‘ASMR toys’ at big box stores may just be fidget toys in disguise

Launched in October, just in time for the holiday shopping season, was a line of multicolored, brightly packaged toys that promised to be “oddly satisfying,” and give you tingles. 

Two out of six of the products came in blind bag packaging, which has become a children’s toy industry trend in and of itself, with price points ranging between three and 20 dollars. Each toy had tactile and auditory features such as plastic gears that make a clicking noise. 

ASMR had come to the shelves of Wal-Mart. 

Since its quiet emergence onto the internet in 2010, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) has become a cultural phenomenon and a viable interpersonal community. It has led to thousands of ASMR creators and 13 million videos on YouTube alone, including Cardi B’s W Magazine ASMR video which garnered well over 46 million views. While rigorous studies of the sensation are in short supply, there are self reported benefits of relaxation and improved sleep among people who experience it. 

This is not the first time that ASMR has bled into the world of marketing. In 2017, Ritz Crackers ran an ASMR-inspired campaign and noticed a 33% increase in sales relating to their launch. ASMR reached its advertising pinnacle, however, when Michelob Ultra’s Pure Gold commercial starring Zoe Kravitz aired during the Superbowl in 2019. Kravitz, seen tapping on a glass beer bottle and whispering into a microphone, gave mainstream audiences a glimpse into what advertisers believed was ASMR’s marketing potential. 

Now ASMR has made the inevitable transition from niche internet community to commodity. 

Strategic placement in the children’s toy aisle would lend consumers to believe that kids are the intended target of the company’s marketing. This fact remains unclear considering the age demographic of ASMR participation falls within the 18-24 range. Kids’ participation in ASMR is also a controversial subject. If this is the case, then are these toys simply a clever venture to recreate the success of toys we have already seen before?

The toys’ reception by the ASMR vanguard has been lukewarm. Karuna Satori, who runs a successful ASMR YouTube channel, reviewed the Sensory FX toys earlier this fall and came away less than impressed. She noted the overt similarities they shared with fidget toys.

“The Mega Cube is basically a re-edition of the fidget cube,” Satori said in her video.

The ASMR Bars and the ASMR Pods are meant to be collected, the former to be used alone or in conjunction with either of the largest toys in the line – The Mega Bar and The Mega Cube. The last two toys both have a rudimentary built in recording system, a feature that Satori found disappointing due to static during playback.  

“The microphone is really cheap,” said Satori, who nevertheless said the The Mega Cube was the best of the bunch. She said  “…you get the recorder, there’s more to do, and you don’t need to collect them all.”

This is not to say that all ASMR toys serve no purpose. 

Craig A.H. Richard, Ph.D., is a professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at Shenandoah University, and the founder of ASMR University. Richard suggests that the manufacturer may not have considered the fact that the ASMR experience is contingent on demonstrative elements

“ASMR is usually stimulated when you are in the presence of a kind or caring person who may be speaking gently, moving gently, or making gentle sounds with something they are holding or demonstrating,” said Richard. “These toys can be used to stimulate ASMR, but not in the user of the toys.”

Dr. Richard explains the possible reason for this in his hypothesis written in 2014, regarding the origin theory of ASMR. He suggests that relying on a demonstrating individual for tingles may harken to something biological – ASMR and bonding behaviors share similar triggers and consequently stimulate the release of the same feel good chemicals in the brain. 

“Triggers that stimulate ASMR in individuals may actually be activating the biological pathways of interpersonal bonding and affiliative behaviors…These bonding behaviors and molecules [endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin]  may provide a good explanation for most of the triggers and responses associated with ASMR,” Richard said. 

This would render The Mega Cube and The Mega Bar as the only toys within the Sensory FX lineup that might ostensibly create ASMR sans a demonstrator. 

The best way to predicate ASMR toys’ effectiveness would be to analyze them through the familiar lens of the fidget toy, popularized among children in 2017.   

Dr. Richard purports that fidget toys can mitigate the effects of anxiety, ADHD, and sensory processing disorders among individuals. 

“Any curious toy that strongly engages the interest of a child will decrease the global activity across the brain to result in more specific active areas of the brain,” says Richard.  “In short, a focused child is a focused brain, and a focused brain may help to calm a child.”

Like fidget toys, Sensory FX’s smaller toy offerings, such as the ASMR Bars and the ASMR Pods, are portable, making them readily available. There’s even a small carrying case for the Pods that resembles a keychain. Though they can be valuable for some students, many popular fidget toys were banned outright by schools

According to Richard, while fidget toys can be any small and engaging item that encourages the user to manipulate it, they may move too fast or be too loud to be good at stimulating ASMR in an observer. 

This would suggest that Sensory FX has attempted to rebrand fidget toys as ASMR toys, perhaps in order to capitalize on a growing trend and the buying power of millennial money.

Dr. Richard says that, “All items labeled as ‘ASMR toys’ would probably work well as fidget toys, but not all fidget toys would fit the criteria of an ideal ‘ASMR toy.’”

So if you want that tingly feeling, the aisles of Wal-Mart may not be the best place to get it. 

11 great chrome extensions for students

In a student’s tech toolbox, Chrome extensions can be an invaluable player — expanding the capabilities of their browser to do everything from check their grammar to keep distractions at bay. 

Here are some expert-recommended Chrome extensions for students.

RescueTime, also a great app for iOS and Android, tells students exactly how much time they’re spending in the active tab or window of Chrome or a ChromeOS device. It categorizes the sites they visit and rates them from very productive to very distracting. “It tracks what you’re doing, and it will block sites that you don’t want to access, so it won’t distract you,” said Christine Elgersma, a former teacher and senior editor of social media and learning resources at Common Sense Media, which has rated Chrome extensions for students.

If your child has a hard time staying off social media when they should be studying, Work Mode might be an answer. This one blocks all social media, Elgersma said. So, no more mindless scrolling on Instagram during their virtual English class.

DayBoard, a new tab and website blocker, lets students key in their priorities for the day and makes it more difficult to procrastinate. “You can create your own five item to-do list for the day,” Elgersma said. “Every time you open your tab, it will remind you … you’re opening Facebook, here are the things you wanted to do.” And then, hopefully, they’ll get back on track. 

Screencastify is popular with teachers, but it can be helpful for students too, Elgersma said. Older students, especially, who often are assigned presentations will find it handy. With it, students can record their screen, face and voice and do things like narrate slideshows, give a speech or dub a video

Just Read, a reader viewer, gets rid of ads, pop-ups and comments from web pages, so when a student has to do some research, they won’t get sidetracked by clickbait. “This will strip all that business out, so it will be less distracting to be online,” Elgersma said.

A powerhouse extension that’s useful for anybody who writes, Grammarly checks spelling and grammar so that essays and assignments are polished when they’re turned in. It also supports 25 other languages, including Spanish, French, German and Italian, some of the more popular foreign languages that U.S. students study.

Teachers often use InsertLearning to add questions or notes for students on a website. But it’s also a great extension for students, Elgersma said. “Kids can use it on web pages to make them more interactive,” she said. When they’re working on a project, for example, they can add annotations and digital sticky notes on web pages as they do their research. 

Save to Pocket bookmarks content and can be an essential tool for students who are working on a project and attempting to catalog research and content they’ve found online. With Pocket, they can store it all in one place, tag it based on the topic and read later.

“If a student is collecting information about a topic, he, she, they can easily just mark it in their Pocket and they also can share it easily out of the Pocket,” said Todd Cherner, director of the master of arts in educational innovation, technology and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-founder of App Ed Review, which reviews apps for educators.

Hypothesis lets users annotate and highlight information on web pages for their own private use, to share with a study group or post publicly. It’s popular with teachers, but students can use it too. “If I was limited to very few pieces of edtech, Hypothesis would make my short list,” Cherner said. “I’ve had great success with it on 98% of the websites that I’ve tried to use it with. It’s a nice tool.” 

StayFocusd is another productivity extension that blocks the websites that make it easy for students to waste time. “It’s really customizable,” said Ashley Morris, a former teacher and long-time math tutor. “You can pick a time it locks stuff down or have it lock down certain websites.” So, if Twitter is the problem, a student can tell StayFocusd to turn off the app while it’s time to study.

When students encounter a word they don’t understand online, with Google Dictionary, they can just double click the word and a pop-up bubble will appear with the definition. It saves students from opening another tab to get the definition (and the potential to go down a rabbit hole). It also supports languages beyond English, including French, German, Italian and Spanish. 

For kids who get distracted easily by noises, especially those around the house as they’re trying to do their virtual schoolwork, Noisli offers a solution. They can choose from a variety of background sounds that will help them stay focused.

Some apps offer similar capabilities, but Chrome extensions come with a big benefit — they don’t typically embed ads like some apps. Still, parents and students should pay attention to an extension’s privacy policies, especially the extensions that say they are tracking any tabs you open or requesting access to Gmail, Google Docs or other Google apps that you may want to keep private.

“See what they’re actually tracking and what they are storing,” Elgersma said. “If it’s down to keystrokes, then it’s probably not worth it. You don’t want to trade too much privacy for blocking tabs or something.” 

Netflix’s creepy ‘Red Dot’ trailer has a couple fleeing a hunter through the snow

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An isolated romantic retreat in the mountains, one very good dog, and some creepy comments from the bearded locals — it sounds like a recipe for disaster, and in Netflix’s Red Dot trailer that’s exactly what it becomes.

Alain Darborg’s Swedish thriller follows Nadja (Nanna Blondell) and David (Anastasios Soulis), a young couple whose hiking trip takes a grim turn after they discover a hunter’s rifle sight trained on their tent in the night.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: If the dog dies in this one we’re coming for you, Netflix.

Red Dot drops on Netflix Feb. 11.

Netflix’s ‘Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer’ is truly terrifying

Whether you know a lot or a little about the heinous crimes of Richard Ramirez, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is a terrifying watch.

An intensely atmospheric understanding of what made the notorious home intruder so captivating.

In just four episodes, the new docuseries from director Tiller Russell immerses viewers inside the violent crime spree that terrorized California residents from 1984 to 1985, and has held the attention of true crime aficionados ever since. 

Before his capture, Ramirez murdered at least 14 people in Los Angeles and San Francisco, all of them seemingly chosen at random. He raped and burgled many more, sometimes leaving Manson Family-like scribblings on the walls of the homes he invaded. A self-proclaimed Satanist, Ramirez never showed remorse or gave a reason for his crimes, instead quipping that he was headed for “Disneyland” on the day the State of California sentenced him to death. 

If those facts are scary, then Night Stalker‘s presentation of them is downright horrific.

Between archival footage of Reagan-era Los Angeles, neon pink title cards, and some remarkably gruesome crime scene footage, Night Stalker presents an intensely atmospheric understanding of what made the notorious home intruder so captivating to the public then — while simultaneously reflecting on how much we still don’t know about killers like Ramirez today.

Former investigators Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno recall the Night Stalker rampage in chilling detail.

Former investigators Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno recall the Night Stalker rampage in chilling detail.

Image: netflix

Anchored in interviews with the lead investigators on the case — former detectives Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno (the latter of whom also led the hunt for the Hillside Strangler) — Night Stalker recounts more than a dozen of Ramirez’s confirmed killings. Journalists, survivors, witnesses, and family members of victims recall in painstaking detail the damage done by this lone attacker, as Carrillo and Salerno walk the audience through what it took to catch him. 

It’s a tightly written and extraordinarily well-edited narrative, offering a comprehensive crash course in the prominent case with a moody style that is undeniably compelling. Distorted perspective on crime scene photos, scratchy audio clips of Ramirez himself, and a score that is unrelentingly agitating make Night Stalker a fresh take on an old subject. Even in the investigation’s more monotonous moments, the series’ overall tone keeps the pacing urgent and the decades-old case important. 

That said, unlike some previous biographers of Ramirez, Russell doesn’t glamorize the high-profile killer. Yes, Ramirez, like Ted Bundy, gained a considerable following of groupies during his incarceration and seemed to revel in the public’s search of answers he would never give. While Night Stalker does acknowledge those details to offer a full-picture of its subject, the time and sensitivity given to those directly impacted by Ramirez offers a solid condemnation that never lets his seem cool. 

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Captivating but still conscientious, Night Stalker is arguably the best primer on the infamous killer available. It won’t provide new answers for those already acquainted with this horrifying bit of California history, but it will stoke fear in anyone who watches. 

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is now streaming on Netflix.

Stephen Colbert has a very blunt response to Republicans now calling for ‘unity’

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Stephen Colbert has had many blunt words for Republicans in the days since a pro-Trump mob, some of whom are now being investigated by the FBI for domestic terrorism, attacked the Capitol building — and he isn’t done yet.

During his Late Show monologue on Tuesday, the host turned his attention to the latest Republican talking point: calling for “unity” and “healing” in an attempt to justify their arguments not to impeach the president. Unsurprisingly, Colbert was having none of it.

“OK, let’s unify in punishing all the insurrectionists and their political leaders who legitimise their homicidal fantasies,” he says in the clip above. “There can be no healing until the sickness is identified and removed, and you can do it now! The tumour lost his Twitter feed! ‘Cuz unity’s great, I’m all for unity, so Republicans — what is your outreach to the other side? You got to ante up. You don’t get to stay in the game if you don’t toss in a chip of good faith. The other side is going to stop this from happening again by getting rid of the guy who caused it; what are you willing to do to help?”

So far, Colbert argues, Republicans have done nothing.

“They were simply certifying a free and fair election — an election that you knew was free and fair — but you lied about it anyway because you wanted the campaign cash and all those eyeballs, and you were afraid to make your boss and his MAGA monster mad,” he says. “Your lies legitimised the fantasies of a violent, anti-democratic mob that nearly got you and your colleagues killed, and did get a policeman murdered. 

“Now you want to use your hollow calls for unity to sweep it all under the rug?”

TikTok introduces stricter privacy rules for its youngest users

TikTok, the social media site known for its popularity among youth, is making its youngest users’ accounts more private. 

On Wednesday, the company introduced a new set of privacy rules for users under the age of 18. 

From now on, all registered users ages 13-15 will have their accounts set to private by default. This means that those profiles won’t be accessible to anyone that hasn’t been explicitly approved. Furthermore, users in this age group are losing the “Everyone” comment setting, and will now have to choose between “Friends” or “No One” for their comments. The setting “Suggest your account to others” will be switched to Off by default for users 13-15. 

Duet and Stitch options (similar to retweet and video reply) will now be available only for users age 16 and over, and for users 16-17, the default setting will be set to Friends. And finally, users will only be able to download videos created by users 16 and over, and for users ages 16-17, the default setting on whether they want to allow downloading of their videos will be set to Off. 

“We want our younger users to be able to make informed choices about what and with whom they choose to share, which includes whether they want to open their account to public views. By engaging them early in their privacy journey, we can enable them to make more deliberate decisions about their online privacy,” TikTok said in a post. 

TikTok has been under scrutiny for not doing enough to protect children on the platform. In May 2020, a coalition of child advocacy, privacy, and consumer organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking for a probe into TikTok’s privacy and data collection practices for minors. And in Feb. 2019, the company was fined $5.7 million for collecting children’s data.

Following the fine, TikTok introduced a new version for children under the age of 13 in the U.S. called TikTok for Younger Users, which allows users to browse a curated library of age-appropriate videos and doesn’t allow the posting of videos. Now, the company has also announced it has partnered with children advocacy group Common Sense Networks to continue to improve this version of the app. 

Jesus’ ‘forgotten brother’ rediscovered as Christ’s story rewritten

In Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, the leading members of a revolutionary Jewish-led movement gathered for a crucial summit meeting. The meeting would be the final showdown in the long-running rift between the movement’s two key figures. One of these men was called Paul, the other James – the forgotten brother of Jesus.

Paul had been born in Turkey to wealthy Jewish parents and trained as a Rabbi in Jerusalem.

It would later emerge that he was also a citizen of the Roman Empire.

At that time, the Empire occupied Palestine.

During Timeline’s 2018 documentary, ‘Who Was The Real Jesus Christ?’, several bible scholars and Christianity experts discussed James and his separation from Paul, and how their teachings of Christ differed.

One explained: “Paul can be seen as a very sophisticated cosmopolitan person, familiar with the overseas world, with imperial Rome; well-travelled, well-educated, master of Greek rhetoric – someone who is sophisticated.”

As the documentary explained, James is regarded as “one of the most mysterious people in the whole story of Christianity“.

Following Christ’s death, James became one of the movement’s most important figures.

A Bible scholar told the documentary: “James, everyone accepts was the brother of Jesus.

JUST IN1,500-year Christian church found near site where Jesus was betrayed

Jesus’ family were poor and probably illiterate, and were also strict Jews, keenly observant of Jewish law.

Timeline said: “No one seems to have been stricter than Jesus’ brother, James.

“James comes through as wearing threadbare clothes, as being poor, and law orientated – the epitome of the extreme purity conscious zealot-type Jewish groups.”

Later documents speak very highly of James.

As one expert noted: “In fact, he was so pious he used to pray everyday on his knees until ‘his knees became like camels knees.'”

After Jesus’ death, James had become the head of the movement in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem Church.

Away from Jerusalem, Paul had his first visionary encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

Up until this point, Paul had been a persecutor of Christ’s followers.

Following his experience, he became one of their leaders.

His vision of how the movement should take shape differed to James and his group.

Paul spread his version of Christ’s teachings across the First Century AD world.

A faction quickly broke out between Paul and James.

Paul, later Paul the Apostle, ultimately won this battle of the ideologies, and James became lost to history.

It has led many to believe that Jesus’ true teachings – those that were taught to the closest around him – were quickly lost to Paul’s interpretations.

As the BBC noted in 2011: “Paul was the first great Christian theologian, establishing some of the building blocks of the faith that we now take for granted, though there are those who argue that in laying out these ground rules, Paul has obscured and separated us from the true teachings of Jesus.”

Atlantis found? ‘World hidden for centuries’ uncovered after diver’s ‘life-changing’ spot

First described by the Greek writer Plato in his texts ‘Timaeus’ and ‘Critias,’ the mythical island was said to be a strong naval power that attempted to overthrow Ancient Athens. In the story, Athens repelled the Atlantean attack unlike any other nation of the known world, supposedly giving testament to the superiority of ancient Greece. The legend concluded with Atlantis being punished by the deities and submerged below the ocean, never to be seen again.

But, National Geographic’s ‘Legend of Atlantis’ revealed how an incredible find made in Alikanas Bay – a tourist hotspot on the island of Zakynthos, Greece – led some to believe it had been rediscovered.

The narrator explained: “Diver Pavlos Voutos sets out to take some underwater photos.

“Pavlos swims further out into the bay in search of clearer water.

“Then, out of the gloom, he sees something that will change his life.

“The debris stretches out for hundreds of yards in all directions.

“The area is so large that Pavlos is convinced he’s found the remains of an entire city.”

The series went on to explain how experts were brought in to analyse the find.

It added: “Professor Michael Stamatakis immediately travels to Zakynthos to investigate.

“Stamatakis recalls seeing similar shapes on land, at the site of an ancient settlement built over 2,000 years ago.

READ MORE: Atlantis found? Diver made ‘extraordinary’ discovery of huge ‘man-made’ structure

“As the Mediterranean begins to recede, a world is exposed that’s been invisible for thousands of years.

“First, the rocky shoreline is left high and dry.

“Then, from the dark depths, regular shapes begin to appear, hidden amongst the rocks.

“With the water drained away, it’s now possible to search the seabed for evidence of human occupation.”

But experts did not uncover what they hoped for.

The narrator said: “Any objects made of metal, clay or stone should have survived. But there’s nothing.

“Which means these extraordinary remains, whatever they are, are not the relics of a lost town.

“Further analysis reveals the formations are what geologists call ‘concretions’ – solid blocks of sedimentary rock formed by powerful volcanic activity.

“Underwater vents release methane from deep within the Earth.

“Combining with microbes and sediment, the methane causes regular circular shapes to form.

“Far from being a relic of ancient Greece, the structures here pre-date human activities by five million years.“

Well-Preserved Ice Age Woolly Rhino Found In Siberia

MOSCOW (AP) — A well-preserved Ice Age woolly rhino with many of its internal organs still intact has been recovered from permafrost in Russia’s extreme north.

Russian media reported Wednesday that the carcass was revealed by melting permafrost in Yakutia in August. Scientists are waiting for ice roads in the Arctic region to become passable to deliver it to a lab for studies next month.

It’s among the best-preserved specimens of the Ice Age animal found to date. The carcass has most of its soft tissues still intact, including part of the intestines, thick hair and a lump of fat. Its horn was found next to it.

Recent years have seen major discoveries of mammoths, woolly rhinos, Ice Age foal, and cave lion cubs as the permafrost increasingly melts across vast areas of Siberia because of global warming.

Yakutia 24 TV quoted Valery Plotnikov, a paleontologist with the regional branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as saying the woolly rhino was likely 3 or 4 years old when it died.

Plotnikov said the young rhino likely drowned.

Scientists dated the carcass as anywhere between 20,000 to 50,000 years old. More precise dating will be possible once it is delivered to a lab for radiocarbon studies.

The carcass was found on the bank of the Tirekhtyakh river in the Abyisk district, close to the area where another young woolly rhino was recovered in 2014. Researchers dated that specimen, which they called Sasha, at 34,000 years old.

‘Snowpiercer’ Season 2 trailer features a sinister Sean Bean

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Warning: Contains major spoilers for Snowpiercer Season 1.

Snowpiercer, the post-apocalyptic Netflix/TNT series set entirely on a train, is on its way back for a Season 2 — and Sean Bean is joining the action.

The Lord of the Rings star will be playing Mr Wilford, the original architect of the train whose sudden reappearance at the end of Season 1 looks set to lead to more claustrophobic power struggles this time around. Bean joins main characters Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, and Mickey Summer, all returning for more snowy tension on the tracks.

Snowpiercer Season 2 drop Jan. 25 on TNT and Jan. 26 on Netflix.