26 March 2019

Spiral staircase

Located in the Château de La Rochefoucauld, Charente, France.  Via.

Reminds me of the "Meeting on the Turret Stairs" painting.

Mass incarceration in the United States

The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. This report provides a detailed look at where and why people are locked up in the U.S., and dispels some modern myths to focus attention on the real drivers of mass incarceration.
More information at the Prison Policy Initiative, including discussion of these five myths:
The first myth: Releasing “nonviolent drug offenders” would end mass incarceration

The second myth: Private prisons are the corrupt heart of mass incarceration

The third myth: Prisons are “factories behind fences” that exist to provide companies with a huge slave labor force

The fourth myth: Expanding community supervision is the best way to reduce incarceration

The fifth myth: People in prison for violent or sexual crimes are too dangerous to be release
Via Neatorama.

Look at these HORIZONTAL blue bars

Perfectly horizontal.  Really.

Based on the classic "cafe wall" optical illusion.

If you like this, note that the TYWKIWDBI category of optical illusions currently has 68 entries.

Via Boing Boing.

(Reposted from 2017 because I still find it hard to believe...)


Via the Toronto Star.

Do you have PYREX or pyrex in your kitchen ?

I found both in our cupboard.
Borosilicate PYREX Glass has excellent thermal shock resistance. It does not expand or contract like ordinary Soda-Lime glass does when exposed to rapid changes in heat or cold. Unfortunately when Corning, Inc. sold off the PYREX® trademark it became pyrex® in America and the new company started using Soda-Lime Glass instead of Borosilicate Glass. The company that bought the PYREX® trademark for European use continues to make Borosilicate Glass PYREX.
This 2-minute Consumer Reports video uses extreme conditions to demonstrate the difference:

25 March 2019

Bonsai in bloom

Apparently an azalea.

Incorrect masks used in the movie "Alien"

During my brief break from blogging, I had a chance to watch part of Ridly Scott's "Alien," and noticed an error in the filming that I hadn't been aware of during previous viewings.  After John Hurt is brought back to Nostromo, he is placed in the infirmary; Ash and Captain Dallas enter and ponder how to remove the facehugger.

For this scene they are dressed in surgical gowns and are wearing masks - BUT the masks chosen for the film are not isolation masks; in fact these masks have absolutely zero filtering capacity.  They are simple oxygen masks.  In the screenshot above, the mask Ash is wearing clearly displays the nipple to which in real life one would attach the green oxygen tubing.  He is also wearing the mask improperly; it should fit under his chin, not be lodged against his lower lip.

Captain Dallas wears the same oxygen mask (and obviously without any oxygen).  When Hurt's body is moved into the scanner, they stay in the room but remove the masks (which would not be appropriate in an infectious environment) until his body comes out of the scanner.

Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of hospital procedures and equipment should know that these masks are not isolation masks.  I presume the director opted for being able to visualize more of the actors' faces rather than for scientific accuracy.

This error is not recorded at the Movie Mistakes website - but there are 47 others listed, some of them quite interesting.

Reposted from 2011 because next month will be the 40th anniversary of the first screening of the movie.
Over the past four decades, dozens of books, hundreds of journal articles and innumerable college courses have analysed, frame by frame, Ridley Scott’s story of a bloodthirsty creature stalking the crew of the spaceship Nostromo. No other film, not even The Godfather or Psycho, has generated quite that amount of attention.

And now that academic outpouring is about to reach a new peak as the film approaches its anniversary next month. Events will include the release of new Blu-ray versions of the film, the screening of a documentary of its making, Memory: The Origins of Alien; and the staging of a two-day symposium, 40 years of Alien, that will be held at Bangor University in May. Speakers will give talks on “Alien and race, ethnicity and otherness”; “Alien and psychoanalysis”; and “Alien and neoliberalism, post-industrialism and the rise of multinational corporations”. Proceedings are scheduled to be published by Oxford University Press.
There are some excellent observations in the Comments section for this post.

The Sword of Damocles

I had occasion today to mention the "sword of Damocles" in conversation, but then realized I didn't really know what exactly I was talking about.  Wikipedia provided the explanation:
According to the story, Damocles was pandering to Dionysius, his king, and exclaimed to him that Dionysius was truly fortunate as a great man of power and authority, surrounded by magnificence. In response, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles for one day so that Damocles could taste that very fortune firsthand. Damocles quickly and eagerly accepted the king's proposal. Damocles sat down in the king's throne surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysius, who had made many enemies during his reign, arranged that a huge sword should hang above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse's tail to evoke the sense of what it is like to be king: though having much fortune, always having to watch in fear and anxiety against dangers that might try to overtake him. Damocles finally begged the king that he be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate, realizing that with great fortune and power comes also great danger.

King Dionysius effectively conveyed the sense of constant fear in which a person with great power may live.

Rube Goldberg would be impressed

There are some extremely clever contraptions here.  Probably best viewed fullscreen to see some of the details of the mechanisms.

Via Neatorama.

23 March 2019

Wind chill 85

The tree photos include a pair of Royal Palms, the mottled trunk of a slash pine, a banyan in an urban garden, and a strangler fig.  The bird is an immature white ibis.  The boardwalk is at the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (the birders are my native Neapolitan cousins), and the orchid was at the Naples Botanical Garden.

Even with the vocabulary of an English major, it's hard for me to describe the satisfaction and sense of well-being that comes from escaping the polar vortex region for an extended visit to a subtropical climate.  I am in awe of my uncle who had the foresight to move from Grafton, North Dakota to Florida in the 1950s to raise his family; he chose to settle in a town called Naples that was so small that the family had to drive the Tamiami Trail to Miami to find a shoe store.

The beach was awesome:

"Unfavorable" weather (temps in 60s with occasional rain) kept the snowbirds and even the locals away, so I had a mile or so of beach to myself.  The wind and the repetitive lapping of the shore by the waves created an ASMR-like sensation.

I've returned to Wisconsin refreshed and reinvigorated.  After a day or two of chores, I'll get the blog fired up again.

08 March 2019

Extended blogcation

In recent years I've taken occasional brief breaks from the blog for a few days or a week, but now I've decided to take an extended leave of at least two weeks.

This will be a respite not just from blogging, but also from ebaying and gaming - no Sim City, no Civilization V.  It will be a much-needed rest for my trigger thumb and for my psyche, especially as this record-cold, multi-roofraking, uber-unpleasant winter drags to an end.  I'm also going to close the comments on some recent posts because I won't be curating them.  No keyboard activities for the next two weeks.  Doctors' orders.

And now I'm... outta here.

The antiquity of "Snakes and Ladders"

According to Veda, the game was created by the 13th century poet saint Gyandev.
In the original game square 12 was faith, 51 was Reliability, 57 was Generosity, 76 was Knowledge, and 78 was Asceticism. These were the squares where the ladder was found. Square 41 was for Disobedience, 44 for Arrogance, 49 for Vulgarity, 52 for Theft, 58 for Lying, 62 for Drunkenness, 69 for Debt, 84 for Anger, 92 for Greed, 95 for Pride, 73 for Murder and 99 for Lust. These were the squares where the snake was found. The Square 100 represented Nirvana or Moksha.
More info:
Snakes and Ladders originated in India as part of a family of dice board games that included Gyan chauper and pachisi (present-day Ludo and Parcheesi). The game made its way to England and was sold as "Snakes and Ladders", then the basic concept was introduced in the United States as Chutes and Ladders by game pioneer Milton Bradley in 1943.

The game was popular in ancient India by the name Moksha Patam. It was also associated with traditional Hindu philosophy contrasting karma and kama, or destiny and desire. It emphasized destiny, as opposed to games such as pachisi, which focused on life as a mixture of skill (free will) and luck. The underlying ideals of the game inspired a version introduced in Victorian England in 1892. The game has also been interpreted and used as a tool for teaching the effects of good deeds versus bad. The board was covered with symbolic images, the top featuring gods, angels, and majestic beings, while the rest of the board was covered with pictures of animals, flowers and people.

The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, and humility, while the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, and theft. The morality lesson of the game was that a person can attain salvation (Moksha) through doing good, whereas by doing evil one will inherit rebirth to lower forms of life. The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that a path of good is much more difficult to tread than a path of sins. Presumably, reaching the last square (number 100) represented the attainment of Moksha (spiritual liberation).

When the game was brought to England, the Indian virtues and vices were replaced by English ones in hopes of better reflecting Victorian doctrines of morality. Squares of Fulfillment, Grace and Success were accessible by ladders of Thrift, Penitence and Industry and snakes of Indulgence, Disobedience and Indolence caused one to end up in Illness, Disgrace and Poverty. While the Indian version of the game had snakes outnumbering ladders, the English counterpart was more forgiving as it contained each in the same amount. This concept of equality signifies the cultural ideal that for every sin one commits, there exists another chance at redemption.
Interesting that success in the game as originally designed depended entirely on luck (roll of dice) with no apparent skills or strategy involved; perhaps that's part of the karma lesson.  AFAIK, the American version didn't incorporate any virtues or sins - it was more like random good and bad luck.  I may be misremembering.  But I certainly didn't know it was an ancient game.

07 March 2019

Elaborate warded lock

Found at the mildlyinteresting subreddit.
These are called warded locks. If the key wasn't the same shape as the ward, the lock wouldn't open. Older versions were pretty easy to pick by modern standards, but wards are still in use. Modern locks have a plate on the front of them that defines the shape of key that the lock will accept. That's why you need to get a key cut from the appropriate blank or it won't work. If you check your keys, odds are very good that stamped on the bow (the part of the key that you hold to turn it in the lock) is a small letter/number code that identifies the blank and therefore the shape of the ward.
Source: Former institutional (i.e. corporate) locksmith.
Warded locks are an old type of lock where the key has to pass over several obstructions (wards) as it rotates, before it can engage with the mechanism and unlock. It doesn't refer to the shape to which the blank must conform (the shape of the keyway), but the shape to which the final key must conform.

You are correct regarding warded locks using internal wards to stop a key from rotating unless it was the correct shape (unless it was a skeleton key, which bypassed these internal wards). But using that definition for a ward is too narrow. Wards are physical obstructions that stop the key from entering or turning the lock.

If the ward stops the key from entering the lock, it's a keyway ward. In the lock, they're the protrusions from the keyway that necessitate the grooves that are cut down the length of the key. They partly define the shape of the blanks (in addition to other things like the number of pins in the cylinder). The cuts on the blade of modern keys are generally there to align the shear line on internal pins to open the lock and are therefore not associated with wards. Exceptions to this would be for things like control keys on interchangeable format cores, which allow the lock to be removed from the door with the simple turn of a key (great for swapping out office locks). I've also seen some modern padlocks, cubicle cabinet locks, and the like that use internal wards, but they're generally low quality.

Why is stuff like this allowed to exist ?

Good day to you.

My name is [redacted], a renowned Togo based lawyer. I am writing in connection to your late relative who died along with his wife and only Son in an auto accident.

I have contacted you for the repartration of his money valued at sixteen million five hundred thousand dollars and the also the claiming of his estate. Get back to me for more clarification; Looking forward to hearing from you

Yours faithfully, [redacted]. 
I redacted the name in order to not give the scammer any publicity. We have all received emails like this, and any sensible person recognizes it as fake.  In fact my understanding is that scams like this are intentionally written in this floridly bogus style so as not to accidentally entrap any sophisticated computer users, their targets being only the totally naive internet users and those with mental impairments.

As the son of an elderly mother who had advanced dementia, it annoys me that this type of material continues to exist.  I understand that much of it arises overseas in places beyond the jurisdiction of the American court system, but I can't believe that no mechanism exists to shut it down or punish the malefactors. 

"Kulning" explained

Kulning is an ancient herding call that Swedish women have practiced for hundreds of years. But in recent decades, Jinton says, it’s been largely forgotten.

According to Susanne Rosenberg, professor and head of the folk music department at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and kulning expert, the vocal technique likely dates back to at least the medieval era. In the spring, farmers sent their livestock to a small fäbod, or remote, temporary settlement in the mountains, so cows and goats could graze freely. Women, young and old, accompanied the herds, living in relative isolation from late May until early October...

The herds grazed during the daytime, wandering far from the cottages, and thus needed to be called in each night. Women developed kulning to amplify the power of their voices across the mountainous landscape, resulting in an eerie cry loud enough to lure livestock from their grazing grounds...

Rosenberg, who’s researched the volume of kulning, says it can reach up to 125 decibels—which, she warns, is dangerously loud for someone standing next to the source. Comparable to the pitch and volume of a dramatic soprano singing forte, kulning can be heard by an errant cow over five kilometers away... Some women have even learned the far-carrying cries as a form of self-defense...
Via Neatorama.
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