19 January 2017

A possible way to stop Donald Trump on Friday



It's worth a try...

From the archives of The New Yorker.

Record low water levels in Venice


As Venice works on the €5.4 billion 'Mose' floodgate to counteract the eventual effects of rising sea levels, they face an interim problem of record low water levels.
The exceptionally water levels have been caused by abnormal tides this year, combined with drastically reduced winter precipitation rates across northeastern Italy... The drop in water levels has prevented some of the city's gondolas and vaporetti, or water buses, from navigating in some of the smaller canals. On Christmas Eve, the low tide even grounded the mayor's speedboat.
The low water is exposing the city's less attractive underside: garbage and crumbling infrastructure.  And I'll bet it's fragrant:
Historically, all waste produced by humans have been dumped into the canals although larger buildings are required to carry some kind of sewage treatment before dumping the filthy stuff into the canals. Some palazzos have their own septic tanks but there is always a certain amount of leakage, lending Venice its characteristic and at times overpowering stench.
The scavenger in me, however, imagines the excellent opportunity for mudlarking.


Think of the generations of artifacts that have been lost into the canals, the wedding rings tossed away, the rings and brooches.  But it looks like mostly forks.

Related: Mudlarking and Love tokens retrieved from the mud of the Thames.

Very interesting construction - updated


This photograph was in "Death on the Hippie Trail," about events in rural parts of India and Nepal.  What most interested me was the structure the boys are leaning against (click photo for larger image).

What I initially thought was a wall appears instead to be some type of pillar supporting a larger structure above.  It appears to have been constructed using a combination of huge timber beams and large rocks.  My guess is that the wood component provides a flexibility and shock-absorption that a purely-stone structure could not offer.  The design has probably been empirically arrived at by multiple generations of stonemasons in an earthquake-prone area.

I think I have blogged something like this before, but at the moment I can't find the old post.

Addendum:  Still can't find my old post (if it exists), but I'll offer a tip of the blogging cap to reader RolandT for providing a link about murus gallicus ("Gallic wall"), as described by Julius Caesar:
Straight beams, connected lengthwise and two feet distant from each other at equal intervals, are placed together on the ground; these are morticed on the inside, and covered with plenty of earth. But the intervals which we have mentioned, are closed up in front by large stones... each row of beams is kept firmly in its place by a row of stones. In this manner the whole wall is consolidated, until the regular height of the wall be completed.
... it possesses great advantages as regards utility and the defence of cities; for the stone protects it from fire, and the wood from the battering ram, since it [the wood] being morticed in the inside with rows of beams, generally forty feet each in length, can neither be broken through nor torn asunder.
Here's a replica of a Gallic wall in Manching, Bavaria (photo credit Wolfgang Sauber):


I believe the image I embedded at the top is an example of Indian kath knuni architecture, best described in detail at this pdf and this slideshow.


Note the wood and stone are assembled without the use of any mortar.  Impressive.

17 January 2017

Nose in a book


From the archives of The New Yorker.

Kate McCormick (1854-1875)

Kate McCormick
Seduced and pregnant by her father's friend
Unwed, she died from abortion, her only choice.
Abandoned in life and death by family.
With but a single rose from her mother.
Buried only through the kindness of unknown benefactors.
 Died Feb.1875 [sic] age 21.
Victim of an unforgiving society
Have mercy on us. 
Res ipsa loquitur.  Details at Amusing (!) Planet.

Why books sometimes have blank pages at the front or back

Two explanations from the Explain Like I'm Five subreddit:
"Imagine I took a standard piece of paper. I could fold it into 4 pieces, then cut the top and bottom a bit, staple it, and have a small book. This is called a signature. They can be as small as 4 pages, or much larger. A book is typically made up of several signatures.

The result is, I can take two 4 page signatures and make an 8 page book, but I have no way to make a 9 page book. If I add one page, I have no way to attach it. You can imagine if I stick the page in and just glue the end, it will easily fall out. I might be forced to make it fit in a 7 page book, or maybe print a 12 page book with some blank pages (some print methods can use 2 page signatures).

The short answer is that when making books its usually easiest to make them a certain way, and blank pages may be the result. A children's book might be 30 pages, but the publisher finds that one 32 page signature is the cheapest method of production. So they might add something to the pages, or maybe they leave them blank."  (credit Travis83)

"Different reason depending upon if the book is machine or hand bound. I'll mention the handbound reason, which is the original reason for having these blank pages. The opening blank pages are called fly leaves. The pages with writing/art is called the textblock. These pages, if loaded with art (illuminated) sometimes took days to create. The "pages" were vellum (calf skin) and as you can imagine were expensive to make. You want to protect this investment. When books were bound in leather, the tanned leathers would leak and damage the textblock, so the fly leaves were to protect the writing/art from damage. You would use the minimum amount to protect the text block because vellum was expensive to produce. With the advent of fiber paper, you could increase the number of fly leaves. Depending upon on the binding technique used there would a different number of these fly papers. Also, fly leaves are constructed to add structural strength to the book. A book opens and closes and making the hinge strong and durable are important, especially when you consider a town would save up just to buy one book. So there are numerous different construction methods in hand binding that is reflected on the type and number of fly leaves." (credit rtfminc)
And here's the Wikipedia page on endpapers (inside covers + flyleaves), which I think will be the subject matter for the embedded images in the next divertimento. 

Ransomware taken to the next level

Krebs on Security reports that now paying ransom to cybercriminals does not ensure that the database will be restored:
Tens of thousands of personal and possibly proprietary databases that were left accessible to the public online have just been wiped from the Internet, replaced with ransom notes demanding payment for the return of the files. Adding insult to injury, it appears that virtually none of the victims who have paid the ransom have gotten their files back because multiple fraudsters are now wise to the extortion attempts and are competing to replace each other’s ransom notes.

At the eye of this developing data destruction maelstrom is an online database platform called MongoDB. Tens of thousands of organizations use MongoDB to store data, but it is easy to misconfigure and leave the database exposed online. If installed on a server with the default settings, for example, MongoDB allows anyone to browse the databases, download them, or even write over them and delete them...

Merrigan and Gevers are maintaining a public Google Drive document (read-only) that is tracking the various victims and ransom demands. Merrigan said it appears that at least 29,000 MongoDB databases that were previously published online are now erased. Worse, hardly anyone who’s paid the ransom demands has yet received their files back...

For now, Merrigan is advising victims not to pay the ransom. He encouraged those inclined to do so anyway to demand “proof of life” from the extortionists — i.e., request that they share one or two of the deleted files to prove that they can restore the entire cache.
What an unholy hell of a situation.

Modifying public streets to assist the visually impaired


Read more about tactile paving (hat tip to reader Aleksejs).

Via Neatorama.

Scary photo of an Indian tea plantation


Don't know why it's scary?  More info here.

Photo via the Pics subreddit, cropped for emphasis.

Arab and Berber pirates abducted and enslaved Icelanders

Events from the 17th century that are generally not known, and do not enter discussions of the history of slavery:
In 1627 Barbary corsairs from Algiers and Salé descended on Iceland in two separate raids, taking around 400–900 prisoners (Iceland's population at the time has been estimated to have been about 60,000). This event is popularly known in Iceland as Tyrkjaránið – the 'Turkish Raid', as it was launched from areas under Ottoman sovereignty, although no North African Turks (Kouloughlis) are known to have been involved. Most pirates were Arabs and Berbers, a large part - the Dutch and other Europeans, who converted to Islam... Those captured were sold into slavery on the Barbary Coast
More on the Barbary pirates.  I remember reading a Landmark book about them when I was in the seventh grade (and blogged about it seven years ago) , but I had forgotten the details.

The Weather Channel calls out Breitbart

"Earth is not cooling, climate change Is real and please stop using our video to mislead Americans. "

Save the date: 2022


That's when a new star will rise in the east and dominate the sky.  This is the result of a collision of two stars that happened 1800 years ago.
Before their meeting the two stars were too dim to be seen by the naked eye, but in 2022, the newly formed Red Nova will burn so brightly in the constellation Cygnus that everyone will be able to to see it...

For around six months the Boom Star will be one of the brightest in the sky before gradually dimming, returning to its normal brightness after around two to three years...

The forecast was made officially at a press conference on Friday, all the more poignant because it coincided with the epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men, who followed the star to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Jesus.
Some information on how the prediction was made is at The Telegraph.  Embedded image cropped for size.

Recycling wind turbine blades


It's not easy -
Unfortunately, one of the largest components of a wind turbine —the blades— are completely unrecyclable.

Turbine blades are made from glass or carbon-fiber composites. These materials are strong, lightweight and has a significant aerodynamic advantage, but they are nearly impossible to recycle. Hence, at the end of their lifecycle, most of these blades end up as waste on landfills. According to one estimate, there will be 50,000 tons of blade waste in 2020, which will rise to more than 200,000 tons by 2034.

The current scenario is grim. There is only one industrial enterprise that recycles end-of-life turbine blades, and that’s in Melbeck, in northern Germany...

In 2007, the Rotterdam municipality unveiled a playground for Kinderparadijs Meidoorn built out of rotor blades that were originally destined for landfills...
The city also has public seating at the Willemsplein square where nine intact rotor blades were placed at various angles to create ergonomic public seating with a diversity of seating options...
The rest of the story is at Amusing Planet.

Photo credit: Denis Guzzo/Flickr

15 January 2017

Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain), Peru


Located just 3 hours from Cusco, but comparatively unknown until recent years when climate change caused the overlying snow to melt and reveal the colorful formation.  More photos at Google Images.

Further discussion and relevant links at the EarthPorn subreddit. 

Tip: "there are locals with horses that charge $20-30 to take you to the top."  Useful to know because the hike begins at an altitude of 14,000 feet and rises to 17,000 feet where the above photo was taken.

Class action lawsuits

If you have purchased a milk product in [any of the states highlighted above] since 2003, you are eligible to share in a $52 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit that accused milk cooperatives of conspiring to raise prices.
Applications can be filed online at www.boughtmilk.com.  You don't have to give details of your purchases.  You have until the end of January to file your claim.  More information at the Wisconsin State Journal.

The lawsuit administrator estimates that consumers could get between $45 and $70, but it could be a just few cents - depending on how many people apply

On the other hand... attorneys will receive $17.3 million of the settlement.

In another class-action lawsuit, a Johns Hopkins physician was found guilty of secretly taking sexually explicit photographs of his female patientsIn the settlement of that case, "each woman is set to receive between $1,750 and $26,048. A judge ordered that $32 million of the total settlement would go to attorneys..."

Correlation is not causation








More examples here.  Please share the link, because way WAY too many people do not understand this fundamental principle of science.

Anne Frank's biography viewed as pornography

Gail Horalek, the mother of a 7th-grade child in Michigan in the US, has made international headlines by complaining that the unabridged version of Anne Frank's diary is pornographic and should not be taught at her daughter's school. At issue for Horalek is a section detailing Anne's exploration of her own genitalia, material originally omitted by Anne's father, Otto Frank, when he prepared the manuscript for publication in the late 40s. I had to look up what age kids are in the 7th grade. They're 12 to 13! They're only about a year younger than Anne was when she wrote of her vagina: "There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!" There cannot be a 13-year-old girl on the planet who hasn't had a root around and arrived at this exact stage of bafflement...

Anne is going through puberty, and she describes her changed vagina in honest detail, saying, "until I was 11 or 12, I didn't realise there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn't see them. What's even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris." (Oh Anne, we've all been there.) She continues: "In the upper part, between the outer labia, there's a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That's the clitoris." It's beautiful, visceral writing, and it's describing something that most young women experience.

And yet I can understand that the junior Ms Horalek would have squirmed and wished herself elsewhere when this was read in class...
More in a column at The Guardian.

True to life


From the archives of The New Yorker.

The "Children's Blizzard" of 1888

This week marks the anniversary of the "Children's Blizzard" (also known as the "Schoolhouse Blizzard."
When the storm hit, it caught so many settlers by surprise that between 250 and 500 people died that weekend, according to estimates by newspaper editors in Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakota Territory...

Carl Saltee, in Fortier, Minn., remembered that  “A dark and heavy wall builded up around the northwest coming fast, coming like those hevy [sic] thunderstorms, like a shot. In a few moments, we had the severest snowstorm I ever saw in my life with a terrible hard wind, like a hurrycane [sic], snow so thick we could not see more than 3 steps from the door at times.”

This was not a storm of drifting lace snowflakes, but of flash-frozen droplets firing sideways from the sky, an onslaught of speeding ice needles moving at more than 60 miles per hour. Even without the whiteout conditions — climate experts call this zero/zero visibility — many people couldn’t see because the microscopic bits of ice literally froze their eyes shut...

Schoolchildren, many of whom had left for school without coats, hats and mittens — the better to bask in the comparative warmth of a January thaw — were overcome by the blizzard. In many places, the storm made its debut just as students were walking back home from school. The air was not only filled with blowing ice, but temperatures plummeted to frightening lows. By the afternoon in Moorhead, it was 47 degrees below zero...
I first learned about this event about ten years ago when I read David Laskin's The Children's Blizzard.   It is a compelling, if sometimes unsettling, read.

Less-expensive injectable epi now available. But...

As reported by CBS Boston:
CVS is now selling a rival, generic version of Mylan’s EpiPen at about a sixth of its price, just months after the maker of the life-saving allergy treatment was eviscerated before Congress because of its soaring cost to consumers.

The drugstore chain says it will charge $109.99 for a two-pack of the authorized generic version of Adrenaclick, a lesser-known treatment compared to EpiPen, which can cost more than $600.
But here's what you need to know:
Clarification here, CVS cut the retail price of the existing generic for Adrenaclick (known as epinephrine).

This generic has been around for a while, but isn't an A/B rated generic so it's illegal for a pharmacy to dispense this if a prescription is written for EpiPen. We can dispense this if a prescription is written for Adrenaclick or Epinephrine.

Make sure your doctor writes a script for Adrenaclick or it is illegal for us to dispense this cheaper generic to you.
The injection device is different - that's why it can't be switched by the pharmacy for you.  In other words: "Adrenaclick.  Ask for it by name."

Mimicry (that's not a fish)

"In many respects, freshwater pearly mussels look like any other bivalve mollusc, but what sets some of them apart (notably Lampsilis spp.) is the unusual extension of their fleshy mantle that grows beyond the confines of the protective shell valves to wave around in the water. This fleshy protuberance can look astoundingly like a small fish and this is no coincidence because this fishy appendage is actually a lure to attract fish so they can be press-ganged into the mussel’s reproductive strategy. The lure is very convincing. Not only does it have markings that suggest eyes and skin patterning, but it is even moved by the mussel in a fish-like way. These details are more than enough to grab the attention of a real fish that mistakes the lure for a snack. The fish edges closer and makes a lunge for the fake prey nipping the membrane of a specialised brood gill the lure is concealing.  This releases the mollusc’s larvae, nasty-looking miniature versions of the adult, known as glochidia. These larvae are parasitic and they get drawn under the fish’s gill plates where they latch onto the blood-rich tissues of the gills..."
Further discussion and more examples here.

"Dog whistle" politics defined

"Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is often used as a pejorative because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently distasteful to the general populace. The analogy is to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs but inaudible to humans.

The term can be distinguished from "code words" used in some specialist professions, in that dog-whistling is specific to the political realm. The messaging referred to as the dog-whistle has an understandable meaning for a general audience, rather than being incomprehensible...

U.S. law professor and author of the 2014 book Dog Whistle Politics Ian Haney-López described Ronald Reagan as "blowing a dog whistle" when the candidate told stories about "Cadillac-driving 'welfare queens' and 'strapping young bucks' buying T-bone steaks with food stamps" while he was campaigning for the presidency...

Obama was accused of dog-whistling to African-American voters by using a blend of gestures, style and rhetoric, such as fist-bumps and walking with a "swagger — a rhythmic lope that says cool and confident and undeniably black," that carefully affirmed and underscored his black identity."

"Snow day" at the Oregon Zoo

12 January 2017

Divertimento #121


Security cam documents the incredible reflexes of a father saving two children.  Note how he runs toward the danger.

"Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life... touches on some still-relevant financial topics, including the nature of banking, the philosophical calculus behind issuing loans, and the way American families’ financial fates are intertwined..."

There are hate crimes and there are hate crime hoaxes.

"A racehorse called Party Till Dawn has returned a positive drug test for methamphetamine."

Toddler unhappy that a book is finished (gif).

Restoring a 50-year-old hammer (note especially now the leather grip is crafted).

"Escape rooms, as they are known, are opening at a giddying rate everywhere from America to the Philippines. They have been described as the “fastest growing entertainment trend since the cinema” and are quickly becoming a staple of stag and hen parties, corporate team-building exercises and friends’ nights out. "

"Dominoes" using the capstones on a wall.  Don't quit early - wait for the unexpected ending.

A 12-minute-long video shows how Christmas hard ribbon candy is made (mostly by hand).

"A multiperson con that happens all the time in Southeast Asia. A female on a scooter pulls up to the male victim..." (gif at the link)


Solar and wind power are now cheaper than fossil fuels in 30 countries. "As prices for solar and wind power continue their precipitous fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as “grid parity” within a few years, even without subsidies."  Another article notes that “solar, battery storage, electrical and hydrogen vehicles, and connected devices are in a ‘J’ curve (of upward growth potential).” One consequence of this new energy economy is that, “the price (of oil) could drop to $10 if markets anticipate a significant fall in demand.” “The promise of quasi-infinite and free energy is here.”  These changes have a relevance to Donald Trump's proposed economic policy.

"Robert the Bruce really did suffer from leprosy, scientists have concluded after reconstructing his face from his skull."

You can now find out whether your ancestor fought at Agincourt.  "The French fighting men are now part of a database which lists more than 250,000 names of English soldiers who fought in campaigns between 1369 and 1453, including Agincourt. All together, the database is the largest list of medieval people ever assembled."

The thinnest wood shavings ever.  Looks to me like a medical microtome applied to wood.

You think your dog is housebroken.  This dog is housebroken.

If a website won't let you view an article because you have an ad blocker installed, there is a way you can override that impediment.

"Welders exposed to airborne manganese at estimated levels below federal occupational safety standards exhibit neurological problems similar to Parkinson’s disease."

High-school basketball player vs. Michael Jordan (photo).


Last year Warren Buffett made $32,000,000.  Per day.

"China promised Friday to halt its domestic ivory trade completely by the end of 2017, a decision greeted by environmentalists as offering real hope for an end to a poaching crisis that is wiping out tens of thousands of elephants across Africa. “China’s announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation.”

Donald Trump described as the "substitute teacher" of American presidents.  (While he's there "chaos reigns and nothing of any substance gets done.")

Another video of the red crab migration at Christmas Island.

A rant about the definition of a "grilled cheese sandwich," insisting that it's not the same as a "melt."

The Shaker sect is on the verge of extinction.

Star jelly (also called astromyxin, astral jelly, star rot, star shot or moon poo) is a gelatinous substance sometimes found on grass or even on branches of trees. According to folklore, it is deposited on the earth during meteor showers. Star jelly is described as a translucent or grayish-white gelatin that tends to evaporate shortly after having “fallen.” Explanations have ranged from the materials being the remains of frogs, toads, or worms, to the byproducts of cyanobacteria, to the paranormal. Reports of the substance date back to the 14th century and have continued to the present day.



"Dabbing" explained.

A glitch in a videotape spoils a report on a woman struck by lightning.

Accommodations in northern Norway.

"Two staff at East Lake library have been suspended for allegedly creating bogus borrowers, in order to outwit automated book-culling software designed to ditch titles that are not being read. The accused have alleged that the practice is widespread among librarians fighting to protect book budgets from unnecessary purchases."

You can now buy anti-surveillance clothing.

Norway is the first country in the world to drop its FM radio network. "FM will be replaced by digital audio broadcasting (DAB), which is said to have clearer sound and signal, and is already being broadcast in Norway. DAB also allows for eight times as many stations as FM for the same cost. The problem is that more than 2 million cars in Norway don’t have DAB receivers, nor do many homes."  Switzerland, Britain, and Denmark plan to do the same thing.

"A mysterious disease has been killing ducks and eagles in Florida’s wetlands, and endangered snail kites may be its next victims."


How some silent film special effects were created.

Clever woodworking: a drawer hidden within a drawer (gif). Via.

"A piece of fabric described as the Holy Grail of fashion history will become one of the star attractions at Hampton Court Palace after it was identified as the only surviving piece of clothing worn by Elizabeth I. The country’s leading experts on royal garments have spent the past year piecing together clues about the provenance of the beautifully embroidered textile, which had been cut up and used for hundreds of years as an altar cloth in a Herefordshire parish church."

A video for those who like snooker.

A useful sign in a ladies' restroom at a bar.

If someone is allergic to quinine, a gin and tonic can be lethal.

A remarkable badminton rally (gif).

Props to this bodybuilder with cerebral palsy.  Discussed here.

This is a bunraku puppet.


The images embedded in this divertimento come from the 2016 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar.  Descriptions, credits (and more photos) at the link.

10 January 2017

That's not what I meant...


From the archives of The New Yorker.

Siblicide as a survival strategy

I examined the growth of surviving nestlings in broods of the cooperatively breeding laughing kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, which has complex patterns of brood reduction. Laughing kookaburras usually lay three eggs that hatch asynchronously. Brood reduction occurs in nearly half of all broods and always affects the youngest nestling. In most cases, the youngest nestling is killed within a few days of hatching by aggressive attacks from its older siblings. In a smaller proportion of nests, the youngest nestling dies from starvation, rather than physical attack, much later in the nestling period when nestling growth rates and adult feeding rates peak (about 20 days post-hatching). These mechanistically and temporally distinct episodes of brood reduction were associated with very different patterns of growth in the senior nestlings. Seniors that killed their youngest sibling reached higher asymptotic weights than seniors that did not commit siblicide. In contrast, if the youngest nestling was not killed by its older siblings, but later starved to death, the surviving seniors were skeletally smaller and had retarded feather development compared to seniors from other broods. These differences in nestling growth may have longer-term fitness consequences, because kookaburra fledging weight is positively associated with both juvenile survival and successful recruitment into the breeding population. Therefore, although parents of broods without mortality produce the highest number of fledglings and also the highest number of independent juveniles, if parents are unable to raise a full brood, early siblicide may represent the best brood reduction option. Early siblicide is at least associated with high quality young that have enhanced survival and recruitment prospects. In contrast, the poor growth of seniors in broods where the youngest nestling starved suggests that parents overestimated the size of the brood they could provision.
The abstract of Legge, Sarah. “Siblicide, Starvation and Nestling Growth in the Laughing Kookaburra.” Journal of Avian Biology, vol. 33, no. 2, 2002, pp. 159–166.

See also fratricide and sororicide.  There are about 20 other "cides."  You can look them up.


Not on my bucket list - updated

"See firsthand what it's like to rip down one of the heaviest downhill mountain bike tracks ever created, through he GoPro view of the creator himself, Dan Atherton. It's why Red Bull Hardline is an event like no other. The long and technical course plays on a variety of disciplines, where incredibly steep and rocky technical sections were combined with a motocross run in and 50-foot [15.24 meters] gap jump to create one of the most progressive downhill courses on the planet."
Reposted to add watching sharks from a shark cage (details here):


Also free climbing without a rope (filmed 275' up a cliff):

YouTube link

And finally (for now) a related Real Life cartoon:

The rise and fall of the penis bone

From cats and dogs to primates and rodents, the males of many mammal species have a special genital bone called the baculum... Females often possess a bone analogous to the baculum called the baubellum or os clitoris...

After looking across 954 mammal species to check for the presence or absence of a baculum, Dean and his colleagues determined that the enigmatic bone independently evolved nine times and was subsequently lost in 10 different lineages. This means that the baculum is not an ancestral trait, but something that has popped up over and over again in mammalian history...

“There is nothing in common among species with a baculum versus species without,” Dean says. And solving the mystery “is not some weird niche of science.” The rapid and repeated evolution of bacula, Dean says, “is an absolutely fundamental pattern of evolution in almost all sexually reproducing organisms.
More at the Washington Post.  Embed: A collection of penis bones from brown bears. (Muséum de Toulouse)

A revised "Girl's Life" cover

Putting her graphic skills to work, in just a few minutes, Katherine [Young] swapped out the cover girl for Olivia Hallisey, the 2015 Google Science Fair Grand Prize winner, and photoshopped in some new, inspired and empowering headlines. The result? A magazine cover that offers girls better alternatives to tips on how to “Wake up Pretty.”
Background and more commentary (and a larger view of the revised cover) at Women You Should Know.

The U.S. dropped over 26,000 bombs last year

An average of 3 per hour, 24 hours/day, every day during the final year of the Obama administration.
President Obama did reduce the number of US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he dramatically expanded the air wars and the use of special operations forces around the globe. In 2016, US special operators could be found in 70% of the world’s nations, 138 countries – a staggering jump of 130% since the days of the Bush administration.

Looking back at President Obama’s legacy, the Council on Foreign Relation’s Micah Zenko added up the defense department’s data on airstrikes and made a startling revelation: in 2016 alone, the Obama administration dropped at least 26,171 bombs. This means that every day last year, the US military blasted combatants or civilians overseas with 72 bombs; that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.

While most of these air attacks were in Syria and Iraq, US bombs also rained down on people in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. That’s seven majority-Muslim countries...

The twisted legal architecture the Obama administration has constructed to justify its interventions, especially extrajudicial drone killings with no geographic restrictions, will now be transferred into the erratic hands of Donald Trump.

"I Will Always Love You"


 
One of my favorite pieces of music, sung by the incomparable Dolly Parton. She wrote this way back in 1973 when she was breaking up with her long-time partner Porter Waggoner. She recut it again in 1982 for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (here is the YouTube video of the movie version.)

The song became even more famous in the 1990s when Whitney Houston covered it for her film debut in The Bodyguard. Her version was ranked #1 in VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Love Songs.

I have embedded two versions: the upper one features Dolly in a solo concert performance; the video is grainy, especially at fullscreen, but the power of her voice comes through well. The lower one is her duet with Vince Gill, which was rated by Country Music Television as #1 in their 100 Greatest Country Love Songs.

Both are worth listening to.

Originally posted in 2008.  Reposted to update one of the videos that had died.

08 January 2017

A truly shocking video of "defensive electrocution"


A corny title, yes.  But this really is an amazing video.  It shows electric eels coming out of the water to attack prey (or potential predators).  Read on for a more detailed explanation, but if you just watch the video, don't stop with the slo-mo.  Continue on to see the attack in real time.  Awesome.

Smithsonian and Nature report on this study conducted by Kenneth Catania, a professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
...when Catania dangled conductive materials into his eel tank in the shape of things like human arms or crocodile heads, the knifefish [eels] jumped partly out of the shallow water and attacked, rubbing their heads against the invading object for several seconds.

Meanwhile microphones the biologist had placed inside the tank confirmed the attacks were coordinated with a high voltage volley. "Importantly, they're not just leaping randomly. They're really following the conductor out of the water,” he says. "It's fascinating to me because it's clearly a very impressive and very useful defense mechanism."
He has found that the eels can deliver a more concentrated shock by projecting out of the water and pressing their chins against animals. "The eels may not be very good at shocking something that's not fully in the water so this behavior is the solution,” he says. "The higher [the eel] gets, the more of that power goes through what it's touching and the less goes back through the water from its tail. These eels have evolved to have remarkable output, and it turns out they have evolved pretty remarkable behavior to go along with that."

...his discovery supports a widely disbelieved observation made more than 200 years ago by the Prussian explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. In a paper published in 1807, von Humboldt recounted that he had seen South American native fishermen herding horses into a pool of electric eels; the eels would discharge themselves against the horses and could be fished safely when they were exhausted.


More at both links.


The "tears in rain" soliloquy

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.

All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."
I suppose I watched Blade Runner two or three times before I finally came to view this very brief soliloquy by the replicant as one of the key thematic moments of the film.
Hauer, director Ridley Scott, and screenwriter David Peoples asserted that Hauer wrote the "Tears in Rain" speech... In his autobiography, Hauer said he merely cut the original scripted speech by several lines, adding only "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain" although the original script, displayed during the documentary, before Hauer's rewrite, does not mention "Tanhauser Gate"...

Hauer said that these final lines showed that Batty wanted to "make his mark on existence... the robot in the final scene, by dying, shows Deckard what a real man is made of."

When Hauer performed the scene, the film crew applauded and some even cried. This was due to the power of the dying speech coming at the end of an exhausting shoot.
Reposted from 2012 because today is Roy Batty's birthday ("incept date") - as documented by this screencap from an early scene in the movie:


The Telegraph posted a series of tributes to Roy Batty on his birthday.

Leather grades explained

There are different grades of leather.  "Genuine" is near the bottom.
Starting at the top of the chain, we have full-grain leather. The term full-grain refers to leather that hasn’t been sanded or buffed out to remove marks or imperfections, so it includes the entire thickness of the skin...

Second on the list, and the second-highest quality, top-grain leather has the split layer with imperfections taken away, making it thinner and more workable for the manufacturer. This is the most common type of leather used in high-end products (think handbags), you’ve likely seen it everywhere...

...suede has a signature napped surface from the underside of the skin. Technically suede is formed from split leather, which has had the top-grain rawhide removed... Although suede feels great, it’s less durable because its thinner and absorbs liquid easily due to its porous surface. Similar to suede but generally regarded as being more durable, nubuck is top-grain cattle hide leather that has been lightly sanded on the outside...

Simply put, corrected-grain or “genuine” leather has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. For those of you who are looking for high-quality leather goods, this would be a negative. The leather-like pattern is impressed into the surface and then sprayed with stain or dyes to give the fake grain a more natural appearance...

At the bottom of the pyramid, bonded leather uses leftover scrap pieces of leather that are shredded to a near-pulp. These shreds are then bonded together using polyurethane or latex on top of a fiber sheet.
Discussed in a post at the TIL Reddit.

A family "selfie," 1910


I don't know their names; they presumably are from the Finseth branch of the family that moved from Minnesota to the Washington/Oregon area about the turn of the last century.

They seem to be enthusiastic adopters of photographic technology and to be delighted with their pear tree.

06 January 2017

Tarsus of a diving beetle


Photo credit Igor Siwanowicz/Nikon Small World 2016, via a gallery at Nature.

Retirement planning


Cartoon from the archives of The New Yorker.

Experimental glass penny from WWII era

"A rare experimental glass penny made during World War II has netted a pretty penny at auction — selling for $70,500.

Heritage Auctions announced Friday that the penny was sold during Thursday's auction based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to an American buyer who wishes to remain anonymous.

During the war, copper was needed for ammunition. The U.S. Mint authorized tests that included making uncirculated pennies from other metals, plastic and rubber. The Blue Ridge Glass Co. in Tennessee made experimental pennies using tempered glass...

The penny is likely unique since Burdette says only one other glass penny exists and it is broken."

Two "crash blossom" headlines



These examples via the Funny subreddit and The Express.

Previous examples here and here.

And a compilation here.

The term was originally created at Language Log.

Vädersoltavlan (1535)


Excerpts from the Wikipedia summary:
Vädersolstavlan (Swedish for "The Sun Dog Painting") is an oil-on-panel painting depicting a halo display, an atmospheric optical phenomenon, observed over Stockholm on April 20, 1535. It is named after the sun dogs (Swedish: Vädersol, "Weather sun") appearing on the upper right part of the painting. While chiefly noted for being the oldest depiction of Stockholm in colour, it is arguably also the oldest Swedish landscape painting and the oldest depiction of sun dogs...

The medieval urban conglomeration, today part of the old town Gamla stan, is rendered using a bird's-eye view. The stone and brick buildings are densely packed below the church and castle, which are rendered in a descriptive perspective (i.e., their size relates to their social status, rather than their actual dimensions). Scattered wooden structures appear on the surrounding rural ridges, today part of central Stockholm...

According to the passage in the Vasa Chronicle, however, both Petri and the master of the mint Anders Hansson were sincerely troubled by the appearance of these sun dogs. Petri interpreted the signs over Stockholm as a warning from God and had the Vädersolstavlan painting produced and hung in front of his congregation. Notwithstanding this devotion, he was far from certain on how to interpret these signs and in a sermon delivered in late summer 1535, he explained there are two kinds of omens: one produced by the Devil to allure mankind away from God, and another produced by God to attract mankind away from the Devil — one being hopelessly difficult to tell from the other. He therefore saw it as his duty to warn both his congregation, mostly composed of German burghers united by their conspiracy against the king, and the king himself...

 In the painting, the actual sun is the yellow ball in the upper-right corner surrounded by the second circle. The large circle taking up most of the sky is a parhelic circle, parallel to the horizon and located at the same altitude as the sun, as the painting renders it...
There's way more at the extensive Wikipedia page on old Stockholm and the science of the phenomenon.

Reposted from 2014 to add this photo of sun dogs I took just after dawn on this frosty Wisconsin morning:


My photo with a cellphone camera doesn't capture the intensity of brightness of the two sun dogs, or the subtle light pillar extending above the rising sun.

Note also:
The prelude to the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire, England in 1461 is supposed to have involved the appearance of a halo display with three "suns". The Yorkist commander, later Edward IV of England, convinced his initially frightened troops that it represented the three sons of the Duke of York, and Edward's troops won a decisive victory. The event was dramatized by William Shakespeare in King Henry VI, Part 3, and by Sharon Kay Penman in The Sunne In Splendour.

Worst ice hockey play ever


Your team is ahead by one goal with only 15 seconds left in the game.  You steal the puck and skate toward their empty net.  Then....   And then...

Credit reporting agencies behaving badly

"... on Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that two of the three major credit-reporting agencies responsible for doling out those scores—Equifax and Transunion—have been deceiving and taking advantage of Americans. The Bureau ordered the agencies to pay more than $23 million in fines and restitution.

In their investigation, the Bureau found that the two agencies had been misrepresenting the scores provided to consumers, telling them that the score reports they received were the same reports that lenders and businesses received, when, in fact, they were not.

The investigation also found problems with the way the agencies advertised their products...

That these credit agencies would abuse their power to mislead Americans attempting to take a more active role in monitoring their financial health is not only a violation of trust, it is dangerous.
More at The Atlantic.

04 January 2017

Sparrowhawk


Photo credit Ray Cooper (Scotland), via The Telegraph.

This is a "fire grenade"

"We found several of these old fire grenades in the attic of a large, old house in Edina [a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota]. It's a glass bulb filled with carbon tetrachloride, and was supposed to be thrown at the base of a fire to help put it out.

They were withdrawn in the 1950s because the chemical is toxic, and heat from fires can apparently turn the chemical into phosgene gas.
Found among the Fun home inspection photos from 2016.

Addendum:  Similar (but safer) products are still being manufactured and used.

Video of fire grenades being used.  The explanations I've seen about these tend to explain their efficacy as being a result of the gases produced, but I think not enough emphasis is given to the effects of the concussive explosion along as a fire-suppressant.

The "Oxford comma"

In English language punctuation, a serial comma or series comma (also called Oxford comma and Harvard comma) is a comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms.

For example, a list of three countries might be punctuated either as "France, Italy, and Spain" (with the serial comma), or as "France, Italy and Spain" (without the serial comma)...  It is used less often in British English, but some British style guides require it, including The Oxford Style Manual...

The style that always uses the serial comma may be less likely to result in ambiguity. Consider the apocryphal book dedication quoted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden:
To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.
There is ambiguity about the writer's parentage, because Ayn Rand and God can be read as in apposition to my parents, leading the reader to believe that the writer claims Ayn Rand and God are the parents. A comma before and removes the ambiguity: To my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.

An example collected by Nielsen Hayden was found in a newspaper account of a documentary about Merle Haggard:
Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.
The Times once published an unintentionally humorous description of a Peter Ustinov documentary, noting that "highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector". This would still be ambiguous if a serial comma were added, as Mandela could then be mistaken for a demigod, although he would be precluded from being a dildo collector.

In her style guide Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss writes: "There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don't, and I'll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken."
Much more at the link.

Related:  Is the semicolon an endangered symbol?

Point of view


From The New Yorker Cartoons of the Year 2016.

Ice dams


Woke up to sub-zero temperatures this morning.  This is the time of year when people in this part of the country often have to deal with ice dams.

The image above comes from a post at Structure Tech written by Reuben Saltzman.  Go to that link for a concise, well-illustrated, and authoritative explanation about preventing ice dams.

I have been intermittently reading Mr. Saltzman's other blog - The Home Inspector - for several years.  I can unreservedly recommend it to anyone who owns and maintains a house.

03 January 2017

Norwegian ancestors


In December my last remaining aunt died, at age 99.  In her belongings the family found many old photos, including the two embedded above.  These were tiny photos (3"x3"), originally encased in miniature wooden frames with no identifying information.  They were later stored and labeled "photos made in Norway.  Who are they?"  Of course we have no idea.

If they were direct lineal ancestors (rather than inlaws), they would have lived either in Distad in the Fjaerland Fjord and likely had the portraits done in Balestrand, or if they were related to my grandfather they might have lived in the Hemsedal/Hallingdal region (more likely I think).

The Norwegian side of my family emigrated to the United States in the 1850s, but these photos might have been sent to them later by relatives remaining behind.

If any readers have identical photos in their family albums, please let me know...

Ukrainian traffic lights


Excellent for those times when you have a large truck in front of you.  Via the Pics subreddit.
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