17 September 2014

15 September 2014

New Zealand basketball team's haka

Before their match with the United States team, the New Zealanders performed a traditional "haka"
The various types of haka include whakatu waewae, tutu ngarahu and peruperu. The peruperu is characterised by leaps during which the legs are pressed under the body. In former times, the peruperu was performed before a battle in order to invoke the god of war and to discourage and frighten the enemy. It involved fierce facial expressions and grimaces, poking out of the tongue, eye bulging, grunts and cries, and the waving of weapons. If the haka was not performed in total unison, this was regarded as a bad omen for the battle. Often, warriors went naked into battle, apart from a plaited flax belt around the waist.

The tutu ngarahu also involves jumping, but from side to side, while in the whakatu waewae no jumping occurs. Another kind of haka performed without weapons is the ngeri, the purpose of which was to motivate the warriors psychologically. The movements are very free, and each performer is expected to be expressive of their feelings. Manawa wera haka were generally associated with funerals or other occasions involving death. Like the ngeri they were performed without weapons, and there was little or no choreographed movement.

World-record tomato

Grown by a man in Ely, Minnesota, it weighed 8.41 pounds.
The Big Zac variety tends to have “megablooms,” with individual tomatoes growing fused together. MacCoy said his record-breaking tomato looks like five individual fruits wrapped into one.

He started the plants on April 15 indoors, then moved them to his greenhouse in early May. From there he carefully pruned the plants of all other growth except the vine supporting his tomato, using a theory that a small plant would produce larger tomatoes.
Dehydrated chicken manure, kelp meal, humic acid, triple-10 fertilizer and other “stuff like that” kept the soil nourished, said MacCoy. Even the watering was by design: he watered the plant by hand using rainwater he collected in a barrel. When the tomato’s weight became too much for the plant, Sara bought a pair of pantyhose to use as a sling to support it.

El Caminito del Rey - the world's scariest hiking trail

Intriguing and scenic, but I had to hold on to things just to watch the video.
El Caminito del Rey (The King's pathway, often shortened to El Camino del Rey) is a walkway, now fallen into disrepair, pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge in El Chorro, near Alora in Spain.

The walkway has now gone many years without maintenance, and is in a highly deteriorated and dangerous state. Some parts of the walkway have completely collapsed and have been replaced by a beam and a metallic wire on the wall.

Many people have lost their lives on the walkway in recent years. After four people died in two accidents in 1999 and 2000, the local government closed the entrances. However, adventurous tourists still find their way into the walkway. (credit to Presurfer).
Addendum: Reposted from 2008 to note that the famous walkway is undergoing an upgrade:
Caminito del Rey, the so-called world’s scariest hike, will reopen early next year after undergoing a multi-million pound restoration. However, the new version is likely to be much more sanitised than the walk that has become very well known online...

Work began in March this year, with authorities hoping the new walkway will provide a boost for tourism in the area. The 1.2kilometre trail was originally installed to allow workers access to the Guadalhorce dam. 
Before and (concept)after photos at The Telegraph.  This walkway is on my bucket list of things-I-never-want-to-do.

The death of Yiddish

I've never been one to share the agonies of those who despair over the death of languages, except insofar as the loss of ancient languages renders certain documents and artworks unreadable.  An entry at The Dish discusses the inclusion of Yiddish as a threatened language:
Frankel comments on how secular Judaism has contributed to the death of Yiddish and a simultaneous loss of traditional Jewish identity:

The secular community is dead, dead, dead. There’s no Yiddish press, no Yiddish theater [not quite accurate since there is one still-vibrant group, the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene]. Dead, dead, dead. There were hundreds of Sholem Aleichem schools, Peretz schools. Where are they? How many Yiddish books are being published? The secular people dominated everything and now they’ve lost. Hasidim are pushing everyone to be more religious, more Jewish.

Rabbi Frankel’s bemoaning of the potential extinction of Yiddish illuminates a greater issue: The language has become synonymous with Orthodox Judaism and has lost its meaning within the secular parts of the faith.

School principal inspires her students

Jody De St. Hubert, principal of Alice Smith Elementary in Hopkins, Minnesota, challenged her students last year to read over 10,000 books. She then lived up to her end of the deal - dyeing her hair purple and camping on top of the school's roof.

This is not a parrot

To speed up your re-orientation, note that the "eye" is painted on the center of the model's forehead.

Created by Johannes Stötter, whose website is here.

Learn about human decomposition at a "body farm"

"Excarnation in Texas" is an essay exploring a body farm in Texas.  This isn't the body farm I'm familiar with in Tennessee, but it serves a similar purpose:
Kate, an associate professor at Texas State University in San Marcos, does most of her work at their Forensic Anthropology Center (FACTS)—the centerpiece of which is the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF), the largest of America’s five “body farms.” Including Kate, FACTS has three full-time researchers, a rotating crew of anthropology graduate students and undergraduate volunteers, and a steady influx of cadaver donations from both individuals and their next of kin—brought in from Texas hospitals, hospices, medical examiners’ offices, and funeral homes. When I arrive, Kate is helping lead a weeklong forensics workshop for undergrads, spread out across five excavation sites where skeletal remains have been buried to simulate “crime scenes.”...

While grad students carry out the “intake” and “placement” of the bodies outdoors, about twenty-five undergrads volunteer to process the remains for free, from disarticulating the sun-dried cadavers to soaking them in the kettles to scrubbing the last bits of cartilage off with their gloved hands. They remove tendons with hemostats and toothbrushes, then they wash the bones again by hand, adding Dawn if still greasy. Finally, they leave them out on countertops to dry...

Perhaps surprisingly, his immediate reaction to the photos, and the details of the research—scientists “captured the vultures jumping up and down on the woman’s body, breaking some of her ribs”—was one of pride. “Just the amount of damage done to the body—it was hours, literally hours, and it was clean,” he says. “It was just this huge amount of unthought-of information.” In his enthusiasm, Ted posted a link on Facebook saying, “Hey, look! Mom got eaten by vultures! Awesome!” 

In a third-grade classroom at her elementary school, Mary was online and saw the note from her youngest brother. She clicked on the link—and had a typical Robinson family reaction: “I was like ‘Oh, cool! They’re talking about her!’” Then she saw the pictures. “And it was ‘Oh, there’s Mom’s face! There’s her teeth! Oh, there’s her ribs! Oh, wow.’”

Mary was deeply hurt when her friends and colleagues at work were unable to relate to her excitement at the news. “I have just hit revulsion, revulsion, revulsion—and it’s very lonely and hard. This is awesome—but it’s so out-of-the-box, there’s no paradigm. That’s your mom? What?
Much more at the interesting link.

12 September 2014

A walkway in Jerez

Apparently those are grapevines, not trees.
“Jerez” is the hispanicized version of “Sherish” which was its Moorish name when the town was under Islamic rule. The English speaking world modified the Arabic into “Sherry,” Jerez being the origin of Sherry wines.
Credit to Sue's Sevilla Sabattical, via The World Geography and Reddit.

Because physics

You can make your own pendulum wave device (and you don't have to use bowling balls).

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

A staggering intracranial deficit

New Scientist provides this image of a 24-year old woman who appears to have a form of cerebellar aplasia, with surprisingly minimal symptoms:
The discovery was made when the woman was admitted to the Chinese PLA General Hospital of Jinan Military Area Command in Shandong Province complaining of dizziness and nausea. She told doctors she'd had problems walking steadily for most of her life, and her mother reported that she hadn't walked until she was 7 and that her speech only became intelligible at the age of 6.

Doctors did a CAT scan and immediately identified the source of the problem – her entire cerebellum was missing. The space where it should be was empty of tissue.
More at the link.

Panoramic photo oddities - and a fake one

The image above was generated by Google Street View* (via Digital Spy).  Other interesting examples can be viewed at Neatorama and the links provided there.

*Addendum - a tip of the blogging cap to reader Drabkikker, who knew that the "half-cat" in the image above is a product of Photoshop, not a panorama fail.  The original image (from 2003, well before Google Street View) is available at Hoax-Slayer.

Words meaning "intoxicated"

The history of drinking vocabulary is an exercise in semantics rather than sociolinguistics. Terms for being drunk can’t usually be explained by referring to such variables as age, gender, social class, occupation, or regional background. Being drunk cuts across barriers. The list below shows only the occasional indication of a class preference (such as genteel whiffled vs thieves' cant suckey), and occupational origins are seen only in some nautical expressions (three sheets, oversparred, up the pole, tin hat, honkers), though the etymology is not always definite. There are very few formal terms in the list, apart from a few expressions fostered by the law (intoxicated, over the limit), and some early scholarly words (inebriate(d), temulent, ebrious). Local regional variations are sometimes apparent, such as from Scotland (fou, strut, swash, blootered, swacked), England (bottled, pissed, rat­arsed), and Australia (blue, rotten, shickery, plonked, on one’s ear); and since the eighteenth century most new words in this semantic field have started out in the United States. But it’s rare to find a word that stays in one country for long, and these days online slang dictionaries have largely broken down geographical boundaries....

There seems to be a universal trend to avoid stating the obvious. To describe someone as simply drunk, in drink, or in liquor is accurate but evidently uninspiring. One fruitful vein is to find terms that characterize drunken appearance (owl­eyed, pie­eyed, cock­eyed, lumpy, blue, lit) or behaviour, especially erratic movement (slewed, bumpsy, reeling ripe, tow­ row, rocky, on one’s ear, zigzag, tipped, looped) or lack of any movement at all (stiff, paralytic). Another is mental state, such as being muddled (fuddled, muzzed, queer, woozy), elated (high­flown, wired, pixilated), or worn down (whittled, half­shaved, rotten, crocked, the worse for wear)....

These days, though, the leading question for the lexicologist has to be: what exactly is the lexicon of drink? Many of the words formerly associated with drinking are now associated with drugs, such as high, loaded, pie­eyed, piped, potted, wasted, and blasted. Often it is simply unclear, without further context, what state a person is in. Indeed, sometimes there is a three-way ambiguity, as a further meaning has emerged that is to do with neither alcohol nor drugs. If someone says they are zonked, are they drunk, high, or just tired out?
Further details at The New Republic.

"Ohaguro" - fashionably black teeth

Ohaguro is the custom of dyeing one's teeth black. It was most popular in Japan until the Meiji era. Tooth painting was also known and practiced in the southeastern parts of China and Southeast Asia. Dyeing was mainly done by married women, though occasionally men did it as well. It was also beneficial, as it prevented tooth decay, in a similar fashion to modern dental sealants.

In 1873, the empress of Japan made a radical beauty statement, appearing in public with white teeth. For centuries, tooth blackening, known as ohaguro, signified wealth and sexual maturity especially for women in Japanese society, and they would drink an iron-based black dye tempered with cinnamon and other aromatic spices to achieve the lacquered look. 
Text and image via Deformutilation, where there are additional images.

11 September 2014

About 500 QI buzzers

Those unfamiliar with the show may note that the testing of the buzzers typically occurs in groups of four, culminating with Alan Davies.

These observations from the Wikipedia entry:
Each panellist has a buzzer, with the sounds of all four often being based on a theme. They are demonstrated at the beginning of the programme, but are sometimes changed in some way for repeated use. Davies' buzzer usually subverts the theme established by the preceding three. Comical twists include in the ninth episode of series B (Bats), when all the first 3 buzzers were bells, then Alan's buzzer turned out to be a male voice (Leslie Phillips) saying "Well hello! Ding dong!" ...

In episode 5 of Series A, rather than a comical buzzer, Davies set off the forfeit alarm, (suggesting he sets one every time he offers an answer) meaning he started the show on -10 points before a question was asked (it was later changed to the sound of a duck quacking)...

Sometimes questions are based on the buzzers themselves, usually Davies'. For example, one of his buzzer noises the Series D episode "Descendants" sounded like a Clanger, and the panel had to try and guess what was being said (the answer being "Oh sod it, the bloody thing's stuck again.") In the Series F episode "Fakes and Frauds," all the buzzers sounded like ordinary household objects, but then turned out to be the sound of the superb lyrebird mimicking the noises. Davies's however, was again an exception; his buzzer, which sounded like a telephone, really was a telephone and not a lyrebird mimicking one.
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