Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Aug 20, 2020 in Stuff You Should Know

Goodbye Fall Sports

Bad news for college sports fans: both the Big 10 and the PAC-12 have announced that they will be suspending all fall sports, including football, due to fears surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic. This includes any sports that begin before 2021, even winter sports such as basketball. Spokespersons for both conferences indicated that the reason for this decision was rising infection rates, a lack of rapid testing capability, and unreliable contact tracing.

Earlier this month, btw looked at some professional sports teams that have decided to keep their players quarantined in a “bubble” and still allow them to play. But according to the PAC-12, that strategy wouldn’t work in their situation because college athletes still live and interact with other students on campus.

The good news is that all PAC-12 student-athletes affected by this decision are guaranteed to be able to keep their scholarships. Ohio State (a member of the Big Ten) has gone a step further, by announcing that impacted student-athletes will not only keep their scholarships, but receive access to all team facilities, training, nutrition, tutoring, and comprehensive mental health services.

If conditions improve, it’s possible that competition could resume after January 1, 2021. Postponing until spring is also not out of the question. So far, three other conferences–the Big 12, the ACC, and the SEC–have not yet announced plans to cancel their fall seasons.

What Do You Think? Do you agree or disagree with the Big 10 and PAC-12’s decision to postpone fall sports? Explain.

Netflix Slows Down, Speeds Up

One company that has played a bigger role in a lot of Americans’ lives these past few months has been Netflix. Recently, the company announced that it is adding a new feature: the ability to change the playback speeds of shows, to make them either faster or slower. The point is not necessarily for people to be able to rush through programs as quickly as possible. Changing the playback speed can slow down or speed up the show or movie for viewers with disabilities.

Slowing programs down will help viewers who are hearing impaired because they will be able to read the closed captioning (subtitles on the screen) more slowly. Many viewers who are vision impaired, on the other hand, like to experience shows at a higher speed. That’s because they use a feature called audio description, which narrates what’s happening on screen when no actors are talking. Many blind people have become so accustomed to listening instead of seeing that they can understand speech much more quickly than people who have full vision. (In fact, studies have shown that many blind people can understand human speech more quickly than humans can actually talk!) So being able to experience programs at a faster speed will make the streaming experience a more pleasant experience for them.

Unfortunately, the speed options won’t be available yet on all devices. Android mobile phones will be the first platform, followed by iOS and then the streaming services main Web site. It won’t be happening on smart TV apps yet either. That’s because some directors have expressed concern about distributors (such as Netflix) changing their content.

Dig Deeper Most humans, when speaking rapidly, speak at about six syllables per second. You know when announcers at the end of commercials read the “fine print” quickly? That’s about ten syllables per second. But studies have shown that blind people can comprehend speech at rates of up to 25 syllables per second. To get a sense of what this might sound like, visit this Web site to hear what human speech sounds like at sixteen syllables per second.

Thai Students Take Risks to Protest

In Thailand, groups of students are taking to the streets in protest to ask for a monarchy that is accountable to the people. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but unlike other constitutional democracies, political accountability is very rare. Thailand has gone through nineteen constitutions in modern times, and all of them have begun with what’s called the “lese-majeste” law, which makes it illegal to accuse or criticize the royal family. Those who do so are subject to trials and long prison sentences. In some cases, those who have spoken out against the monarchy faced severe opposition. For example, in October 1976, police opened fire on left-wing Thammasat University students, killing dozens and driving many other students into hiding.

That’s because the country’s leadership is facing widespread disapproval in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. While the Thai government has managed to keep infection rates well under control, the blow to the country’s tourism industry has further widened the gap between rich and poor. At the same time, King Vajiralongkorn moved to a hotel in Germany for his safety during the outbreak. If the government responds too harshly to the student protestors, they risk further angering an already-tense public.

Dig Deeper To better understand the situation in Thailand, use Internet resources to find out more about Thailand’s “lese-majeste” law. Write a short paragraph about what you learn.

Save the . . . Parasites?

When you think of endangered species that need to be saved, what animals come to mind? Tigers? Rhinos? Polar bears? What about … parasites?

Microscopic photo of a tapeworm
Are parasites, such as this tapeworm, worth saving? Credit: BeholdingEye/Getty Images

It might sound crazy to you, but scientists worry that the same factors that threaten other forms of wildlife–such as climate change and habitat loss–may also be negatively impacting various parasite species. In fact, if many of the currently endangered animal species continue toward extinction, scientists estimate that one out of every three species of parasites could also disappear within the next fifty years.

We might think that’s no big deal; after all, parasites are a bad thing, right? Not necessarily. They are critical to a lot of ecosystems,. although scientists still don’t know much about parasites. Many of them exhibit amazing powers, such as being able to control the mind of the host they inhabit, or drastically altering the physical makeup of their hosts in order to survive.

The good news is that by working to save the endangered animals we are more familiar with–such as polar bears–we automatically also help the parasites that are dependent upon those animals for survival. For the rest, a “global parasite conservation plan” has been developed, which advocates for twelve goals (a combination of practice, outreach, and conservation research) to help advance the survival of parasites over the next decade. (Note: the plan does NOT include saving human parasites or those that prey on domesticated animals.)

Dig Deeper Use Internet resources to learn more about an extraordinary parasite. Write a short paragraph describing what you find.