16 January 2019

Grass grasshopper

An impressive origami creation "found on a tram in Japan."  Cropped for size from the original in the mildlyinteresting subreddit.

Can you spot the grasshopper in this Van Gogh painting ?

You have to look closely.  Very closely...

... and remember that Van Gogh painted outdoors.
“But just go and sit outdoors, painting on the spot itself! Then all sorts of things like the following happen — I must have picked up a good hundred flies and more off the 4 canvases that you’ll be getting, not to mention dust and sand ... when one carries a team of them across the heath and through hedgerows for a few hours, the odd branch or two scrapes across them,” Van Gogh wrote.
More information at The Telegraph.

Ice disks - updated

I've previously posted photos of interesting ice formations, including round ice floes in Russia and a "creek circle" in Canada.  This photo above was posted at the cosmos of enlightened vision; the disk was reportedly seen on the Salmon River in Idaho.

Related:  Frazil ice at Yellowstone (video).

Reposted from 2011 to add this massive one:

This disc formed on the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine.  It's about a hundred meters in diameter.   Details, plus a rather unexciting video at Gizmodo, via Neatorama.

14 January 2019

"Pick of the Litter"

I watched this movie tonight and can recommend it unreservedly.  Rotten Tomatoes rating 100%.  Available on Netflix and probably your local library on DVD.  Just watch it.

Let's just call it a dinosaur and leave it at that...

Via ReplacesandcancelsthepreviousJohnnythehorse

Meet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - updated

Even if you're not normally interested in elections, this 2-minute video is worth viewing, because it may be representative of a major shift in U.S. politics.

In the New York Democratic primary election yesterday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat the incumbent Joe Crowley - by 15 percentage points.  The contrast between the candidates couldn't have been greater.  He has been a major figure in the current Democratic party for almost 20 years - fourth in seniority in the House of Representatives, and considered the likely replacement to Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker.

She is 28 years old, female, of Puerto Rican descent, with a working-class background, and is an advocate of socialist principles, such as Medicare for all.  She refused any corporate funding, relying only on small donations, and accumulated only $600,000 exclusively from small-dollar donors, versus Joe Crowley's $3,000,000.

She is considered by many to be representative of the future of the Democratic Party.
Ocasio-Cortez ran decidedly to the left of Crowley, but she also shook up how Democrats go about getting elected. Until now, Democrats have seen big money in politics as simply a deal with the devil that had to be made. Democrats are so often outspent by Republican mega-donors that they viewed courting big-dollar donors and corporations as part of creating a level playing field.

But if one of Democrats’ top fundraisers and likely successor to Nancy Pelosi can be toppled, perhaps Democrats need to rethink that deal.
She will easily sweep to victory in November over any Republican challenger; that result will have no effect on the national balance, because this district voted heavily for Hilary Clinton in the last election.  (Donald Trump's claim that Crowley lost of Ocasio-Cortez because Crowley was a "Trump-hater" is of course pure bullshit).

A seasoned CNN political analyst opined today that "The Democratic base is sick of the establishment."

One last observation regarding the often-talked-about "Blue Wave."  It's not certain that the Democrats will make major gains in the November mid-terms, but it is clear that a "blue wave" is already sweeping inside the Democratic Party.  Look at this graph from the Washington Post:

For eighteen years, the Republican Party has remained ideologically stable - about 2/3 conservative and about 10% liberal.  The Democratic Party has become steadily more liberal - from 29% to 50%  It's hard to believe that as recently as 2000, there were as many conservative Democrats as liberal ones.
Most of the Democrats who win primaries and then win election in November will not be as progressive as Ocasio-Cortez. Should the Democrats surge to victory, the new Congress will not be one in which Democratic Socialists are swarming the halls of power. But it will certainly be a more progressive Democratic caucus than the one that’s there or, probably, any in the last century.
If you read this without viewing the video, I encourage you to scroll up and spend 2 minutes watching it at full-screen.  I think it will become a template for a surge of similar campaign videos this fall.  And it cost only $10,000 to produce (she wrote the script for it, BTW).

Reposted from June 2018 to add the following from Axios:

"A freshman congresswoman who has held office for less than two weeks is dominating the Democratic conversation on Twitter, generating more interactions — retweets plus likes — than the five most prolific news organizations combined over the last 30 days... And she has far more power on Twitter than the most prominent Democrats, including the congressional leaders and the likely 2020 presidential candidates..."
  • "In short, she is the first — but certainly not the last — of an entirely new archetype: a politician that is not only fueled by the Internet, but born of it."

If (like me) you are not on Twitter, you can still monitor their tweets: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  Donald Trump (and others via the "You may also like" links in their left sidebars).

13 January 2019

Caption contest

Via ReplacesandcancelsthepreviousJohnnythehorse.

"Electrical bandages" for skin wounds

From Science Daily:
"... Researchers have developed a self-powered bandage that generates an electric field over an injury, dramatically reducing the healing time for skin wounds in rats...
As early as the 1960s, researchers observed that electrical stimulation could help skin wounds heal. .. To power their electric bandage, or e-bandage, the researchers made a wearable nanogenerator by overlapping sheets of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), copper foil and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The nanogenerator converted skin movements, which occur during normal activity or even breathing, into small electrical pulses. This current flowed to two working electrodes that were placed on either side of the skin wound to produce a weak electric field. The team tested the device by placing it over wounds on rats' backs. Wounds covered by e-bandages closed within 3 days, compared with 12 days for a control bandage with no electric field. The researchers attribute the faster wound healing to enhanced fibroblast migration, proliferation and differentiation induced by the electric field.
Via Neatorama.

12 January 2019

Night scene in the Atacama

NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day:
It can be the driest place on planet Earth, but water still flows in Chile's Atacama desert, high in the mountains. After discovering this small creek with running water, the photographer returned to the site to watch the Milky Way rise in the dark southern skies, calculating the moment when Milky Way and precious flowing water would meet. In the panoramic night skyscape, stars and nebulae immersed in the glow along the Milky Way itself also shared that moment with the Milky Way's satellite galaxies the Large and Small Magellanic clouds above the horizon at the right. Bright star Beta Centauri is poised at the very top of the waterfall. Above it lies the dark expanse of the Coalsack nebula and the stars of the Southern Cross.

Street art


The childhood of Garrett McNamara

"He had seen a great deal in his life. The kindest way to describe his upbringing is improvisational: His mother on her frenzied journey as a searcher spent years falling by the wayside, hoping for answers to life’s questions. She fled with the infant Garrett from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Berkeley, California, where her marriage ended; she was just in time to hop aboard any vehicle—real or imaginary, or dabble in substances, legal or illegal, to help her in her quest. What her quest was, in Garrett’s telling, and in the pages of his 2016 memoir, Hound of the Sea, was never quite clear, but it seemed random and risky, her following one kook after another, settling for periods of time in communes and cults. Her searching extended as far as Central America, where, his mother later told him, 5-year-old Garrett witnessed his mother being kicked in the head by her enraged partner until she was bloody and unconscious. Her abuser was Luis, whom Garrett’s mother met on a road trip to Honduras. Every so often his mother abandoned Garrett, leaving him with strangers. In Guatemala a peasant farmer, recognizing the neglect, begged to adopt him. Garrett was willing and might have grown up tending a maize field, raising chickens and living on tamales. But his mother brought him back on the road.
After that, another fit of inspiration, another piquant memory. “My mother found God,” Garrett says. “That is, she joined a strange Christian cult, the Christ Family. They were dominated by a guy who called himself ‘Jesus Christ Lightning Amen’ and they were committed to getting rid of all material things—no killing, no money, no possessions, no meat.”

Garrett’s mother made a bonfire, in one sudden auto-da-fé in Berkeley, and tossed in all the combustible money they had, and all their clothes, their shoes, their beat-up appliances, until they were left with—what? Some bedsheets. And these bedsheets became their “robes”—one sheet wrapped like a toga, the other in a bundle over the shoulder.

“And there we were, my mother and my brother, Liam, and me, walking up Emerson Street in Berkeley, wearing these white robes—a rope for a belt—and we were barefoot. I ducked into the alleys so that none of my school friends would see me. I tried to hide. But they saw me in my robes. One of the worst humiliations of my life.”

He was 7. They slept rough and begged for food. “We ate out of trash cans and dumpsters from Mount Shasta to Berkeley, for six months or more.”
He is now a world-record-holding athlete.  The rest of the story is at Smithsonian.

11 January 2019

"Coffin birth" in a medieval grave

As reported by Smithsonian:
The unfortunate mother’s remains were found face-up in a stone grave, suggesting that she had been deliberately buried. Analysis by scientists at the University of Ferrara and University of Bologna revealed that the woman was between 25 and 35 when she died. Her fetus, whose gender could not be determined, appeared to have reached the 38th week of gestation, making it just two weeks shy of full term.
According to Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky, the baby’s legs were still inside its mother, but the head and upper body appeared to have been born after she died. The authors of the study suggest that the burial offers a rare example of “post-mortem fetal extrusion,” or “coffin birth,” which occurs when gases build up inside of the body of a deceased pregnant woman and force the fetus out of the birth canal. This gruesome phenomenon has only infrequently been observed in the archaeological record.
The skull also showed a hole consistent with trepanation with partial healing (the Smithsonian article suggests she may have had seizures from preeclampsia).

An eerie foreshadowing of the future

In 1958 a television series called Trackdown featured a segment in which a con man rode into town offering to protect the residents from certain death:
"Without my help and knowledge, every one of you will be dead... I am the only one!  Trust me!  I can build a wall around your homes that nothing will penetrate."

"You're a liar, Trump."
The 4-minute video embedded above is a trailer.  You can view the entire episode in a 23-minute video embedded at BoingBoing.

BTW, the actor playing the part of the Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman is a very young Robert Culp.

Health-care industry: $30 billion per year spent on marketing

From an article in JAMA:
From 1997 through 2016, spending on medical marketing of drugs, disease awareness campaigns, health services, and laboratory testing increased from $17.7 to $29.9 billion. The most rapid increase was in direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, which increased from $2.1 billion (11.9%) of total spending in 1997 to $9.6 billion (32.0%) of total spending in 2016. DTC prescription drug advertising increased from $1.3 billion (79 000 ads) to $6 billion (4.6 million ads [including 663 000 TV commercials]), with a shift toward advertising high-cost biologics and cancer immunotherapies...

Health care spending in the United States is the highest in the world, totaling $3.3 trillion—17.8% of the gross domestic product in 2016. To capture market share and to expand the potential market, drug manufacturers, companies that manufacture clinical and home-based laboratory tests, and health care organizations use an array of promotional activities to sell their products and services. These activities seek to shape public and clinician perceptions about the benefits and harms of health care, prescription drugs, laboratory tests, and specific diseases and their definitions. Medical marketing influences behaviors and choices that can have important health consequences and also may adversely influence efforts to control unsustainable health care spending...

In 1997, DTC advertising spending for laboratory testing was almost exclusively for pregnancy/fertility tests, HIV tests, and glucose monitors, whereas by 2016, 64% of DTC advertising spending was for genetic tests... The most familiar DTC genetic testing involves consumers purchasing kits for ancestry, paternity, traits (eg, unibrow), wellness (eg, sleep), carrier status (eg, cystic fibrosis), and disease risk prediction (eg, Alzheimer disease) from the company, Amazon, or retailers such as pharmacies and big box stores. Some testing is marketed as a fun activity (eg, spitting parties), a thoughtful gift (eg, Christmas and Valentine’s day), or as adventurous (LivingDNA—Start Your Ancestry Adventure Today).

State attorneys general, who regulate nonprofit organizations, have not initiated any action against deceptive consumer advertising for health services...

Drug company advertisements increasingly offer coupons, rebates, or discounts to defray out-of-pocket costs particularly for expensive drugs and drugs with generic competition. These strategies have been criticized for encouraging use of expensive drugs despite lower-cost options, undermining insurance design, diminishing competitive pressure to lower prices, and ultimately shifting higher costs back to payers...

Disease awareness campaigns have used several approaches to promote conditions: memorable destigmatizing acronyms (eg, ED for erectile dysfunction), quizzes to define the disease and allow self-diagnosis, and encouragement to “ask your doctor” (often including question scripts) about symptoms, disease, and treatment...

More recently, some advertisements for cancer centers have emphasized hope and fear without mentioning treatment harms or quantifying benefit; some advertisements have used survivor testimonials falsely implying patients live longer or have better outcomes when treated at those centers...

The most heavily promoted drugs to physicians are less likely first-line treatments recommended in national guidelines compared with the most-prescribed or top-selling drugs, facts generally not evident in medical journal advertisements...
LOTS more information at the article, available full-text without a paywall at this link.

Cnidaria can be left-handed or right-handed

From Jellywatch (whence the image):
The genus Velella, known as the By-the-Wind sailor, and Porpita, known as blue-buttons (not to be confused with blue-bottles), are two interesting Hydrozoans (Cnidarians) that live at the surface of the water. Although they are blue-colored hydrozoans and float partly above the water like the Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia), they are not especially closely related to it or other siphonophores...
Velella typically live far offshore in open ocean waters, and their little sails help distribute them using the force of the wind. However because they sail only downwind or at a slight angle to the wind, they are often blown ashore in very high numbers, with millions piling onto beaches in drift rows. 

Most specimens are "left-handed" with the sail going from upper-left to lower-right along their long body axis, but a few are right-handed (Bieri, 1959).
And from The Australian Museum:
Physalia sails at a slight angle downwind and the course is determined by the curvature of the float and the underwater resistance of the rest of the colony. The float may project either to the left or to the right; the left-handed forms sail to the right of the wind and vice versa. Thus, if the sailing angle of one form leads to its stranding on the shore, the others sailing to the opposite side of the wind may escape.
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