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.

"I got those beetles out of the tree for you, boss"

A pileated woodpecker at work.  Image cropped for size from the original.

This is how easy it is to be eco-conscious

Asian grocers beginning to wrap produce in banana leaves rather than plastic.

Bernie Sanders explains "democratic socialism"

Excerpts from a major speech Bernie Sanders delivered today at George Washington University:
We must see ourselves as part of one nation, one community and one society — regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or country of origin. This quintessentially American idea is literally emblazoned on our coins: E Pluribus Unum. From the many, one. And, I should tell you, it is enshrined in the motto of our campaign for the presidency — Not me, Us.

Let me be clear. I do understand that I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word “socialism” as a slur. But I should also tell you that I have faced and overcome these attacks for decades — and I am not the only one.

Let us remember that in 1932, Republican President Herbert Hoover claimed that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was, “a disguise for the totalitarian state.” In 1936 former Democratic New York Governor and presidential candidate Al Smith said in a speech about FDR’s New Deal policies, “Just get the platform of the Democratic Party and get the platform of the Socialist Party and lay them down on your dining-room table, side by side.” 

When President Harry Truman proposed a national health care program, the American Medical Association hired Ronald Reagan as their pitchman. The AMA called the legislation that stemmed from his proposal “socialized medicine” claiming that White House staff were, “followers of the Moscow party line.”

In 1960, Ronald Reagan in a letter to Richard Nixon wrote the following about John F. Kennedy: “Under the tousled boyish haircut is still old Karl Marx.” In the 1990s, then Congressman Newt Gingrich claimed President Bill Clinton’s health care plan was “centralized bureaucratic socialism.” The conservative Heritage Foundation has claimed that the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was “a step towards socialism.” Former Speaker of the House John Boehner claimed the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill and the budget proposed by President Barack Obama were “all one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.” 

In this regard, President Harry Truman was right when he said that: “Socialism is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years…Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”

Now let’s be clear: while President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism, they don’t really oppose all forms of socialism. They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires...

[during the 2008 market crash] Overnight, Wall Street became big government socialists and begged for the largest federal bailout in American history — some $700 billion from the Treasury and trillions in support from the Federal Reserve.

But it’s not just Wall Street that loves socialism — when it works for them. It is the norm across the entire corporate world. The truth is corporate America receives hundreds of billions of dollars in federal support every single year, while these same people are trying to cut programs that benefit ordinary Americans.

If you are a fossil fuel company, whose carbon emissions are destroying the planet, you get billions in government subsidies including special tax breaks, royalty relief, funding for research and development and numerous tax loopholes.

If you are a pharmaceutical company, you make huge profits on patent rights for medicines that were developed with taxpayer funded research...

And let me be absolutely clear: democratic socialism to me requires achieving political and economic freedom in every community. And let me also be clear, the only way we achieve these goals is through a political revolution – where millions of people get involved in the political process and reclaim our democracy by having the courage to take on the powerful corporate interests whose greed is destroying the social and economic fabric of our country. At the end of the day, the one percent may have enormous wealth and power, but they are just the one percent. When the 99 percent stand together, we can transform society.

These are my values, and that is why I call myself a democratic socialist.
Fulltext of the speech at Vox.

09 June 2019

Divertimento #164

Yet another gif-fest.  About 50 bookmarked in the past 6 weeks

"My niece has her bird trained to attack anyone she screams at"
Cleaning solar panels
"When your inheritance goes from 100% to 50%
Bus driver saves child from major trauma
Truck makes use of "runaway semi ramp" 
Truck tips over and crashes.  Not a tragedy....
Trash cans have hidden depths

Nature and Science
Earthquake dampers
Saharan sand snake
Cave floods during rainstorm.  Size scale at end.
Brain-eating amoeba at a popular swimming hole
Natural soap in a plant.  Info in comment here.
Conservation of angular momentum (re Olympic figure-skating)
Magnetic field viewer
How to describe this??
Exhibit at a children's museum

"Humans being bros"
Beluga returns dropped cellphone
Sea horse giving birth
The awesome, unbelievable speed of a grizzly bear 
Man gives water to thirsty cobra
Wolf tracked with GPS
Cat being a cat
Circus elephants reunited after 22-year separation
Gardener gets some help
Blanket octopus
Bioluminescent plankton in the Netherlands
Green dragontail butterfly
Dragonhead caterpillar
Cayman enters swimming pool to attack humans

Sports and athleticism
High school sprinter Matt Boling
Skateboard competitor
Basketball buzzer-beater
"Dead spot" on a tennis court

Impressive or clever
Bird swallows (four) fish.
"Flow" beehive
Leveling tiles
How to control a coin flip
How to move stuff from hi-rise apartments
Spiral binder
Manipulating rings
Tattoo with UV-responsive ink

Amazon driver delivers package, then steals it
Teenager intentionally damages statuary
Man launches his boat.  And his car.
How not to bash a pinata

Sloth waves thank-you to human bro
Lady gets her hair colored green
Hard to describe in a few words... 
Unexpected gender reveal method
Buster Keaton compilation

Embedded images harvested from MapswithoutAustralia

08 June 2019

Europe in 1500

Fascinating map, via the Europe subreddit.  If the image I've embedded doesn't allow you to zoom in for details like these -

- try going to the original and zooming there.  I added some zooming on my monitor to see fine details.

I've been unable to locate the source and would appreciate any info in that regard (especially re the accuracy of the depiction and whether the source is history-based or game-based.
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