15 June 2018


Said to be samples from locations in the Sahara Desert.  Readers at the Reddit post suggested it looks like a "bronzer" (which I had to look up).  Someone else offered a picture of their sand collection.

And not just the Scandinavian elkhounds

"Aquamation" is cremation by water

In 2016, cremation became the most common method of body disposal in the U.S., overtaking entombment for the first time. This shift is often attributed to the high cost of traditional burial and the waning importance of religion. But experts also point to society’s changing views about how dead bodies should be disposed of. The spectrum of what’s morally acceptable is broadening, at the same time that the most common disposal methods are coming under scrutiny for their environmental impact. More than four million gallons of toxic embalming fluids and 20 million feet of wood are put in the ground in the U.S. every year, while a single cremation emits as much carbon dioxide as a 1,000-mile car trip. Thus, the rise in America of “green burials,” where bodies are wrapped in biodegradable material and not embalmed...

Sieber is a part of this trend, but she doesn’t want a green burial. When she dies, she told me, she wants her body to be dunked in a high-pressure chamber filled with water and lye. That water will be heated to anywhere from 200 to 300 degrees, and in six to twelve hours her flesh, blood, and muscle will dissolve. When the water is drained, all that will remain in the tank are her bones and dental fillings. If her family desires, they can have her remains crushed into ash, to be displayed or buried or scattered. This process is known colloquially as water cremation and scientifically as alkaline hydrolysis, or aquamation...

Alkaline hydrolysis was originally marketed as a way to rapidly decompose animal bodies and use their nutrients for fertilizer. It was later adopted by scientific labs to dispose of disease-contaminated bodies, like cow carcasses infected by mad cow disease in the 1990s. Its commercial use for animals began in the early 2000s, Seiber said, as grieving pet owners sought a sentimental disposal option that didn’t require an expensive burial or involve burning Fido to ashes.

In addition to its gentleness and cost (aquamation for dogs runs anywhere from $150 to $400, while cremation is around $100), veterinarians and pet funeral homes began to market aquamation’s environmental benefits.
But Sieber may not get her wish of being aquamated when she dies. Only 15 states allow alkaline hydrolysis for human remains, and Indiana, where Sieber lives and where Bio-Response is based, is not one of them. Casket-makers and the Catholic Church are working to make sure it stays that way. 
Much more at the longread at The New Republic.

Icelanders are organ donors BY DEFAULT

As reported in the Reykjavik Grapevine:
A crucial law on organ donations that was first introduced to Iceland’s Parliament in 2012 has finally passed. From this point forward, all Icelanders will be organ donors by default, unless they specify otherwise...

The concept of the law is fairly simple. All Icelanders will be assumed to be organ donors by default, with two exceptions: if the deceased specified beforehand that they do not want their organs to be removed, or if the deceased said nothing on the matter but their closest relative objects.

As reported, the bill is far from revolutionary. Other Scandinavian countries have similar laws on the books already.


I enjoy finding butterflies that are busy puddling, because they are so preoccupied with the task at hand that they allow me to get close for photographs.  On a springtime visit to Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, I saw butterflies literally by the tens of thousands puddling along the road.

Moths and butterflies have a behavior called “puddling”. Males (some females do this as well) will suck up liquids to gain nutrients such as sodium. Butterflies and moths can be observed puddling around puddles, ponds, mud, dung, damp concrete… and apparently, some are also attracted to saliva. Males are the usual suspects because they will offer these extra nutrients to females as a sort of nuptial gift along with their spermatophore during mating.

This moth was fed sugar water while in his enclosure, but apparently the allure of sweat and saliva were too much to resist.
Second photo and text credit to the caterpillar wrangler at Caterpillarblog.

Related:  puddling on a dead frog, on raccoon scat, and lachryphagy

And this incredible fact: " Butterflies that "puddle" at muddy spots or collections of animal dung are seeking sodium, which is rarely found in plants (potassium is the principal cation in vegetation). "In extreme cases a moth may imbibe an amount of fluid 600 times its own weight in a single puddling session, expelling the excess water as it drinks and retaining only the precious [sodium]."

Reposted from 2012 to add this photo:  I presume this butterfly (a Queen, I think) is also puddling -

Probably less dangerous than it appears, since I think crocodiles leave their mouths agape for extended period of time (?for thermoregulation). (Via)

Spain's new Minister of Science

"Pedro Duque earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) in 1986. He worked for GMV and for the European Space Agency (ESA) for six years before being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1992. Duque underwent training in both Russia and the United States. His first spaceflight was as a mission specialist aboard space shuttle mission STS-95, during which Duque supervised ESA experimental modules. In October 2003, Duque visited the International Space Station for several days during a crew changeover. The scientific program of this visit was called by ESA/Spain Misión Cervantes.
He has worked at the UPM, in the Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Aeronáuticos, and at Deimos Imaging. Currently he is back as an astronaut of ESA, and leads the Flight Operations Office near Munich.

On 6 June 2018, he was named Minister of Science, Innovation and Universities of the Government of Spain.  (via)
The United States doesn't have a Minister of Science.  We do, however, have a congressioinal Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.  It "has jurisdiction over all energy research... astronautical research and development, including resources, personnel, equipment, and facilities; civil aviation research and development; environmental research and development; marine research... National Aeronautics and Space Administration; National Science Foundation; National Weather Service; outer space, including exploration and control thereof..."

This committee is chaired by Lamar Smith, who has decades of experience as... an attorney and politician; he was formerly a contributor to Breitbart News, and tweeted an article from that source denying climate change.  The vice-chairman is a politician with experience in politics.  Maybe there's someone on the committee with experience in science.  I just don't have time to spend on a fruitless search.

Congratulations, Spain.

The world's oldest bridge

 (click photo for way way bigger)

As reported by The British Museum:
The bridge at Tello was built in the third millennium BC, making it the oldest bridge still in existence. This remarkable survival will be preserved by a team of British Museum archaeologists and Iraqi heritage professionals who are being trained to protect ancient sites that have suffered damage at the hands of Daesh (or the so-called Islamic State)...

Built for the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, the bridge was only rediscovered in 1929. Described at the time as an ‘enigmatic construction’, it has been variously interpreted as a temple, dam and water regulator. Recent studies using 1930s photographs as well as recently declassified satellite imagery from the 1960s, alongside new research at the site, have confirmed that it was a bridge over an ancient waterway and that it is (at the time of writing) the earliest-known bridge in the world. Since the excavations nearly 90 years ago, the bridge has remained open and exposed, with no identifiable conservation work to address its long-term stability or issues of erosion, and no plans to manage the site or tell its story to the wider world.
More photos and a video at the link.

Clever marketing

Via the Audiophile subreddit.


"One of the greatest, most alluring posters in the world: those sly cat eyes, those sumptuous cushions, that seductive plume of cigarette smoke, and most breathtaking: the white negative space of the petticoats, on which to dream. Le Frou-Frou was a light-hearted, satirical publication that ran from 1900 to the beginning of World War I; its pages contained pictures of can-can dancers, cartoons, humorous anecdotes of Parisian life, and more risqué elements like some of the first advertisements for condoms. This is the rare, large format version: complete with bottom text banner."
Image cropped for size from the original.

13 June 2018

"Becky" can be a perjorative term. And it's a "hypocorism."

You learn something every day.  This week a fascinating podcast at This American Life taught me some of the ramifications of calling a woman a "Becky."  I had to look up the history.  This from 2016 following the term's use by Beyoncé:
"For years, 'Becky' has been used as a general reference for a particular type of White woman," Damon Young wrote in Very Smart Brothas. "There are several theories on its etymology, but the one that makes the most sense is that it stems from the first line of 'Baby Got Back.'”

One use of "Becky" is simply to describe a woman considered beneath the speaker's level. The other is to refer to "a white woman who is clueless, who is kind of racist, [and] who makes statements without knowing what she's saying," said Whitehead.
Others said "Becky" is used to describe white women just because it's a stereotypically white-sounding name
USA Today suggested some literary counterparts:
What we do know: The name Becky has become a stand-in for a generic woman, generally white, who is familiar with sexual acts.

The cultural references date to William Makepeace Thackeray's satirical novel Vanity Fair published around 1847. The protagonist, Becky Sharp, is a social climber who utilizes one of the resources at her disposal -- her charm and ability to seduce wealthy men -- to move up the social ladder...

Fast-forward to 1876, and along comes Becky Thatcher seducing Tom Sawyer [top photo]...

In 1938, Daphne du Maurier sets up the ex that will haunt us all in her novel Rebecca...

Skip ahead to Sir Mix A Lot, who adds the phrase “oh my god Becky, look at her butt,” to the cultural lexicon. The lyrics to Baby Got Back indicate Becky and her friend are white, somewhat basic, and mildly racist...

Things get very NSFW in 2010 when rapper Plies takes the concept further. His song Becky is cited as the start of the name’s use as slang for a specific sexual act, not just a stand-in for a sexual woman...

Another incarnation has evolved simultaneously in gay communities, occasionally meaning gay or as a reference to the random girls who hang around gay bars that have no value-add...
I will wager dollars to doughnuts that nobody ever called Rebecca de Winter "Becky," and I think Becky Sharp and Becky Thatcher had nothing to do with the current usage.

The podcast that started my exploration is My Effing First Amendment ("The Brawl on the Mall"), about an incident at the University of Nebraska in which a liberal faculty member called a student supporting Turning Point USA a "neo-fascist Becky."  I highly recommend listening to all three segments of the podcast.  For those who prefer to read, there is a comprehensive report in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

And now to end with an interesting, useful finding.  "Becky" is an example of hypocorism - a diminutive form of a name (the word comes from the Greek for "child-talk" (cool).  The Wikipedia link has a list of too-many-to-count examples from over 30 languages.  Your name is probably there; mine is (I've been a hypocorism my whole life without knowing it...)

Top photo: Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer

Concealed wheelchair access

"The company has installed hundreds of these lifts into all sorts of buildings and structures, from the Kensington Palace to Cambridge University. Many of the buildings in which the lifts have been placed are centuries old, with historic facades and entries preservationists hoped to keep intact. The Sesame retractible staircase blends so well, you can hardly tell the spaces have been altered..."
I like the fact that there's a temporary anti-rollback ridge after it goes up.

For your front yard next Halloween

PVC pipe, chicken wire, cloth, spray paint, lantern.  Some assembly required, but looks easy.

12 June 2018


Photo via.

Bog pulling - a new summer sport in Minnesota

It's not rare for riparian vegetation to become detached and float free in lakes.  But last fall an immense bog near Brainerd Minnesota broke loose after high water lifted the mass of cattails and tamarack trees and high winds began pushing it;  the bog crossed a lake, destroying docks and boat lifts on its journey and eventually effectively obliterated a beach when it finally came to rest at a school safety patrol training center used by 700 children in the summer.  This spring efforts began at solving the problem using local resources and volunteers.

At 4 acres in size and 4,000 tons in weight, the bog has presented a major challenge to removal efforts.  The whitish lines in the top photo are temporary boardwalks set up to facilitate efforts with chainsaws to segment the bog into manageable pieces. 

The bottom image is a screencap from drone footage in the video at the Brainerd Dispatch.  That effort was unsuccessful, but recent work has resulted in some segmentation and an expectation for eventual success.

Top photo credit.

So far in June...

A two-year-old boy died after being shot by his 13-year-old brother in Ohio;

a four-year-old boy was shot in South Carolina after playing with a gun he found under a mattress; 

a 10-year-old boy was shot while playing in his yard in Mississippi;

a two-year-old boy was shot in the head

and a nine-year-old boy was shot in the stomach while shooting targets in Tennessee;

a four-year-old boy was shot at a gas station in Missouri;

a five-year-old boy was shot while sitting on a porch in Louisiana;

a five-year-old boy was shot in Pennsylvania;

a six-year-old boy in Kentucky died when a gun he was playing with went off;

a 12-year-old girl died after being shot by two teenagers in Georgia;

five-year-old boy was shot by his eight-year-old brother and seven people were shot at a child’s birthday party in Illinois;

and a ten-year-old boy was shot in the head at a birthday party in Virginia.

That's for approximately the first two weeks in June, for fox ache.

"Please Mr. postman... "

Yes, I know it's a difficult job.   Carriers work long days (our mail occasionally isn't delivered until after 6 p.m.) driving sometimes dodgy roads in unpleasant weather.  But it's so very frustrating when they seem to give up.

One Friday I was expecting a package that required my signature, and the tracking number said "Out For Delivery," so I did some chores near a window to monitor street traffic.  I saw the postman arrive, linger momentarily at the mailbox, then continue down the street.  When I walked out to the street I found in the mailbox the dreaded note: "SORRY WE MISSED YOU..."

There was no way I wanted to wait until Monday and then have to drive to the post office, and I knew that she would be coming back on the other side of the street, so I went across and waited for her return.

She smiled and said "Oh, my goodness.  How lucky for you that you got home when you did..."

Now I leave notes on the mailbox.

More than you need to know about "Please Mr. Postman"

Mutual fund managers are "preparing for a downturn"

I am by nature cautious re investments, and my party-pooper attitude about apparently ever-rising markets has not served me well in the past year or two, as the markets have continued to soar in the face of geopolitical turmoil and an impending trade war.  I can at least take some solace in hearing that at least some fund managers are becoming similarly disillusioned:
The signs are starting to add up that the United States is at the top of the economic cycle, and therefore headed down, likely into a bear market and recession, an increasing number of economists and money managers say. The main culprit for the looming downturn, they say, is the Federal Reserve, which is expected to again raise U.S. overnight interest rates on Wednesday...

When the music stops I do think it’s going to be pretty ugly,” said Jonathan Beinner, chief investment officer of global fixed income at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

Beinner highlights the increase of global debt, now upwards of $237 trillion and the way the debt has been dispersed as risks to the economy. Rather than banks holding most of the debt as it happened in the financial crisis, this time it’s hedge funds, private equity and investment managers holding most of it. Also worrisome, he says, ratings agencies are again being overly generous with their appraisals allowing for companies with very high debt levels to gain investment-grade ratings.

“We’ve sown the seeds for the next downturn and there’s a lot of similarities,” Beinner said, comparing today’s climate to what existed ahead of the global financial crisis in 2008.

After ’08 everyone was like, ‘I can’t believe we did all those very stupid things.’ But we’re doing them all over again,” he said during a presentation at the Bloomberg Invest summit in New York last week.
More at this link.  For those reluctant to sell profitable positions, one way to cushion the downside is with out-of-the-money index puts.

Africa's iconic baobab trees are dying

This story is reported in multiple news sites today.  Here's commentary from Ed Yong, my favorite science journalist:
Around 1,500 years ago, shortly after the collapse of the Roman Empire, a baobab tree started growing in what is now Namibia. The San people would eventually name the tree Homasi, and others would call it Grootboom, after the Afrikaans words for “big tree.” As new empires rose and fell, Homasi continued growing. As humans invented paper money, printing presses, cars, and computers, Homasi sprouted new twigs, branches, and even stems, becoming a five-trunked behemoth with a height of 32 meters and a girth to match.

And then, in 2004, it collapsed.

The tree’s demise was sudden and unexpected. In March, at the end of the rainy season, Homasi was in full bloom. But by late June, its health had suddenly deteriorated. One by one, its stems broke off from the gargantuan trunk and toppled. The last of them fell on New Year’s Day, 2005, ending 15 centuries of life...

This isn’t an isolated event. Of the 13 oldest known baobabs in the world, four have completely died in the last dozen years, and another five are on the way, having lost their oldest stems. “These large and monumental trees, which can live for 2,000 years or more, were dying one after another,” says Adrian Patrut from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, who has catalogued the deaths. “It’s sad that in our short lives, we are able to live through such an experience.”

Baobabs often have hollow trunks, with huge internal cavities that humans have used as shops, houses, chapels, and even prisons. When trees are hollow, it’s usually because the wood inside them has died. But baobab hollows were never filled; instead, these trees periodically produce new stems in the way that other trees sprout new branches. It’s the stems, fused together in a ring, that form the hollow space. That’s why the cavity is lined with bark, and shrinks with age.
More at NPR (whence the embedded photo) and at The Guardian.

Reactive hyperostosis

The specimen in the photo is a section of a deer's thoracic wall, with a Bear Razorhead-tipped arrow traversing five ribs and covered with reactive bone formation, a process that would have required many years.

Photo trimmed and modified for clarity from the original by Robert Stegall, whose father shot the deer and found the anomaly while dressing it out.  Posted by the Utah Conservation Officers Association on Facebook.

Comments closed because I don't have the time or energy to curate the anticipated responses.

Canadian milk and American tariffs

Various spins on the recent confrontation between Trump and Trudeau are being presented in the media.  Here are excerpts from an article in The Atlantic:
[Trump] was pretty explicit about the source of his beef: It’s dairy. Referring to steel and aluminum tariffs he has imposed on Canada, he wrote: “Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!” He has a point...

At issue is the Canadian supply-management system, which covers dairy, eggs, and poultry products. The system sets domestic production quotas and keeps prices stable, thereby guaranteeing farmers a steady income. And, in order to keep the supply stable, Canada blocks imports from other countries, including the U.S., by imposing tariffs—up to 270 percent on dairy products...

“In a multilateral context, there was more to trade off. Now the problem is that Trump is dealing with this in a bilateral context where trade barriers are generally very low,” Christopher Sands, the director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies, told me. “Most tariffs are down to zero anyway. So, there’s not much for the U.S. to give in return for the change.”

It doesn’t help that the U.S. subsidizes its own dairy industry heavily—up to $22 billion in 2015, according to one study. “The Canadians say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. You subsidize milk, too,’” Kelly, who is now a research scholar at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, said. “You’ve got all sorts of support programs for milk.”

In other words, Canada props up its dairy industry through quotas that cap the amount produced, and imposes heavy tariffs on imports. The U.S. subsidizes its dairy industry, resulting in lower costs for U.S. consumers, but a supply glut...

Those subsidies exist in the U.S. for the same reason Canada has a supply-management system: domestic politics.
Lots more on Trump/Trudeau at the link.   And here's one excerpt from The Guardian:
As a recent visitor to Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland”, where low prices are forcing the closure of hundreds of dairy farms a year, Muirhead said he encountered no resentment against Canada among local farmers. “The president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union told me that what they really wanted was a supply-managed system like ours,” he said.

Dairy deregulation has spread hardship wherever it has been implemented, Muirhead added. “Every single objective indicator says that in the case of dairy you cannot have a system that operates without production controls,” he said. “If you try, you’re basically consigning your farmers to a life of penury – or worse.”
To summarize:  In Canada, you can't produce milk, eggs, etc without some kind of permit specifying how much you can produce.  The government limits the amount so that prices are maintained at a level that produces a decent income for the farmers.  In the United States, anyone can produce all the milk and eggs they want.  In a good production year, product floods the market and drives down prices (good for consumers) which makes farming only profitable for immense corporate farms with the lowest per-unit costs.

Are production controls evil?  Communist?  Anticapitalist? Un-American?  Let me offer a counterpart from my personal experience.  I lived in Kentucky in the 1980s, and for part of that time I owned a small A-frame house in a rural area in Jessamine County, which I bought for the view of the river and the ownership of some adjacent woods and ex-pasture.  My property came with a "tobacco allotment" which allowed the owner to produce X pounds of tobacco per year.  I had a job and no time for hobby farming, so each spring I went to the courthouse and posted my name and allotment poundage on a bulletin board (dedicated to that purpose).  The next day I got a call from a proper farmer offering to buy my allotment.  I did this each year, receiving a small income that varied from year to year.

I found a New York Times article from 1993 that summarized tobacco allotments:
Ever since the Depression, the Government has lent tobacco farmers a hand by bolstering the prices paid to them on the market. But the farmers like to point out that unlike the growers of other crops whose prices are supported by the Government, they receive help that entails no net cost to the taxpayers -- that is, no "subsidies" in the usual sense.

The tobacco growers' boast, although accurate today, has been strictly true only in the last 11 of the 60 years since the Federal price-support program for tobacco was adopted. And even during this latter period, the Government has had to step in to bail the growers out once, in 1986. The cost was $1.1 billion.

The tobacco support program shores up the farmers' prices by limiting production of their crop, setting a minimum price for it at market and providing for loans from a Government agency to farmers' cooperatives.
More at the link.  I don't know what the system entails today, but it's obvious there's nothing "unAmerican" about production controls.

『Hit Like A Girl Contest 2018』Good Times Bad Times - LED ZEPPELIN / Cover by Yoyoka , 8 year old drummer from よよか on Vimeo.

Brief bio on the drummer at the Vimeo source.

08 June 2018

Divertimento #153

I really need to do some regular linkdumps to clean out my bookmark folders, but these gifs keep proliferating...

Squirrel ejector

Happiest dog ever

Dog knows how to chill at a swimming pool 

Is there a T. rex chasing everyone?

Peanut butter motivation for a dog on a treadmill

Praying mantis vs. mouse

Hit and run

Dog caught in the act (of being a dog)

Is the little fishy dead?  Nope!

Cows try to intimidate a Canada goose

Cat with cerebellar hypoplasia

Dog shares the last half of his cookie 

Duck vs. tiger


Throws like a girl

Catching the bridal bouquet

Couldn't do this again if he tried

Kid in green in a one-man wrecking crew

Street magic

Using electricity to burn wood

Superb invisible man costume

Runaway anchor (relevant to the etymology of "bitter end.")

Excellent moonwalk

Young woman climbs a wall 

Parisian immigrant climbs building exterior wall to save infant

This is Ona - a yacht owned by a Russian oligarch.  No, not that one.  The big one

Something something cliffs, in Ireland I think.  Can't remember.


Pasta extruder - very cool

Mastery of repetitive tasks


No hands after the first couple tumbles!

How a wire mesh is made (full video here)

This is not how you perform the "human wheel"

What would happen if you jump around in an elevator?

"Horizontal directional drilling" badly done

That's a cool way to drink beer!  Let me try that...

Dude picks fights with random people on street

How not to feed the birds

Crushing candles with a hydraulic press

Installing foam insulation

Tea leaves come back to life

Airplane windshield cracks mid-flight.  Science explained in this video.

A compilation video of what's wrong with FOX News

Baggage handler doesn't even try

How an Archimedes Screw works 

Liquid can boil and freeze simultaneously 

Calligraphy on watercolour paper

Simple magic trick

Speed-eating watermelon 

Alright.  Who stole the carrot?

Dog wants to help his human

How your brain can confuse a fake hand with your real one

Shopping with children

The difference between sisters and brothers

Dad trusts his kid too much  

The images embedded in this gif-fest are photochroms from Germany's Belle Époque.  More images (and explanations for these) at Hyperallergic.

07 June 2018

"Autonomous sensory meridian response" (ASMR)

I first learned about ASMR while driving my car listening to a segment of This American Life.  It's fascinating.
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli. The nature and classification of the ASMR phenomenon is controversial.
For those who want to explore the subject, Act Two of the TAL podcast is mesmerizing (just click the little forward arrow below "A Tribe Called Rest."  The entire segment lasts about 15 minutes, but try it for just 3-4 minutes...).

Reposted from 2014 to add the video above, depicting unintentional ASMR in the movies.  Via Kottke.



A followup on the death and exhumation of Tycho Brahe - updated x3

In 2010 I wrote a post entitled "Was Tycho Brahe murdered?  Many people have doubted that uremia secondary to urinary retention could have killed him, and have speculated that he was poisoned with mercury.

The following week, in More thoughts re Tycho Brahe and ... Hamlet, I reviewed the connection between the Danish astronomer and the famous (fictional) Danish prince, with a comment that Tycho's supernova of 1572 melds nicely with the theory that Edward deVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the real author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare.

In February of 2011, the Copenhagen Post noted that Tycho Brahe was to be exhumed for a forensic study.
A group of Danish and Czech experts will therefore soon be able to carry out detailed analyses of the astronomer’s bone, hair and clothing remains to find the answer to a centuries-old mystery as to whether he was murdered.
The leader of the Danish research team comes from the  University of Aarhus’ wonderfully-named Department of Medieval and Renaissance Archaeology.

Then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and the Prague Post announced the exhumation, and the preliminary results were made public.

It's a bit complicated.  From the Prague Post:
"We expected we would find the remains of Tycho Brahe and his wife in the grave. But after we opened it, we found remains of several other persons as well, which meant the team's archeologists had to keep working until last night to find out more about the identity of those bodies," said Petr Velemínský, head of the National Museum's anthropological depository. "We found remains of eight other individuals, five of whom were children, and that was certainly a surprise."

Conspiracy theorists claim a jealous Kepler poisoned Brahe before buying the astronomer's research from his unsuspecting widow and using it for his own ends. The story goes that Kepler used mercury to kill his former collaborator, but more skeptical voices say the tale is unlikely, calling the traces of mercury previously found in Brahe's corpse during an earlier exhumation a sign of nothing more than his penchant for alchemy, a common hobby of scientists at the time who sought to convert various elements into gold.

"When we examine the hair samples in Sweden and in Prague, and we have about 8 centimeters of his beard, we will be able to find information on what substances he administered in the last three months of his life," Vellev said. "And the bone samples will give us even further-reaching information on the last 15 years of his life."
These excerpts from the New York Times:
Brahe, who sported a distinctive gold and silver prosthetic nose — having lost the bridge of his real nose in a duel — was long thought to have died after his bladder burst. Legend has it that 11 days before his death he attended the banquet of a nobleman and was too polite to leave the table to go to the toilet.

Medical experts have exploded this theory, noting that bladder ruptures are highly unusual and that Brahe probably died from kidney failure. But even today, when Czechs excuse themselves from the table to go to the bathroom, they have been known to say, “Pardon me, I don’t want to end up like Tycho Brahe.”

Others contend that Brahe was killed by his cousin Eric Brahe on the orders of the Danish king, Christian IV, enraged over rumors that Brahe, a father of eight, was having an affair with the king’s mother. The cousin supposedly slipped some mercury into Brahe’s glass, causing him to die in delirious pain...

Legend has it that, at age 20, he damaged his nose in a duel with a fellow member of the Danish gentry, Manderup Parsbjerg, not over a woman, but over some fine point of mathematics...
A second NYT article focuses more on the Kepler-Tycho connection, with a reference to a scholarly book on the subject:
Those findings inspired “Heavenly Intrigue: Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and the Murder Behind One of History’s Greatest Scientific Discoveries,” a 2004 book by a pair of married journalists, Joshua Gilder and Anne-Lee Gilder. They argue that the evidence from the hairs [from a previous, incomplete exhumation and autopsy] points to two incidents of mercury poisoning, one at the time of the banquet and the other just before death, and that Kepler is the prime suspect because he had the means, the motive and the opportunity...

A devoutly religious scholar may not sound like a good candidate for murderer, but the Gilders argue that Kepler was an unhappy, temperamental zealot. In an astrological self-analysis, he described his “eagerness for trickery” and his plots against his “enemies,” and said he was under the influence of Mars's “rage-provoking force.”

Kepler resented Tycho’s higher status and, above all, his refusal to allow access to the full log of observations, including the records of Mars’s movements that Kepler considered essential to demonstrate the validity of his own model of the universe. Kepler tried several schemes to see Tycho’s data — to sneakily “wrest his riches away,” as Kepler put it — but Tycho resisted and forced Kepler to keep working on calculations aimed at supporting the Tychonic cosmology...
The results of the forensic studies will not be available until later this year.  In the meantime, I've requested the Heavenly Intrigue book from our library.  Stay tuned.

Photo by Jacob Christensen Ravn/Aarhus University, via European Pressphoto Agency

Addendum February 2012:
The results of a Danish-Czech-Swedish examination of fragments of the earthly remains of the 16th century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe has had to be postponed until 2012 due to a lack of funding, according to Prof. Jens Vellev who is leading the project.
Addendum December 2012The most recent forensic studies do not suggest murder by mercury or other detectable poison.
“There was mercury in the beard, you will also have traces of mercury if you have a beard,” said lead investigator Dr. Jens Vellev, from Aarhus University in Denmark, to BBC News. “But the amount of mercury was as you see in people [alive today].”

It is impossible that Tycho Brahe could have been murdered,” Vellev added. He also discounted the possibility death from a combination of other toxins: “If there were other poisons in the beard, we would have been able to see it in the analyses.”
Addendum June 2018:  A detailed postmortem examination of Brahe's skeleton by a team in the Czech Republic shows definite evidence of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis, which though not a lethal disease, is associated with various comorbidities that may be relevant in Brahe's case:
Previous studies of skeletal and hair remains of Tycho Brahe have ruled out the possibility that he died from a violent death (chronic poisoning) and excluded chronic long-term kidney disease and renal osteodystrophy, nutritional osteomalacia, vitamin D and calcium deficiency from gastrointestinal malabsorption syndromes, osteopenia, or osteoporosis.
The current paleopathological study provides further evidence about his health status, by revealing that he suffered from both diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis and obesity. These results, along with those of the isotopic analysis, give a glimpse into the lifestyle of the famous astronomer, revealing the dietary excesses a 16th century high-ranking individual could have afforded (high caloric intake and presumably excessive alcohol consumption). They also reveal the possible health consequences such a prestigious way of life could have had. Although this study does not allow a definite diagnosis to be reached, it highlights plausible reasons for the sudden illness and premature death of the famous astronomer, notably conditions resulting from so-called civilization diseases, which occur with high frequency in DISH patients.

Beach access

A thoughtful addition for visitors who don't have (or have access to) large-tire wheelchairs. Via

Wrap-around corner picture frames

Photo taken at the Red Squirrel Pub in Scotland, via.  How to make them.


Illegal in many states and localities (the parking, not the hitch per se), as discussed at the MildlyInfuriating subreddit.

In praise of blue spruce

We have several spruce in our yard, and I'm always impressed each year when the blue spruce put out their new growth in that light-blue or teal-bluegreen color (not sure how to name the shade), which contrasts so nicely with other garden plants in terms of color (and texture).  The older needles in the proximal parts of the branches revert to a more conventional green; there probably is some survival advantage to the blue hue, but I don't know what it is.

In the winter the large spruce hold the snow beautifully:

"Wealth redistribution" justified


Best-ever movie about the death of a parent

This is NOT a time-lapse

It's a normal moonset occurring, as always, during a sunrise (being watched by the people on a volcano in the Canary Islands).  As explained at APOD, the video was taken with a very long lens.

Whale autopsy

Behold the state of our oceans.
A whale has died in southern Thailand after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags, with rescuers failing to nurse the mammal back to health. The small male pilot whale was found barely alive in a canal near the border with Malaysia, the country’s department of marine and coastal resources said.

The whale vomited up five bags during the rescue attempt.

Funny and sad


The size of U.S. households

From the DataIsBeautiful subreddit.

02 June 2018


blindekuh restaurants in Basel and Zürich serve patrons in the dark.
blindekuh is one of the largest private-sector employers for people with impaired vision. In our restaurants and through our cultural activities, we create valuable jobs, foster dialogue between sighted people and those with visual impairments, and open up new perspectives for young and old alike.
blindekuh – the name means "Blind Man's Buff" in German – was founded in 1999 and was the first establishment of its kind in the world...

The blindekuh concept has been copied successfully several times. blindekuh Zurich, the world's first restaurant in the dark, opened its doors in September 1999. It was followed in April 2001 by the "Unsicht-Bar" in Cologne and in June 2002 by "Nocti Vagus" in Berlin. Another "Unsicht-Bar" opened in Berlin in September 2002, then came "Dans le Noir" in Paris in September 2004, "Taste of Darkness" in the Dialogue Museum in Frankfurt, and a further "Dans le Noir" in London. blindekuh Basel opened in February 2005. The "Unsicht-Bar" in Hamburg followed in September 2006, then "Dans le Noir" in Moscow just two months later. The concept has since spread outside Europe, and blindekuh is constantly receiving requests from around the world for support with launching similar projects...

The blindekuh enterprises are self-supporting, so they receive no state subsidies. The concept is labour-intensive, partly because operating in the dark makes certain processes more difficult and also because guests need more information and a higher level of service than in a conventional catering outlet. Employees benefit from good working conditions and wages above the market average. Our cultural events in the dark and our staff's high availability for the media, schools and other interested parties add to the concept's costs. For these reasons, blindekuh relies on donations.

The kindergarten school play has been cancelled

In April 2014, the Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, New York, sent a letter to the parents of its kindergartners, confirming rumors that the school would not be going ahead with its annual play.
Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians,
We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the twenty-first century are changing schools.
The reason for eliminating the kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and careers with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.
These kids, the letter implied, could not spare two days from their regularly scheduled work.
Continued in the June issue of Harper's Magazine.

"Ultimate Monopoly" board

Apparently this is real, but was banned by the manufacturer for copyright reasons.  Discussed in a post at the Gaming subreddit.

U.S. fertility at a historic low

As reported by Vox:
American women are having so few babies these days that the fertility rate has hit a historic low, according to stunning provisional data just published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of births in the US dropped by 2 percent between 2016 and 2017, to 60.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, continuing a general downturn that started with the Great Recession of 2008. It’s the lowest the fertility rate has been in 30 years...

“To put this in perspective, the [total fertility rate] hovered above 3.0 in the early 20th century, declined to replacement levels of about 2.1 in the 1940s; reached a peak of 3.7 in the post-World War II baby boom; and then declined rapidly to relatively stable low levels in the 1970s,” researchers from Columbia University, the University of Illinois, and other universities wrote in a commentary about the new data in the Hill...
The teen birthrate has dropped by over 50% in the past decade:

There are various reasons for this, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff has explained, but one major one is we have better access to birth control. Women these days are just as likely to be sexually active as they were in the past, Kliff reported, but how they use contraceptives has changed: ..

 “It’s not ‘the sky is falling’ — but our country needs to adjust to the reduction in the fertility rate,” said John Rowe of Columbia. To do that, he laid out a few potential approaches. “One is keeping older people in the workforce longer. The second is technology — relying on animation, robots and [artificial intelligence] to boost productivity in the absence of workers. A third is increasing immigration. The [final] is boosting the fertility rate,” he summed up. Keeping older folks in the workforce is probably among the most attractive solutions, Rowe argued, since it keeps people’s minds and bodies engaged and the Social Security trust fund replenished. “But we need to start the processes now,” he added, “because the downturn in the fertility has been going on for several years. And it’s going to take two decades or so to get the policies in place and change employers attitudes.”
More data and commentary at the link.

Behold the evolution of the cradle

I spotted the above device in a local Target store last month and had to go online to figure out exactly what it was:
The 4moms® mamaRoo® infant seat bounces up and down and sways from side to side, just like parents do when comforting their baby. Select from five unique motions (car ride, kangaroo, wave, tree swing and rocka-a-bye) and five different speeds. Choose from four built-in sounds or connect it to any MP3 player.

The adjustable seat reclines to any position for maximum comfort so baby can lie flat to rest or sit up for play. The mamaRoo is Bluetooth enabled so you can control the motion, sound, speed and volume from your compatible smart device!

Keep baby’s attention with the toy mobile which now includes interactive, reversible toy balls (mirror, rattle and crinkle toys).
I'll defer passing judgment;  I'm sure there's nothing that can go wrong and that it's secure from hacking.

A "trade war" in everything but name

As the EU announced retaliatory tariffs, a representative offered some diplomatic doublespeak:
The commissioner said that despite the EU's "rebalancing" action, the two sides were not in a trade war. "What we are in is a very difficult situation," Ms Malmstrom said.
The article continues:
Ms Malmstrom said the EU would challenge the move at the World Trade Organization (WTO) but that tariffs on US imports were necessary as "we cannot just take these tariffs and stay silent"...

UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the 25% levy on steel was "patently absurd", adding: "It would be a great pity if we ended up in a tit-for-tat trade dispute with our closest allies." Gareth Stace, head of trade body UK Steel, said the tariffs were "no way to treat your friend" and called on the government to safeguard the industry's 31,000 jobs...

Opposition to the US tariffs was also voiced by prominent Republicans. House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most influential Republican in Congress, said the move "targets America's allies when we should be working with them to address the unfair trading practices of countries like China"...
Posted today because last night commentary by Mark Shields and David Brooks on the PBS Newshour addressed this topic quite frankly:
  • David Brooks:
    Well, trade tariffs are almost always a bad idea, because it seems good, oh, let’s protect our industry. But the other side gets to do the same. And so you end up just hurting each other, which is — we’re now well down that spiral of hurting ourselves.

    But I think what strikes me is Donald Trump’s capacity or incapacity for relationship. Most of us, when we have a relationship, it’s built on trust, predictability, reciprocity. And we are friends with Canada. We are friends with Europe. We are friends with Mexico. And we ever — does he ever have a relationship built on trust, reciprocity and predictability?

    The exact opposite. And so we are treating our friends like enemies, which is bad for our relationships. It’s also just bad for our economy. And so he just has a mentality that sees the world as me and enemies. And sometimes that’s OK. If he wants to treat Iran and North Korea like an enemy, that’s fine.

    But when you’re dealing with your friends, your employees, the people around you, to treat everyone like an enemy is just ruinous. And I think this is not going to destroy the economy, but it’s just a bad way for America to be in the world.

  • Mark Shields:
    Every president imposes his values upon the country at some point, either consciously or unconsciously, and sometimes permanently.

    And Donald Trump is a man without friends, whatever anybody says. Any biographer could not find a friend. He doesn’t understand the relationship like that of the United States and Canada. Canada has been at the United States’ side at every major conflict, at every major international agreement. It’s been there. And the idea of making Canada hostile, the object of the scorn, is just — is just unacceptable. It’s not how you treat your friends. That is not how you forge alliances. It is not how you sustain an alliance.

    And I can understand the feeling toward China; but China, if anything, has been a favorite. I mean, where did the president make his greatest effort, to save jobs in China for ZTE after our intelligence forces said it was a security risk to the United States in what they have been doing and trading with Iran, against the protocols?

    So, I mean, this is a — unpredictability may be very interesting in the real estate business. It’s, quite frankly, reckless and dangerous in international relations, especially with those allies.

There are all sorts of buried treasures...

From a story in the Guardian's "Experience" series:
The first time I dug up some vintage denim, I had no idea what it was worth. It just looked like some old rags, so instead of carefully uncovering it, I pulled on it and tore it to pieces. I’d actually been digging for antique whisky bottles, and what I didn’t know then was that those “rags” were likely worth thousands.

Out in the desert in California, Nevada and Arizona, there are abandoned silver mines like buried time capsules, virtually untouched, and you can find vintage bottles down there that are worth a lot to collectors. But as I searched for them, I kept coming across these scraps of denim, because jeans,
especially Levi’s, were worn by the silver miners in the late 1800s. When a miner got a new pair of work pants, he’d cut up the old ones and use them for lagging around pipes, so there were a lot of antique jeans buried out here...

I put a few of the denim items I’d dug up on eBay. A Japanese collector contacted me and came all the way out here to look at my collection in person. I sold him a jacket for $1,000. At the time, it seemed a good deal, but he told me not to talk to other people or tell them what I was doing; I realise now that he didn’t want me to find out how much these things were worth. I talked to other dealers and collectors, and found out he was selling the pieces back to Levi’s for its archives – he’d sell them a pair of jeans for upwards of $100,000...

A few years ago, my father-in-law dug up the holy grail: the oldest pair of Levi’s from 1873, the first year they were manufactured. They’re in really good condition – they look like a normal modern pair of jeans, really, only back then, they had a crotch rivet and no belt loops. I wish we could keep them for our personal archives, but recently I had an offer of about $100,000.
More at the link.

Addendum:  Back in 2008 I posted a photo of a pair of old jeans found in a California mine that sold for $36,000 on eBay.

Reposted from 2015 to add this report of a pair of old jeans that sold for "nearly $100,000."
They were purchased in 1893 by Solomon Warner, a storekeeper in the Arizona Territory. Warner was a colorful character who established one of the first stores selling American dry goods in Tucson and survived being shot by Apache Indians in 1870.

The denim was produced at a mill in New Hampshire, and the jeans were manufactured by Levi's in San Francisco. Unlike modern Levis, the jeans in those days had only a single back pocket. There were no belt loops because men used suspenders back then...

They'd been stored for decades in a trunk and were in pristine condition because Warner wore them only a few times before falling ill, Soules said.


30 May 2018

An orthopedist's wet dream

I should think most web-surfers are by now familiar with the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-rolling and Wake.
In theory, competitors are aiming to catch the cheese; however, it has around a one-second head start, and can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour (110 kilometres per hour), enough to knock over and injure a spectator. In the 2013 competition, a foam replica replaced the cheese for reasons of safety. The winner was given the prize of an actual cheese after the competition.
There are lots of basically identical videos. I like this version because of the choice of slow motion and the music.  A tip of the blogging hat to gwdMaine at Neatorama, who identified the music as the aria "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen and offered this verse from the lyrics:

The bird you hoped to catch
Beat its wings and flew away
Love is far, you can wait for it;
You no longer await it, there it is.
All around you, swift, swift,
It comes, goes, then it returns.
You think to hold it fast, it flees you,
You think to flee it, it holds you!

One advantage of being rich

(caption contest) (winner: "Lawndry")

It's a "caption contest" because I can't think of a title for the post, but wanted to share the image.

Designed by Mehmet Ali Uysal, located in Chaudfobtaine, Belgium, via.
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