26 March 2015

Paramilitary defender of African wildlife

The photo is of Kinessa Johnson, an "anti-poaching" advisor.  Here are the links to her Instagram posts and her Facebook page.

Kinessa works for VETPAW - "Veterans Employed To Protect African Wildlife."
VETPAW provides meaningful employment to post-9/11 veterans, utilizing their expertise to train and support Africa’s anti-poaching rangers to prevent the extermination of keystone African wildlife, and the disastrous economic and environmental impact it would have.
In a Reddit thread Ryan Tate, the co-founder of VETPAW responds to the somewhat misleading term "Poacher hunter" to explain that the goal is not simply manhunting:
I think you're slightly missing the point of paramilitary operations to save wildlife. Paramilitary operators do not go out with the intent to kill anyone that breaks laws, they go out with the intent of securing a location by use of a military structure and strategy, which means they cover more ground and are more effective in covering large areas of operation.

I run into this issue all the time because many think my organization (VETPAW) is just a bunch of American war mongering gunslingers coming to throw lead down range and shoot poachers in the face. In fact that's the complete opposite of what we provide- my team has spent so much time in war zones that they are the last to crack under pressure and pull the trigger. ..

What you'll find is that when poachers hear that any type of ex military or paramilitary operators are in the region, the poaching will cease in that area...
Kinessa has done an AMA on Reddit.  The weapon in the photo, btw is a SI Defense 300WM PETRA Rifle.

Factors influencing the size and shape of f-holes

The f-holes in the body of a violin have evolved to their current shape as the result of generations of trial and error by violin-makers, as reported in a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society:
Owing to its long-standing prominence in world culture, we find enough archaeological data exist for the violin and its ancestors to quantitatively trace design traits affecting radiated acoustic power at air cavity resonance across many centuries of previously unexplained change. By combining archaeological data with physical analysis, it is found that as sound hole geometry of the violin's ancestors slowly evolved over a period of centuries from simple circular openings of tenth century medieval fitheles to complex f-holes that characterize classical seventeenth–eighteenth century Cremonese violins of the Baroque period, the ratio of inefficient, acoustically inactive to total sound hole area was decimated, making air resonance power efficiency roughly double.

The corresponding evolution rates are found to be consistent with (a) instrument-to-instrument mutations arising within the range of accidental replication fluctuations from craftsmanship limitations and subsequent selection favouring instruments with higher air-resonance power, rather than (b) drastic preconceived design changes from instrument-to-instrument that went beyond errors expected from craftsmanship limitations.
Or, to put it another way...


Lots more at the primary link, and in an article in The Economist, via BoingBoing.

Fennec fox plays with two girls

Those who found the image of the captive fennec fox disturbing should enjoy this video of a fennec fox interacting with two little girls on his home turf, so to speak.  A hat tip to reader Ellen S. for locating the video.
Its name comes from the Arabic word فنك (fanak), which means fox, and the species name zerda comes from the Greek word xeros which means dry, referring to the fox's habitat.

Rich people complain that they are losing influence in national politics

To be more precise, the merely rich are losing influence to the super-rich.

The Washington Post focuses on the lost influence of the "bundlers":
Bundlers who used to carry platinum status have been downgraded, forced to temporarily watch the money race from the sidelines. They’ve been eclipsed by the uber-wealthy, who can dash off a seven-figure check to a super PAC without blinking...

But there is a palpable angst among mid-level fundraisers and donors that their rank has been permanently downgraded. One longtime bundler recently fielded a call from a dispirited executive on his yacht, who complained, “We just don’t count anymore.
We should clarify that the "bundlers" are not necessarily millionaires, but that millionaires are encountering the same problem.

Their response - to focus more on buying Congressmen rather than a president:
Other bundlers, on the left and the right, are turning their attention to congressional races, where they can get more personal attention.

“Senate candidates will call asking for $2,700, and they are eager to talk,” said David Rosen, a longtime Democratic fundraiser. “When they come to town, they’ll meet with you one-on-one. But $2,700 won’t even get you a parking spot at a super PAC event.”

"Smooshing" cards is an efficient way to shuffle

A Stanford University mathematician explains some of the nuances of shuffling playing cards.  Most of it is standard math (7 shuffles adequate, more superfluous), but the comment that "smushing" (1:00 in the video) works quickly and effectively was new to me.

Embrace your birthmarks

As a person born with a prominent birthmark, I've always been interested in how other people handle theirs.  This man accepted his ?vitiligo, and with the addition of some judiciously-placed pen ink, converted it into a map.

Via Neatorama.

Shopped at Radio Shack? Your data is for sale.

As reported by PC World:
For years, RadioShack made a habit of collecting customers’ contact information at checkout. Now, the bankrupt retailer is putting that data on the auction block. A list of RadioShack assets for sale includes more than 65 million customer names and physical addresses, and 13 million email addresses. Bloomberg reports that the asset sale may include phone numbers and information on shopping habits as well...

As Bloomberg points out, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that selling the data would be illegal under state law. Texas doesn’t allow companies to sell personal information in a way the violates their own privacy policies, and signage in RadioShack stores claims that “We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list.” Paxton believes that a data sale would affect 117 million people.

24 March 2015

Illustrations from "The Red Tree"

I found this visually interesting book by Shaun Tan (Simply Read Books, 2002, ISBN 0968876838) in our library.  You can also view the contents at the equally-interesting Poemas del Rio Wang.

Update on credit card skimmers

Over the past five years I've written three posts about credit card skimmers.  In 2009 an alert to the existence of skimmers that steal your credit card data at ATMs.  In 2010, photos of some virtually undetectable skimmers.   Then in 2011 reports of skimmers found inside hacked gasoline pumps.

This year's report comes from Krebs On Security, which reminds us that security tape on a card-accepting device (gas pump for example) is meaningless.
Tyler wanted to know what would prevent a scammer from simply removing the tape from one reader and placing it back on top of a compromised reader? Or, since most people probably wouldn’t know to look for the presence of tape around the card reader, how about just placing the skimming device right on top? I wondered that as well...

Of course, security tape wrapped around a card reader at a gas pump isn’t going to stop most pump skimming attacks, which start when someone with a master key for the pump opens it up and fiddles with the guts of the machine. The crooks figured out a long time ago that only a handful of master keys are needed to open the majority of the gas pumps in use today.

Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony ("Pathetique")

 I heard excerpts from this first movement last week while watching an old movie ("Now Voyager") and thought it deserves a place in the blog.
The second theme of the first movement formed the basis of a popular song in the 1940s, "(This is) The Story of a Starry Night" (by Mann Curtis, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston) which was popularized by Glenn Miller. This same theme is the music behind "Where," a 1959 hit for Tony Williams and the Platters as well as "In Time," by Steve Lawrence in 1961, and John O'Dreams by Bill Caddick. All four songs have completely different lyrics.

Excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Sixth can heard in a number of films, including Now, Voyager, the 1997 version of Anna Karenina, The Ruling Class, Minority Report, Sweet Bird of Youth, Soylent Green and The Aviator. It has also accompanied the cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show, specifically the episode 'Son of Stimpy' where the eponymous cat walks out into a blizzard. In addition, Tchaikovsky's Sixth is featured in the sci-fi video game Destiny, during the mission The Last Warmind, in which the player must defend Rasputin, an old planetary defense system.

Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony has also been featured during the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremony, being danced by Russia's national ballet company. Tchaikovsky's Sixth plays a major role in E. M. Forster's novel Maurice, where it serves as a veiled reference to homosexuality.

Jump rope and the meaning of life

I saw this story on the evening news and thought it was worth reposting in the blog.  There are seemingly endless numbers of jump rope videos on YouTube, including some fairly spectacular performances (try searching "double dutch"). 

The video features a group called The Firecrackers.  I initially posted one of their performances back in 2010 (it's a low-rez amateur video but still shows the moves).

This new video is better because it incorporates the backstory (which begins at 1:30).  This coach is a remarkable woman.

Cryovolcanism and the ocean of Enceladus - updated

Photo from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website.  And some related text from TIME:
Enceladus has always been thought of as one of the more remarkable members of Saturn's marble bag of satellites. For one thing, it's dazzlingly bright. The percentage of sunlight that a body in the solar system reflects back is known as its albedo, and it's determined mostly by the color of the body's ground cover. For all the silvery brilliance of a full moon on a cloudless night, the albedo of our own drab satellite is a muddy 12%, owing mostly to the gray dust that covers it. The albedo of Enceladus, on the other hand, approaches a mirror-like 100%. Such a high percentage likely means the surface is covered with ice crystals -- and, what's more, that those crystals get regularly replenished...

Most remarkably, Enceladus orbits within Saturn's E ring -- the widest of the planet's bands -- and just behind the moon is a visible bulge in the ring, the result of the sparkly exhaust from ice volcanoes that trails Enceladus like smoke from a steamship. It's that cryovolcanism that's responsible for the regular repaving...

In 2008, Cassini confirmed that the cryovolcanic exhaust is ordinary water, filled with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, potassium salts and other organic materials. Tidal pumping -- or gravitational squeezing -- by Saturn and the nearby sister moons Tethys and Dione keeps the interior of Enceladus warm, its water deposits liquid and the volcanoes erupting....
Addendum:  Reposted from 2012 to add new information from NASA - confirmation that the ocean underneath the surface ice is warm:
Sean Hsu, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder who helped to lead the team behind this new discovery, says the discovery happened in what was perhaps a counterintuitive way. He and his colleagues estimated the temperature, salinity, and approximate pH of Enceladus's ocean by studying the dust in Saturn's outermost ring...

"We've known from quite early on that Enceladus was the source of the material in Saturn's [outermost] ring… based on the ring's composition" Hsu says, "although we didn't know the exact mechanism for the material transfer." But the 2005 discovery of 125-mile-high icy geysers shouted out to scientists how Enceladus flung material skyward.

Hsu and his team analyzed a class of dust nanoparticles in this outermost ring. Using Cassini's mass spectrometer tool, they showed that these dust particles were made mostly of silica, and that they were the skeletons of evaporated geyser-flung saltwater. These particles point toward warm waters on Enceladus.
It just amazes me that we are now capable of studying nanoparticles in the rings of Saturn.

Rare (and counterfeit) PEZ dispensers

An article in Playboy details the sinister workings of the PEZ dispenser black market:
The tiny sugar bricks emerged in 1927 as adult breath mints, invented in Austria by Eduard Haas III. The name Pez comes from the German word Pfefferminz—peppermint. In 1948 Haas, a clean freak, introduced the “easy, hygienic dispenser.” In 1952 the Austrian hired Curtis Allina, a former spy who had operated for the Allies inside the Birkenau concentration camp, to bring the product to America... When the mints bombed, the Pez company put Mickey Mouse and Popeye heads on the dispensers and retargeted them at children. Bingo. By the 1990s, baby boomers who’d grown up with Pez had turned the dispensers into collector’s items...

Auctioneers at Christie’s in New York put aside Picassos to sell plastic candy pushers to Pez-heads. Collectors scrambled for rejects and prototypes such as the failed “Make-a-Face” dispenser, worth $3,000 because its small parts were deemed a choking hazard, and the coveted Coko Pez, an ill-advised blackface character...

During more than 70 wild missions to Europe, he persuaded factory workers to sell him priceless dead-stock dispensers and bribed factory bosses to make him kooky rejects, which he then sold for up to $500 each...

They paid less than a quarter for each rare Thumper the Rabbit and Wile E. Coyote dispenser, worth up to $75 apiece back in the U.S...
More at the link about the strange "war" between the company and those working the black market.

The embedded image is a screencap I took of recent eBay listings.  Note these are completed sales, not asking prices.  I thought the fad had died out ages ago, didn't know it was still a thing.

23 March 2015

Boulder opal

 Boulder Opal - Quilpie, Queensland, Australia
"Boulder opal consists of concretions and fracture fillings in a dark siliceous ironstone matrix. It is found sporadically in western Queensland."
Via the Minerals Minerals Minerals! tumblr. 

Immense lava tubes on the moon could house cities

Lava tubes large enough to house cities could be structurally stable on the moon, according to a theoretical study presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on Tuesday.

The volcanic features are an important target for future human space exploration because they could provide shelter from cosmic radiation, meteorite impacts and temperature extremes...

"We found that if lunar lava tubes existed with a strong arched shape like those on Earth, they would be stable at sizes up to 5,000 meters, or several miles wide, on the moon," Blair said. "This wouldn't be possible on Earth, but gravity is much lower on the moon and lunar rock doesn't have to withstand the same weathering and erosion. In theory, huge lava tubes - big enough to easily house a city - could be structurally sound on the moon."
A very cool concept.  I remember decades ago the thrill of exploring a not-officially-open-to-the-public lava tube in the desert outside Flagstaff - easily navigable thanks to the flat floor.  At an extraterrestrial site you wouldn't need to build a potentially-fragile dome over each structure.  If the lava tube porosity could be sealed, an atmosphere could be generated.   Now it's a matter of finding some tubes out there.  Ones that aren't already occupied...

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