28 January 2015

Defining a "manager"

This triptych was the inspiration for the iconic alien "chestburster"

The triptych is "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion" by Francis Bacon.  (No, not that Francis Bacon).

I learned this and other interesting tidbits about the chestburster scene from this video -

(via Neatorama)

The Bluetooth logo is formed by Nordic runes

The logo combines "haglaz" (H) and "berkanan" (B), the initials of Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson, King of Denmark and Norway.
Harald's nickname "Bluetooth" first documented appearance is in the Chronicon Roskildense from 1140.  The usual explanation is that Harald must have had a conspicuous bad tooth that has been "blue" (i.e. black, as "blue" meant dark).

Another explanation, is that he was called Thegn in England (corrupted to "tan" when the name came back into Old Norse) — in England, Thane meant chief. Since blue meant "dark", his nickname was really "dark chieftain".

A third theory, according to curator at the Royal Jelling Hans Ole Mathiesen, was that Harald went about clothed in blue. The blue color was in fact the most expensive, so by walking in blue Harald underlined his royal dignity.

Some "shower thoughts" about language

Anyone notice the irony behind "hyphenated" and "non-hyphenated"?

If a word describes itself, it is homological. If a word does not describe itself, it is heterological. So is heterological homological or heterological?

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the fear of long words.

Monosyllabic isn't.

One word in the English language is always spelled incorrectly.

Via the Shower Thoughts subreddit.

Every winter men give the finger to snowblowers

Since 2003, roughly 9,000 Americans have lost a finger (or two, or three) to a snowblower-related injury, according to estimates derived from Consumer Product Safety Commission data. Overall, about 15 percent of people who go to the E.R. as a result of a snowblower injury end up getting fingers amputated.
The year-to-year fluctuation in these numbers is probably related to the number of severe snow storms in the U.S.
Why are men losing their fingers? For the simple reason that they keep sticking their hands in snowblowers while they're still running.

Young blood reverses some age-related impairments

As reported in the prestigious Nature Medicine:
At the cognitive level, systemic administration of young blood plasma into aged mice improved age-related cognitive impairments in both contextual fear conditioning and spatial learning and memory... Our data indicate that exposure of aged mice to young blood late in life is capable of rejuvenating synaptic plasticity and improving cognitive function.
Discussed at a webpage of UC San Francisco:
Anatomically, it was clear that these mice formed more structural and functional connections between neurons, or nerve cells, while they also turned on more genes associated with the formation of new nerve connections.

Furthermore, the researchers found that a protein called Creb became more activated in the brain region known as the hippocampus, and that this increased activity was associated with the anatomical and cognitive improvements the team observed...

Identifying and getting rid of aging factors in old blood, or supplying youthful factors from young blood, might both be worthwhile strategies to combat aging...
There is an AMA with the lead author at the Reddit Journal of Science.

Trees dead for 500 years - but not decayed

“We were gathering samples of dead trees to reconstruct summer temperatures in western Norway, when our dendrochronological dating showed the wood to be much older than expected”, says Terje Thun, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Museum of Natural History and Archaeology...

Thun says that when a pine tree dies, it secretes a great deal of resin, which deters the microorganisms needed for decomposition. “Nevertheless, preventing the natural breakdown of the wood for centuries is quite a feat”, he says...
Resin was one of the ingredients used in Ancient Egypt for mummification, so its conservation abilities have been known for millennia. However, that trees could “self-mummify” in such a humid climate for centuries was new to the NTNU scientists.
“Many of the trunks we dated turned out to have seeded in the early 1200s, and had lived for more than 100 years at the time of the Black Death around 1350”, Thun says. “That means that the dead wood has ‘survived’ in nature for more than 800 years without breaking down.”
More at the link. The tree in the photo grew began growing in 1334, and died in 1513!  
Reposted from 2009.  Photo credit: Terje Thun, NTNU.

27 January 2015

A blizzard (of links) for you

"Molten gold was poured down his throat."  Modern forensic pathologists reproduce the death of a Spanish governor of colonial Ecuador in 1599.  They suggest that the reports of his bowels bursting may have been the result of steam generated by the procedure.

How to fold a shirt in two seconds.

Religious and ethnic affiliations of terrorists.  It's not as simple as some media outlets try to lead you to believe.

A lymphoproliferative (tumor-causing) virus is now widespread in wild turkeys.   It's not contagious to humans, but you shouldn't eat the birds.

Norwegian firefighters show you the wrong way to put out a car fire.   Do not aim a stream of high-pressure water at an angle that will push the car down a hill toward houses (video at the link).

A report in Discover suggests that female ejaculate squirted during orgasm is probably just urine.

"At least 42,000 gallons of oil has leaked into the Yellowstone River from a broken pipeline, leaving the Glendive city water supply smelling and tasting like petroleum."

A Florida police department was found to be using mug shot photographs of black men for target practice ("the technique is widely used and the pictures are vital for facial recognition drills.")

An interesting article in WaPo indicates that modern technology has the potential to render life-saving drugs cheaper by orders of magnitude through the creation of "biosimilar" drugs.  They do not report on the amount Big Pharma will spend to squash this.

Over a century ago someone left a .44-40 Winchester rifle leaning against a juniper tree in Nevada. It was just found, slightly the worse for exposure.  The photo at right shows why it was hard for the owner and subsequent passers-by to spot.

Rechargeable lithium batteries are dangerous as plane cargo because when packed in bulk they can ignite. "Shipments of rechargeable batteries on passenger planes are supposed to be limited to no more than a handful in one box... But a loophole lets shippers pack many small boxes in one shipment and get around the rules. Tens of thousands of the batteries may be packed into pallets or containers and loaded into the cargo holds of wide-body passenger planes.

Jamie Diamond, CEO of JPMorganChase, complains that the financial sector is facing crippling over-regulation. "In the old days," Dimon said, "you dealt with one regulator when you had an issue, maybe two. “Now it’s five or six. It makes it very difficult and very complicated. "You all should ask the question about how American that is. And how fair that is," he added. "And how complex that is for companies."  In other news, "JPMorgan Chase earned $4.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014, the company announced on Wednesday, down from a year ago, but capping what CEO Jamie Dimon called a record year for the biggest U.S. bank by assets."

The QI Elves report that a "typical breakfast" for George IV consisted of "2 pigeons; 3 steaks; 1 bottle wine; 1 glass champagne; 2 glasses port; 1 glass brandy; some laudanum."

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was recently pulled from bookstores after the author recanted his testimony and said “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”  I find it most interesting that the author's name is Malarkey.

There may be two planets the size of Earth "hiding" in our solar system.

By 2016 the richest 1% of people in the world will own more than the other 99% combined.  They have already seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014.

If you are in your car in a traffic jam on an icy interstate highway, the last thing you want to see in your rear-view mirror is an 18-wheeler jackknifing behind you and sliding toward your car.  This is a terrifying video (safe for work etc); I'm impressed by the calmness of the driver photographing the incident.  His blinking emergency flashers add a surreal soundscape to the video.

Public Domain Review offers a well-written extensive article about Lord Byron (left, in Albanian dress), Polidori, and the birth of the modern vampire story.

An op-ed piece at Vice's Motherboard is entitled "The Most Anti-Science Congress in Recent History is Now in Session." "That explicit brand of denial is prominent in the party’s new Senate leadership. Many of the men—and they are all men—who are now stationed in the nation’s most influential science posts each exhibit views that can be considered science-illiterate at best, and at worst, outright hostile to modern scientific inquiry."

A man in Vermont has found his niche in life as an icicle farmer.

"Vajacial" is a portmanteau word meaning "facial for the vagina."  It involves "some steaming and applying some vitamins and egg white."

"A U.S. billionaire who made his fortune betting against sub-prime mortgage securities has told Americans to lower their expectations so they have 'less things' in life. Jeff Greene made his remarks after flying into Switzerland on a private jet with his 19-year younger wife, Mei Sze, children and two nannies."  Gag me with a spoon.

The Claas Xerion 3300 VC Octopus Ditch Bank Mower is an impressive machine for destroying butterfly habitat.

An article in the Telegraph explains that the "cowgirl" sexual position is the one most likely to result in a man breaking his penis.

"A New Jersey teacher said he was charged nearly $9,000 after he showed a cut middle finger to a hospital emergency room aide... $8,200 for the emergency room visit, $180 for the shot, $242 for the bandage and $8 for the ointment, plus hundreds of dollars for the nurse practitioner."

Video highlights of an NBA player scoring 37 points in one quarter of a basketball game.

If you don't like basketball, take at look at this remarkable hockey goal (performed at an exhibition).  I believe it's referred to as a "Michigan", named after this classic goal in 2007 and lots of young hockey players can do them.

Four bears in New Hampshire have died from an overdose of chocolate.   A hunter had put down 90 pounds of chocolate and doughnuts as bait.

U.S. chocolate manufacturer Hershey apparently has difficulty competing with the makers of Cadbury Creme Eggs, Maltesers, Kit Kats and Yorkie bars.  So Hershey is suing the importers of those products.

A Reddit thread discusses Edward Snowden's claim that iPhones and other smart phones have spyware that allows the government to monitor the user.

The Koch brothers are budgeting almost $900,000,000 to influence upcoming U.S. elections.

Which day of the week is named in the most song titles? (hint: it's not Thursday).

Also at Public Domain review, a fulltext 1915 book of Russian fairytales (in English) (one illustration below).

About one link for every inch of snow falling on my old friends in the Boston area.  Stay safe, everyone.

Res ipsa loquitur

This river in Manila eventually leads to the ocean

Photo credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images, via The Guardian.

26 January 2015

Butterflies can change their spots

Every aspect of a butterfly has been shaped by evolutionary processes over the millenia to render the butterfly as perfectly adapted as possible to its favored environment.  The shape of the wings, the wing pattern, the color of the eggs - all are the result of billions of tiny changes.

Some butterfly wing patterns incorporate "eyespots" such as those seen in my photo of an Eyed Brown above.  It has been well understood that one of the purposes these spots serve is to confuse a predator, as shown by the wings of this Common Buckeye I found with multiple beak-shaped defects in the area of the eyespots:

The process is demonstrated in this video by researchers at Oregon State University.  Mantids are shown attacking the head/thorax of butterflies without prominent eyespots, but the wing margins of those with eyespots:

What is most interesting is that the butterflies are the same genus and species, differing only in seasonal appearance.  (data and discussion published here).  The implications are explained at The Scientist:
Prudic and her collaborator found that the dramatic eyespots on the wings of Bicyclus anynana individuals in the wet season were more effective at fooling mantid insects, the butterflies’ main predators during rainy times, than the more diffuse wing spots of the dry season forms, which are preyed upon mostly by birds. The researchers even found that pasting wet-season spots onto dry-season butterflies had the same effect. Conversly, dry-season patterns [less-prominent eyespots] served to conceal the butterflies better from birds in its eastern African woodland habitats. “Having the right type of eyespot in the right season allowed the butterflies to live long enough to lay eggs and have more offspring in the next generation,” Prudic said. “With the wrong eyespot at the wrong time, they were quickly annihilated by the mantids.”

Somebody has to lose a coin flip...

But nobody loses more of them than the Minnesota Vikings:
"The Minnesota Vikings haven't exactly been lucky on coin tosses, either. Since 1999 (when Pro Football Reference started keeping track), the Vikings have won fewer coin tosses than any team in the National Football League, having done so just 111 times in those 16 seasons (256 total regular season games)... The table shows the win-loss records of teams in games where they win the coin toss."

Word for the day: virga

Our local weatherman used the term "virga" several evenings ago when he pointed out that snow seen on the radar was not reaching the ground:
In meteorology, virga is an observable streak or shaft of precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates or sublimes before reaching the ground. At high altitudes the precipitation falls mainly as ice crystals before melting and finally evaporating; this is often due to compressional heating, because the air pressure increases closer to the ground. It is very common in the desert and in temperate climates. In North America, it is commonly seen in the Western United States and the Canadian Prairies. It is also very common in the Middle East, Australia and North Africa.

The word virga is derived from Latin meaning "twig" or "branch".
I've seen this phenomenon all my life (especially when monitoring clouds while hiking or fishing) but didn't know the term.  And now I also realize that for decades I've been incorrectly using "sublimate" as a verb ("A lot of the snow sublimated this weekend") when I should have said "sublimed."  You learn something every day.  

Massive die-off of Pacific seabirds

From National Geographic:
Last year, beginning about Halloween, thousands of juvenile auklets started washing ashore dead from California's Farallon Islands to Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) off central British Columbia. Since then the deaths haven't stopped. Researchers are wondering if the die-off might spread to other birds or even fish.

"This is just massive, massive, unprecedented," said Julia Parrish, a University of Washington seabird ecologist who oversees the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a program that has tracked West Coast seabird deaths for almost 20 years. "We may be talking about 50,000 to 100,000 deaths. So far." 

By comparison, not one of the five largest U.S. bird mortality events tracked by USGS since 1980 is estimated to have topped 11,000 deaths. In Europe, according to the U.K.-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the worst die-off on record occurred in 1983, when 57,000 guillemots, razorbills, puffins, and other seabirds perished in the North Sea and washed up on the British coast.

"You get some of this with seabirds every year," said David Nuzum, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "You get so many juveniles out there, and they've got this steep learning curve for feeding after being separated from their parents, so you always get a die-off in winter. But I've never seen anything like this, ever, and I've been here since 1985."

"The Last Time I Saw Her" (Gordon Lightfoot)

But that was so long ago
That I can scarcely feel the way I felt before.
And if time could heal the wounds
I would tear the threads away
That I might bleed some more.

A classic and very evocative song, written by Gordon Lightfoot in 1971.  For inexplicable reasons, the creator of this video chose to illustrate a plaintive tune with a manic flurry of images.  But at least it's the original album track, not a cover.

Related:  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
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