17 June 2019

You'll need to go elsewhere for your therapy


I need to take about two weeks off.  I'm looking forward to an extended period of time with no internet access.   I hope to return refreshed and reinvigorated at the end of the month.  Bye.

Twelve brown balls


Each one of them is the same shade of brown.  Zoom in for confirmation.

The same image with the colored lines blacked out.

Canine agility champions


Filmed at the 2015 Westminster Kennel Club dog show.  Wikipedia has a wonderfully comprehensive article on dog agility competitions.
Dogs run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles. Consequently the handler's controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of the animal and coordination of the handler....

Because each course is different, handlers are allowed a short walk-through before the competition starts. During this time, all handlers competing in a particular class can walk or run around the course without their dogs...

Each dog and handler team gets one opportunity together to attempt to complete the course successfully...

Dogs are measured in height at the peak of their withers (shoulders). They are then divided into height groups... Dogs are further divided into their experience levels...Dogs are not separated by breed in agility competitions... 
Lots more details re the individual obstacles and the training techniques.

Reposted from 2015 because I was inspired by watching video of the 2018 competition this week, and another video of an 8" Papillon winning this year.

Reposted once again to add this video:



And this tiny dog:



And if that's not enough, here's a "best of" compilation:



If you watched one or more of the above, you should finish up with this one-

Related: Once an agility canine, always an agility canine (paraplegic dog).

Gila monster skull


Not bumpy skin.  Bumpy skull.

You learn something every day.  Via.

This is not a "feel-good story"

Absolutely incredible!

Sweet Logan and his family came in to the Cedartown Home Depot with a mission. They were worried their insurance wouldn’t pay for the walker Logan needed, and had read about how to make one out of PVC piping online. Well, as soon as The Home Depot associates heard that, they told Logan’s family not to worry, they were on it! Those workers built the walker in no time and had Logan wheeling around the store with a HUGE smile on his face. It’s acts of kindness like this that make our world worth living in, and I am so thankful for those workers who took time out of their own day to make this family’s dream a reality!
There are lots of stories like this.  Acts of kindness to provide medical care.  Crowdfunding to pay for a hospital visit.  These stories shouldn't have to exist.

Let's go back a bit.  The child has hypotonia (a muscle disorder).  But the family "were worried their insurance wouldn’t pay for the walker."  Another version from Good Morning America: "Moore said the insurance process to get Logan a walker is a long one, and he has not yet been approved. While waiting, the Moores watched YouTube instruction videos on how to make one for Logan."

Why do Americans put up with this bullshit??   Why do we allow ourselves to be bullied and robbed by a gargantuan, soulless, complex medical insurance system?  This boy didn't need a bone marrow transplant or tailored gene therapy.  All he needed was a simple device made of aluminum or plastic with some old tennis balls on the bottom, for fuck's sake.

Go ahead and praise the Home Depot employees, but after searching for a long time this morning, I didn't find a single news source that cited the name of the godforsaken medical insurance company that created this dystopian nightmare.  Report about them, interview their president, call this travesty what it is, and remind the American people that they can change this system at the ballot box.

Addendum:  For a superb compilation of similar stories, see this article at FAIR.  With a hat tip to reader escapefromwisconsin.

14 June 2019

Pebble alphabet


I wonder which of these was the most difficult to find?  Credit Clotilda Olyff, via Kottke.

Comma splice


Image cropped for emphasis from the original.

High praise for the "Chernobyl" HBO miniseries

I've seen several positive reviews, this one from The Atlantic:
...Ulana Khomyuk (played by Emily Watson) has a conversation with a Soviet apparatchik about the “incident” at Chernobyl that brings the analogy fully home. “I’ve been assured there’s no problem,” the bureaucrat says. “I’m telling you that there is,” Khomyuk replies. “I prefer my opinion to yours,” he says. “I’m a nuclear physicist,” she counters, adding, “Before you were deputy secretary, you worked in a shoe factory.”

The action veers between ludicrous, Death of Stalin–style farce (the radiation level is reported as 3.6 roentgens per second, since that’s as high as the counters go) and grindingly tense body horror (babies burned bright red, incessant retching, open sores). Johan Renck, who directed all five episodes, instills a sense of visceral fear that culminates in one striking scene where nearby townsfolk bask joyfully with their children under falling flakes of deadly nuclear ash...

Chernobyl is a thorough historical analysis, a gruesome disaster epic replete with oozing blisters and the ominous rattle of Geiger counters, and a mostly riveting drama. But it’s also a warning—one that straddles the line between prescience and portentousness. Whether you apply its message to climate change, the “alternative facts” administration of the current moment, or anti-vaccine screeds on Facebook, Mazin’s moral stands: The truth will eventually come out. The question he poses, however self-consciously, is whether hundreds of thousands of lives must always be sacrificed to misinformation along the way.
The series starts on HBO tonight.

Reposted from May to add this video -



 - and a comment that I thought the series was superbly done.

Chocolate brownies

Excerpts from an article in The Guardian's How To Eat series:
First recorded in print in 1896, in (possible Viz character) Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book, the first brownies featured no chocolate, just molasses....

This is not a dessert; it is a snack. That is not to downplay it. Elongate that pleasure for as long as possible. Revel in that chocolate brownie. But this is a food to be eaten, as an infrequent, rarefied treat, outside meal-times at 11pm, 4pm or similar – and on its own.

The chocolate brownie is too rich to follow other foods and serving it as pudding detracts from its essential appeal. A good brownie is its own self-contained world: sweet, slightly salty potentially, dense with the cocoa, berry and tobacco notes of high-quality chocolate. It needs no augmentation.

Restaurant kitchens, however, find it impossible to send a chocolate brownie naked into the world. They inevitably sauce it and garnish it, and turn the now muffled brownie into a mere component in a confused mess of a dish. They also insist on serving brownies hot, often unforgivably microwaving the heat in, when a brownie is most expressive at room temperature...

Even when you are served an unadorned brownie (in a coffee shop, say), there is a further problem: you will be given a fork. You do not have to use it. But you may feel forced to; and if you do, it will lessen your enjoyment... it is best eaten with your fingers, at a leisurely pace, breaking off pieces and letting them melt in your mouth, while periodically sucking gloop from your fingers...

Do not oversweeten your brownies. Go super-easy on the flour and preferably leave out baking powder altogether. HTE demands a fudgy, almost ganache-like centre. You’re not making a sponge cake...

In 99% of cases, from raspberries to gold leaf, additional ingredients are unnecessary... Decorative sliced strawberries and dustings of icing sugar persist in Britain, even outside garden-centre cafes, but must be robustly resisted.
More at the link.

Flash flood rescue


Spluegen, Switzerland.  Photo credit Graubuenden Police/Reuters, via The Atlantic.

12 June 2019

This is a perfectly valid map


Not perfect, actually, because the label "Svalbard" has been placed on an island in the Russian arctic, but still "valid" in the sense that north-at-the-top is a convention, not a scientific principle.

This map was created by Stuart MacArthur of Melbourne, Australia, and is commercially available.

With a tip of the blogging hat to long-time reader drabkikker.

There's an important lesson to learn here



It IS possible to control a coin flip - as shown in the video.

Take-home lesson.  If you participate in a coin flip, call it after it's in the air, not before.

Via BoingBoing.

The mystery of the "cotton" in the window frame - updated x4


The arrival of September at our latitude marks the time when windows closed all summer can be opened to admit cool night air.  As I opened the window on our guest room, I was startled to see a wad of cotton-like material tumble from the upper window frame (above, placed on the concrete driveway for imaging).

My initial anxiety was that some sort of insulation was coming loose, but the original location of the material (photo below) ruled out that possibility.


My attention was now drawn to the contents of the mass, which to my initial dismay revealed an insect pupa and a number of living larvae:


After searching several combinations of key words in Google Images, I found one entry that matched my experience.  The brief explanation there was that the mass was the creation of a solitary bee.

Now I did feel bad, because my wife and I are great fans of solitary bees.  But armed with that clue, it didn't take long to track down the answer:
Anthidium manicatum, commonly called the European wool carder bee, is a species of bee in the family Megachilidae, the leaf-cutter bees or mason bees.

They get the name 'carder' from their behaviour of scraping hair from leaves such as lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina)... They scrape the hairs from the leaves and carry them back to their nests bundled beneath their bodies. There it is used as a lining for their nest cavities.  Females tend to build their nests at high locations.
I don't know whether the larvae in the photo are bee-related or parasites.

Reposted from 2016 because this week I was wandering through the "gardening" section of our local Target store and found this:


The shelf tag erroneously said "butterfly house."  The label on the product was slightly less inaccurate with "insect house."  It is in fact a structure designed for solitary bees.  There are online instructions for making these as a DIY project, but this one was nicely made and inexpensive.  I'll hang it from a shepherd's crook near ground level in our garden and hope to see some of the tubes getting filled as the summer progresses.

Here is a photo of an equivalent bee-condo viewed in cross-section:


This one was made by drilling holes in a wood block (presumably with a removable flap so the curious home scientist could inspect the process and the season progressed).

If I remember, I'll try to post followup photos in the summer and autumn.

Updated May 2018 to show the bee "condo" installed in our back garden -


Helpful hint:  A "shepherd's hook" (used for hanging flower baskets, bird feeders etc), when purchased from a home decor or gardening store can be somewhat pricey.  I went instead to our local farm supply store and picked up the "pigtail" post shown in the photo (used on farms for stringing electric fences around fields) for about $2.  An added advantage is the little S-shaped part at the bottom which grips the post for stepping it into the ground and digs into the ground to provide 2-point stability for the post.

Updated again:


Well, back to the drawing board.   After a week of drenching rains, the "bee condo" was in multiple pieces.  I don't think I can blame raccoons, because there was no honey or larvae in it yet.  Wind might have banged it around a bit, judging from the current position, but I rather suspect this was assembled using water-soluble glue.

It was cheap.  You  get what you pay for.

Fortunately I have several rolls of duct tape in the garage.

June 2019: Reposted for the fourth time to add new information.

I was able to duct tape that contraption back together and it has survived a year of biblical rains and 25-below-zero temps.  Not sure how much it's being utilized; I should do a survey of it later this summer.

But this week I saw a post at Neatorama with new information about backyard bee houses, citing a Gizmodo article entitled "Your Cheap-Ass Bee House is probably Killing the Bees" -
The most prevalent problem with bee houses is that when they’re not cared for properly, they can become breeding grounds for pests, mold, fungus, and disease...

Pollen mites are one of the biggest threats to the habitability of bee houses located in humid environments or built of materials like bamboo that don’t dry easily. “If there’s no way for moisture to dissipate from the nest then the mites take over,” Purrington said...

Packing a bunch of [normally solitary] species together into one box is not only ecologically weird, it can make them targets, Mader said. “The cheek-to-cheek occupancy of bee houses helps predators (woodpeckers for example), parasites (including wasps, mites, and others), and diseases find a dense host-bee population to exploit.”..

... it’s bad for bees when a house is tied loosely to a tree or a post with a string rather than tightly secured in place... “The bees can’t land if it’s flapping around in the wind,” he said of mason bees. “They’re terrible at landing.”

...it’s a good idea to cover the houses with metal netting to keep the birds out, as woodpeckers and bluejays find bee houses to be great restaurants.
You learn something every day.

Beware the "global tyrrany of the metric system"



Via BoingBoing, where there is a salient comment thread.

Lighthouses of Europe


Via MapPorn.
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