to synthesize all the ways through which I relate to the world. And that required figuring out how these different parts of my life—familial, intellectual, and political—could be put in conversation with each other.”

Floating Fire Ant Rafts Form Mesmerizing Amoeba-Like Shapes

(Smithsonian Magazine | Shi En Kim| June 29, 2021)

“As the researchers expected, the ants would initially huddle together around the rod in a circular pancake. Over the next few hours, the ant boat would randomly form tentacle-like features, making the raft look less like a pancake and more like an amoeba—an evolving shape with a mind of its own.”

Some Male Birds Fly Under False Colors to Attract Mates, Study Suggests

(The New York Times | Emily Anthes | April 21, 2021)

“But some birds may be guilty of false advertising, a new study suggests. Male tanagers have microstructures in their feathers that enhance their colors, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports. These microstructures, like evolution’s own Instagram filters, may make the males seem as if they are more attractive than they truly are.”

AI voice actors sound more human than ever—and they’re ready to hire

(MIT Technology Review | Karen Hao | July 9, 2021)

“Not too long ago, such deepfake voices had something of a lousy reputation for their use in scam calls and internet trickery. But their improving quality has since piqued the interest of a growing number of companies. Recent breakthroughs in deep learning have made it possible to replicate many of the subtleties of human speech. These voices pause and breathe in all the right places. They can change their style or emotion. You can spot the trick if they speak for too long, but in short audio clips, some have become indistinguishable from humans.”

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