15 November 2019

Ancient Egyptians mummified MILLIONS of ibis

From an interesting article in National Geographic this week:
Between roughly 650 and 250 B.C., ancient Egyptians sacrificed staggering numbers of mummified ibises to Thoth, god of magic and wisdom, who was depicted with a human body and the distinctive long-beaked head of the bird. Archaeologists have found literally millions of these votive offerings in ancient Egyptian necropolises, where the bird mummies were interred after being offered to Thoth to cure illnesses, gift long life, or even sort out romantic troubles...

Due to the sheer scale of the ibis mummy industry, many Egyptologists have assumed that the bird—specifically the African sacred ibis (T. aethiopicus)—was deliberately bred in large centralised farms. This assumption has been bolstered by archaeological and textual evidence for large-scale bird-raising operations. However, a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that most ibises were actually captured in the wild and possibly kept on farms for only short periods of time before being sacrificed and mummified.
The study revealed a DNA diversity in the mummies more consistent with widespread harvesting rather than local farming.   Not everyone agrees:
But archaeologist Bosch-Puche, who was not a part of the study, believes that the birds were indeed bred in captivity, due to signs of healed fractures and infectious diseases seen in ibis mummies that are similar to those documented in modern captive animal populations that have little genetic diversity...

The new DNA research also may help answer a bigger question of why the African sacred ibis eventually went extinct in Egypt by the mid-19th century.
Data, discussion, and more images at the PLOS ONE article.

Fix the dam infrastructure!

Thousands of people in the U.S. may be at risk from dams that are rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition. An AP analysis found 1,688 dams in these conditions are high hazard, meaning their failure can cause human death.
An Associated Press interactive graphic shows the location of dangerous dams in the United States.  My part of the country doesn't have many, but my old stomping grounds back in Kentucky and Indiana are just riddled with them.

Note the graphic is interactive, so not only can you zoom to your area, but you can hover the mouse for the information shown in the top image.

I am so very, very tired of this bullshit.  American politicians have been kicking the can down the road for way too many election cycles.  Someone has to raise taxes and fix these things.  Maybe it will require electing a Socialist to get these problems corrected.

Clever? Or a nuisance?

Clock-radio in a hotel has time displays on three sides so bed occupants can check the time without getting up.   Personally, I would cover it up with a towel.  (and interesting how iconic that wall surface/furniture finish is for a hotel/motel)

Concerns re oceanic microplastics

As reported in Vice:
The study, led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, found that larval fish nurseries off the coast of Hawaii are hotbeds of plastic pollution, with trash pieces outnumbering actual fish seven to one. As a result, baby fish looking for a bite are sometimes chowing down on tiny flecks of “prey-sized” plastic instead...

By dissecting hundreds of fish larvae, the researchers learned that those small pieces of plastic are making their way into the bellies of many types of fish, including commercially-important species like swordfish and mahi-mahi as well as flying fish, a key prey item for seabirds. Overall, fish larvae in slicks were about twice as likely to have ingested plastic as those found elsewhere.

The researchers aren’t sure how ingesting plastic impacts the health of these baby fish, but there are reasons to be concerned. Plastic can absorb a variety of chemical pollutants, potentially causing them to bioaccumulate in animals that eat it. In adult fish, one study found that plastic “nanoparticles” can cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger behavioral problems. In developing larvae, the researchers say a bite or two of plastic might cause fish to feel full when they haven’t consumed anything edible.

Plastic ingested by fish larvae could also be making its way into anything that eats them, including us...

Normal tree growth revealed

An interesting perspective.  Via.

To detect a hidden "nannycam"

Hidden cameras are everywhere nowadays.  Travelers especially need to be wary in rented rooms.  A WikiHow article shows how to find one using your smartphone.

Note the red dot in the blackness above (from a hidden camera) is not visible light - you could see that with your naked eye.  This is infrared light from the spy camera, detected by the front-facing camera on your phone.

More procedural details at the link.

A suggestion for next Halloween

In previous years we have given trick-or-treaters a choice between candy and seashells.   This year we offered something else.

The story begins in early summer, when we noticed an unexpected melon plant growing in our tomato patch in the back yard.  We left it alone to see what would happen, steering it away from the tomato cages (it eventually engulfed one of them).  It spread over and between the pots with the Bell peppers and eggplants and headed out into the lawn.  Less grass to mow - fine.

At its late autumn peak that single plant covered an area half again as big as shown in the photo above, and the fruit revealed itself as a decorative squash (top photo).

We had purchased a small bag of varied decorative squash for a previous Halloween, and had tossed them away out back for the local critters to enjoy.  One of them escaped predation and began this growth.  As the season ended we had dozens and dozens of gourds - and no use for them.  So, I loaded them into a wheelbarrow and parked it next to the sidewalk leading to the front door.  When the trick-or-treaters came to the door, they received their small bag of chips, and then we told them "help yourself to a gourd from the wheelbarrow."

The reaction was uniformly enthusiastic.  None of these well-behaved kids had taken anything from the wheelbarrow on the way to the door, figuring that it was a decorative display like the neighbors' ghosts and gravestones.  But on the way back to the street they dove in, and... "YAY!  Mom, look!  I got a gourd!"

Now I'm thinking ahead to next Halloween.  What else do I have that I need to dispose of?  Maybe some of my old comic books, but I wonder if they would be interested in picking through twelve years of back issues of Consumer Reports...?

13 November 2019

Highly recommended

Etiquette has to change with the times; social behaviors that were standard even one generation ago may be totally inappropriate nowadays.  And so it was that Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, was encouraged by her family to create etiquette guidelines for a cannabis-tolerant society.  As she notes in an introductory chapter:
"In Oregon, I watched as a friend tossed a half-smoked joint that had gone out into the garbage.  "What are you doing?" I shrieked.  "I'm so sorry," he said.  "I just figured we'd roll another."  I had to laugh... Many folks who live legal liken offering saved bowls and roaches (the ends of blunts, spliffs, and joints) to offering someone half a can of beer, the rest of their cocktail, or their leftover food."
I grew up in the "prohibition" era, so for me there was a lot of useful information in the book.  Inserted below are screencaps of some sample pages:

There are sections on edibles and drinkables, and of course how to be a considerate guest (or a host) of a party, what to expect at a dispensary, how to behave at a cannabis-friendly bed-and-breakfast (a "bud-and-breakfast"), or at a "lit on lit" book club, or on a "weedcation."

I found the book in our local library system (and Wisconsin is not a 420-friendly state) (yet...)

12 November 2019

The unnecessary carnage of Armistice Day 11/11/11

Excerpts from a chilling article in Harper's:
A hundred years ago this month, the First World War shuddered to a close. The end came when the armistice took effect on the Western Front at 11 am on November 11, 1918—the famous eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a phrase that seems like an obscenity now, a romantic gesture to cap a war that long before should have buried any possible remaining romance of war. The armistice had been coming since at least August 8, 1918, the “black day of the German Army,” when some 15,000 German men surrendered on the first day of a French and British offensive. Germany’s allies had been dropping away since September, with Bulgaria, then the Turks, then Austria-Hungary suing for peace.

The Germans had initiated peace negotiations on November 8, and their delegates pleaded that fighting be suspended at once. Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme Allied commander, refused. The signing of the armistice agreement was announced at 5:45 on the morning of November 11, but Foch decreed that the official ending time would be eleven o’clock.

In the ensuing five hours and fifteen minutes, the two sides suffered a combined 10,944 casualties, including 2,738 dead, according to the historian Joseph E. Persico in his book Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour. The fighting went on, to get revenge, to use up “leftover” ammunition, to teach the enemy a lesson. It continued because, even after four years of what British prime minister David Lloyd George would call “the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind,” men were still willing to go dutifully forward to kill when they were ordered to do so.

Most of the killing that last morning seems to have been initiated by the Allies, but the Germans shelled the town of Mézières, flattening the hospital there, and ambushed British troops at a little village near Valenciennes. British cavalry raced into the Belgian town of Lessines at ten to eleven, where they chased down German defenders as if they were on a fox hunt.

“I fired 164 rounds at [the enemy] before he quit this morning,” Captain Harry S. Truman, the only future American president to see action in World War I, wrote. Truman, the commander of an artillery battery, maintained, “I’m for peace, but that gang should be given a bayonet peace and made to pay for what they’ve done to France.” He kept his guns flaring until precisely eleven. Some American artillery batteries kept banging away even past that deadline.

Colonel Thomas Gowenlock, an intelligence officer with the US 1st Division, was surprised to find the shelling from both sides unusually heavy and growing worse as he approached the front near Le Gros Faux. “It seemed to me that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last eleven o’clock came—but the firing continued,” Gowenlock would write in his memoir of the war.
Numerous American units—the 32nd and 33rd Army divisions, the 5th Marine Regiment—were ordered into combat that morning and suffered serious losses. The all-black 366th Regiment of the Army’s 92nd Division, in America’s segregated armed forces, was ordered to make three separate assaults on German positions heavily fortified with machine guns; the last one commenced at ten-thirty, and the troops absorbed 319 casualties that day, including seventeen dead.
More at the link, none of it uplifting.

10 November 2019

When pumpkins go bad

Note to self: in the future, don't leave pumpkins on the front porch through hard freezes.

At our latitude, temps are typically in the 40s in early November, and decorative pumpkins can be left until about Thanksgiving.  Not this year; arctic cold arrived with killing frosts and hard freezes weeks ahead of schedule.  Glad I got my dahlias out of the ground promptly.

I loaded this fellow into a wheelbarrow and gave him a ride to the woods behind the house, where it will provide some welcome nutrition for local critters.

Addendum:  Relevant article at The Atlantic this week - What To Do With That Rotting Pumpkin Corpse.
You might be tempted just to throw them all away—and that’s certainly what many people do. Every year, more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkin get tossed out and left to rot in America’s landfills. Some are thrown away the day after Halloween, contributing to the 30.3 million tons of annual food waste in the U.S. When left to decompose in a landfill, that food waste produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that’s far more potent than carbon dioxide. (It’s not just in the U.S.; The Guardian reported that in the U.K., people are expected to throw away a record 8 million pumpkins this year.)
Suggestions at the link.

A bold prediction about Big Ten football - updated with video

Posted for family and a few friends with an interest in collegiate football.
Other readers can just scroll past to more interesting stuff.
Tomorrow the Big Ten football season starts with the first preseason games.  The pundits and national analysts have published their predictions; the list embedded at the top is from USA Today.   Of the Big Ten teams, Ohio State (predicted 5th), Michigan (7th), Penn State (14th), Wisconsin (17th), Iowa (19th), Michigan State (20th), and Northwestern (25th) are all expected to be in the top 25 nationally.  Minnesota received 1 measly point, out of 21,000 awarded by 65 headcoaches around the country.  Reporters covering the Big Ten are similarly dismissive; they collectively predicted Minnesota to finish sixth in the 7-team West division.

TYWKIWDBI hereby predicts Minnesota to finish in the top 25 nationally and second in their division.  You heard it here first.

Last Year
The Gophers closed out the 2017 season two years ago with two losses by a combined score of 70-0, and in the past two years under their new coach P.J. Fleck their record against Big Ten teams has been 5-13.  The problem last year was that the team lost both of their premier running backs to injuries in September, and they lost Antoine Winfield, their star defensive safety after just four games.  So they struggled; after a change in the assistant coaching staff, the defense went from giving up 500 yards/game to 300 and from 43 pts/game to 15, and the team's offense compensated and managed to finish the year by beating ranked Wisconsin at Wisconsin and then blowing away Georgia Tech in a bowl game.

Last year they fielded a team that was the youngest in U.S. collegiate football; at times the entire backfield was composed of freshmen right out of high school.  This year the team returns 78% of its offensive production.   Their injured star running backs (Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks) are back for their senior seasons, as is last year's star sophomore Mo Ibrahim; the three have combined for 6,000 rushing yards.

The only major players lost to graduation were the placekicker and center, two defensive tackles, and the best linebacker.  The team has 17 returning starters: the Gophers return an amazing 100% of passing yards, 99% of rushing yards, and 99% of receiving yards. None of the Big Ten teams they play can say as much; most of the opposing teams in the division lost key players from last year to graduation or transfer. 

The offensive line has four returning starters, and pound-for-pound is bigger than the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line. The four average 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds (the Vikings’ line averages 6-foot-4, 302)  Sophomore Daniel Faalele is 6-foot-9 and 400#. The wide receivers include all-Big-Ten senior Tyler Johnson, who could have turned pro last year but elected to stay with the team.

The Gophers have one difficult preseason game in week two, against Fresno State, which went 12-2 last year, beat Boise State for the Mountain West championship, and then beat Arizona State in a bowl game.  The game is at Fresno State in the second of a home-and-home pairing.  But.. of those two losses last year, one was to Minnesota in the preseason, and Fresno State lost to graduation their star quarterback, and will play this year with an inexperienced one.

A little-known fact:  the Gophers have won 15 straight nonconference games.  That is the longest streak in the nation, dating back to when they lost to #2 TCU in 2015.  I expect the Gophers to repeat as winners against Fresno State and thus enter the conference schedule 3-0 after wins against South Dakota State and Georgia Southern..

When the conference schedule starts in late September, the first five games will be winnable (at Purdue, home against Illinois and Nebraska, at Rutgers, and then Maryland at home).  By then they could be 8-0 and ready to roll against the big boys, because the season ends against presumably ranked teams: home against Penn State, away to play Iowa and Northwestern, and then the season-ending traditional game against Wisconsin (at home).

This year the Gophers are not scheduled to play Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State.   The West division's toughest schedule may go to Wisconsin, which must face Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. And Iowa will play against Michigan and Penn State.

I predict the Gophers to finish 6-3 in the West division, behind only Iowa, and thus 9-3 overall and ranked in the top-25 nationally. The one thing that could derail my prediction would be unexpected injuries to key players.  Already in the preseason one of the team's two experienced quarterbacks has been declared out for the season with a foot injury.

Update Oct 1:
After five weeks of the season (4 games and a bye), the Gophers are 4-0, with the three nonconference wins and a Big Ten opening win at Purdue (in that game Gopher QB Tanner Morgan was 21 for 22 (!!) for 396 yards and four touchdowns).  In the national poll, the "others receiving votes" now looks like this:
California 125; Southern Methodist 118; Arizona State 96; Army 47; Minnesota 34; Baylor 34; Appalachian State 28; Colorado 18; Duke 17; Tulane 16; Utah State 15; Kansas State 13; Hawaii 10; Southern California 9; Texas Christian 6; Washington State 3; Mississippi State 3; Air Force 3; Wyoming 2.
Effectively tied for 30th.  Home games vs. Illinois and Nebraska coming next.

Update Oct 8:
One week after a record-setting passing performance, the Gophers coped with cool drizzly weather this past weekend by reverting to a dominating ground game, with one back exceeding 100 yards and the other exceeding 200.  Now ranked 25th in this poll (and 26th in the other national one):

Nebraska next week.  Can't wait...

Update Oct 22:
Two more weeks, two more victories -- a 34-7 drubbing of Nebraska followed by a 42-7 win over hapless Rutgers.  In the national rankings the Gophers moved up last week from 25th to 20th, and this week to 17th (AP) or 16th (Coaches poll):

This week's game will be against Maryland, at home.  ESPN gives them a 17-point spread with an 83% probability of winning the game.  That would put them at 8-0 for the first time since forever. Then a bye week to get ready for a November 9 showdown against #6-ranked Penn State.

Update November 8:
An easy 52-10 trouncing of the Maryland team that beat us by a similar score last year.   Season record 8-0 (5-0 in Big Ten), with national rank 13 because of softness of prior schedule.   The Gophers are 7-point underdogs in tomorrow's game vs. 5th-ranked Penn State.  Only once in the last 40 years have two undefeated Big Ten teams met this late in the season. 

Nobody is predicting a Minnesota win tomorrow.  They will have home-field advantage in front of the first 50,000-seat sellout crowd in probably ten years.  They do have adequate personnel to pull off the upset, and a one-score differential can be overcome by a couple turnovers.  And note this:
"Minnesota (8-0) is a 6.5-point home underdog to Penn State. In the last 40 seasons, teams 8-0 or better are 12-4 straight-up and 12-3-1 against the spread as home underdogs, per ESPN Stats and Information."
I'm sure that historical comparison doesn't include many matchups against other 8-0 teams.  I'll predict a 28-24 victory for Minnesota (and if they lose I can always erase this sentence...)

Update November 10:
No erasure necessary.   Reposted to add this highlight video from yesterday's game:

Unquestionably one of the most dramatic and significant victories in long history of Minnesota football.  

Apparently I've been wrapping tortillas wrong

TL;DW?  To skip all the humor, just start at the 3:45 mark.

Apparently I've been tying my shoelaces wrong

Gif here.

Video here.

TED talk here.

And while I'm on the subject, I've always wondered whether the Cold War "secret communication" method illustrated at the top (with examples that wouldn't work on the illustrated shoe...) was real, or just something that John LeCarre made up for his books.

Apparently I've been charging my phone wrong

Searching the topic yesterday, I found information at two sites.  First, from Science Alert:
Many of us have an ingrained notion that charging our smartphones in small bursts will cause long-term damage to their batteries and that it's better to charge them when they're close to dead. But we couldn't be more wrong.

In fact, a site from battery company Cadex called Battery University details how the lithium-ion batteries in our smartphones are sensitive to their own versions of 'stress'...

Don't keep it plugged in when it's fully charged
According to Battery University, leaving your phone plugged in when it's fully charged, like you might overnight, is bad for the battery in the long run...

In fact, try not to charge it to 100 percent
At least when you don't have to.  According to Battery University, "Li-ion does not need to be fully charged, nor is it desirable to do so. In fact, it is better not to fully charge, because a high voltage stresses the battery" and wears it away in the long run. ..

Plug in your phone whenever you can
It turns out that the batteries in our smartphones are much happier if you charge them occasionally throughout the day instead of plugging them in for a big charging session when they're empty.
Charging your phone when it loses 10 percent of its charge would be the best-case scenario, according to Battery University. Obviously, that's not practical for most people, so just plug in your smartphone whenever you can. It's fine to plug and unplug it multiple times a day.
And then from Digital Trends:
Your smartphone is capable of recognizing when it’s fully charged and stopping the incoming current, just as it turns itself off when the lower limit is reached.

“You won’t be able to overcharge or over-discharge a cell,” Daniel Abraham, senior scientist at the Argonne Laboratory, told Digital Trends for a previous article about the impact of wireless charging on battery health...

While leaving your phone plugged in overnight is unlikely to do any major harm to your battery, because it will stop charging at a certain level; the battery will start to discharge again and when it drops below a specific threshold set by the manufacturer it will charge back up. You are also prolonging the time that the battery is fully charged, which is potentially speeding up its degradation...

Charging your phone as little as possible is going to result in the longest battery lifespan, so learning how to squeeze the most from your smartphone battery is important. The general consensus is that you should aim to keep your smartphone battery between 20% and 80%, so a couple of tops up throughout the day are likely better for battery longevity than overnight charging...

You should try to keep your smartphone cool whenever possible, so never leave it on the dashboard in a hot car. Apple suggests removing your iPhone case during charging to lessen the risk of overheating. Samsung says it’s best not to ever let your battery go under 20%, warning that “completely discharging the battery on your device may reduce its life.”

It’s also a bad idea to use your phone while it’s charging because it will increase the heat generated. If you are going to charge overnight, then consider switching your phone off before plugging it in to reduce the stress on the battery.
More at the various links.

09 November 2019

Ein "Mauerspecht"

In 2014 Der Spiegel carried a story about how the Berlin Wall is gradually disappearing, and the mixed feelings Germans have regarding its preservation or obliteration.
...some locals wonder if they could have taken better care of one of the world's best-known monuments. Less than a quarter of the Wall is under historical protection and you can find more pieces of it overseas than in Germany…

Yet somehow, up until very recently, most Germans did not seem to regret the disappearance of the Wall. Nor have they been inclined to make a big deal out of what's left.

For example, even Berlin locals might be surprised to know that there are actually over 1,000 sites in and around Berlin where remnants of the Wall can be found. Yet less than a quarter of them are protected by any sort of conservation edict

"It was a border, it was a reminder of an uncomfortable past and everyone actually just wanted to be rid of it," Roland says, "which I think can be hard for outsiders to understand."
Historians date the onset of this process of wall disappearance to November 9, 1989, when East Berliners surged through the wall, and locals on both sides of the wall began chipping off souvenirs. "These people were nicknamed "Mauerspechte" (wall woodpeckers)."

Two weeks later, the person in the photo above arrived in what was then East Berlin to present a lecture at a symposium. That evening his host family asked what he would like to do, and he expressed an interest in seeing the wall from the east side. They drove him through back streets to an obscure section of the wall and stood guard while he, suitably attired in a trench coat, slipped past some red and white guard rails and scrabbled at the wall with his fingernails until a piece of mortar came loose from a crevice. When he returned triumphantly to the car, he was reminded that had he tried that several weeks earlier he would certainly have been shot.

That piece of mortar now rests on a little stand in an étagère in his living room. We will withhold his name, just in case the Stasi are still looking for him...

For an extensive photoessay on the Wall and the old border between East and West Germany, see this link.

Re-reposted from 2009 to note the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall.  
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