29 May 2014

Kintsugi repair of broken pottery

Most people would like damages to their broken items to be concealed and hidden by repair making the object look like new. But the Japanese art of Kintsugi follows a different philosophy. Rather than disguising the breakage, kintsugi restores the broken item where the damage is incorporated into the aesthetic of the restored item, making it part of the object’s history. Kintsugi uses lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver, platinum, copper or bronze, resulting into something more beautiful than the original.

Kintsugi is said to have originated in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke a favorite tea bowl and sent it back to China to be fixed. But the repair job, which was done with metal staples - being the standard for repair at that time - detracted from the beauty of the bowl. Disappointed, the shogun enlisted a Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more aesthetically pleasing solution, and kintsugi was born...

Collectors of kintsugi are so enamored of the art that some were accused of deliberately smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of kintsugi.
There are additional photos of kintsugi at Amusing Planet.

Addendum:   A reader of this blog has commented that a company in the Netherlands offers as "new kintsugi" kit that allows persons with DIY skills to repair their own broken pottery in kintsugi fashion.

"Death by wheel"


Earlier this week I mentioned that "rabies is near the bottom of my list of preferred ways to die."  Here's something that ranks even lower.
Last October, archaeologists surveying the site of planned road work on federal highway 189 in Groß Pankow, Brandenburg, Germany, unearthed human remains... Further examination revealed the deceased was a man in his mid to late 30s who had been executed on the wheel. His bones are in more than a thousand pieces. This is the first time a skeleton of someone broken on the wheel has been found in Germany, even though judicial execution by wheel was employed in the Holy Roman Empire from the Middle Ages to the 19th century...

Death by wheel was usually a two-stage process. First a large spoked wagon wheel would be slammed onto the large bones of the arms and legs, breaking them in two places each. Then the wheel would strike the spine, breaking it. With the body’s skeletal structure in pieces, the condemned was then tied to the wheel, his limbs woven in and out of the spokes. Finally the wheel was raised on a pike and planted into the ground...
Further details at The History Blog.

Clever Stockholm subway advertisement


 Via Vice, where other "best ads of 2014" have been assembled by Copyranter.

The upside of dementia


Corn "as high as an elephant's eye"

 

A woman above a Minnesota farmer's shoulders, 1916 (before Mosanto's GMO products).

TIL: for the movie Oklahoma "finding "corn as high as an elephant's eye" proved to be quite a challenge. Since filming was to take place out of season, no tall cornfields were to be found anywhere. The job was given to the people of the University of Arizona Agricultural Department, who planted each stalk in individual containers and held their breath. With rain and good luck, the corn grew to a height of 16 feet."

Photograph by A. W. Thompson, National Geographic.

Perhaps he's pining for the fjords...

A court in India has been asked to rule whether a Hindu guru is dead or meditating:
His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj, the founder of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan religious order with a property estate worth an estimated £100 million, died in January, according to his wife and son. 
However, his disciples at his Ashram have refused to let the family take his body for cremation because they claim he is still alive.
According to his followers, based in the Punjab city of Jalandhar, he simply went into a deep Samadhi or meditation and they have frozen his body to preserve it for when he wakes from it.
His body is currently contained in a commercial freezer at their Ashram...

While he is thought to have died from a heart attack, his devotees believe he has simply drifted into a deeper form of the meditation he promotes as a pathway to self-realisation...

According to one of his aides, who asked not to be named, "Maharaj has been in deep meditation. He has spent many years meditating in sub-zero temperatures in the Himalayas, there is nothing unusual in it. He will return to life as soon as he feels and we will ensure his body is preserved until then", he said...

His son Dilip Jha, 40, claims his late father's followers are refusing to release his body as a means of retaining control of his vast financial empire. 

28 May 2014

Rainbow lattice sunstone


Via Reddit, with a hat tip to reader Erik.

Fordite - updated


I have been a rock/mineral/agate collector since childhood, but had never heard of "fordite" until encountering the word this morning in a J-Walk comment thread, where it was the wrong answer to a question. Fordite is an enamel created when paint accumulates and becomes hardened. The name presumably derives from its being harvested from old Ford automobile manufacturing plants.
The original layered automotive paint slag "rough" was made incidentally, years ago, by the now extinct practice of hand spray-painting multiples of production cars in big automotive factories.The oversprayed paint in the painting bays gradually built up on the tracks and skids that the car frames were painted on. Over time, many colorful layers built up there. These layers were hardened repeatedly in the ovens that the car bodies went into to cure the paint. Some of these deeper layers were even baked 100 times. Eventually, the paint build-up would become obstructing, or too thick and heavy, and had to be removed.

As the story goes, some crafty workers with an eye for beauty realized that this unique byproduct was worth salvaging. It was super-cured, patterned like psychedelic agate, and could be cut and polished with relative ease!

Sadly, the techniques that produced this great rough years ago, are no longer in practice. Cars are now painted by way of an electrostatic process that essentially magnetizes the enamels to the car bodies. This leaves little, or no overspray. The old factory methods that created this incredible material are long gone.
Text and photo credit to Fordites.com, where there is a gallery of cabochons.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2009 to add a link to some impressive photos of fordite posted at Bored Panda and at My Modern Met.

"My mother is a fish"


English majors will recognize the title of this post as an enigmatic statement by the child Vardaman in Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying."  I was impressed by the movie, which most modern viewers will not like, because of its unremittingly grim presentation (faithfully reflecting the book).  There is no happy ending, or even any feel-good scenes.  This is the book you read when you're feeling sorry for yourself and need to realize your life is not as dreadful as many others.  And that may be why Franco's movie was never released in theaters, but instead went straight to DVD.

After seeing the movie, I decided to reread the book, which I first encountered about 50 years ago.  Herewith some snippets and tidbits:

Re the source of the book's title, Faulkner cited Agamemnon's speech to Odysseus: "As I lay dying the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes for me as I descended into Hades." (266)

This is the first of Faulkner's books to refer to Yoknapatawpha County.  Mississippi's Lafayette County, where he spent most of his life, "is bounded on the south by the Yocona River.  Some early maps transliterated the river's Chickasaw  name as Yockney-Patafa.  According to Faulkner, it meant 'water runs slow through flat land.'" (267)

"It was nigh toward daybreak when we drove the last nail and toted it [the coffin] into the house... at last they put her into it and nailed it down so he couldn't open the widow on her no more.  And the next morning they found him in his shirt tail, laying asleep on the floor like a felled steer, and the top of the box bored clean full of holes and Cash's new auger broke off in the last one.  When they taken the lid off they found that two of them had bored on into her face." (73) (this detail omitted from the movie version)

Cora speaks to Addie before Addie's death:
"There is your sin.  And your punishment too.  Jewel is your punishment.  But where is your salvation?  And life is short enough," I said, "to win eternal grace in.  And God is a jealous God.  It is His to judge and to mete; not yours."

I know," she said.  "I-----" Then she stopped, and I said,

"Know what?"

"Nothing," she said.  "He is my cross and he will be my salvation.  He will save me from the water and from the fire.  Even though I have laid down my life, he will save me."

"How do you know, without you open your heart to Him and lift your voice in His praise?" I said.  Then I realised that she did not mean God.  I realised that out of the vanity of her heart she had spoken sacrilege.  And I went down on my knees right there.  I begged her to kneel and open her heart and cast from it the devil of vanity and cast herself upon the mercy of the Lord.  But she wouldn't.  She just sat there, lost in her vanity and her pride, that had closed her heart to God and set that selfish mortal boy in His place... (168).
"Pa helps himself and pushes the dish on.  But he does not begin to eat.  His hands are halfclosed on either side of his plate, his head bowed a little, his awry hair standing into the lamplight.  He looks like right after the mail hits the steer and it no longer alive and dont yet know that it is dead." (61)

"We go on, the wagon creaking, the mud whispering on the wheels.  Vernon still stands there.  He watches Jewel as he passes, the horse moving with a light, high-kneed driving gait, three hundred yards back.  We go on, with a motion so soporific, so dreamlike as to be uninferant of progress, as though time and not space were decreasing between us and it." (107)

"The sun, an hour above the horizon, is poised like a bloody egg upon a crest of thunderheads; the light has turned copper: in the eye portentous, in the nose sulphurous, smelling of lightning." (40)

(addressing a horse): "Eat," he says.  "Get the goddamn stuff out of sight while you got a chance, you pussel-gutted bastard." (13)  (referring to the country doctor): “When Peabody comes, they will have to use the rope. He has pussel-gutted himself eating cold greens.” (40) When asked about the phrase in 1957, Faulkner said he had heard it all his life and it meant someone that is bloated (with a citation to an Alabama author's use of the word "puzzle-gutted.")  Despite all my years working with rural Kentuckians, I have never heard that phrase.  I wonder if ultimately it is derived from a corruption of "pustule" for a swelling.

Future Hollywood movies superstar


Following exposure to a bat, I'm now receiving rabies vaccine


On Saturday at the university's emergency room I was injected with the rabies immune globulin, along with the first dose of vaccine.  Second vaccination yesterday.  No symptoms so far, except for an urge to bite someone.*

*the technician who read the DFA of the bat's brain tissue as "indeterminate," thus necessitating the treatment regimen.

23 May 2014

Geode skulls


Presumably carved by aliens, and available at their online store.

"Gekkering" explained


This was good to listen to, because some of the sounds would be disconcerting to hear in a woods if you didn't know what was making them.

I had to look up the word gekker:
"Coined by Scottish zoologist and conservationist David Macdonald in the 1970s, who said in 2014 of gekkering: "I believe it comes from the German word gekkern, and I adapted it, and is probably onomatopoeic".

Bring back phone booths !


This phone booth:
" ...just installed in my mom's office. There's no phone. It's just a soundproof box for using your cell phone."
I am so very, very, very tired of having to listen to other people's phone conversations.

Precision agriculture


This is not your grandfather's tractor:
The techniques, known as precision agriculture, incorporate global positioning systems and digital mapping software linked to machines that apply just the right number of seeds and just the right concentrations of fertilizers and herbicide to get the most out of the fields...

Precision agriculture has gone from largely experimental to mainstream since the mid-1990s, and more technology is on the horizon: narrow robots that chug down corn rows to zap weeds or squirt fertilizer and drones that hover above cropland taking pictures of insect infestations...

Precision agriculture figured out how to produce fertilizer prescriptions tailored to individual fields, Mulla said, so that more nutrients were applied where they were needed and less where they weren’t. He estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of corn and soybean farmers in the Upper Midwest now use variable rate fertilizer systems. The same principle has been followed with herbicides, insecticides and seeds, he said, so that farmers waste less and save more.

Today, variable seed planters and chemical spreaders link to digital mapping programs that automatically adjust to deliver at different rates as they’re driven across a field. Yield monitors measure the number of bushels of corn or soybeans instantly as they’re being harvested in the field. Global positioning systems connect directly to hydraulic steering mechanisms that allow tractors and combines to run on autopilot.
I knew the technology allowed more limited use of fertilizer; I hadn't heard about the yield monitors, but they certainly make sense.  I totally applaud this application of technology to limit the broadcasting of herbicides and fertilizer.

This is an amazing degree of change within one generation.   My mother (95 years old) vividly recalls her experience as a child on a Minnesota farm:
She was born in 1918 to a classic 2nd generation Norwegian immigrant family in southern Minnesota, in an era when children were expected to help work the farm. She wore a huge bonnet in the summer sun, so that neighbors said it looked "like a big hat was driving the rig." She learned to drive that team of horses in a straight line so the cultivating tines wouldn't disturb the planted corn. She was 8 years old at that time.
And she cross-cultivated that corn (north-south, then east-west); now the corn is planted so close together you can't walk across the rows.  The yield of a field is probably 4X as great now just based on number of plants, not to mention the hybridization of the cobs themselves.

It wasn't that long ago that the addition of a plastic "cab" to a tractor to protect the farmer from the elements was an innovation.  Then a radio.  And air-conditioning.  And a cell phone.  Now satellite linkage and computers.  It's a whole new world - within one human generation.  It boggles the mind.

There's more information at the StarTribune article; photo credit Bruce Bisping.

Agricultural drones


From a report at the United Soybean Board:
With the ability to fly over a soybean field and spot insects at the leaf level or identify nitrogen deficiencies within a row, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could revolutionize the way farmers scout and manage their fields...

Everyone focuses on the UAV. It’s really about the data,” says Paul, whose company specializes in the development, leasing and sale of UAVs for academia, agriculture, environmental services and industry. “UAVs will be able to detect the vigor of plants throughout the field and provide detailed information about everything from fertilizer uptake to soil moisture.”

Lifesaving drones


From the Motherboard blog at Vice comes this video offering a different view of drones:
We've seen how drones can be a crucial asset to search and rescue operations, but Iran's RTS Lab has taken an entirely new angle. RTS's Pars drone carries a payload of life preservers that can be delivered to a drowning swimmer far faster than a lifeguard. As we saw in testing in the Caspian Sea, the drone can also work at night, using bright lights, biothermal sensors, and a built-in camera to stream video to rescuers on shore.

The concept works well, and it's an excellent example of how powerful drones—which are cheaper and easier to use than just about any other aerial delivery vehicle—can actually be. Here in the US, where the FAA remains steadfast in its desire to squelch the nascent commercial drone industry, this Iranian drone built of Chinese parts sets an example of what can be done when we set our eyes to the skies to do good.
See also their column on the legality of American commercial drones.

21 May 2014

Three-sided football explained

Mark Dyson, the founder of Deptford Three Sided Football Club (D3FC), told me the game taking place in front of my eyes was not as bizarre as it seemed. “The rules are very simple – and there are only three of them.” They are:
1. There must be three teams on the field at the same time
2. The winning team is the one that concedes the fewest goals
3. The ball must be round 
Danish situationist, artist and philosopher Asger Jorn came up with the idea of three sided football. “Jorn felt that the dualistic antagonisms of the East/West political dialectic could be ameliorated through the introduction of a tertiary power which would engender a rotational series of shifting alliances to neutralise the tension”. 
Further details at The Guardian and at the club's website.

Every polluted river needs one of these

"In an effort to battle the polluted water of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Clearwater Mills' John Kellett and Daniel Chase helped design a solar-paneled, water-powered trash devourer that aims to make the harbor swimmable by 2020.

The Water Wheel works by funneling debris in, pushing the trash onto a conveyer belt and running the loaded conveyer belt into a dumpster. When the dumpster is full, the dock is released, hooked up to a boat and taken to a RESCO waste-to-energy plant, where it is converted to electrical energy."

A 9/11 Memorial bookmark


Offered for sale at the 9/11 Memorial Museum Store (along with a wide variety of other items).  Some people are questioning the appropriateness of such souvenirs.  An artile at The Guardian compares these to souvenirs that can also be purchased at the Auschwitz-Birkenau official online website, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and other similar locales.

Kuwaiti clown car


There must be some kind of visual trickery here, but I don't know how it was done.  Was an image of the van digitally pasted over a bus? When the last man exits the van, his body size seems to change between the back of the vehicle and the doorstep. A trick of perspective, or a clue to the methodology?

Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.  The watermark indicates another via here.

Trash or treasure?


Found in an accumulation of glassware at an auction several weekends ago.  I wanted to get a certain glass kitchen item, but the bidding was for the entire "flat" containing 6-7 pieces.  The other objects in the flat were ordinary juicers and bowls, but this one was unusual.  It appears to be some form of art glass.  The bottom shows no maker marks -


- so I presume this is some home-crafted hobby work in which the artist has painstakingly applied many hundreds of colored glass rectangles to a preformed vase.  The result is visually striking -


- but we have no use for it.  Before bundling it with the other glassware and taking it to Goodwill, I thought I'd show it to the more artistically-inclined readers here to ask if this item conforms to any particular style of American handcrafts.  I'm not under any illusions of it being a valuable piece of studio glass.

"Mind-reading" magic tricks explained

To an observer, it looks like this. The magician is blindfolded and faces a wall while his confederate goes around the audience, asking people to place on a tray any random items that they happen to be carrying with them. Coins, eyeglasses, wrist watches, credit cards--anything at all. Audience members also have the option to select playing cards from a deck.

The confederate then holds up each item silently. No apparent way exists for the confederate to communicate with the magician, but somehow, the magician knows all.
Further details and explanation at Boing Boing.

This isn't your grandfather's football stadium


The video above was used by the management of the Minnesota Vikings in their (successful!) bid to host the 2018 Super Bowl.

As I watched the computer graphics of the pending new stadium, I couldn't help but wonder what the early titans of the game (Vince Lombardi, Bud Grant, George Halas) would have thought about how the NFL has morphed from a game to a business.

"Pay dirt" reconsidered

The term "pay dirt" is in common use and familiar to everyone as a reference to earth or gravel containing gold.  In my experience the idiom has conventionally been used to refer to the discovery of great riches.  But during a recent reading of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, I encountered several passages in which the term carried a more muted connotation:
Moody was not, truth be told, a terribly skilful prospector: he was hoping for nuggets rather than panning for dust.  Too often the ore-bearing gravel slipped through the netting at the bottom of the cradle, only to be washed away; sometimes he emptied his cradle twice over without finding any flakes at all.  He was making what the diggers called "pay dirt," meaning that the sum total of his weekly income was more or less equal to the sum total of his weekly expenditure, but it was a holding pattern he could not sustain. (p. 525)
And again:
"This claim," he said, gesturing.  "Pay dirt only.  Very small gold." (p.531)
We made only pay dirt during our first year in Otago. (p. 709)
As far as I can tell, "pay dirt" is an Americanism that emigrated to the Australian and NZ goldfields.  Whether the connotation changed from vast riches to a sustainable return, or whether the usage in this book simply reflects Catton's understanding of the idiom is unclear to me, but it certainly seems to be a different usage of the term.

18 May 2014

Olympia Marble (Euchloe olympia)


I have been chasing this butterfly for about five years.  Yesterday I finally managed to capture one on film.

The Olympia Marble is not rare or endangered; it is found across the United States in scattered environments suitable for its host plants (rock cress), and it is more secure in Wisconsin than in any other state.  But it can be difficult to photograph.  It is univoltine (one generation a year), with a flight period restricted to a month or two in the spring.  It spends the rest of the summer in the larval stage, then pupates into a chrysalis for the fall and winter, rendering it susceptible to prescribed burns.

For years I have driven a couple hours north of Madison to participate in the early-spring field trip by members of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association to the Bauer-Brockway Barrens State Natural Area to view the sometimes-abundant Olympia Marbles and a variety of elfins and Karner Blues.  Yesterday morning I tracked several dozen Marbles but was - as in previous years - repeatedly frustrated by my inability to get close enough to this butterfly.  In the field, on the wing, the Olympia Marble looks like an all-white butterfly, a vigorous flyer that nectars only briefly.  When it settles, the topside spots (and the wing shape) distinguish it from the common Cabbage White.  But you need to get up close and personal to appreciate the real beauty of this creature on the underside of the forewing, where there is a delicate green marbling pattern.

Yesterday, after two hours of walking through the jack pine woods and sand prairies, I found the fellow at top, who responded to my request that he hold still while I got down on my belly and crept toward him.  With the lens about six inches away from the rock cress blossom that was blowing around on a windy day, I fired off 25-30 pix before I finally got the autofocus to center of the marble's wings rather than the background vegetation.

One more item from my bucket list finished.

"He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead. He fought for survival with the passion of a beast in a trap..."

Google Street View continues to expand its offerings.  You can now virtually explore national parks in the United States and Canada.

The website of Minnesota's DNR links to an EagleCam, where you can monitor the progress of a newly-hatched eaglet.  With an overabundance of caution, they warn that "content may not be suitable for younger viewers."

Daylight savings time introduces a glitch into the birth of twins:  "Allison's time of birth was 1:06 a.m., which makes her 26 minutes older than her brother even though he was born first."

Beware of spam on Google Maps.

Had a rough day?  Compare your life to that of a Romanian living during the Ceausescu regime.  "Part of the sentence was a five-month period of torture by solitary confinement and starvation while wearing 45kg of chains day and night..."

A full-bush Brazilian is "the exact opposite of non-Brazilian bikini waxes, which shape the hair on the pubic mound but leave the undercarriage untouched."

A Salon article describes Shenna Bellows of Maine as "America’s most progressive Senate nominee."

The state of Tennessee will use lottery proceeds to provide free community college education to all high school graduates.

Keyboard tricks for Mac users.

Everyone who has played D&D is familiar with 4-sided dies and 20-sided dies.  Meet the 1-sided die.  (Try to figure out how to make one before you access the link).

"Numbers stations" are shortwave radio stations that are "probably remain the best option for transmitting information to agents in the field, some espionage experts suggest... It is easy. You just send the spies to a country and get them to buy a radio."

A belated happy fifth blogiversary to Rob's Webstek.

If you dislike the Koch brothers, here is more fuel for your fire.

Wikipedia has a page on the history of the two-cent coin.  I have a couple that I acquired as a child, and they have always fascinated me.

A Saudi Arabian prince went on a hunting spree, killing 1,977 rare houbara bustards.  The bird is considered to be at risk of extinction by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

An interesting map shows almost 5 million U.S. Census tracts that have no people living in them (though that doesn't imply they are wastelands or wilderness; some are urban warehouse districts).

Speculation that limitation of lifespan might be in part related to loss of stem cells (and therefore that banking of one's own stem cells might be used to prolong life).

"Normcore" is "the trend among the privileged toward anti-fashion clothes of the kind available at Wal-Mart" (also discussed in this NYT article)
"...kids would rather wear the blah average than try to keep up with an impossibly fragmented youth scene.The subject here is not the youth of America generally, but a very specific subset—the clued-in “über-elites,” the “truly cool,” the jeunesse dorée who are the marketing world’s No. 1 target."
If you are a film buff who has always heard about the Bunuel and Dali's 1929 film "Un Chien Andalou," but have only seen still images of the razor blade slashing the eyeball or the ants emerging from the severed hand, you can now view the movie in its entirety here.

The sentences used for the title of this post are the opening words from one of my favorite sci-fi books, Alfred Bester's acclaimed novel "The Stars My Destination," which continues...
He was delirious and rotting, but occasionally his primitive mind emerged from the burning nightmare of survival into something resembling sanity. Then he lifted his mute face to Eternity and muttered: "What's a matter, me? Help, you goddamn gods! Help, is all."

Blasphemy came easily to him: it was half his speech, all his life. He had been raised in the gutter school of the twenty-fifth century and spoke nothing but the gutter tongue. Of all brutes in the world he was among the least valuable alive and most likely to survive. So he struggled and prayed in blasphemy; but occasionally his raveling mind leaped backward thirty years to his childhood and remembered a nursery jingle:

"Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place
And death's my destination."
If you are fascinated by the concept of teleportation, check out this book.

De-feeted shoe


Long-time readers of TYWKIWDBI know that this blog has a separate category for severed feet posts.  This was stimulated by an "epidemic" of severed feet washing ashore in the Washington/Puget Sound area about five years ago.  Now another foot has appeared in the same area:
The discovery of a human foot in a running shoe on the Seattle waterfront this week is at least the 15th such appendage found along the Pacific Northwest coastline since 2007.
The human foot in a white New Balance tennis shoe was found Tuesday morning on the shore at Centennial Park, just north of downtown, by volunteers cleaning the park, Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw told NBC News. The foot was turned over to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office for further investigation. 

The King County Medical Examiner’s Office on Wednesday released a photo of the shoe – a New Balance athletic sneaker, men’s size 10-1/2, white with blue trim – in hopes the public could help identify its wearer. It said the foot also was clad in a black, cotton Hanes brand sock. 
More details at the link.  If the embedded photo looks like your shoe, check your feet.  If one of them is missing, please contact Seattle authorities.

16 May 2014

Earliest First American found in underwater cave - updated


As blogged in March, 2011:

Explorers cave-diving in the Yucatan have found a human skull and the remains of a mastodon.  Excerpts from the National Geographic report:
Hoyo Negro was reached by the PET team after the divers travelled more than 4,000 feet [1,200 meters] through underwater passages using underwater propulsion vehicles, or scooters, which enabled them to cover long distances in the flooded cave system...

While the team of explorers conducted various dives for the purpose of mapping and surveying of this newly discovered pit, they noticed some peculiar bones sitting on the bottom. They first came across several megafauna remains and what was clearly a mastodon bone, while subsequent dives proved even more exciting when they spotted a human skull resting upside down with other nearby remains at about 140 feet [43 meters] depth...

Approximately 12,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, Earth experienced great climatic changes. The melting of the ice caps caused a dramatic rise in global sea levels, which flooded low lying coastal landscapes and cave systems. Many of the subterranean spaces that once provided people and animals with water and shelter became inundated and lost until the advent of cave diving...

Radiometric dating of the human bones from Hoyo Negro will have to wait for now, but its location within the cave, and its position relative to the mastodon remains, are suggestive of its antiquity.
The results of this finding should definitively establish the existence of pre-Clovix humans in the New World.  I have always felt that Tom Dillehay's excavations at Monte Verde (Chile) had established a pre-Clovis timeline, but others have questioned his data.  The fact that Hoyo Negro has a skull - not just artifacts - should be definitive.

Update, May 2014:

A flurry of articles appeared this morning, all reporting on the announcement of the results of extensive testing on the skull from the Mexican cave.  This from Discover:
Researchers announced today that Naia’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) shares a genetic lineage with Native Americans. The lineage, known as haplogroup D1, derived from the northwest Asian haplogroup D and is unique to the Americas. Just as importantly, researchers found no genetic evidence suggesting Naia had ancestors from elsewhere. The Hoyo Negro find proves at least some ancestors of modern Native Americans had Paleoamerican features, effectively shutting down the theories that contended it was not possible. Speaking to reporters about the Hoyo Negro results on Wednesday, researchers involved with the study suggested that the craniofacial features specific to modern Native Americans could easily have evolved in a few thousand years, well after the first Americans were established here...

The divers also found [in the same cave] the remains of at least 26 animals, including sabertooth cats (Smilodon fatalis) and the elephant-like gomphothere (Cuvieronius cf. tropicus), both now extinct. At the time Naia lived, the enormous cavern — about 170 feet deep and 200 feet in diameter — was about five miles inland from the Caribbean and not submerged...

Because the underwater environment was poor for preserving bone collagen, researchers were unsuccessful in their attempts to date the bones of both human and animal remains using radiocarbon dating. Instead, the team relied on three separate methods. First, they aggregated data about sea levels in the area over the past several thousand years and determined when Hoyo Negro filled with water, concluding that the bones found there must have been deposited before then. The team also took note of the approximate extinction dates of the animal species found in the same area as Naia.
Finally, researchers conducted isotopic analysis of crystals growing on both human and animal bones found in the caves. They were able to determine when the crystals began growing and whether they were exposed to air or were underwater, allowing them to narrow down the age of the skeleton from 12,000-13,000 years old.
Other researchers on the international team sequenced the mtDNA extracted from one of the skeleton’s teeth; two additional labs independently performed the same sequencing to verify the results...
More at that link.  The Washington Post offered this graphic of the layout of the cave and its water levels:


Note the scale of the divers in relation to the cave and the extraordinarily difficult access.
The divers found her on a ledge, her skull at rest on an arm bone. Ribs and a broken pelvis lay nearby. She was only 15 years old when she wandered into the cave on the Yucatan Peninsula, and in the darkness she must not have seen the enormous pit looming in front of her...

The distinct morphology of the Paleoamericans is most famously found in the “Kennewick Man,” a 9,000-year-old skeleton discovered two decades ago along the Columbia River in Washington state. Facial reconstruction resulted in someone who looked a bit like the actor Patrick Stewart... Scientists theorized that he could have been related to populations in East Asia that spread along the coast and eventually colonized Polynesia. Under that scenario, more recent Native Americans could be descended from a separate migratory population.

Chatters said in an interview, “For 20 years I’ve been trying to understand why the early people looked different. The morphology of the later people is so different from the early ones that they don’t appear to be part of the same population.” He went on: “Do they come from different parts of the world? This comes back with the answer, probably not.”

One of the co-authors of the paper, Deborah Bolnick, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin, said the new genetic tests support the hypothesis of a single ancestral population for Native Americans...

Why did Naia go into that cave and to her doom? Perhaps, Chatters said, she was in search of water in an era when the Yucatan was parched. Or perhaps she was following an animal. She would have been, under his scenario, a Wild Style person, a risk-taker. And so she went forward — into the cave, through the darkness, falling into the distant future.
I will certainly look forward to the upcoming televised National Geographic/Nova special on this discovery.

15 May 2014

The Case of the Teeny-Tiny Book


The shortest Sherlock Holmes story is in a 1.5" book in the library of a dollhouse constructed for George V's wife, Queen Mary.  The story was written by Conan Doyle specifically for the dollhouse book:
Watson had been watching his companion intently ever since he had sat down to the breakfast table. Holmes happened to look up and catch his eye.

‘Well, Watson, what are you thinking about?’ he asked.

‘About you.’

‘Me?’

‘Yes, Holmes. I was thinking how superficial are these tricks of yours, and how wonderful it is that the public should continue to show interest in them.’

‘I quite agree,’ said Holmes. ‘In fact, I have a recollection that I have myself made a similar remark.’

‘Your methods,’ said Watson severely, ‘are really easily acquired.’

‘No doubt,’ Holmes answered with a smile. ‘Perhaps you will yourself give an example of this method of reasoning.’..
You can finish reading the 503-word story ("How Watson Learned the Trick") at Futility Closet, from whose podcast I first learned about the existence of the book.  More about their podcasts later, after I've finished auditing the series.

Photo [of a different book in the library] via Decor to Adore (scroll down to bottom), where there are many photos of this remarkable dollhouse.

Here is the controversial "I am a Ukranian" video

"I Am a Ukrainian" is an Internet viral video, first posted on YouTube in 2014 featuring a young Ukrainian woman supporting the protestors in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. It was directed by documentary maker Ben Moses. By late March that year the video has been viewed about 8 million times...

The video has received a mostly positive reception, with the majority of the tens of thousands of comments in support. A February 21 count on YouTube gave the video about 70,000 "likes" and 4,000 "dislikes." A minority of voices, primarily those opposed to the revolution, argued that it is too one-sided. 
The professional production values have led some to suspect that the project is an outgrowth of an American think tank or the CIA.

I'll defer any commentary and hope for some comments from the Ukranian readers of this blog (139 visits in the past month, mostly from Kyiv city and from Ternopil's'ka, Lviv, and Odessa oblasts).

Word trivia: corgwn


"Corgi" is a Welsh word - a compound of cor (dwarf) and ci (dog).  The proper plural form is thus "Corgwn" -
"Oh, look, there go Daniel Craig, the Queen, and her two corgwn"
- which I believe would be pronounced something like "corgoon."

I list this as "trivia" because the word has been so Anglicized that "corgis" is in common usage, and your use of "corgwn" in a conversation will be seen as pompous intellectualism, unless perhaps you engage your audience by also sharing some of the other English words derived from Welsh (penguin?).

I learned about corgwn from a QI podcast - about which more later after I've finished listening to the lot.

14 May 2014

Wind power in ancient Japan


The "fundamental" information:
"He-gassen is a Japanese art scroll from the Edo period featuring a number of people farting at each other, objects, and animals. The scroll was digitized by the Waseda University Library, and is available in full on the organization’s website." 
Several additional images are viewable at Laughing Squid.  Via an old blogging friend, Curiosités de Titam.

London evolution animation


Brought to you by the Museum of London -
We provided specialist Roman and Medieval archaeological datasets to assist with the mapping of London’s earliest history, as well as data from 17th and early 18th-century London. In the animation the data is combined with information from other sources to track road networks and therefore show the growth of the city. Information about London’s Listed Buildings and Scheduled Monuments was provided by English Heritage and enables viewers to see how habitation and construction developed through London’s history. 
Via Neatorama.

Teen pregnancies and abortions are rapidly disappearing


Data from this study show (or shows) a striking decline in teen pregnancies and abortions in the United States.  This information flies in the face of public misperceptions of teen sexuality:
Perhaps it seems like things are getting worse because there’s always a new trend that inspires moral panic about teens’ risky sexual behavior — like sexting, “raunchy” pop songs, the college “hook up culture,” and TV shows’ supposed “glamorization” of teen pregnancy. Social conservatives also often raise concerns about the fact that Americans are increasingly having sex and children outside of marriage, equating changing family structures with bad choices.
The geographic trend is also interesting...


I'll defer any commentary on that distribution.

Via The Dish.

Measles vs. myeloma. Measles wins.

Medical researchers have successfully treated a recalcitrant case of multiple myeloma by injecting the patient with a massive dose of the measles vaccine.
Stacy Erholtz was out of conventional treatment options for blood cancer last June when she underwent an experimental trial at the Mayo Clinic that injected her with enough measles vaccine to inoculate 10 million people...

The cancer, which had spread widely through her body, went into complete remission and was undetectable in Erholtz’s body after just one dose of the measles vaccine, which has an uncanny affinity for certain kinds of tumors.

Erholtz was one of just two subjects in the experiment and the only one to achieve complete remission. But the experiment provides the “proof of concept” that a single, massive dose of intravenous viral therapy can kill cancer by overwhelming its natural defenses...

The strain that Russell used was isolated in 1954 from the throat of an 11-year-old boy named David Edmonston and has been used to safely make all of the measles vaccines used in the West, he said. The virus treats multiple myeloma tumors as food and turns them into machines to make copies of itself.

Most people have been inoculated with the vaccine, rendering it vulnerable to their immune systems. But patients with multiple myeloma often have suppressed immune systems, which can allow the virus to do its work.
There is additional information in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
During natural infections, MV gains access to the bone marrow through infection of the reticuloendothelial system, thus making it an ideal agent to attack myeloma cells exactly where they hide. CD46, a cell surface antigen, is the receptor for MV and is highly overexpressed on the surface of myeloma cells, making them prime targets of infection...
Both patients in the report by Russell et al lacked detectable neutralizing antimeasles antibody at the beginning of their treatments, likely a critical factor for the virally mediated tumor responses they experienced...
Aside from MV-NIS, there are numerous other oncolytic viruses (OVs) currently under clinical development, including variants of herpes virus, poxvirus, picornavirus, rhabdovirus, reovirus, Newcastle Disease virus, parvovirus, and adenovirus. In rodent tumor models, each of these viruses has shown excellent systemic activity when infused intravenously, often resulting in long-lasting durable cures. So far, however, this intravenous antitumor activity has not translated into clinical use for any of these other OV agents. The general disconnect between mouse and human studies is multifaceted and likely reflects, in part, the limited number and scope of intravenous studies carried out with OVs to date...
Word for the day: "oncolytic viruses" - worth remembering.

12 May 2014

Wobbly cat


This kitten has congenital cerebellar hypoplasia.
These cats are known for their "drunken sailor" walk, which is why they're known endearingly as "wobbly cats."

Unless a CH cat has other health issues, their life expectancy is the same as a cat's without CH. Since the condition is non-progressive, it will never get worse — and in some cases, owners say that their cats become more capable over time. 
Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

A boy and his gun


A couple weeks ago I was criticized by one reader for posting a photograph of a young girl brandishing her gun in her bedroom; the locale was said to be inappropriate and emotionally charged.  I trust this image of an Israeli child playing with a grenade launcher outdoors will be more acceptable. 

Photo credit Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images.

Marty Feldman at the veterinarian's office (2008)

Circenses without panem isn't sufficient


An article at AlterNet notes that if you don't appease the public with both bread and circuses*, social unrest may develop.
From 2008 to 2014, insurrectionist activity has sequentially erupted across the globe, from Tunisia and Egypt to Syria and Yemen; from Greece, Spain, Turkey and Brazil to Thailand, Bosnia, Venezuela and the Ukraine...

...beneath what we’ve come to perceive as isolated and distinct events is a shared but neglected root cause of environmental crisis. What most people don’t realize is that outbreaks of social unrest are preceded, usually, by a single pattern — an unholy trinity of drought, low crop yield and soaring food prices.

So what do the Arab Spring, Syrian civil war, Occupy Gezi, and the recent conflicts in the Ukraine, Venezuela, Bosnia and Thailand all have in common? Expensive food… and not much of it.
Details at the link.

* "This phrase originates from Rome in Satire X of the Roman satirist and poet Juvenal (circa A.D. 100). In context, the Latin metaphor panem et circenses (bread and circuses) identifies the only remaining cares of a new Roman populace which cares not for its historical birthright of political involvement. Here Juvenal displays his contempt for the declining heroism of his contemporary Romans. Roman politicians devised a plan in 140 B.C. to win the votes of these new citizens: giving out cheap food and entertainment, "bread and circuses", would be the most effective way to rise to power."

Conchita Wurst of Austria wins the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest

"As well as being a singer and television personality, Conchita Wurst has become a fashion icon. Almost every Facebook photo includes a list of designers responsible for her outfits...

There have been petitions in Russia and Belarus to have the song blocked from the broadcast because it is ‘unnatural’. The view of most European nations however is that freedom of expression and freedom of speech are at the cornerstone of democracy and of the Eurovision Song Contest..."
Text from Metro, via The Dish, where Andrew Sullivan pondered how well Conchita Wurst would do on American Idol.

A museum of dog collars


Leeds Castle has a Dog Collar Museum.
Mrs. Gertrude Hunt most generously presented her collection of collars to the Leeds Castle Foundation in memory of her husband, John Hunt, the distinguished medievalist.  The collection of over 100 collars and related exhibits has since been added to and enhanced by the Foundation itself. Spanning five centuries, the collection contains examples of collars from fearsome fetters for the great hunting hounds of the past, to canine couture for 21st century pooches.
Photo by AMALY, via The Telegraph's photo essay on The World's Most Boring Museums (lawnmowers, pencils, soap, wallpaper, Spam, mustard and others).

06 May 2014

Butterfly eggs


These are eggs of the Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus) on mistletoe.   The first butterflies have been seen in Wisconsin; it will be a few more weeks before we see eggs.

Photo credit: David Millard for the Nikon Small World photomicrography competition.

Benthic litter


Garbage created by humans ("anthropogenic litter") is now apparent even in the deepest parts of the ocean.  In the composite image above, the “Uncle Benn's Express Rice” packet was photographed at a depth of 967 m. (National Oceanography Centre, UK)
We found litter to be present in the deepest areas and at locations as remote from land as the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The highest litter density occurs in submarine canyons, whilst the lowest density can be found on continental shelves and on ocean ridges. Plastic was the most prevalent litter item found on the seafloor...

Plastics are a source of toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins that can be lethal to marine fauna. Furthermore, the degradation of plastics generates microplastics which, when ingested by organisms, can deliver contaminants across trophic levels... Contrary to a common notion that most plastic items float at the sea surface it has been estimated that 70% of the plastic sinks to the seafloor...
More discouraging details on the trashing of our oceans at PLOS ONE.

"SmartWater" explained

Yafet Askale, 28, denied breaking into the vehicle which had been fitted with a traceable liquid called SmartWater, which contains a dye that becomes visible under ultra violet light.    Photo: Reuters
From Wikipedia:
SmartWater is a proprietary forensic asset marking system that is applied to personal, commercial, and industrial items of value to deter theft and to identify culprits for prosecution. The non-hazardous liquid leaves a long-lasting and unique identifier that is invisible to the naked eye except under an ultraviolet black light.
Its use is described at The Telegraph:
Brent Police have recently been working with SmartWater using trap cars and houses equipped with technology to deter thieves from committing crime and to catch those that do.

Residents have also been provided with free kits to mark valuable property with the substance within their homes which has led to reductions in burglary and street robbery and 80 and 40 percent respectively. 
The company's website is here.

There is water in the earth's upper mantle

And it comes out from volcanos.  This is hard for me to grasp conceptually; I'll just transcribe an excerpt -
The journal Nature announced a diamond discovery that helped settle a dispute about the Earth’s composition. The dispute concerned whether there is water in the transition zone — the portion of the Earth’s mantle 250 to 410 miles underground. Skeptics have argued that water cannot exist at that depth...

At around 310 miles underground, wadsleyite is pressed into ringwoodite. Both substances can hold water. Now, geophysicists working in Brazil have uncovered a diamond containing ringwoodite that came steaming out of a volcano...

The paper emphasized the volume of water likely to be present in the transition zone — possibly more than all of the oceans combined. But it’s at least 250 miles underground, and we’ve never drilled deeper than seven.
The subject is covered in greater detail at Scientific American, where they indicate that the water in these minerals is carried to the mantle via plate tectonics:
Plate tectonics recycles Earth's crust by pushing and pulling slabs of oceanic crust into subduction zones, where it sinks into the mantle. This crust, soaked by the ocean, ferries water into the mantle. Many of these slabs end up stuck in the mantle transition zone. "We think that a significant portion of the water in the mantle transition zone is from the emplacement of these slabs," Pearson said. "The transition zone seems to be a graveyard of subducted slabs."
The Nature article is here.

"Knoblesse oblige"


I've shamelessly borrowed the title from an article in The Economist reporting that Vancouver is banning doorknobs in all new buildings.
The war on doorknobs is part of a broader campaign to make buildings more accessible to the elderly and disabled, many of whom find levered doorhandles easier to operate than fiddly knobs. Vancouver’s code adds private homes to rules already in place in most of Canada for large buildings, stipulating wider entry doors, lower thresholds and lever-operated taps in bathrooms and kitchens.

The rules have provoked grumbling about the nanny state, much of it from doorknob manufacturers... True, elderly and disabled people find it easier to operate doors with handles. But so do bears... One newspaper columnist in the pro-knob camp has noted that the velociraptors in “Jurassic Park” were able to open doors by their handles.
More at the link, and at Legal Insurrection (whence the image).

05 May 2014

Would you help this man get out of prison? - updated


This petition is at Change.org:
Cornealious "Mike" Anderson is 36 years old, a married father of four, youth football coach, volunteer, homeowner and small business owner in St. Louis, Missouri.  In 1999, he was arrested and later convicted of participating in a robbery of a Burger King manager.  He was sentenced to 13 years in prison.  He was released on bail while his appeals were pending, and after he lost his appeals, the State of Missouri simply forgot about him.  They never told him to report to prison to serve his sentence.

When he was arrested, he was 22 years old, had no children, was not married, and did not own a home or a business.

From 1999 to 2013, he lived a law-abiding life, paid taxes, and worked to build a career as a carpenter. He never became a  fugitive, tried to change his identity, or flee from justice.  He had no further trouble with the law.  He stayed right in St. Louis.  He got married, had 4 children, built his own home in Missouri, and started several successful small businesses, including a contracting business.  He volunteered at his church and coached his son's youth football team.

In July, 2013, the State of Missouri suddenly realized, 13 years later, that Mike Anderson had never served the sentence, and that he was out on bail this entire time.  They raided his house with a SWAT team, and ripped him from his home without warning, hauled him off to prison, and told him he now had to serve 13 years in prison.

If he is required to serve the sentence, he will be 50 years old when he is released.  His kids will have grown up without a father, his wife will have had to raise 4 children alone, and they will lose their home and business - everything he had worked so hard to attain in the last 13 years of leading a normal life.

The victim of the robbery believes that Mike Anderson should not be forced to now serve a 13-year sentence, and believes the State of Missouri dropped the ball.  He has said that he believes it would serve no purpose in now incarcerating this man.
The full story, with extensive details, is at Riverfront Times.

I first heard the story as a podcast on This American Life.  It takes about 15 minutes, and I think is well worth a listen before you pass judgment.

I've signed the petition, as have 35,000 others.

Update:  He has been released.
Judge Terry Lynn Brown lauded Anderson's "exemplary" behavior during his 13 years of freedom before the arrest. "You've been a good father. You've been a good husband. You've been a good taxpaying citizen of the state of Missouri. "That leads me to believe that you are a good man and a changed man."

Anderson walked out of the courtroom with his wife and 3-year-old daughter on one arm and his mom on the other. Before being driven away to a freedom celebration at an undisclosed spot, Anderson told reporters he was "very happy. My faith has always been in God. I'm just so thankful. Thank God for everything."

The best place to follow the conclusion of the story is at the Riverfront Times (which was a favorite read of mine when I lived in St. Louis).

The podcast is still worth a listen; it's quite a story.

"No copula, no problem"

This is a followup to yesterday's post about crash blossoms, in the comments to which an anonymous reader clued me in to the term "zero copula":
Zero copula is a linguistic phenomenon whereby the subject is joined to the predicate without overt marking of this relationship (like the copula 'to be' in English)... used most frequently in rhetoric and casual speech...

Standard English exhibits a very limited form of the zero copula, common in statements like "The higher, the better"; "The more, the merrier"...

Zero copula also appears in casual questions and statements like "You from out of town?"; "Enough already!" where the verb (and more) may be omitted due to syncope. Apart from syncope, the zero copula is probably not used productively in standard English.

The zero copula is far more productive in Caribbean creoles and African American Vernacular English, some varieties of which regularly omit the copula. For instance, "You crazy!", "Where you at?" and "Who she?" As in Russian, this is the case only in the present tense. In past-tense sentences, the copula must be specified...

The zero copula is also present, in a slightly different and more regular form, in the headlines of English newspapers, where short words and articles are generally omitted to conserve space. For example, a headline would more likely say "Gulf coast in ruins" than "Gulf coast is in ruins"... 
The Wikipedia page goes on to discuss zero copula in languages other than English (note zero copula is standard in American Sign Language).

You will never EVER rollerblade as well as this girl


Note:  After I posted the video this morning, YouTube seems to have muted the audio for copyright reasons.  A hat tip to reader Sebastian, who found an unmuted copy at this link.

Apparently this same girl competed in the pairs competition at the 2011World Freestyle Skating Championships in Geisingen, Germany:


According to the Reddit thread, her name may be Feng Hui.

04 May 2014

Hadrian's Wall


Posted as a reminder of a gorgeous day about forty years ago when I walked the wall at Housesteads.

Photo credit to Robert White Photography, via the EarthPorn subReddit.

Why did Russia give away Crimea in the first place?


Good question.  Discussed at length at the website of the Wilson Center:
Crimea was part of Russia from 1783, when the Tsarist Empire annexed it a decade after defeating Ottoman forces in the Battle of Kozludzha, until 1954, when the Soviet government transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics (RSFSR) to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkrSSR)...

Of particular importance were the role of Nikita Khrushchev, the recent traumas inflicted on Ukraine, and the ongoing power struggle in the USSR... Khrushchev saw the transfer as a way of fortifying and perpetuating Soviet control over Ukraine now that the civil war had finally been won. Some 860,000 ethnic Russians would be joining the already large Russian minority in Ukraine...

The transfer of Crimea to the UkrSSR also was politically useful for Khrushchev as he sought to firm up the support he needed in his ongoing power struggle with Soviet Prime Minister Georgii Malenkov, who had initially emerged as the preeminent leader in the USSR in 1953 after Joseph Stalin’s death...

The earlier published documents, and materials that have emerged more recently, make clear that the transfer of Crimea from the RSFSR to the UkrSSR was carried out in accordance with the 1936 Soviet constitution... the main point to stress here is that it is incorrect to say (as some Russian commentators and government officials recently have) that Crimea was transferred unconstitutionally or illegally. The legal system in the Soviet Union was mostly a fiction, but the transfer did occur in accordance with the rules in effect at the time.
My excerpts probably don't do justice to the complexity of the arguments.  Those wishing to orate upon this at cocktail parties would do well to consult the source.

No new classes of antibiotics


Chart via The Dish. Think Progress offers this explanation:
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Tom Frieden, recently pointed out that if we don’t act on this issue soon, “our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”

Nonetheless, research in this area has largely stalled, and only a handful of new antibiotics have been created over the past decade. That’s partly because it isn’t as profitable for pharmaceutical companies to invest in creating new drugs. Last year, the U.S. government formed a partnership with a pharma giant in the hopes of spurring innovation. Some infectious disease experts are urging Congress to pass tax credits to encourage the development of new antibiotics.
That doesn't mean that we have no new antibiotics, because there are varieties of drugs within these classes.  But when organisms develop drug resistance, it often spans the entire class.
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