20 February 2020


When I saw the photo above of a Westminster Dog Show breed that was unfamiliar to me, I decided that extraordinary neck must signal it as being in the category of "sighthounds."
These dogs specialize in pursuing prey, keeping it in sight, and overpowering it by their great speed and agility. They must be able to detect motion quickly, so they have keen vision. Sighthounds must be able to capture fast, agile prey such as deer and hare, so they have a very flexible back and long legs for a long stride, a deep chest to support an unusually (compared to other dogs) large heart, very efficient lungs for both anaerobic and aerobic sprints, and a lean, wiry body to keep their weight at a minimum. Sighthounds have unique anatomical and physiological features likely due to intentional selection for hunting by speed and sight...

Sighthounds such as the saluki/sloughi type (both named after the Seleucid Empire) may have existed for at least 5,000 years... Although today most sighthounds are kept primarily as pets, some of them may have been bred for as many as thousands of years to detect movement, to chase, capture, and kill prey primarily by speed. They thrive on physical activity. Some have mellow personalities, others are watchful or even hostile towards strangers, but the instinct to chase running animals remains strong. 
The one above is an Azawakh.
The Azawakh, named for the Azawagh Valley of its origin, is what is called a “landrace,” says Carol Beuchat, the Scientific Director of the Institute of Canine Biology. “Landrace” basically means that these populations of specific dogs evolved to function in a precise location. The breed has traveled with nomadic tribes like the Tuareg in modern-day Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso with ancestry for over a thousand years. Archaeologists reportedly were able to find rare 8,000 to 10,000-year-old petroglyph rock art featuring long, slim dogs running alongside their hunter owners.
Look at its remarkable body (image cropped for size):



Addendum: A tip of the blogging cap to reader Rocky, who provided a link to this photo to emphasize that crinoids are not extinct -

Small town, USA. 1943

Part of a newspaper page I found in our family memorabilia.  Dodge County, Minnesota encompasses the area around Rochester.  This type of reporting was standard fare around the country in this era - a tabulation of the seemingly mundane activities of everyone's neighbors.  (If you want to read the details, right-click on the image and then enlarge it).

"Free" tablets for prisoners aren't free

As reported by the Appalachian Prison Book Project:
As a result of a new contract between Global Tel Link (GTL) and the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (WVDCR), you might think people incarcerated in West Virginia prisons could use the “free” GTL tablets to download a “free” copy of 1984 and journey from “It was a bright cold day in April” to “He loved Big Brother.”

But people in WV prisons will be charged 5 cents/minute to access much of the tablet’s content. For now, a promotional discount brings the cost of reading e-books down to 3 cents/minute. Either way, it’s no way to read.

The books on the tablet come entirely from Project Gutenberg’s free online library. Most of the books we receive requests for at APBP—how-to guides (carpentry, starting a business, repairing small engines, etc.), contemporary fiction, popular mysteries and sci-fi, African American literature, Native studies, recent autobiographies—will not be available.

Since Project Gutenberg archives older texts that have entered the public domain, they do not allow institutions to charge people to download their e-books and audio books. The per-minute tablet usage fees provide a clever way for GTL to profit from people reading “free” books.

Although it looks like the use of their free archives may not violate their trademark, the Chief Executive and Director of Project Gutenberg, Dr. Gregory Newby, finds it “very sad.” In an email to APBP, he wrote that he would be “very pleased if [we] can convince GTL to change their practices.”..

The paperback version of 1984 is about 330 pages. It will take a person who is able to read 30 pages per hour about 11 hours to read the novel. At the discounted $0.03/minute usage fee, 11 hours of reading a free book will cost a person about $19.80—and this is if you don’t stop to think or re-read.
Photo via Book Patrol, which adds:
Oh, and the average wage for a WV prisoner is 30 cents an hour.

Of course, there are layers of censorship too! how-to guides (carpentry, starting a business, repairing small engines, etc.), contemporary fiction, popular mysteries and sci-fi, African American literature, Native studies, recent autobiographies—will not be available.

A blanket octopus shows its web

 Via Laughing Squid.  Here's another video, also via Laughing Squid:

Cinema Pathe (Switzerland)


Now playing in Kansas City: Radio Sputnik

In January, Radio Sputnik, a propaganda arm of the Russian government, started broadcasting on three Kansas City-area radio stations during prime drive times, even sharing one frequency with a station rooted in the city’s historic jazz district...

In the United States, talk radio on Sputnik covers the political spectrum from right to left, but the constant backbeat is that America is damaged goods...

Sputnik’s American hosts follow a standard talk radio format, riffing on the day’s headlines and bantering with guests and callers. They find much to dislike in America, from the reporting on the coronavirus epidemic to the impeachment of President Trump, and they play on internal divisions as well. On a recent show, one host started by saying he was broadcasting “live from Washington, D.C., capital of the divided states of America.”

Critics in Kansas City called Radio Sputnik’s arrival an unabashed exploitation of American values and openness. Those behind the deal defended it as a matter of free speech, as well as a simple business transaction.

Peter Schartel, the owner of Alpine Broadcasting Corporation of Liberty, Mo., the company airing Sputnik in Kansas City, said that he started the broadcasts on Jan. 1 both because he liked what he heard during a trial run last fall and because he was getting paid...

An editorial in The Kansas City Star noted that the free press was a prime target of Mr. Putin’s attempts to weaken public trust in American institutions. “It’s sad, but not astonishing, that an American entrepreneur would put business above patriotism,” the paper wrote. “Listener, beware.”..

In a modern spin on propaganda, it focuses on sowing doubt about Western governments and institutions rather than the old Soviet model of selling Russia as paradise lost.
More at the New York Times.

18 February 2020

"Buffalo chest" and the American bison

This week while browsing the Oxford University Press blog, I encountered the image shown above - a painting (George Catlin, 1844) of a Native American hunter preparing to bring down a bison with a bow and arrow.  The scale of the painting is a bit off, but the activity depicted is well known; the immense and otherwise robust American bison was uniquely susceptible to death from a simple arrow, or even from a penetrating chest wound from a simple lance.

This unusual susceptibility also contributed to the wholesale slaughter of bison herds when Europeans arrived with firearms.  This old photo (via) from the 1870s shows an unbelievably immense pile of bison skulls:

These iconic and magnificent animals were killed in part to provide meat to workers on the transcontinental railroad, in part to prevent large bison herds from interfering with the progress of the trains, and also as part of a concerted effort by settlers to deprive the Native Americans of one of their principal food resources.  Discussion and additional photos at Rare Historical Photos.

But back to the biology.  The "susceptibility" I mentioned earlier arises from the fact that North American bison have a single pleural space in the chest.  Most mammals (humans included) have separate pleural spaces in the left and right chest.  A penetrating injury or rupture of lung tissue will lead to leakage of air (a pneumothorax) and impaired ventilatory function, but is typically not lethal.  When humans have a single pleural space either as a congenital defect or as a result of previous thoracic surgery, they are said to have a "buffalo chest" as shown in this example:

The PA radiograph shows bilateral pneumothoraces, both of which were relieved by the insertion of a chest tube into just one hemithorax (case report at the Journal of Thoracic Disease).

Humor scrapbook, part II

This is the second of what will eventually be ten weekly posts with material from my old "humor" scrapbook.  The content varies from priceless to junky (especially in the case of humor, which often doesn't age well), but there's no time to sort things out or curate the content (which may include material from the 1970s that would be "politically incorrect" nowadays).

The text on "scrapbook" pages can be very difficult to read. One possible workaround is to right-click on a page to open it in a new tab, then zoom the image on that tab.


17 February 2020

A Large Duck orchid (Caleana Major)

Via.  Biology at Wikpedia.

A measuring scale - on a nontransparent bottle

The comments note that not only is the bottle nontransparent, but the scale appears to be in mm for distance, rather than cc for volume.

Via the Crappy Design subreddit, which always has an abundance of cringeworthy examples.

Betelgeuse may be preparing to go supernova

Although it’s far enough away to keep Earth safe from radiation when it goes supernova, red supergiant star Betelgeuse is about 700 times the size of our sun, with a radius roughly equivalent to the orbit of Jupiter. “It would be astounding,” said Andy Howell, an astronomer at the Las Cumbres Observatory and the University of California at Santa Barbara about Betelgeuse’s inevitable explosion.

“No person alive today will have seen anything so glorious as what will happen when Betelgeuse blows up,” says Howell. “You could see it in the daytime, it would cast shadows at night, everyone in the world who could see Orion would be able to see it. It would transform people’s fascination with the night sky.”

“It is inevitable,” Villanova astronomy professor Edward Guinan told NBC MACH, noting that the dimming is caused by the growth of giant dark regions on the star’s surface, similar to sunspots on our own sun. “The star is going to blow up. It has no other choice in physics. I just don’t think it is now. But I’m becoming less and less certain of that.”

Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have captured the unprecedented dimming of Betelgeuse (at top of page). The stunning new images of the star’s surface show not only the fading red supergiant but also how its apparent shape is changing.
More at The Daily Galaxy.

A revisionist view of George Washington

A Washington Post article reviews a new biography of our first president:
Consider the cherry tree story — it’s a myth created in 1800 by Washington’s first biographer, Parson Weems.

Also, he could tell a lie, which really came in handy with the masterful spying operation he ran during the Revolutionary War.

And what about those allegedly wooden teeth? Yes, he had horrible teeth, Coe explains, but his dentures weren’t ligneous; they were made of ivory, cow and horse teeth, and sometimes human teeth removed from the people he enslaved. (He would pay them for their teeth, Coe writes, although not at market rate.)..

Coe’s book is peppered with BuzzFeed-like charts and listicles packed with information both humorous and profound. “If history is boring, it’s the historian’s fault,” she said. It has received mostly glowing reviews from readers and other historians, but on Saturday, a Daily Mail story inaccurately claimed Coe called Washington “an illiterate liar who cheated his way to top,” causing a wave of online harassment. Some early reviews have also described the book as “irreverent” — a characterization she takes issue with...

“Every biography has to mention that he owned slaves, of course,” Coe said. “And it is absolutely true to say that he inherited slaves when he was still an adolescent, but it is not true to say that that was the only world that he knew,” or that “he was a man of his times.”  Washington spent time in regions where slavery was taboo or illegal, was pressured by close friends for decades to free the people he enslaved, and complained that he didn’t have the money to pay the required fees to free them, even though he did, Coe found.

16 February 2020

Using explosives to plant fruit trees

(I posted this earlier today under the title "I'm puzzled by this road sign.")

A photo I encountered while digitizing the family memorabilia.  Two unknown-to-me-but-probably-distantly-related young women posing by a roadside sign.  Approximate date based on other photos would be early 1900s.

Don't fail to Plant Your Fruit Trees With
Du Pont Exp__sives
Best (b)y Test

Assuming two letters are obscured by the young lady's hat, the only words I know that would fit are explosives, expensives, and expansives.

As much as I would love to learn that my ancestors planted fruit trees using explosives, I would have to think they were advertising "expansives," but a quick Google search doesn't reveal any such use of the term.

This is totally unimportant, but sometimes readers here have ideas or resources or interpretations that escape me.

Updated:   The puzzle was solved by readers Kara and Bob and Rob from Amersfoort and David and The First and some unknowns:

"Subsoil broken up by blast making easy path for roots."  Progressive farmers are "using dynamite for removing stumps and boulders, planting and cultivating fruit trees, regenerating barren soil, ditching, draining, excavating and road-making.  Write now for Free Booklet - "Tree Planting With Dynamite, No. 290.""
It makes sense (and I wouldn't have minded having a little dynamite when I first hand-tilled our tomato patch out back).  In retrospect the reason I ignored this possibility was that I thought there was no evidence on the sign for the top of a letter "L" behind her hat.  Now I realize her hat had a white peak.

Dynamite for gardening.  You learn something every day.

Addendum:  And here's that Du Pont booklet, located by reader Paul and others.

Cross-section of a hedge

If you've ever run into one, you know they are not as soft as they look from the outside.  Via.
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