30 September 2010

Plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs were warm-blooded

Sea-dwelling reptiles hundreds of millions of years ago were warmblooded, according to a new study led by Lyon University. It’s the clearest sign that some ancient reptiles, unlike modern ones, had a metabolism similar to that of mammals. Oxygen atoms in fossil teeth show plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs (ten-foot-long Stenopterygius quadriscissus) had internal temperatures of 95 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, even in chilly water.
Source:  “Resolution of Body Temperature by Some Mesozoic Marine Reptiles,” Aurélien Bernard et al., Science, June 11, 2010

Photos of the ivory-billed woodpecker

Most of you know the backstory about the rarest bird in the United States.  Here is an update -
Three years ago, I began working with Nancy Tanner on a book about her husband’s fieldwork. In June 2009, she discovered a faded manila envelope in the back of a drawer at her home in Knoxville, Tennessee. In it were some ivory-bill images. At her invitation, I started going through them.

One of the first things I found was a glassine envelope containing a 2 1/4- by 3 1/4-inch negative. Holding it up to the light, I realized it was of the nestling ivory-bill from the Singer Tract—an image I had never seen. I quickly found another negative, then another and another. My hands began to shake. It turned out that Tanner had taken not 6 pictures on that long-ago March 6, but 14. As a group, they show the young bird not frozen in time, but rather clambering over Kuhn like a cat on a scratching post, frightened but vital.
The rest of the story is in the September issue of Smithsonian magazine, or at the link, which has an additional half-dozen photos, which have never before been available to the public.

The "Greatest Generation" vs. "The Boomers"

In an essay in this month's The Atlantic, Michael Kinsley compares the "Boomers" to their parents:
The indictment against the Baby Boom generation is familiar, way oversimplified, and only partly fair. In brief: the Boomers’ parents were the “Greatest Generation,” a coinage by Tom Brokaw that looks as if it will stick. Toughened by growing up through the Great Depression, the GGs heeded the call and saved the world in 1941–45. Then they returned home to build a prosperous society. They forthrightly addressed the nation’s biggest flaw (race relations), and defeated Communism on their way out the door. The GGs’ children, the Boomers, were “bred in at least modest comfort,” as the Port Huron Statement of 1962, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society, startlingly concedes. They ducked the challenge of Vietnam—so much smaller than the military challenge their parents so triumphantly met. They made alienation fashionable and turned self-indulgence (sex, drugs, rock and roll, cappuccino makers, real estate, and so on) into a religion. Their initial suspicion of the Pentagon and two presidents, Johnson and Nixon, spread like kudzu into a general cynicism about all established institutions (Congress, churches, the media, you name it). This reflexive and crippling cynicism is now shared across the political spectrum. The Boomers ran up huge public and private debts, whose consequences are just beginning to play out. In the world that Boomers will pass along to their children, America is widely held in contempt, prosperity looks to more and more people like a mirage, and things are generally going to hell.
Then he offers the counterpoint:
This same story could be told with a different spin, of course. The so-called Greatest Generation came back from World War II to create a bland, soul-destroying prosperity, unequally shared, and then mired us in Vietnam, a war that should never have been fought. It was the Boomers, not the Greats, who forced the nation to address civil rights. And it was the Greats, not the Boomers, who got us addicted to debt. The GGs’ willfully blind sense of entitlement turned the government—and many private companies, too—into machines for taking money from working people and giving it to “seniors” (in amounts far in excess of what they had contributed). The collapse of the Soviet Union happened on their watch, but this victory was devalued by McCarthyism, the blacklist, CIA misbehavior, and, ultimately, Vietnam and Watergate. The Greats were the ones who got us into Vietnam and the Boomers were the ones who got us out. They did this by convincing a majority of the country that it was a mistake, which it was. (Their disinclination to kill and die for a mistake was, if not noble, certainly not cowardly.) Even as they “sold out” and eased into middle-class life, they changed it for the better. They made environmentalism, feminism, gay rights so deeply a part of middle-class culture that the terms themselves seem antiquated. They created an American popular culture—particularly music—that swept the world, and still dominates. They created the technological revolution that revived capitalism. And they did their share of sacrificing: they paid for their own schooling with student loans—becoming the first generation to enter adulthood already burdened by large debts. They also paid, publicly and privately, for their parents’ generation to retire in greater comfort than they themselves can reasonably expect. And now—talk about selfishness—many Boomers are supporting their children, too, into their 20s and beyond.
It's a very interesting article, which you can read in full at The Atlantic.

29 September 2010

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

A late-summer immigrant to Wisconsin from more southerly regions; does not overwinter this far north.  I photographed this one this afternoon at the Grady Tract of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.  I would love to document a life cycle on this beautiful creature; perhaps next spring I can spot one ovipositing on some plantain.

Click photo for bigger.

Elipepsy... Clinc

Found today in the Madison yellow pages.

Egg separator

Personally, I'll continue to just pour the yolk from one half of the shell to the other half - but this does fit into the "clever" category of the blog.

Found at Xerxy, via.

Giant kidney worm (dioctophyme renale) in a dog


A case from 2006, nicely filmed and documented, and well worth watching for those who don't mind viewing internal anatomy and some enormous parasites.  The last one minute of the film is enormously gratifying after watching the previous part...

The corpses of the de Witt brothers

A rather bleak painting ascribed to Jan de Baen, depicting a famous historical event in Dutch history (full title: The corpses of the de Witt brothers, Jan and Cornelis, hanging on the Groene Zoodje on the Vijverberg).

I can't figure out what the figure in the lower right corner is supposed to be doing.

Via La Muse Verte.

Addendum: MJ Valente found the following information at the website of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam:
"De Witt held a key position in Dutch politics, being a kind of Prime Minister avant la lettre. In that role, he was repeatedly in conflict with the Orange faction, led by Prince William III of Orange (later King of England during the so-called Glorious Revolution), who felt menaced in his authority. When De Witt came to power, a collective aversion to monarchical power dominated among the Dutch people. But things changed in 1672, the ‘Disaster Year’, when the Dutch Republic was attacked by a large alliance of hostile countries. Popular feeling suddenly turned in favor of William III, and mistrust grew against Johann de Witt and his brother Cornelis.

The latter, who was also an influential political figure, got imprisoned in The Hague on false accusations of treason. On 20 August 1672, when Johan was visiting his brother in prison, the brothers were dragged out of the building and lynched outside by an angry mob. The rage seemed to be spontaneous, but was in fact well-organized and planned by Orangist militiamen. The frenzy was so immense that the De Witts were not just killed, but literally ripped apart by the inflamed mass. Body parts like heart and fingers were removed to be exposed as souvenirs, while other parts were roasted and eaten(!) by the hysterical crowd, in a bizarre outburst of cannibalism. Their corpses were eventually hung upside down on a scaffold nearby. The disgusting sight was captured in this dark painting, whose artist (attributed to Jan de Baen) seems to have witnessed the lynching and presents us his gruesome experience in this early form of visual journalism."
And Rob from Amersfoort adds the following:
1672 was indeed called the Year of Disaster, when The Netherlands where attacked by England, France ànd Germany.

The scaffold was located near the prison where Johan's brother was held (the Gevangenpoort, a building with a city gate, it still exists). On the other side of the road the Dutch center of government (the Binnenhof) is located (with the parliament and the office of the PM).

I wrote a essay about Johan de Witt when I was in high school. Watching this scene always makes me feel sad, he was a good man. This is an example of what happens when people are stirred up by populists. Remarkable is that in 2002 the same thing happened at the same location after a famous politician was shot; a crowd of angry people gathered near the Binnenhof, ready to lynch the first politician they would see ...

NB the head of the first Dutch PM, a man born in Amersfoort, was chopped of inside the Binnenhof, after he was falsely accused by the ruling prince of Orange. The latter was the grand-uncle of prince Willem III who stirred up the lynch mob in 1672. Later Willem III became king of England, so for him it worked out fine.

"Recombobulation"

"The Milwaukee airport has a sign “Recombobulation Area.”  What does it mean?  I figured out the answer only from an etymological point of view, though I never suspected that etymology can be of any practical use.  To be discombobulated means to be in a state of confusion.  The word must have been produced in imitation of some other dis-verb or participle.  Since this coinage is a bastard, lacking respectable parentage, the dis-less opposite does not exist.  No linguist will object: after all, one can be disturbed and disconcerted but not turbed or concerted and even dismembered without much prospect of being membered (re-membered) again.  People at Milwaukee took off the prefix and probably assumed that most people would guess that, if discombobulated means “confused, perplexed,” combobulated should mean “disconfused,” that is, “having a full grasp of one’s sense of direction.”  Then (by back formation) they coined the verb combobulate and a verbal noun (combobulation)..."
Photo credit to lark is already taken.

The Lord's Prayer recited in Old English


This is described as "West Saxon literary dialect of Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon)."  Thankfully with subtitles (which you'll probably need fullscreen to read).  It's interesting how some words are virtually unchanged since the 11th century - but I doubt I could get by were I suddenly to become a Minnesota Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Re the absence of "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen",  I found this at Wikipedia:
The doxology of the prayer is not contained in Luke's version, nor is it present in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew, representative of the Alexandrian text, but is present in the manuscripts representative of the Byzantine text...
You learn something every day.

Filmed visuals from Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.

The history of dictionary citations of the F-word


From the Oxford University Press channel.

Marriage rates continue to decline in the U.S.


For the first time since the U.S. began tallying marriages, more Americans of prime marrying age have stayed single rather than tied the knot, the culmination of a tectonic shift in the role of marriage and relationships that began in the 1960s.

High divorce rates, rising co-habitation and a tendency to delay marriage are main factors.

Marriage rates among young adults have been dropping for decades. But data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau show that for the first time the proportion of people between the ages of 25 and 34 who have never been married exceeded those who were married in 2009—46.3% versus 44.9%...

The long-term slide in marriage rates has pushed the proportion of married adults of all ages to 52% in 2009, according to the Census, the lowest share in history. In 1960, 72.2% of adults over 18 were married...

A slowdown in marriage rates doesn't mean the end of cohabiting relationships. As marriage rates have fallen, the number of adults living together has skyrocketed, according to Mr. Mather's analysis. Men and women are living together as an alternative or a first step towards matrimony. While marriage has fallen among younger people, the probability of getting married at some point in life still remains at about 90%...
The rest of the story is at The Wall Street Journal.

The number of duck hunters is plunging

When Minnesota's waterfowl season opens Saturday, something will be missing: hunters.

The number of duck hunters has declined by nearly 50 percent in the past 30 years, from an estimated 155,000 in 1979 to 78,000 last year. In only the past 10 years, the state has lost 44,000 duck hunters...

Officials point to myriad reasons, including a lack of ducks, aging Baby Boomers, urbanization, time and access constraints and the simple fact that hunting ducks can be more difficult and expensive than hunting other species...

The trend is disturbing, wildlife officials and conservation groups say, for the future of waterfowl and waterfowl habitat. Because duck hunters, through license and stamp fees and an excise tax on hunting equipment and ammunition, have paid for a large amount of wildlife habitat in the state...
Further details at the Star Tribune.

28 September 2010

A performance by the Portsmouth Sinfonia


The Portsmouth Sinfonia was an orchestra founded by a group of students at the Portsmouth School of Art in Portsmouth, England, in 1970. The Sinfonia had an unusual entrance requirement, in that players had to either be non-musicians, or if a musician, play an instrument that was entirely new to them. Among the founding members was one of their teachers, English composer Gavin Bryars. The orchestra started as a one-off, tongue-in-cheek performance art ensemble but became a cultural phenomenon over the following ten years, with concerts, record albums, a film and a hit single. They last performed publicly in 1979... The only rules were that everyone had to come for rehearsals and that people should try their best to get it right and not intentionally try to play badly.
A hat tip to reader Shackleford Hurtmore for alerting me to this remarkable group.

Megacryometeors

"Jesus Martinez-Frias, a planetary geologist at the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid, pioneered research into megacryometeors in January 2000 after ice chunks weighing up to 6.6 pounds (3.0 kg) rained on Spain out of cloudless skies for ten days.

The process that creates megacryometeors is not fully understood, mainly in relation with the atmospheric dynamics necessary to produce them. They may have a similar mechanism of formation to that producing hailstones.  Scientific studies show that their composition matches normal tropospheric rainwater for the areas in which they fall. In addition, megacryometeors display textural variations of the ice and hydro-chemical and isotopic heterogeneity, which evidence a complex formation process in the atmosphere.  It is known that they do not come from airplane toilets because the large chunks of ice that occasionally do fall from airliners are distinctly blue due to the disinfectant used. However, others have speculated that these ice chunks must have fallen from aircraft fuselages after plain water ice accumulating on those aircraft through normal atmospheric conditions has simply broken loose. However, similar events occurred prior to the invention of aircraft...

More than 50 megacryometeors have been recorded since the year 2000. They vary in mass between 0.5 kilograms (1.1 lb) to more than 200 kilograms (440 lb). One in Brazil weighed in at 220 kilograms (490 lb)."

Via PopCrunch.

Blood slide candy for Halloween

The slides are made of sugar and corn syrup; the recipe and instructions are at Forkable, via Neatorama.

Movies with quicksand

An impressive essay by Daniel Engber at Slate details the history of quicksand in the movies, along with a slideshow of movie clips and a discussion of the erotic and fetishistic aspects of the genre.
It's fitting that one of the earliest known depictions of quicksand comes from one of the earliest known comic strips—a 230-foot-long piece of linen embroidered with wool yarn nearly 1,000 years ago. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Norman Conquest, and in one panel, Harold, later King of England, pauses to rescue a pair of soldiers who have become trapped in the mud near Mont St. Michel...

Katherine Hepburn as an Amazon warrior princess (1932)

One hopes the costume design was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. 

Found at Old Hollywood.

Chris Wallace asks John Boehner about the Republican "pledge"


I was squirming halfway through this and could hardly stand to listen to the fatuous, evasive response.

Via The Daily Dish.

Pineberries

"Allegedly they were sourced from an endangered strain in South Africa and have been cultivated for the past seven years, now available for limited commercial purchase in Europe. They have the same genetic makeup as a strawberry, but are white with red seeds and taste like pineapples."
 From Life in Cartoon Motion.  More at Wikipedia.

Blackfly reactions


Excerpts from an article at The Independent:
Blackflies are being blamed for an upsurge in the number of people experiencing severe reactions after being bitten by insects. In some cases, victims have suffered grotesquely swollen limbs, requiring hospital treatment with intravenous antibiotics...

The insects are a major nuisance in North America as they are a scourge to livestock, and many states operate control programmes based on spraying pesticides. In Africa, the insect plays a key role in the transmission of the parasite that causes river blindness...

Stuart Hine, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum, said: "Blackflies are quite pernicious. Their mouth parts are scissor-like and they lacerate the skin and then suck the blood. They inject an anaesthetic so after the initial bite you can't feel it. When you scratch it and germs get in, then you can get a serious infection...

"By lunchtime, my leg was so swollen, an occupational health nurse feared I had deep-vein thrombosis and sent me to an accident and emergency ward. I was limping heavily and my leg was getting bigger by the hour... The next day when I returned to A&E my leg was too big to pull up my trousers..."
Personally I've always dreaded deerflies more than blackflies.  No post about blackflies would be complete without including a video of the famous Canadian folk song by Wade Hemsworth, based on his true-life personal experience.  The lyrics are in the pulldown at the YouTube link.

U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey (and quiz)

Many blogs today are citing some of the results of the U. S. Religious Knowledge Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life.  Most discussions seem to focus on the finding that atheists and agnostics as a group scored higher on the survey than did persons with affiliations to conventional religious groups.  The Executive Summary discusses this result and the other observations from the survey.

The Pew site also offers a abbreviated quiz for the general public (15 questions, compared to 32 on the actual survey).  My results are shown above; I missed just one question (on the Jewish Sabbath - forgive me, Ira!).  I should think that most TYWKIWDBI readers will do just as well, because the questions do not really require knowledge of dogma or doctrine - just simple knowledge about Mother Theresa and Bible stories and Ramadan and such.  What surprises me is how poorly the public does on what seem to be basic knowledge questions.  Below are the results (sorted by religious affiliation) for the abbreviated quiz, which I invite you to try at this link.

The meaning of an inverted cross

"If those Satanists had paid attention in Sunday school, they would probably realize that the inverted cross is actually the personal trademark of Saint Peter, the first Pope, and one of the most revered figures in Catholic lore. When Peter was martyred by crucifixion he was said to have requested to be crucified upside down because he didn't feel worthy of dying the same way as Jesus. As a result, many dyed-in-the-wool Catholics actually consider the inverted cross to be a more acceptable thing to attach to your tacky jewelry than a regular right-way-up one... By wearing an upside-down cross, Satanists are unwittingly showing humility and unworthiness before Christ.
More details at Cracked.  Wikipedia points out the essential difference between an inverted cross and an inverted crucifix:
In Roman Catholicism the Petrine Cross is not seen as Satanic in any way. However, an inverted crucifix (a Latin cross with an artistic depiction of the crucified body of Christ upon it) is seen as immensely disrespectful, and could be used to represent Satanic forces. The distinction between a Cross of Peter and upturned Crucifix is sometimes obscured, leading to confusion about the acceptability of each symbol. This was seen when controversy arose over the aforementioned Papal visit to Israel; pictures of the Pope sitting before a Petrine Cross were widely circulated on the Internet in an attempt to prove that the Catholic Church is associated with Satanism and the Antichrist.
Via Cynic**:.)

27 September 2010

Assaults with beer mugs on the rise

"While certain crimes are down at Oktoberfest this year, there have been more attacks with an unlikely, yet readily available, weapon: the one-liter beer stein. Some of the victims have been whisked away in ambulances with concussions and fractured skulls caused by fights involving the heavy glasses...

Erich Schuller, of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, said his lab has recently carried out tests in which they used brand new steins and hit them against human skulls. "The bones often will break, but we haven't been able to break the steins," Schuller told SPIEGEL. "A hard hit with a stein packs more than 8,500 newtons of power -- the human head in the parietal region breaks with about 4,000 newtons."

In the case of the 29-year-old Canadian it happened the other way. He survived the attack with a concussion, and the stein broke.
Further details at Der Spiegel.  Photo source unknown.

And more or less coincidentally, this is my 7,000th post at TYWKIWDBI, so the "toast" photo is quite appropriate!!

U.S. nukes reportedly compromised by aliens

Aliens from outer space, to be more precise.  I first saw the story at Reuters last week, in a piece dated September 15:
Witness testimony from more than 120 former or retired military personnel points to an ongoing and alarming intervention by unidentified aerial objects at nuclear weapons sites, as recently as 2003. In some cases, several nuclear missiles simultaneously and inexplicably malfunctioned while a disc-shaped object silently hovered nearby.  Six former U.S. Air Force officers and one former enlisted man will break their silence about these events at the National Press Club and urge the government to publicly confirm their reality.

One of them, ICBM launch officer Captain Robert Salas, was on duty during one missile disruption incident at  Malmstrom Air Force Base and was ordered to never discuss it. Another participant, retired Col. Charles Halt, observed a disc-shaped object directing beams of light down into the RAF Bentwaters airbase in England and heard on the radio that they landed in the nuclear weapons storage area. Both men will provide stunning details about these events, and reveal how the U.S. military responded. 
More at the link.  I didn't know what to think of it.  Today the story was picked up by the Telegraph - re British nuclear weapons sites:
Col Charles Halt said he saw a UFO at the former military base RAF Bentwaters, near Ipswich, 30 years ago, during which he saw beams of light fired into the base then heard on the military radio that aliens had landed inside the nuclear storage area.

He said: "I believe that the security services of both the United States and the United Kingdom have attempted - both then and now - to subvert the significance of what occurred at RAF Bentwaters by the use of well-practised methods of disinformation." 
The testimony was supposed to take place today.  I'll defer any commentary, except to say I'd be delighted if it's true.

Fossilized footprints of the giant wombat

Photo credit Amy Toensing/National Geographic.

Look at these eyes...

"...the complex eyes of the peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) perceive more colours than you can imagine."
The comment probably refers to the fact that these creatures can see ultraviolet and infrared.  Awesome.  (I wonder if that is why at least this one seems to have asymmetric eyes and curious stomata in the globe?)

Found at Electric Orchids.

Sick humor

Found at American White Boy, via When You Get to the Heart Use Knife and Fork.

Landslide

The result of an earthquake in Taiwan in April of this year.

Story at the Daily Mail, via Sloth Unleashed.  Photo credit EPA.

Bill Maher rants about obscenely rich people

"I've done some math that indicates that, considering the hole this country is in, if you are earning more than a million dollars a year and are complaining about a 3.6% tax increase, then you are by definition a greedy asshole...

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said, "I don't know where they're going to get all this money, because we're running out of rich people in this country." Actually, we have more billionaires here in the U.S. than all the other countries in the top ten combined, and their wealth grew 27% in the last year. Did yours?

Even 39% isn't high by historical standards. Under Eisenhower, the top tax rate was 91%. Under Nixon, it was 70%. Obama just wants to kick it back to 39 -- just three more points for the very rich. Not back to 91, or 70. Three points. And they go insane...

Maybe the worst whiner of all: Stephen Schwarzman, #69 on Forbes' list of richest Americans, compared Obama's tax hike to "when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939." Wow..."
The rest of the rant is on Alternet.

Centipede vs. bat


(Giant) centipede wins.  Narrated by Attenborough.  Via Kottke.

Previously at TYWKIWDBI:  Giant centipede on a human arm, and giant centipede killing a snake.

"Privatizing" public libraries

Excerpts from a story in the New York Times:
A private company in Maryland has taken over public libraries in ailing cities in California, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas, growing into the country’s fifth-largest library system...

The company, known as L.S.S.I., runs 14 library systems operating 63 locations. Its basic pitch to cities is that it fixes broken libraries — more often than not by cleaning house.  “A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”

Until now, the three branch locations have been part of the Los Angeles County library system. Under the new contract, the branches will be withdrawn from county control and all operations — including hiring staff and buying books — ceded to L.S.S.I...

Library employees are often the most resistant to his company, said Mr. Pezzanite, a co-founder of L.S.S.I. — and, he suggested, for reasons that only reinforce the need for a new approach.

“Pensions crushed General Motors, and it is crushing the governments in California,” he said. While the company says it rehires many of the municipal librarians, they must be content with a 401(k) retirement fund and no pension...
More at the link, although it doesn't explain how the company will make a profit running the libraries.  Presumably they receive a fee from the state, and then run the library for less than the fee amount. (?)

Urban osprey nest

The nest, atop a 130-foot light pole at Hwy. 169 and Crosstown Hwy. 62, has been home to the distinctive black-and-white raptors for the past five years. When workers began replacing nearby poles last spring, the sight fueled many concerned calls to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the nest got a reprieve... MnDOT held off removing the pole until the adults and this year's three offspring were gone. The birds emptied the nest last month and headed back to South America.
The nest is 4 feet across and 2 feet deep.  More details at the Star Tribune.

Photo credit Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

A mother

Source unknown; posted at Reddit by techietalk_ticktock.

26 September 2010

Racial/ethnic maps of American cities


Eric Fischer has a remarkable Flickr set of over a hundred city maps which plot population according to race and/or ethnicity:  "Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Gray is Other, and each dot is 25 people. Data from Census 2000."

Pictured above are Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota and Madison, Wisconsin.  

Via Sociological Images.

Dying on Saturdays

"But the superstitious noted that the death of Prince Albert Victor on a Thursday broke a remarkable spell or curse which had hung over the present royal family of England for more than a century and three-quarters — bringing about the death of all the prominent members of that family on Saturdays. William III died Saturday, March 18, 1702; Queen Anne died Saturday, August 1, 1714; George I died Saturday, June 10, 1727; George II died Saturday, October 25, 1760; George III died Saturday, January 29, 1820; George IV died Saturday, June 26, 1830; the Duchess of Kent died Saturday, March 16, 1861; the Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria and grandfather of the recent deceased Prince Albert Victor, died Saturday, December 14, 1861; Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt, Victoria’s second daughter, and sister of Albert, died Saturday, December 14, 1878..."

– William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892
One wonders whether the list is simply selectively compiled from the obits of a huge family, or whether circumstances of the era made it more "convenient" for deaths to occur on Saturdays.

Found in the ever-interesting Futility Closet.

A scene from ‘The Last of the Mohicans’


I really love the idyllic landscapes of Romantic artists, including the Hudson River School and the others portraying the aboriginal Western scenery.

This painting by Thomas Cole, via Miss Folly.

Afghan "kites for kids" stolen by Afghan police

Anyone who has read The Kite Runner knows the importance of kites in the lives of Afghan children. This week, the U.S. Agency for International Development arranged an event to give away kites to children.
For starters, Afghan policemen hijacked the event, stealing dozens of kites for themselves and beating children with sticks when they crowded too close to the kite distribution tent. To be fair, the children were a little unruly, but they were also small.

Sometimes the officers just threatened them with sticks, and other times slapped them in the face or whacked them with water bottles. "I told them to stop the policemen from taking the kites," said Shakila Faqeeri, a communications adviser for the contractor, DPK Consulting.

But the policemen appeared to ignore her. Asked why one of his officers was loading his truck with kites, Maj. Farouk Wardak, head of the criminal investigation division of the 16th Police District, said, "It's OK. He's not just a policeman, he's my bodyguard."

The district police chief, Col. Haji Ahmad Fazli, insisted on taking over from the American contractors the job of passing out the kites. He denied that his men were kite thieves.

"We are not taking them," he said. "We are flying them ourselves."
The rest of the story is at the Star Tribune link.  Ironically, the kite festival was being conducted "to promote the use of Afghanistan's justice system and increase public legal knowledge." What a totally f***ed-up country.

Chopines

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about chopines, based on an intriguing photo with a long-distance view of the footwear.  This week I found the much better image above; the items are dated ~1600, and come from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum:
These chopines are made of pine-wood. The wood is covered in kid leather with punched decoration and figured silk underlay. This pair are fairly modest. More extreme versions were over 50 cms high. Chopines were based on the shoes worn at Turkish baths. They were first worn by Venetian prostitutes and fashionable Venetian aristocrats then adopted them. The chopine was originally a form of overshoe, which is why it has no back. Later versions could be worn as either overshoes or on their own.
Via A London Salamagundi.

Severed foot found in Tennessee

I've been blogging the "severed feet washing ashore" saga in the Pacific Northwest since its onset, so for completeness I should probably report on other similar incidents.  A hat tip therefore to reader Djinny for notifying me that a a jogger found a boot with a foot and part of a leg floating in the Tennessee River near Chattanooga.  A later report indicated that a body wearing military style clothing, but missing a leg and foot has subsequently been located in the river.

A hat tip to reader Joe for the heads-up.

25 September 2010

Metamorphosis


Credit: Photos Julie Zickefoose. Produced by Mito Habe-Evans (NPR)

Bicycle enthusiasts will love this image

Credit Tatsuro Kiuchi, via willwright.

Black, with white stripes - or white, with black stripes?

It was previously believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes, since some zebras have white underbellies. Embryological evidence, however, shows that the animal's background color is dark and the white stripes and bellies are additions.
Photo closeup of a Grevy's Zebra at the Frankfurt zoo by Fredrik Von Erichsen//Getty Images, via The Big Picture (from a nice set of 57 animal photos).

I can sympathize with the Titanic steering error

Word came this week that one reason the Titanic struck the iceberg was a steering error:
The error... happened because at the time seagoing was undergoing enormous upheaval because of the conversion from sail to steam ships.

The change meant there were two different steering systems and different commands attached to them. Some of the crew on the Titanic were used to the archaic Tiller Orders associated with sailing ships and some to the more modern Rudder Orders.

Crucially, the two steering systems were the complete opposite of one another.  So a command to turn "hard a starboard" meant turn the wheel right under the Tiller system and left under the Rudder. 
More details at the Telegraph and at the New York Times.  Now for my personal context...

In the late 1950s my family went to Florida for a winter vacation and visited the Daytona Beach area.  In those days it was permissible to drive one's car on the beach [?is that still true?].  Because the car was not on a highway, my father decided it would be o.k. for me to steer the car while sitting on his lap.  As we zipped down the beach, he told me we were going to get too close to an ice-cream vendor's shack, and told me to turn steer toward the left. 

At about seven years of age, I had no experience steering cars, but plenty of experience steering a boat (those of you who grew up in the upper Midwest will understand...).  The boats we rented at the lake were 16' wooden boats with 7.5 horsepower Evinrude outboard motors.  Because it was a rear-mounted outboard,  to turn the boat to the left, you pushed the tiller to the right.

And that's what I did with the car, turning the steering wheel to the right.  Dad fortunately still had control of the brakes.  I would have forgotten all about the incident, but was reminded of it on many occasions as I grew older.  

Photo credit to Heyns57.

24 September 2010

A fever of rays

In May of 2008 I posted an impressive photo of cownose rays migrating.  Then, about a month later, an even more impressive photo, and a discussion of the biology of the rays.

Today's photo tops them all, and won the top prize in the CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the Year 2010 awards.
The group of Munkiana Devil Rays were spotted in Baja California Sur, Mexico, by German conservation photographer Florian Schulz. He described how he was able to capture his jaw-dropping image named Flight of the Rays: "During an aerial expedition I came across something I had never seen before. Not even my pilot, who has surveyed this area for 20 years, had seen anything like it. As we got closer we started to discover its nature: an unprecedented congregation of rays. The group was as thick as it was wide, all heading towards the same direction.
Via The Telegraph.

"The End of Capitalism"

I always enjoyed reading Lewis Lapham's articles when he was editor of Harper's.  Here are excerpts from an interview conducted for Salon:
"...capitalism is an historical phenomenon. It’s not a given. It’s not human nature. It arises at the end of the 16th century in Holland, but then is developed over the next four centuries for the most part in England and America. It’s had a life span of four centuries...

Competition is the spirit elixir of capitalism. This is not true in the more traditional society where the emphasis is on community, hierarchy, order, where people are terrified of starvation...

People are always terrified of change. The idea was to try to keep everything just the way it was … not to let the strings become untuned. Capitalism untunes all the strings. Capitalism is, as Appleby says, a relentless revolution. Joseph Schumpeter, the columnist, in 1942 defined capitalism as creative annihilation — it wipes out entire industries. There’s always a momentum for something new...

It is a voracious, devouring appetite for more. And if we’re not careful, unless we get control of it, it will devour the earth. Capitalism had a particularly fertile soil in America because there was so much land available. People could just go west. Take land from the Indians by force. The same thing in Mexico. Call it Manifest Destiny, but it essentially was the seizure of property. There was an abundance of resources...
More at the link.

(Not a) drug checkpoint

"Freeway signs warning of upcoming drug checkpoints are actually a ruse: the local sheriff sets up a checkpoint at the next offramp and searches panicky motorists who pull off to ditch their stashes. An accompanying map on the original post gives the locations of similar checkpoints all over the USA, and warns, "if you see one of these signs, don't fucking exit.""
Found at 420 Tribune, which discusses the ethics and legality of such ruses and searches.   Via Boing Boing.

The "new" Republican pledge (same as the old one)







To save time, you can skip the intro and begin watching at about 1:45 (and quit at 4:35 to avoid the gratuitous insult).

Impressive gold "nugget"

"German prospector Bernhard Otto Holtermann with a mass of nearly all solid gold, Hill End, New South Wales, 1872.  The gold weighed 630lb & valued at 12,000 pounds."
Would be worth a lot more today.

Found at The Fighting Temeraire, or Everything 19th Century.

Hotels and B&Bs may sue TripAdvisor

Excerpts from the story at The Guardian:
...some of the 700 or so members of the hospitality business who have either committed to, or are contemplating, legal action against TripAdvisor, the world's largest travel review site, over what they regard as unfair reports...

The Guardian spoke this week to a hotelier in the south-west of England who said he believed his business had been targeted on TripAdvisor by a sacked member of staff. The unfavourable review claimed the person had been bitten by fleas and seen rats...

Central to any case will be whether TripAdvisor, based in Newton, Massachusetts, and a part of the online travel firm Expedia, can be held liable as its business is based on publishing user-generated content – the opinions of others...

...a spokeswoman [for TripAdvisor] said: "We believe our more than 35m reviews and opinions are authentic and honest from real travellers, which is why we enjoy tremendous user loyalty and growth. If the reviews people read didn't paint an accurate picture users would not keep coming back." All reviews were screened by online tools and "quality assurance specialists" investigated "suspicious" ones. Hoteliers had the chance to post a response to reviews. TripAdvisor said it advised travellers to disregard the "anomalies that appear overly critical or overly complimentary".
While there could be some "sour grapes" responses from establishments getting mixed or bad reviews, it seems possible that if there are a limited number of establishments in a town or resort area, someone wanting to help their own situation could leave bad reviews for their competitors.

Insect highways in the sky


An NPR video narrated by the incomparable Robert Krulwich, found at The Bug Girl's Blog, via Boing Boing.

Smuggling technology, 1932

Thanks to its shared border with Canada, the Detroit River was notoriously hard to control. Historians estimate that up to 75 percent of the alcohol consumed in the United States during the Prohibition was transported by ordinary people (not just gangsters!) between Windsor, Canada, and Detroit. One of the more elaborate bootlegging devices was an cable tunnel that ferried submarine "torpedoes" filled with alcohol across the river. While customs guards focused on people smuggling alcohol under their clothes, this ingenious contraption quietly reeled in forty cases of liquor an hour.
Via Popular Science, where there is a gallery on The Science of Prohibition, 1919-1933.

The best first lines from novels

American Book Review has listed their choices for the top 100 first lines.  The ranking would of course be subjective and largely irrelevant, but it's fun to browse the list.  Here are the first sixteen:
1. Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

3. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

10. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

11. The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. —Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)

12. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

13. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. —Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925; trans. Breon Mitchell)

14. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. —Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler (1979; trans. William Weaver)

15. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. —Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)

16. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
Via Camille Reads.  

Previously posted:  Opening lines from science fiction books and Opening lines from famous movies.

Rainbow of cocktails


Kneejerk impression: fake. But it's real, done by using layered liquids of different densities. The details are at Cooking with Family and Friends:
Take a shaker tin and fill it 3/4 with ice. Add 2 ounces each of Malibu, Vodka, and Triple Sec first. Tilt the tin and add 2 ounces Grenadine. Then add 2 ounces OJ and 2 ounces Sweet and Sour. Finally topping it off with 2 ounces Blue Curacao.
Via Reddit.

22 September 2010

Autumnal equinox

A great time to be out walking.  Shown above: a New England aster, common in the fields, parks, and farmland margins around here, and a Crescent (not sure if it's a Pearl Crescent or a Northern Crescent), nectaring on what I believe is another type of aster.

21 September 2010

Origin of the term "flapper"

“A young worker mends army uniforms in America. Her sailor suit-style is typical of childrenswear at the time. Boys would have worn a similar top, but with trousers. The bows which girls wore in their hair became known as ‘flappers’ because of the way they fell onto the head. The name would stick with this generation, as they grew up in the Twenties.”
Scanned and quoted from the book “Decades of Fashion” by Harriet Worsley.  Posted at Beautiful Century, via Edwardian Era.

Purple and orange starfish


Apparently it's real, because after a search I was able to find one other photo of a similar starfish, listed as Daytona Beach 2004.  Photo credit for this one to TheMarque.

See also this sea star.

Addendum:  A hat tip to Mnkyfuc for identifying this as Astropecten articulatus (described as "very common" at 20-30m depth on the continental shelf off Charleston, S.C.).  More pix at the link.

Happy Birthday, Gustav Holst


"Today marks the birthday of British composer Gustav Holst. The Holst family had wandered from Sweden, via Latvia and Russia, to settle in England. Gustav (1874 - 1934) is famous for his symphonic suite, The Planets, extracts of which have been used in many different movies and TV productions. On first rehearsal in the Royal Albert Hall the anecdote has it that the cleaning ladies were dancing in the stalls when they first heard the opening of the Jupiter movement…."
Text from Ordinary Finds, where there is always something interesting.  Embedded above is the aforementioned Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity [a hat tip to Ryan for identifying the conductor as Taijiro Iimori leading the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra].  I really love Isao Tomita's performance of The Planets on a Moog synthesizer, which I ought to blog sometime.

If I wait, I'll forget it.  Here it his rendition of the Jupiter movement (not a very good video re sound or visuals, but it's all I could find):

How to use "reply all" to get off a spam mailing list

 
The person who sent the reply makes this point, to emphasize that he wasn't being arbitrarily malicious:
"I got on their spam list by buying a car. I asked several times to be removed from the list, and I was very polite about it. But they ignored me. It was easy enough to filter their mail directly into my junk folder, but on some deep psychological level it bothered me that they ignored my requests to get off of their list.

This is the message that finally made it happen. The message I replied to here was the last message I ever got from them."

Freckles

Click for reallybig.  Found at LE ZÈBRE BLEU, via Camille reads.

Is it correct to say that " 9 NATO troops died" ??


I'm not questioning the incident, which was widely covered in the blogosphere and mainstream news services today.  My question focuses on the wording of the title.  For the discussion, I'll defer to Michael Quinion at World Wide Words:
Q: Am I right in thinking that “three troops were wounded” not only sounds daft but is incorrect when what is meant is “three soldiers”? “Three troopers”, yes, if they were part of a regiment that is or was mounted.

A: The traditional position that you are likely to find in reference books is that troop is a collective term for a group of people of unspecified number (it’s from medieval Latin troppus, a flock, and is the same word as troupe for a theatrical group). You can refer to more than one troop in the sense of a set of such collections (“the jamboree was attended by several dozen scout troops”) and use troops as a generalised collective term for the forces...

The usage of troops that you refer to is actually not that new. For more than two centuries writers have used it for a countable number of individuals, provided the number is large and not closely specified...

Despite this long history, many people continue to be unhappy about it. The linguist John McWhorter objected to it on National Public Radio in March 2007: “Calling 20,000 soldiers ‘20,000 troops’ depersonalizes the soldiers as individuals...

I’m told that singular troop for an individual has been recorded in US military slang from World War Two. People who were in the services during the 1950s and 1960s confirm it was then common in the US Army (“Yo troop! Take ten troops and police up that latrine!”)...

Troop has developed into a singular and small plural count noun for several reasons. There are now many more women in the various US armed forces and this presents gender-related difficulties in finding suitable terms for individuals (serviceman does not work any longer). More significantly, it’s been difficult to find an inclusive term for a single member of the combined services — soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and so on... Combatant is almost always pejorative (“enemy combatant”). Not least, troop is usefully short for fitting into headlines...

Speed freeclimbing

Dam goats

They apparently traverse the wall of the dam to lick salt or other minerals from the stonework.

Photo found here, via Reddit (credit unknown).  YouTube has a variety of videos of these guys.  And a hat tiip to Dan for a Snopes link with additional location info and links to more photos.

Roof goats


The sight is familiar to anyone from Wisconsin.  Al Johnson's restaurant in Sister Bay, Door County (the "thumb" sticking into Lake Michigan is a classic vacation destination) has goats on the roof.  I've eaten there several times and enjoyed the outstanding Scandinavian cuisine.

But I was disappointed to read this week that the restaurant sued another restaurant last year after discovering that the other one had also been using goats on their roof to attract customers.

Another restaurant in Sister Bay?  No.   Was it in Door County?  No.  In Wisconsin??  No.  The other establishment (a market, not a restaurant) was 750 miles away - in Georgia forcryingoutloud.
Last year, he discovered that Tiger Mountain Market in Rabun County, Ga., had been grazing goats on its grass roof since 2007. Putting goats on the roof wasn't illegal. The violation, Al Johnson's alleged in a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, was that Tiger Mountain used the animals to woo business.

The suit declared: "Notwithstanding Al Johnson's Restaurant's prior, continuous and extensive use of the Goats on the Roof Trade Dress"—a type of trademark—"defendant Tiger Mountain Market opened a grocery store and gift shop in buildings with grass on the roofs and allows goats to climb on the roofs of its buildings."

Al Johnson's "demanded that Defendant cease and desist such conduct, but Defendant has willfully continued to offer food services from buildings with goats on the roof," the suit continued.  Danny Benson, the offending market's owner, says that "legally we could fight it, because it is ridiculous...
The rest of the story is at The Wall Street Journal.  I fully understand the importance of copyright and trademark rights, but this case appears to me to be particularly small-minded.  Our family will be vacationing in Door County again, but my dining plans will be to explore some other restaurants. 

Photo credit monkey.biz.

20 September 2010

Are you paying too much for marijuana?


The Price of Weed is a new website that crowdsources the street value of marijuana.  Their blog indicates that they will be expanding coverage to Europe soon.

Addendum:  Discussion thread at Metafilter.

"Ice patch archaeology"


I've previously written posts both here and at Neatorama about the treasure trove of organic artifacts that are being revealed by melting, retreating glaciers.  The report above comes from Reuters (via Huffington Post).
Hunting sticks, bows and arrows, and a 3,400-year-old leather shoe are some of the discoveries thawing out in Norway's Jotunheimen mountains. In one area, the Juvfonna ice field, 600 artifacts have turned up simultaneously, making the job very difficult for Piloe and his team, as feathers, wool, and leather can turn to dust within days if not collected and stored in a freezer.
The video below discusses the situation in Oppland (central Norway).

The far-right wins parliamentary seats in Sweden

The Sweden Democrats (SD), which has described growth of the country's Muslim minority as the biggest foreign threat since the Second World War, won 20 seats in Sunday's parliamentary elections, leaving the two main blocs without a majority...

Many Swedes expressed disappointment that the Sweden Democrats won seats in the legislature. More than 6,000 protesters gathered in central Stockholm on Monday. Thousands of others, dressed in black clothes as an expression of mourning, marched in silence in Gothenburg...

The party says immigration is draining the welfare system and wants to cut asylum and immigration by relatives of people already living in Sweden by 90 per cent.

Immigrants make up 14 per cent of the country's population of 9.4 million. The largest groups of non-European immigrants in the last decade have been Iraqis and Somalis...
Further details, and a brief news-summary video at the Al Jazeera link.

Sunspot

The most detailed photo ever of a sunspot, taken by the solar telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory.

Photo: BBSO/Ciel et Espace Photos

"Ask your liberal friends why they're Nazis"


Glen Urquhart is the Republican Party 2010 candidate for the United States House of Representatives seat in Delaware.
“Do you know, where does this phrase ’separation of church and state’ come from?” Urquhart asked at a campaign event last April. “It was not in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. … The exact phrase ’separation of Church and State’ came out of Adolph Hitler’s mouth, that’s where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they’re Nazis.
And of course the phrase "a wall of separation between Church and State" WAS in Jefferson's letter to the Baptists, which is cited in full at Below the Beltway.

Via Reddit, where the Nazi/church relations are discussed.

"Strong enough to hold a horse."

An advertisement from 1917, when fresh air was considered to be useful in preventing/curing tuberculosis. 

Found at Centuries of Advice and Advertisement.

A hat tip to the Pope's astronomer

Guy Consolmagno, who is one of the pope's astronomers, said he would be "delighted" if intelligent life was found among the stars...

...he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. "Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul." Would he baptise an alien? "Only if they asked."

...Responding to Hawking's recent comments that the laws of physics removed the need for God, Consolmagno said: "Steven Hawking is a brilliant physicist and when it comes to theology I can say he's a brilliant physicist."

He dismissed the ideas of intelligent design – a pseudoscientific version of creationism. "The word has been hijacked by a narrow group of creationist fundamentalists in America to mean something it didn't originally mean at all.

The pope's astronomer said the Vatican was keen on science and admitted that the church had got it "spectacularly wrong" over its treatment of the 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei.
Photo credit David Sillitoe/Guardian.

Gummi Bear


This one is reacting with potassium chlorate, but approximately the same thing happens with your teeth...
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