28 August 2011

I'm taking a break

Need to attend to family matters again.  Blogging will resume ~Thursday.

Laver's Law

From the Wikipedia entry on James Laver and his "law" of the public's attitude toward fashion (via Sentence First):

Indecent 10 years before its time
Shameless 5 years before its time
Outré (Daring) 1 year before its time
Smart 'Current Fashion'
Dowdy 1 year after its time
Hideous 10 years after its time
Ridiculous 20 years after its time
Amusing 30 years after its time
Quaint 50 years after its time
Charming 70 years after its time
Romantic 100 years after its time
Beautiful 150 years after its time

Image source, via Lushlight.

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"


I didn't realize that nowadays books are promoted through the use of trailers. You learn something every day.  This is the trailer for "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children."
As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
I seem to be late in discovering the book; when I requested it from our library tonight, I found that I'm now 263rd on the hold list (so don't expect a review of the book from me anytime soon...)

The trailer is good, but even more interesting is the video about the making of the trailer.  You can view that video at The Centered Librarian.

The NYC hurricane (of 1954)

When I saw this photo at Black and WTF, I thought the man was trying to hold the tree up.  Such was not the case -
1954 - A passerby holds on to a tree for support as hurricane swept waves hammer the sea wall adjacent to the Belt Parkway near 72nd Street in Brooklyn. The New York area and the New Jersey coastline were battered by Hurricane Carol...
- but it still looks like that to me.

The Sylphina Angel butterfly

When seen in flight the transparent wings of this exquisite butterfly reflect a myriad of glittering colours - a kaleidoscope of iridescent green, blue, pink and golden hues that hold the observer spellbound as it flickers it's wings in bright sunlight. As it flutters rapidly around bushes and shrubs it could easily be mistaken for a damselfly, and it is not until it settles under a leaf and stops fluttering that it reveals its true identity.
Source, via.

16 feet

From Ptak Science Books, a discussion of an early woodcut:
...a delightful woodcut from Jacob Koebel's 1522 Von Ursprung der Teilung, Mass und Messung dess Ertrichs, der Ecker, Wyngarten, Krautgarten und anderer Velder..., an early surveying handbook (probably the first ever printed in Germany) that could be used to measure and set out (as stated in its title) herb gardens, vineyards, farms and the like. I'm not 100% sure of this, but I think what is going on in this image is the measuring of a rod (or "rute" in German), which is about 5.5 meters or 16 feet; and what we have in the picture is 16 men being positioned over a measuring device...
And this from Wikipedia's discussion of the "foot" measurement:
The popular belief is that the original standard was the length of a man's foot... The average foot length is about 9.4 inches (240 mm) for current Europeans. Approximately 99.6% of British men have a foot that is less than 12 inches long. One attempt to "explain" the "missing" inches is that the measure did not refer to a naked foot, but to the length of footwear, which could theoretically add an inch or two to the naked foot's length. This is consistent with the measure being convenient for practical uses such as building sites. People almost always pace out lengths while wearing shoes or boots...
It appears to me that Koebel is recommending that instead of taking an arbitrary person's foot, it would be better to assemble 16 men to create the standard of measurement, thereby improving the consistency of the measurement from town to town.

Alveolar capillaries


This image by Oliver Meckes was awarded the Second Place prize in the 2011 FEI-sponsored contest for best electron microscopic photography.  I've elected to embed this one rather than the winning image, because this one depicts the absolutely jaw-dropping complexity and intricacy of the air-blood interface in mammalian lungs.  The exact configuration would depend on the relative intravascular and intrapulmonary pressures at the time the image was taken, but to those familiar with the general biology of the lungs, this image shows the unimaginable thinness of the alveolar-capillary membrane (and the critical importance the erythrocyte deformability).  (The yellow blobs are presumably alveolar macrophages patrolling the alveolus to remove microorganisms and particulate matter).

The explosive growth of student loans

From an article at The Atlantic:
The growth in student loans over the past decade has been truly staggering. Here's a chart based on New York Federal Reserve data for household debt. The red line shows the cumulative growth in student loans since 1999. The blue line shows the growth of all other household debt except for student loans over the same period...

Obviously the number of students didn't grow by 511%. So why are education loans growing so rapidly? One reason could be availability. The government's backing lets credit to students flow very freely. And as the article from yesterday noted, universities are raising tuition aggressively since students are willing to pay more through those loans...

All this college debt could put the U.S. on a slower growth path in the years to come. As Americans grapple with high student loan payments for the first few decades of their adult lives, they'll have less money to spend and invest. All that money flowing into colleges and universities is being funneled away from other industries where it would have been spent in future years.

Great Global Treasure Hunt, €50,000 prize

This new treasure hunt is similar to the 1979 "Masquerade" fiasco, and requires the purchase or perusal of a newly-published book:
Inside its covers are 14 mind-and-imagination-stretching puzzles, ranging from the fairly easy to the super-fiendish. But these aren’t just any puzzles. Solve all 14, and you’ll find that the answers form the clues to the final puzzle – an exact location on Google Earth – thereby winning yourself a €50,000 (£43,740) cash prize...

The form that solution takes is, in fact, a series of numbers, except that their significance is not mathematical, but geographical. For between them, they express, in ultra-precise latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, a small point on the globe, measuring no more than 20 sq ft. 
More  at The Telegraph, which offers a "practice" treasure hunt based on the image above, the solving of which can win you a BA trip for two to the destination indicated by the image embedded above.
“Consider the torch, the empty birdcage, the Buddhist statue, the little drawing pinned to the wall. Not to mention the configuration of the curtains and spots on the dominoes, and other symbols and conformations.” 
Larger image here.

Chinese gymnast

Credit Quirky China News / Rex Features, via The Telegraph.

"Bubble cloud" seen near Beijing


As reported by ITN (Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath) :
One observer at the Beijing Planetarium described what he saw: "At first, it's relatively small and bright, the upper part is something like a semi-circle, a spherical ring of light, it's obviously becoming bigger and bigger then." The object, which appeared in the sky for fifteen minutes, gradually became bigger and thinner.
This looked very familiar to me, so I searched this morning, and finally found links to reports of a similar phenomenon observed in Hawaii earlier this summer.  Here's how it was reported by Discover Magazine:
The footage is from a webcam mounted outside the CFHT astronomical observatory in Hawaii... You see some stars and the horizon, then suddenly an ethereal pale arc pops into view. It rapidly expands into a thin circular shell, then fades away as it fills the view. The whole thing takes a few minutes to expand; you can see the stars moving during the event...

I blurred the image just a bit to reduce some of the noisy background, and what leaps out is that the expanding halo is limb-brightened, like a soap bubble, and fades with time. That strongly points toward something like a sudden impulse of energy and rapid expansion of material, like an explosion of some kind. Note that the ring itself appears to be moving, as if whatever caused it was moving rapidly as well. It took me a minute after watching the video to remember the bizarre Norway spiral from a couple of years ago, a phenomenal light show caused by an out-of-control rocket booster jetting out fuel in space...

Asterisk board member calvin 737 was the first to suggest it might be related to a Minuteman III missile launch around that time. As more people on the forum dug into it, the timing was found to be right. The missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base (in California) at 03:35 Hawaii time, just minutes before the halo was seen...

...the missile is above most of the Earth’s atmosphere, essentially in space. So when that gas is suddenly released from the stage expands, it blows away from the missile in a sphere. Not only that, the release is so rapid it would expand like a spherical shell — which would look like a ring from the ground (the same way a soap bubble looks like a ring). And not only that, but the expanding gas would be moving very rapidly relative to the ground since the missile would’ve been moving rapidly at this point in the flight. 
More at the link, including video of the Hawaiian event.  As a side note, I wonder how much missile fuel is ejected above our planet each year, and what cumulative effect is has on the atmosphere (and on us)...  [Addendum:  see David's info in the Comments].

26 August 2011

Cave spider hides in sand


Reminds me of a child pulling a blanket over his/her head and saying "now you can't see me." But perhaps there was more burying not included in this video clip.

One BILLION vehicles in the world

As reported by Ward's Auto:
The number of vehicles in operation worldwide surpassed the 1 billion-unit mark in 2010 for the first time ever. According to Ward’s research, which looked at government-reported registrations and historical vehicle-population trends, global registrations jumped from 980 million units in 2009 to 1.015 billion in 2010...

The market explosion in China played a major role in overall vehicle population growth in 2010, with registrations jumping 27.5%. Total vehicles in operation in the country climbed by more than 16.8 million units, to slightly more than 78 million, accounting for nearly half the year’s global increase. The leap in registrations gave China the world’s second-largest vehicle population, pushing it ahead of Japan, with 73.9 million units, for the first time.

India’s vehicle population underwent the second-largest growth rate, up 8.9% to 20.8 million units, compared with 19.1 million in 2009. Brazil experienced the second largest volume increase after China, with 2.5 million additional vehicle registrations in 2010.

U.S. registrations grew less than 1% last year, but the country’s 239.8 million units continued to constitute the largest vehicle population in the world.
Data such as these have not deterred presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann from promising $2.00 gasoline if she is elected president (via Cynical-C):
An interesting article at MinnPost discusses what she would have to do to fulfill that promise.
A president of the United States can drive gasoline prices down, and the promise to do so is not new... likely, she is looking at Newt Gingrich's plan from 2008. Gingrich proposed opening up the spigots on the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve and dumping the whole stockpile on the open market... But once you have emptied the 727 million barrels of crude from the SPR on the market, which the world would drink up in a month (faster, if cheaper), there would be nothing left in the strategic tank... the price of gasoline at the pump would fall below $2 a gallon for about a week before oil investors figured out it was only a political gag... Of course, she could, with Congress's help, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. That would cause a slight lowering of prices for a short time. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there are roughly 7 billion barrels of recoverable crude in the ANWR. Americans consume more than 20 million barrels of petroleum a day. So if we kept all that oil for ourselves, we would use every last drop of it within a year...
More discussion at the link re shale oil recovery, etc.

Credit for top and second images.

Why the birdbath turns red

It happens every summer, at least at our house.  The water in the bird bath starts to turn red, obviously contaminated by some microorganism carried in by the birds.  It takes a good soaking in bleach to get it clean, and has to be repeated several times.  Applying my C+onthefinalexam knowledge of microbiology, I assumed the culprit was Pseudomonas aeruginosa, but this week I stumbled across an article about Hematococcus:
This member of the Volvocales is usually encountered by people who have the good sense to install birdbaths in their gardens. Very often the first indication that something strange is happening is that the water begins to change to an orange-red colour. If you're lucky enough to have a microscope at hand a strange sight awaits you. The culprit for this unusual coloration is a micro-organism called Haematococcus pluvialis. The red colour is due to the pigment called astaxanthin, which possibly protects the organism from the harsh sunlight, especially the ultraviolet rays from the Sun...

It has been my experience that whenever these micro-organisms are found they nearly always appear to be in a state of encystment at the bottom of the bird bath. Only when the cell is placed under the cover slip does it appear to come to life. It is remarkable that this organism can withstand extremes of climate, many bird baths completely dry up for long periods of time... Eric Hollowday wrote a small piece stating that there are recorded instances of these animals being kept dry for up to 7 years in the laboratory

The back-story of "Charlotte's Web"

From a review of a new book in the Barnes and Noble Review:
Fifty-nine years after its publication, Charlotte's Web is the bestselling children's book in U.S. history...  E. B. White managed, without pomposity, preachiness, or condescension, to encompass issues of mortality and the power of both friendship and the written word...

How did he do it? That's the question Michael Sims set out to answer in The Story of Charlotte's Web, which offers an engaging, distilled, highly focused biography of White...
Elwyn Brooks White showed an early proclivity toward writing and was heavily influenced by what he called "the ecstasy of loneliness" in Thoreau's Walden and the typing cockroach named Archy created by newspaper columnist Don Marquis
... At Cornell, White picked up the nickname Andy as well as the imperative to "Omit needless words!" from Professor William Strunk, Jr., whose seminal handbook, The Elements of Style, White would later revise...

[The focus of the book is on] life on the farm in North Brooklin, Maine, where White and his wife, New Yorker editor Katharine Angell White, eventually relocated... Upset over the death of a pig he had nursed, he wrote in an essay for Harper's magazine, "The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig." In Charlotte's Web, he could make the pig live... He explains the import of several names, including Charlotte A. Cavatica, from the genus Aranea cavatica; verdantly symbolic Fern Arable; and the allusion to ancient Greeks in Arcadia in Doctor Dorian...

With clarity and lack of stuffiness worthy of his subject, Sims succinctly sums up Charlotte's Web's major themes: "Mortality stalked the scene from the first line: 'Where is Papa going with that ax?' The farm animals spoke with casual familiarity of trouble and death…. But overall Andy's theme was the joy of being alive, of reveling in the moment with visceral attention." 
I haven't read Michael Sims' book, so this post doesn't go in the recommended books category, but the book does sound interesting.

Does rigid church doctrine drive away young people?

There is good evidence that an increasing number of young Europeans and Americans characterize themselves as atheist.  Here's some speculation about the reason for that trend:
In a society that's increasingly tolerant and enlightened, the big churches remain stubbornly entrenched in the past, clinging to medieval dogmas about gay people and women, presuming to lecture their members about how they should vote, whom they should love, how they should live. It's no surprise that people who've grown up in this tolerant age find it absurd when they're told that their family and friends don't deserve civil rights, and it's even less of a surprise that, when they're told they must believe this to be good Christians, they simply walk away.

This trend is reflected in the steadily rising percentages of Americans who say that religion is "old-fashioned and out of date" and can't speak to today's social problems. The Roman Catholic church in particular has been hit hard by this. According to a 2009 Pew study, "Faith in Flux," one in ten American adults is a former Catholic, and a majority of ex-Catholics cite unhappiness with the church's archaic stance on abortion, homosexuality, birth control or the treatment of women as a major factor in their departure. But evangelical and other Protestant denominations are feeling the same sting. According to a survey by the sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, moderates and progressives are heading for the exits as the churches increasingly become the domain of conservatives... 
I would argue that the same general principles are driving young Americans away from participation in the major political parties.  As the Democrats and Republicans dig in their heels and ruthlessly adhere to uncompromising adherence to certain governing patterns, young and educated voters are turning their backs and increasingly self-identifying as "independents."

More (re the first topic) at AlterNet, via The Dish.

Something round under the ground at King's Knot

Archaeologists using remote sensing devices have found evidence of a round subsurface structure at the fabled "King's Knot" at Stirling Castle.  As reported in The Telegraph:
Though the Knot as it appears today dates from the 1620s, its flat-topped central mound is thought to be much older. Writers going back more than six centuries have linked the landmark to the legend of King Arthur.
Archaeologists from Glasgow University, working with the Stirling Local History Society and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society, conducted the first ever non-invasive survey of the site in May and June in a bid to uncover some of its secrets. Their findings were show there was indeed a round feature on the site that pre-dates the visible earthworks...
Around 1375 the Scots poet John Barbour said that "the round table" was south of Stirling Castle, and in 1478 William of Worcester told how "King Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle". Sir David Lindsay, the 16th century Scottish writer, added to the legend in 1529 when he said that Stirling Castle was home of the "Chapell-royall, park, and Tabyll Round".

It has also been suggested the site is partly Iron Age or medieval, or was used as a Roman fort.
Further details at the link. Photo via Archaeology News Network.

25 August 2011

Harvesting the blood of horseshoe crabs

One may wonder why the horseshoe crab is sensitive to endotoxin and, furthermore, how does the crab benefit from this phenomenon? As we know, seawater is a virtual "bacterial soup". Typical near-shore areas that form the prime habitat of the horseshoe crab can easily contain over one billion Gram-negative bacteria per milliliter of seawater. Thus, the horseshoe crab is constantly threatened with infection. Unlike mammals, including humans, the horseshoe crab lacks an immune system; it cannot develop antibodies to fight infection. However, the horseshoe crab does contain a number of compounds that will bind to and inactivate bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The components of LAL are part of this primitive "immune" system. The components in LAL, for example, not only bind and inactivate bacterial endotoxin, but the clot formed as a result of activation by endotoxin provides wound control by preventing bleeding and forming a physical barrier against additional bacterial entry and infection. It is one of the marvels of evolution that the horseshoe crab uses endotoxin as a signal for wound occurrence and as an extremely effective defense against infection.
Photo via Fresh Photons, but to read about this, I recommend the Horseshoecrab.org website.

Addendum:  A related story in the Washington Post in May 2012 reports at least an apparent temporary recovery in crab numbers.

The twin rate in the U.S. has skyrocketed

The twin boom can be explained by changes in when and how women are getting pregnant. Demographers have in recent years described a "delayer boom," in which birth rates have risen among the sort of women—college-educated—who tend to put off starting a family into their mid-30s or beyond. There are now more in this group than ever before: In 1980, just 12.8 percent of women had attained a bachelor's degree or higher; by 2010, that number had almost tripled, to 37 percent. And women in their mid-30s have multiple births at a higher rate than younger women. A mother who is 35, for example, is four times more likely than a mother who is 20 to give birth to twins...
Better-educated, richer parts of the country do produce more twins than anywhere else. Connecticut, for example, is the wealthiest state in the union (its residents made an average of $56,272 per capita in 2008) and it ranks in the top three when it comes to education (35.6 percent of its residents held a bachelor's degree). It's also in the top three for the availability of IVF clinics, with 2.52 per 1 million residents. And its twinning rate—43 for every 1,000 live births—is third in the nation...

...it turns out that black mothers are more likely to have twins than those of any other racial group. It has been known for decades that levels of FSH production differ among subpopulations in the U.S. and overseas. Black women in African countries produce more FSH than anyone else, and they have the highest fraternal twinning rate in the world. Women in East Asian countries, on the other hand, have the lowest FSH-levels and produce few twins. 
More at the Salon article. Image via.

90% of people can't search a web page

[According to a search anthropolist at Google] 90 percent of people in their studies don't know how to use CTRL/Command + F to find a word in a document or web page!..

"90 percent of the US Internet population does not know that. This is on a sample size of thousands," Russell said. "I do these field studies and I can't tell you how many hours I've sat in somebody's house as they've read through a long document trying to find the result they're looking for. At the end I'll say to them, 'Let me show one little trick here,' and very often people will say, 'I can't believe I've been wasting my life!'"
From Alexis Madrigal's column at The Atlantic.

Crocoite

The name comes from the Greek krokos, meaning “saffron,” a reference to the bright red-orange color of the mineral, which typically forms prismatic crystals sometimes two or more inches in length...

Its chemical formula is PbCrO4... The mineral was first described scientifically after its discovery in the 1760s in Berezovskoe, a gold-mining district on the east slope of Russia’s Ural Mountains. Frank Mihajlowits mined the specimen above in the 1970s at the Adelaide Mine in the Dundas area of Tasmania, Australia... the Honorable Sir Guy Stephen Montague Green, proclaimed the adoption of crocoite as the mineral emblem of Tasmania...
Source.

Zoo animals went bonkers before the earthquake

From a report in the Washington Post:
It happened a little before 2 p.m. Primate keeper K.C. Braesch was standing just a few feet away when Iris emitted a loud, guttural cry, known to scientists as belch-vocalizing. Iris then scrambled to the top of her enclosure...

...a gorilla, Mandara, shrieked and grabbed her baby, Kibibi, racing to the top of a climbing structure just seconds before the ground began to shake dramatically. Two other apes — an orangutan, Kyle, and a gorilla, Kojo — already had dropped their food and skedaddled to higher turf...

The 64 flamingos seemed to sense the tumult a number of seconds in advance as well, clustering together in a nervous huddle before the quake hit. One of the zoo’s elephants made a low-pitched noise as if to communicate with two other elephants. And red-ruffed lemurs emitted an alarm cry a full 15 minutes before the temblor, the zoo said. During the quake, the zoo grounds were filled with howls and cries. The snakes, normally inert in the middle of the day, writhed and slithered. Beavers stood on their hind legs and then jumped into a pond. Murphy the Komodo dragon ran for cover. Lions resting outside suddenly stood up and stared at their building as the walls shook. Damai, a Sumatran tiger, leaped as if startled but quickly settled down. Some animals remained agitated for the rest of the day, wouldn’t eat and didn’t go to sleep on their usual schedule... 
I love stories like this.

President Obama's summer reading list

A variety of sites are discussing the books President Obama has chosen to read during his vacation at Martha's Vineyard.  Here's some commentary from the National Review:
According to reports from the Los Angeles Times and the AP, Obama purchased five books on his trip to the Vineyard bookseller Bunch of Grapes: Marianna Baer’s Frost, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Daniel Woodrell’s The Bayou Trilogy, Emma Donoghue’s Room, and Ward Just’s Rodin’s Debutante. The second wave came when, according to Alexis Simendinger, White House aides listed for reporters the three books Obama brought with him to the Vineyard: two more novels — Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone and David Grossman’s To the End of the Land — and one nonfiction work — Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration...

Assuming that Brave New World and Frost are for his daughters, this leaves six books that are presumably for presidential consumption, and they may constitute the oddest assortment of presidential reading material ever disclosed, for a number of reasons. First, five of the six are novels, and the near-absence of nonfiction sends the wrong message for any president, because it sets him up for the charge that he is out of touch with reality...

Beyond the issue of fiction vs. nonfiction, there is also the question of genre. The Bayou Trilogy has received excellent reviews, but it is a mystery series. While there is nothing wrong with that per se, not every presidential reading selection is worth revealing to the public...

The Grossman novel, which is about an Israeli woman who hikes to avoid hearing bad news about her soldier son, could create complications for Obama on the Israel front. Grossman is a well-known critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, so reading this novel will likely not assuage those concerned about Obama’s views on the Middle East. While the fiction-heavy aspect of the list is something new, the liberal authors should come as no surprise. Obama, like other Democratic presidents, has tended to read mainly liberal books, although he could stand to gain some insight from conservative ones...

This year’s list suggests that Obama needs to consider the messages sent by his reading more carefully. According to Mickey Kaus, the Obama list is “heavy on the wrenching stories of immigrant experiences, something the President already knows quite a bit about.” For this reason, Kaus feels that the list reveals an intellectually incurious president. Either that, or it is “a bit of politicized PR BS designed to help the President out.” In that case, he notes, “it’s sending the wrong message.” Either way, the annual book list should be a relatively easy way to make the president appear to be on top of things and in control. This year’s list, alas, reveals a president who appears to be neither. 
Good grief.  He's on vacation, and being criticized for reading fiction and mysteries.  Lighten up.

I hope nobody gets hold of my reading list.  More at the link.  And his reading selections from previous years is depicted in a graphic here.

Image credit: Zoe Pollock.

Disce aut discede

"Learn or leave" - a good motto for a school.

Image: The Royal College of Columbo in Sri Lanka.  The motto is also used at other schools.

Packing a wound with peppercorns

Sounds like a medieval torture, but it apparently has been conventional folk medicine practice for centuries, including at the first Indianapolis 500 race, as reported in the June issue of the Smithsonian magazine:
Taken to a local hospital, the men involved in the incident at mile 240 were found to have serious but not life-threatening injuries... After being carried to the enclosure, Greiner had likely received the standard Speedway hospital treatment: his wounds packed with black peppercorns to deter infection and bandaged with bed linen donated by local citizens. He had probably been given a few stiff belts of rye whiskey as well; he seemed serene and reflective... 
A quick search revealed a reference to pepper in wounds in volume 42 of The Sacred Books of the East:
"The pepper-corn cures the wounds that have been struck by missiles, it also cures the wounds from stabs.  Anent it the gods decreed: 'Powerful to secure life this (plant) shall be!'"
And from Wikipedia:
Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II, placed there as part of the mummification rituals shortly after his death in 1213 BCE... 
And a final footnote:
It is commonly believed that during the Middle Ages, pepper was used to conceal the taste of partially rotten meat. There is no evidence to support this claim, and historians view it as highly unlikely: in the Middle Ages, pepper was a luxury item, affordable only to the wealthy, who certainly had unspoiled meat available as well. In addition, people of the time certainly knew that eating spoiled food would make them sick.
Photo credit Sage Ross.

General Electric moves its xray business to China

As noted at the Cafferty File:
"...this move is just part of a broader plan by GE to invest $2 billion in China. This will become the first GE business to be headquartered there. A handful of the unit's top executives will be transferred to China but otherwise, the company says, none of the 150 staffers in the Milwaukee-area facility will lose jobs or be transferred. However, GE plans to hire more than 65 engineers and a support staff at a new facility in China.

It's the kind of news that makes you want to reach for something sharp and jab it in your eye. General Electric's Chief Executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is one of President Obama's advisers on… ready? U.S. job creation!

22 August 2011

"Curvy"

A flash game in which you convert a pattern such as the top one into the bottom one, by clicking on the hexagons to rotate them.  Each pattern appears to have a unique solution.  I found it to be interesting, but frankly not very challenging.

The images above are only embeds; the game is at this link.  Via Neatorama.

A very disturbing video

 

The incident that happens at 1:30 appears inadvertent, but the response is inappropriately cavalier.  And the child's morbid obesity suggests an ongoing problem with nutrition.  I feel like I'm watching child abuse.

Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

A Spanish "can of worms"

"...it's baby eels in garlic oil. Except it's fake baby eels - producto de la pesca transformado - it's a surimi product (like crab sticks) - white fish processed with egg and milk protein - in this case, into little wormy shapes..."
More pix and text at Atomic Shrimp, with a hat tip to Amy.

"Dominionism" explained

Excerpts from a column by Michele Goldberg at The Daily Beast:
Of the three most plausible candidates for the Republican nomination, two are deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism. If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn’t optional. Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult...

In many ways, Dominionism is more a political phenomenon than a theological one. It cuts across Christian denominations, from stern, austere sects to the signs-and-wonders culture of modern megachurches...

“‘Dominion theologians,’ as they are called, lay great emphasis on Genesis 1:26–7, where God tells Adam to assume dominion over the animate and inanimate world,” wrote the scholar Garry Wills... “When man fell, his control over creation was forfeited; but the saved, who are restored by baptism, can claim again the rights given Adam.”..

Bachmann is close to Truth in Action Ministries; last year, she appeared in one of its documentaries, Socialism: A Clear and Present Danger. In it, she espoused the idea, common in Reconstructionist circles, that the government has no right to collect taxes in excess of 10 percent, the amount that believers are called to tithe to the church...

In elaborating Bachmann’s Dominionist history, though, it’s important to point out that she is not unique. Perry tends to be regarded as marginally more reasonable than Bachmann, but he is as closely associated with Dominionism as she is, though his links are to a different strain of the ideology... “The New Apostles talk about taking dominion over American society in pastoral terms,”..

If Bush eroded the separation of church and state, the GOP is now poised to nominate someone who will mount an all-out assault on it. We need to take their beliefs seriously, because they certainly do.
More at the link.

"Don't Worry Baby" (The Beach Boys, 1964)


The 1960s were my high school and college years, so the music of the Beach Boys was an integral part of my life. There was obviously no "surf culture" in Minnesota, and the car-related lyrics didn't strike a chord with me, but the tunes became earworms, and some - like the embed above - had quite impressive harmonics.  Two decades later when I was working for a living I flew to San Diego for a convention, rented a car, and as I drove out of the airport I turned on the radio to be greeted by a Beach Boys song.  It is a moment I will never forget.

Looking back at the video of the song (and the Dick Clark interview), it's incredible how unsophisticated and innocent they seem (and how badly they lip-synch).  The post below this one is my favorite Aerosmith song.  Less than a decade separates the two.  Amazing.

"Dream On" (Aerosmith, 1973)


Sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, if it's just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away...
In a 2011 interview, Steven Tyler reminisced about his father, a Juilliard-trained musician, and recalled "lying beneath his dad's piano as a three-year-old, listening to him play classical music. That's where I got that Dream On chordage," he said.
Posted as a contrast to the preceding Beach Boys vide.

Maybe you shouldn't talk to your health care provider

During Susan Scholbrock’s annual physical at UW Health... she had a nice chat with the nurse practitioner. And that was that.

In the mail came a bill for $49.88, approximately 20 percent of the cost of her visit.  However, her insurance company is supposed to pay 100 percent for a physical.

Scholbrock noted that the physical was coded as an “Outpatient Office Visit,” for which, indeed, her insurance company only pays 80 percent.

She called billing to report a coding error... but was told that the visit was submitted as a physical, and her insurance company did pay 100 percent. Since she and the nurse practitioner discussed health in areas not covered in a physical because they are not preventive, there were two charges, not one. So she was charged for two appointments.

“Who knew,” she said, “that talking about one’s health during a physical is not part of a physical and not preventive?”
Ridiculous.  Further details at the Wisconsin State Journal.

Anyone can offer free wi-fi


Source unknown; via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

The "checkershadow" illusion

Four years ago I blogged an image of the checkershadow illusion.  Now a video version is available.

Via PharmaGossip.

This is Mahatma Kane Jeeves

He often contributed to the scripts of his films, under unusual pseudonyms such as... "Mahatma Kane Jeeves", a play on mahatma and on a phrase an aristocrat might use when about to leave the house: "My hat, my cane, Jeeves".

18 August 2011

Butterflies of south central Wisconsin

The combination of family activities and the perturbations of the stock market have kept me totally busy this week, and there likely will be no respite for a few more days, but thought I'd take a moment tonight to at least share some pix taken last weekend during a field trip with the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association to the area in south central Wisconsin marked on this map.

The top embed is a photo of a Giant Swallowtail. This has historically been a butterfly of the southern United States, since its preferred food plants are citrus trees.  Until a few years ago they were seldom seen in Wisconsin, but last year they appeared across much of the state, and this year they have been relatively abundant; we saw them nectaring on flowers in our back yard almost daily in late July/early August.  They are capable of using some northern trees (prickly ash) as food plants for their caterpillars, and even though none of us have seen the larva here, we suspect from the number we're seeing that they are probably reproducing locally (some would argue that changes in the phenology like this are reflections of global warming, which we won't get into with this post).

These are large, handsome butterflies - the largest in our state (about the size of a small bird) and it's a real treat to see their powerful flight.  When they're absorbed by their nectaring activity you can sneak up to with a couple feet and get nice photos of them (though they seldom hold their wings still).  This particular field had wildflowers, including Joe Pye Weed, that were over 6 feet high, so it was easy to stalk the butterflies.
Another uncommon "immigrant" butterfly now being spotted with increasing frequency is the Common Sootywing, shown above.  In contrast to the Giant Swallowtails, these are subtle creatures that fly close to the ground and whose dark colors blend in well with the landscape.  We found this one "puddling" for minerals at wet spots on a gravel path on the margins of a shady woods. 
Also on gravel, and right next to a busy highway, was this Eastern Comma.  Its name is derived from the shape of that little white mark on the underside of the hind wing (its near-relative, the Question Mark, has a slightly differently curved white mark).  I was surprised that he let me get my camera lens within a couple inches of him for the portrait, but then discovered that he wasn't going anywhere because he was injured and/or dying.  Perhaps had been hit by a car, or just reaching old age.  I was actually able to pick him up because he was too weak to fly away.
This guy wasn't weak at all.  I've been wanting for a long time to get a good photo of the metallic blue dorsum of the wings of a Red-spotted Purple.  Last year I had photographed the underside of the wings of one in our back yard:
This one was displaying the fairly typical behavior of seeking minerals from a gravel road, but he was healthy and cautious, and not about to let me approach him.  Every time I got within telephoto lens distance he launched himself in the air further down the road; I suppose I followed him about a half mile before I was able to get a reasonable photo.

On this field trip we saw 20 other species (!).  I'll spare you the details, and just close with this little fellow:
I had never seen a Common Checkered-Skipper before.  He comes from the Spread-wing Skipper family, whose butterflies tend to be rather inconspicuous in their coloration, but this one's salt-and-pepper pattern is quite striking.  The color in the image isn't quite accurate because of the glare of the sun on his wings, but it was the best I could do before he disappeared into the weeds again.

This trip to the Avoca area was likely the most productive one of the season in terms of varieties of butterflies seen.  There's one more field trip on August 27 to the Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton, Wisconsin.  Any TYWKIWDBI readers in the area are welcome to come along; it's free, and the company is delightful (all these trips are totally weather-dependent, BTW; if it's cloudy/windy/rainy then there's not much point in going).

13 August 2011

The unusual story of Marc Liblin

“In a small town in the foothills of the Vosges [France], a six-year-old boy is visited by dreams in which he is taught a completely unknown language. Little Marc Liblin soon speaks this language fluently without knowing where it comes from or whether it even really exists.

He is a gifted but lonely child, with a thirst for knowledge. In his youth, he lives on books rather than on bread. At the age of thirty-three, he is an outsider living on the fringes of society when he comes to the attention of researchers from the University of Rennes. They want to decipher and translate his language. For two years, they feed the strange sounds he makes into giant computers. In vain.

Eventually, they decide to trawl through the bars by the harbour to see if any of the sailors on shore leave have ever heard the language before. In a bar in Rennes, Marc Liblin gives a solo performance, holding a monologue in front of a group of Tunisians. The barkeeper, a former navy man, interrupts and says he has heard this tongue before, on one of the most remote Polynesian islands [Rapa Iti, pictured above]. And he knows an elderly lady who speaks it; she is divorced from an army officer and now lives in a council estate in the suburbs.

The meeting with the Polynesian woman changes Liblin’s life. When Meretuini Make opens the door, Marc greets her in his language, and she answers straight away in the old Rapa of her homeland. Marc Liblin, who has never been outside Europe, marries the only woman who understands him, and in 1983 he leaves with her for the island where his language is spoken.”
I found this curious story (boldface mine) in an interesting book entitled Atlas of Remote Islands, by Judith Schalansky.  It's a short book you can read quickly in an evening, featuring images and one-page anecdotes about fifty islands around the world.  The island I find most appealing for a "castaway" fantasy is this one - Tikopia (also in the south Pacific).  Look at that beautiful lagoon in the old caldera:

Rapa Iti image from Satellite Imaging Corporation; Tikopia via Wikipedia.

12 August 2011

"A Study in Scarlet" banned in a Virginia school

From a report in Charlottesville's The Daily Progress:
The Albemarle County School Board voted Thursday night to remove Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” from sixth-grade reading lists. A parent of a Henley Middle School student originally challenged the book in May on the grounds that it is derogatory toward Mormons... 

The board based its decision on the recommendation of a committee commissioned to study the Victorian work. In its report, the committee concluded that the book was not age-appropriate for sixth-graders...

“‘A Study in Scarlet’ has been used to introduce students to the mystery genre and into the character of Sherlock Holmes. This is our young students’ first inaccurate introduction to an American religion,” Stevenson told the board. Stevenson suggested replacing the book with Doyle’s fifth novel, “The Hound of the Baskervilles, which, she said, is a better introduction to mystery.
A Study in Scarlet was the original Sherlock Holmes novel; it features the meeting of Holmes and Watson.  This is not the first time the book has been controversial:
According to a 1994 Salt Lake City newspaper article, when Conan Doyle was asked about his depiction of the Latter-day Saints' organization as being steeped in kidnapping, murder and enslavement, he said: "all I said about the Danite Band and the murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that, though it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history. It's best to let the matter rest". However, Conan Doyle's daughter has stated: "You know, father would be the first to admit that his first Sherlock Holmes novel was full of errors about the Mormons". Years after Conan Doyle's death, Levi Edgar Young, a descendant of Brigham Young and a Mormon general authority, claimed that Conan Doyle had privately apologized, saying that "He [Conan Doyle] said he had been misled by writings of the time about the Church".
 Via the StarTribune.

The saddest "Twilight Zone" episode

Fans of The Twilight Zone will almost certainly recognize this studio still of Burgess Meredith in a post-apocalyptic setting -
“The best laid plans of mice and men and Henry Bemis, the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis, in the Twilight Zone.”
Since I've always enjoyed last-man-on-earth fantasies, this episode really appealed to me - until the very conclusion, which was a crushing disappointment (and I think totally unnecessary):
I had totally suppressed my memories of this ending until I was reminded by that photo at the top, which I found at Old Hollywood.

"I see London, I see France..."

A television news program in Tampa Bay, Florida, is reporting that at least some Macy's department stores have the privacy doors in their changing rooms installed backwards.
That means that any employee - or customer - standing up against the door can see inside.  But the person getting changed cannot see out. Macy's acknowledged installing the doors backward as a loss-prevention method... The company appears to have been installing privacy blinds backward for a number of years all across the country, whenever state law allows it. In Florida, 10 News was able to gather video of the compromised privacy from Macy's stores in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Orlando, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, and Naples.  Not every door at every store was inverted, but the majority observed were.
Video at the station's website.  In a followup report they found the same arrangement at a Saks Fifth Avenue store.  

Via The Consumerist, with a hat tip to CCL.

11 August 2011

"Portrait of a young girl"

Portrait of a Young Girl. Adriaen van der Linde.

Posted because I'm curious what the object is she's holding in her right hand.  It might be a toy of some kind, but it appears to be tied around her waist.

Addendum:  Reader xcentric came up with the identity of the item in her hand.  It's a baby rattle/teething toy which is thoroughly explained at the link (a post I wrote (!) for Neatorama last year.)

Image found at Marinni, via Uncertain Times.

Were the nuclear bombs irrelevant to Japan's surrender in WWII ?

Excerpts from an interesting article at Boston.com:
For nearly seven decades, the American public has accepted one version of the events that led to Japan’s surrender...

In recent years, however, a new interpretation of events has emerged. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa - a highly respected historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara - has marshaled compelling evidence that it was the Soviet entry into the Pacific conflict, not Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that forced Japan’s surrender. His interpretation could force a new accounting of the moral meaning of the atomic attack. It also raises provocative questions about nuclear deterrence, a foundation stone of military strategy in the postwar period...

“Hasegawa has changed my mind,” says Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” “The Japanese decision to surrender was not driven by the two bombings.”

Hasegawa and other historians have shown that Japan’s leaders were in fact quite savvy, well aware of their difficult position, and holding out for strategic reasons. Their concern was not so much whether to end the conflict, but how to end it while holding onto territory, avoiding war crimes trials, and preserving the imperial system...

As Hasegawa writes in his book “Racing the Enemy,” the Japanese leadership reacted [to the bombing of Hiroshima] with concern, but not panic... The bombing added a “sense of urgency,” Hasegawa says, but the plan remained the same... Very late the next night, however, something happened that did change the plan. The Soviet Union declared war and launched a broad surprise attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria. In that instant, Japan’s strategy was ruined.

Better to surrender to Washington than to Moscow... By the morning of Aug. 9, the Japanese Supreme War Council was meeting to discuss the terms of surrender. (During the meeting, the second atomic bomb killed tens of thousands at Nagasaki.) On Aug. 15, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally...
Those with an interest in military history will find much more at the Boston.com link.

"You are what you eat"

Father of three Mohamed Babu set up these photographs after his wife, Shameem, showed him some ants that had turned white after sipping on some spilt milk. Dr Babu mixed sugar water with edible colours red, green, blue and yellow...
Found at the Telegraph, via All Creatures [Great and Small].

Second-story man


Via First Time User.  I wondered whether this was actually rideable, but found a video of a 12-foot unicycle being propelled.

Proposed logo for the London 2012 Olympics

One thing that has troubled me about the looting in England, other than the anarchy itself, was the observation often made by commentators that the gangs of youths were targeting sites using social media.  It seemed to me that it would only be a matter of time before someone would call for the power to "shut down the internet" in times of civil strife.

It didn't take long, and the speaker was David Cameron:
"Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media.

Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.

So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."
Text via. Image source.

Skepticism re the "supercommittee"

"The creation of a 12 member committee to preside over $1.5 trillion in spending decisions, and the exclusion of the rest of Congress also means lobbying firms can focus their efforts on an anointed few, which is certainly more manageable for them than having to deal with the entire Congress. Every cut considered will, of course, have a recipient on the other end whose livelihood is being threatened. The probable outcome is that any cuts realized will be more a function of lobbying prowess than the merits or demerits of the actual programs on the chopping block.

Make no mistake – I am enthusiastically for cutting government spending. The goal should be to eventually reduce government down to the size and scope of its constitutional limitations. However, the process of getting there must also be constitutional. Concentrating such special authority to fast track legislation affecting so many special interests to a small, select committee is nothing more than an unprecedented power grab. Only fears of an impending catastrophe could have motivated Members to allow this legislation to be rushed through Congress. The founding fathers had strong feelings about taxation without representation and under no circumstances would they have felt excluding 98% of Congress from fiscal decisions was appropriate.

I see nothing good coming out of this Super Congress. I suspect it will be highly vulnerable to corruption and special interests."
Ron Paul, August 10, 2011

Dylan Ratigan channels Peter Finch

Dylan Ratigan is a television host on MSNBC with rather better-than-typical credentials for reporting on financial news:
Ratigan served as the Global Managing Editor for Corporate Finance at Bloomberg News Service, and before that had covered Mergers and Acquisitions, the U.S. Stock Market and IPOs. At Bloomberg, he co-created and hosted Morning Call for Bloomberg's cable network and the USA Network.  He has served as a contributor to ABC News and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald and Chicago Tribune.
In this 5-minute rant he expresses in no uncertain terms what he considers to be going on with the American economy:
We’ve got a real problem…this is a mathematical fact. Tens of trillions of dollars are being extracted from the United States of America. Democrats aren’t doing it, republicans aren’t doing it, an entire integrated system, banking, trade and taxation, created by both parties over a period of two decades is at work on our entire country right now.
It's worth a listen.  I'm not the first to compare it to the classic rant by Peter Finch in the movie Network (posted below this post).

10 August 2011

The Mother of all Rants

I'm not an angry person, but when I do write a blog entry "ranting" about some perceived injustice or incompetence, I am always reminded of the archetypal rant by Peter Finch in the movie Network (a performance for which he won the Academy Award for best actor). It's amazing to realize that the movie came out 30 years ago.

The segment embedded here is the shortest one I could locate on YouTube. I suspect with the way the U.S. economy and world geopolitics are going, this classic movie scene may be more relevant in the coming year.

Addendum:  Originally posted in January of 2008.  Reposted now to pair up with the Dylan Ratigan rant above.

09 August 2011

The "Twitter" of the 1940s

I was recently helping my mom sort through some old memorabilia.  After completing nursing school she saw an announcement that American Airlines wanted registered nurses (of a certain height and weight, of course) to be their stewardesses.  In 1941 she was a member of their graduating class (fifth from the left in the photo above).

Her assigned route was Chicago-to-New-York and back in a DC-3.  In those days the stewardesses were treated "like royalty," being housed at the Palmer House in Chicago and I think the Plaza in New York.  Limousines transported them between their hotels and the airport.

Non-stop flights were well in the future.  Chicago-to-New York meant a first leg from Chicago to Fort Wayne, Indiana, followed by stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Stewardesses had time to actually cook dinner for the 21 passengers, who had time to read entire books.  The pilot communicated with the passengers using this form:
He would fill in the data (so they would know when to look down to see notable sights), call the stewardess forward and hand it to her.  She would give it to the forwardmost passenger, and then as the form says "Please pass this report to another passenger or ask the stewardess to do so."

My mom saved a couple of these - notably this one -
- and this one:
One supposes that there must have been a buzz of conversation as the notes were passed back row-by-row through the plane, and that these pencilled notes from the pilot must have had a 9/11-type impact on airline passengers of that era.

08 August 2011

Why you can't sneak up on a grasshopper

Assuming these eyes are symmetric front-to-back, this South American grasshopper must have virtually panoramic vision.

Cute face, BTW.

Photo credit to Alex Wild, an entomologist/myrmecologist and the author of the new Compound Eye photography blog at Scientific American.  Via animals, animals, animals.

Ramadan celebrated in Gaza City

A Palestinian boy in Gaza City plays with fireworks to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan [Ali Ali/EPA] 

Photo from a gallery of 25 at Aljazeera, via A London Salmagundi/

The U.S. recession and birth rates

Two graphs I found at Sociological Images.  The top one shows that the fertility rate for U.S. women has fallen during the current recession (this shows correlation, not causality).
This second graph shows that the decline is most prominent among women who have had two children (choosing not to have a third one).  There has been very little change among women having their fourth or subsequent child.  (I just checked - the Duggars had their 19th child in December of 2009.

A third graph at the link suggests a general pattern of greatest fall in fertility in those states with the greatest unemployment increases.

"The Tillman Story" - official trailer

"They lied to the wrong family."
In spite of the best efforts of the White House and the Pentagon, the world would come to know he had been killed in an act of fratricide that was then covered up in favor of a horrible series of official lies.

But that we know the truth at all is owed to the extraordinary determination of Tillman's family, a foulmouthed and eclectic bunch of square-jawed hippies from San Jose, California, and in particular his mother, Mary. A more compliant family, more easily bamboozled by the institutions of American power at the highest levels, might have meekly, or readily, accepted the government's vigorous effort to turn Pat Tillman into a Sergeant York fantasy that it could then exploit relentlessly for propaganda purposes. 
Comments excerpted from a review at Esquire.  Those not familiar with the Pat Tillman saga can review the basics of it at Wikipedia.  My understanding is that the outrage by the family and by knowledgeable members of the public is not directed at the friendly-fire death per se, but on the extensive coverup that ensued.

Storm cloud


Photo taken in Taber, Canada, last month by Pat Kavanagh.  Created by stitching several photos vertically.  Found in the Telegraph.
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