31 March 2018

How to make your own Easter peeps


If you're lucky, they'll come out looking like the ones on the right.

Instructions at The Cut.
Most important, though, your Peeps will make you the center of attention of any party lucky enough to have you as a guest. People will marvel at your boldness, creativity, and culinary expertise. “I didn’t even know you could make these at home!” they’ll say. Some will fall in love with you, others will resent you for the success you’ve achieved, but absolutely everyone will be talking about you and your Peeps.

Orwellian



Watch the video (runtime less than two minutes) before reading further.

Last fall an article in The Guardian offered these observations:
Sinclair Media Group is the owner of the largest number of TV stations in America. “Sinclair’s probably the most dangerous company most people have never heard of,” said Michael Copps, the George W Bush-appointed former chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the top US broadcast regulator...

The New York Times refers to the group as a “conservative giant” that, since the Bush presidency, has used its 173 television stations “to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda”. The Washington Post describes it as a “company with a long history of favoring conservative causes and candidates on its stations’ newscasts”...

Another cause for concern, and increased scrutiny, is what’s seen as the company’s pronounced political agenda. Sinclair forces its local stations to run pro-Trump “news” segments. In April, they hired Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign spokesman and member of the White House press office, as its chief political analyst. His “must-run” 10-minute political commentary segments unsurprisingly hewed closely to the Trump administration’s message. The news and analysis website Slate, referring to Epshteyn’s contributions, said: “As far as propaganda goes, this is pure, industrial-strength stuff.”..

The focus of the concern is Ajit Pai, the man Trump appointed as head of the country’s top broadcasting regulator, the FCC. Since he began work in January, Pai has been busy relaxing the protections for local broadcasting that had previously limited Sinclair’s expansion. Trump’s new-look FCC has moved swiftly to clear the hurdles for Sinclair’s proposed takeover of Tribune... In addition to changes paving the way for Sinclair’s merger, Pai’s FCC has proposed eliminating one of its most fundamental rules, which requires local news stations to actually have a local studio where they broadcast the news.
Way more at the link.   Does Sinclair own a station in your broadcast area?  Almost certainly.  Wikipedia has a list of the stations owned or operated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

I have to commend whoever composed the video.  It is an absolute masterwork - and quite chilling.

For those interested in pursuing this more deeply, Judy Woodruff presented a segment on the PBS Newhour discussing the impact of Sinclair's extensive ownership of local television channels.

Human foot encased by a boot


No.  Not really.  But not far off.

This is a sagittal section of an elephant's foot.  For those with at least a passing familiarity with human anatomy, the parallels are quite striking: tibia, heel, metatarsals, etc.  The difference is in the pad under the heel.  I found more information at the Journal of Anatomy:
The uniquely designed limbs of the African elephant, Loxodonta africana, support the weight of the largest terrestrial animal. Besides other morphological peculiarities, the feet are equipped with large subcutaneous cushions which play an important role in distributing forces during weight bearing and in storing or absorbing mechanical forces... the cushion also presumably helps to distribute the animal's weight over the entire sole... deformable foot cushions serve to absorb mechanical shock, store and return elastic strain energy, protect against local stress and keep pressures low...

In addition to the obvious mechanical functions, the cushions are important sensory structures. The high concentration of sensory receptors such as Vater–Pacinian corpuscles within the cushion and Meissner corpuscles in dermal papillae of the adjacent skin might rank an elephant's foot among the most sensitive parts of its body.
This comment sums up some of the mechanical aspects:
The heels of elephants compress as they walk along, a bit like suspension, so they can walk without their centre of mass moving up and down but maintaining it at a constant height. This means they are doing less work since they’re not having to raise and lower their mass, which because they are so large would be a huge waste of excess energy, even though it’s negligible for animals like us.
And IIRC, elephants are capable of detecting infrasound, which I presume is related to that final comment about the sensory function of the feet.
"When culling was being done in some of the parks, the elephants could clearly detect andidentify the thump-thump-thump sound of the helicopter blades from 80 to90 miles (130 to 140 kilometers) away, identify it as danger, and take off in the opposite direction." 
This is way more interesting than I initially thought.  You learn something every day.

30 March 2018

"Winner, winner...


... ramen dinner."

Marble veil and a marble net

"Veiled Lady by Rafaello Monti, c.1860, held by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts"
Via Stuff about Minneapolis.

Reposted from 2016 to add this remarkable marble work:


"Deception" (Il Disinganno), by Francesco Queirolo,  carved from a single block of marble in 1752-59. shows a fisherman being released from a net by an angel.  It's hard for me to conceive of the superhuman skill involved in carving that netting from marble.

Provenance of a "gnome"


The Paris Review looked up the provenance of familiar folk wisdom that the month of March "comes in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb."  They found the adage recorded in Gnomologia: adagies and proverbs; wise sentences and witty sayings, ancient and modern, foreign and British, published in 1732.  It probably dates further back in folk wisdom, but perhaps not in written form.

You can browse the book full-text.  It's chock full of proverbs and aphorisms:


I had to look up "gnomologia."  "Knowledge of the gnomes" didn't quite compute.  I found out that "gnome" can also be defined as -
"short, pithy statement of general truth," 1570s, from Greek gnome "judgment, opinion; maxim, the opinion of wise men," from PIE root *gno- "to know."
You learn something every day.

How "trickle-down economics" works

27 March 2018

Siblings will relate to this


Via

How to make a Cheeto


I love Cheetos, and I was curious, and I initially intended to just use the timeline to browse the content, but I wound up watching the entire sixteen minutes of this video.  What was most interesting to me was not "how to make a Cheeto," but rather how knowledgeable the chef was with regard to food science.  A professional chef is different from you and me the way a professional golfer is different from a weekend duffer. 

This is a totally impractical video.  It will never be worth anyone's time and expense to make Cheetos at home rather than buy them, but for me it was enjoyable watching someone at the top of her game display her skill set.

And if you enjoyed this video, the Bon Appetit channel has lots more.

Via Neatorama.

Adult parties are different from teen parties


Via.

Anglerfish

For nearly a half-hour, scientists filmed the female anglerfish as she tumbled gently along with the ocean current at a depth 2,600 feet. The footage features her parasitic mate, a male one-tenth her size, clutched to her belly... The pair was observed off the steep southern slope of São Jorge Island, located in the central Azorean archipelago of Portugal...

"One can't help but think these fin-rays form a network of sensory antennae, a kind of sphere of tactility around the fish -- akin to cat whiskers -- that functions to monitor the close presence of predators or prey," said Ted Pietsch, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington.

25 March 2018

Divertimento #150


A complete (and complicated) Harry Potter universe family tree.

"Pakistani police have arrested four people accused of stealing spinal fluid from women. The suspects told women they had to provide blood samples to qualify for financial assistance from the Punjab government, police told BBC Urdu. However, they extracted spinal fluid instead, and attempted to sell it on the black market, police added.

A history of ice skating wardrobe malfunctions.

"Trenton Lewis' legs ached from the 11-mile walk he made every morning to get to his 4 a.m. shift. And yet the 21-year-old dutifully did it for seven long months..."

A compilation of clips from movies that won cinematography Oscars.

More than 100,000 critically endangered orangutans have been killed in Borneo since 1999.

"An Irish drugmaker has jacked up the price of a painkiller to nearly $3,000 a bottle. The drug is 22 times more expensive than when the company acquired it in late 2013."

Kangaroo hunter vs. kangaroo.  Kangaroo wins.

"... the first known instance of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers mounting human skulls on stakes."

"How Creedence Clearwater Revival Became the Soundtrack to Every Vietnam Movie."


An excellent longread about the archaeology of ancient Nubia.

"Beneath Congo’s soil lies an estimated (at 2011 prices) $24 trillion in natural resources, including rich supplies of oil, gold, diamonds, the coltan used in computer chips, the cobalt and nickel used in jet engines and car batteries, the copper for bathroom pipes, the uranium for bombs and power plants, the iron for nearly everything. This wealth is the source of untold suffering."

An impressive example from the Power Washing Porn subreddit.  Professional advice re powerwashing.

"Florida lawmakers on Tuesday passed a resolution declaring pornography a public health risk, less than an hour after they rejected a motion to consider a bill that would ban assault rifles."

The symbol for plutonium is PU. “The obvious choice for the symbol would have been Pl,” wrote chemists David Clark and David Hobart in 2000, “but facetiously, Seaborg suggested Pu, like the words a child would exclaim, Pee-yoo!” when smelling something bad... “he just thought it would be fun” to treat this element as if it were stinky.

"Sweden’s latest fitness craze — plogging — is making its way to U.S. shores. The term is a mash-up of jogging and the Swedish “plocka upp,” meaning pick up. In this case, litter."

Bird photobombs meteorologist.

Candles that smell like a bookstore (mix of leather, wood, and coffee).

The danger of working in a steel factory.



"Blanke was no anomaly, but was one of hundreds of West and Northern Africans living freely and working in England during the Tudor dynasty. Many came via Portuguese trading vessels that had enslaved Africans onboard, others came with merchants or from captured Spanish vessels. However once in England, Africans worked and lived like other English citizens, were able to testify in court, and climbed the social hierarchy of their time. A few of their stories are now captured in the book, Black Tudors by author and historian Miranda Kaufmann."

A discussion of mass mortality events.  Here's an example ("Starfish Armageddon").

All the lyrics for The Dark Side of the Moon.

Handy reference site to listen to owl calls.

"The emperor had suffered from this same ailment, on-and-off, his whole life. In response, he poured money into research on the illness. It was a matter of survival: for the emperor, his family, and Japan’s ruling class. While most diseases ravage the poor and vulnerable, kakke afflicted the wealthy and powerful, especially city dwellers. This curious fact gave kakke its other name: Edo wazurai, the affliction of Edo (Edo being the old name for Tokyo). But for centuries, the culprit of kakke went unnoticed: fine, polished, white rice." [beriberi]

A trenchant reply to his question.

Awesome technology recovers lost movie footage

If you enjoy my linkdumps, you should visit Things Magazine every week.

Video shows how to dig a snowhole for protection during a blizzard.



A man and his wife hacked the lottery (legally). "Right there, in the numbers on the page, he noticed a flaw—a strange and surprising pattern, like the cereal-box code, written into the fundamental machinery of the game. A loophole that would eventually make Jerry and Marge millionaires, spark an investigation by a Boston Globe Spotlight reporter, unleash a statewide political scandal and expose more than a few hypocrisies at the heart of America’s favorite form of legalized gambling."

Nice portrait of Elvis and Priscilla.

Cheerful story from a Waffle House (and others in the discussion thread).  Followup.

"Work and life lessons from a former dominatrix."

Re stolen and missing Oscars.

"Gratuitous cruelty" by Homeland Security.  "There is no allegation that the little girl, known in court filings only as S.S., is a terrorist, nor is there any suggestion her mother is one. Neither was involved with smuggling, nor contraband, nor lawbreaking of any other variety... officials decided that the right thing to do was to wrench S.S. from her mother, whereupon the mother “could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother..."

Advertisement for a camera shows where photographer's eye has to be.

"Trapped in the rigid structure of diamonds formed deep in the Earth's crust, scientists have discovered a form of water ice that was not previously known to occur naturally on our planet."

You do not have a mousepad as cool as this one.

Humorous name for salt water taffy.

A bear with a bucket.



The images embedded in this linkfest come from an interesting article in Public Domain Review. "Allison C. Meier looks at the wonderfully ornate float and costume designs from Carnival’s “Golden Age” and the group of New Orleans artists who created them."

24 March 2018

Divertimento #149


Another "gif-fest," sorted into categories for those with limited time or interests


Animals

Cow-scratcher is satisfying to watch

Moose in a house

This squirrel barely escaped death

Crow and kitten are buddies (excerpted from this longer documentary video)

Do you have any extra fish?

Baby chicks will go into a "hand house"

Dog shares his biscuit with a friend

Officer tolerates a woodpecker

Woman rescues an icebound moose

Lion vs. giraffe (giraffe wins)

"Please let me in"

Will he or won't he?  Of course...

Cows interact with a remote-controlled toy car

Mother eagle on her nest in a snowstorm


Nature/Science

Neoboletus luridiformis mushroom tissue oxidizes to the color blue.  Immediately.

An underwater air ring is a dynamic environment, as this jellyfish discovered.

A swimming feather star

Fossilised ammonites.  Nice!

Red-eyed tree frog shows his nictitating membrane


Curiosities

A "cadogan form" teapot is basically a puzzle pot.  Obvious explanation here.

Boston Dynamics robot has an unusual skill.

Puri (Indian bread), or a "bubble pancake"

Bicycling kites

"Indoor Rainbow" is an art installation

Cutting a deck of cards (with a hydraulic press)

Wheel from a race car rejoins its family

Colliding apples

A "stick bomb" made with popsicle sticks.

Andre the Giant had big hands.

Foot juggling (Ed Sullivan show, 1969)

How a fashion photographer created a special effect


Children

Stacking building blocks

Delighted with his success

Daughter surprises her father by changing her last name (cheerful)


Miscellaneous

Creating a 3-D perspective

Schoolteacher of the future getting dressed for work

The famous "Bigfoot video" stabilized.

Removing a popcorn ceiling.

Take a video while I stand in this oceanside blowhole ["fail" gif]

He's not a Darwin Award candidate only because he didn't die ["fail" gif]

Petals in the wind

When you're bored in the store

Exchange programs like this do exist and are very useful

A table for people who are serious about Mahjong

Tilly gets her new bionic hands

For basketball fans


Humor

Two drunks meet in a doorway

Guitarist breaks a string

How many licks are there in a lollipop?

Sudden stop


The embedded photos are of miniature staircases, crafted by master woodworkers in the 18th and 19th century, via Atlas Obscura, where their history is explained.

23 March 2018

I think I'll give the cinnamon honey a pass...


From the Crappy Design subreddit.

How ancient Greeks COULD have sailed to Canada


There's no proof that they did, but there is a way they could have bypassed the problem of the easterly Gulf Stream current.
Now a team of Greek scholars proposes another—and much earlier—wave of European migration: the Hellenistic Greeks, in triremes powered by sail and oar in the first century CE, nearly a millennium before the Vikings. These ancient Greeks regularly visited what is now Newfoundland, the study’s authors say. They set up colonies that lasted centuries, and they mined gold...

The idea is based entirely on a new examination of a dialogue written by the influential Roman author Plutarch, who lived from 46 to 119 CE. “Our intention is to prove, with modern science, that it was possible for this trip to be made,” Ioannis Liritzis, an archaeologist at the University of the Aegean who proposed that the ancient journeys took place...

For instance, Plutarch wrote that the “great continent” lies beyond the isle of Ogygia, which, according to the text, is itself a five-day trip by trireme west from Britain. Plutarch also wrote that the Greek settlers accessed the “great continent” through a bay that lines up with the Volga River delta, the northern entrance to the Caspian Sea. Using Google Earth, Liritzis drew a line from this location across the Atlantic, and found it led to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence...

Other archaeologists say the occurrence of such a voyage is implausible—though not necessarily impossible.
The source article is at Hakai magazine.

20 March 2018

The state of our oceans



Top photo:  location of uninhabited Henderson Island
Bottom photo: a beach on the island

Discussed at The Atlantic:
Henderson Island is about the most remote place you can visit without leaving the planet. It sits squarely in the middle of the South Pacific, 3,500 miles from New Zealand in one direction and another 3,500 miles from South America in the other. To get there, Jennifer Lavers had to fly from Tasmania to Tahiti, catch a small, once-a-week plane to the Gambier Islands, join a freight ship that had already sailed for 10 days from New Zealand, and ask it to change course for Henderson. No ship travels there unless you specifically ask it to...

When Lavers actually arrived on Henderson, she found that the situation was even worse than the images had suggested. At her landing site, her team immediately came across a truck tire—so large and deeply buried that they couldn’t move it. “That was a warning,” she said. “It got worse and worse. There’s an area that we call the garbage patch, where you can’t put your foot down without stepping on a bottle cap. The sheer volume really took my breath away for all the wrong reasons.”

Henderson should be pristine. It is uninhabited. Tourists don’t go there. There’s no one around to drop any litter. The whole place was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1988. The nearest settlement is 71 miles away, and has just 40 people on it. And yet, seafaring plastic has turned it into yet another of humanity’s scrapheaps. “It’s truly one of the last paradises left on earth, and one of the least visited but heavily protected bits of land on the planet,” Lavers says. “But I don’t think I’ve stood somewhere and been so utterly and completely surrounded by plastic.”

Of interest to those with AVMs


(like me):
Researchers have found the genetic cause of a blood-vessel disorder that can cause deadly bleeds and stroke. Scientists at University College London Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) who led the study, called it an "enormous step" towards understanding and treating arteriovenous malformation (AVM). And they now believe targeted cancer drugs may be able to treat it...

Teams in London, Edinburgh and Cambridge, collaborated on the research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The researchers took biopsies from 160 children with blood vessel disorders including AVMs and sequenced the DNA in the affected tissue. They found four faulty genes that could trigger the condition, all involved in the signalling pathway between cell surface receptors and the nucleus. The same gene mutations are also involved in the growth of many cancers.

There are several licensed cancer drugs that target the faulty RAS-MAPK pathway. The discovery means doctors now have the potential to treat AVMs with cancer drugs.
More information and a brief video at the BBC source.   The JCI is an absolutely top-notch peer-reviewed journal for cutting-edge basic medical science; the referenced article is here.

Here is the link for the Butterfly AVM Charity.

19 March 2018

Bumper snicker



Backstory here

Image cropped and color-adjusted from the original here.

The history of "pouring one out"


The context for the photo is obvious from recent news, but the history of the phrase and the tradition was unknown to me.   I found the following at Vinepair:
One of the oldest instances of pouring one out—technically known as making a libation—comes from Ancient Egypt, where the liquid offering for the dead was typically water (the rhythms of the Nile River being a source of life and death, that seems pretty apt).  There’s even biblical... reference to the practice.  Per Genesis 35:14, “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him [God], even a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it.” Not quite an offering for the dead so much as, well, Yahweh, but still, we have the concept of pouring liquid out as an act of reverence...

The Greeks had two kinds of libation, spondai and choai. Whereas choai were “poured out entirely and were used for libations to the gods of the underworld, the heroes and the dead,” spondai meant a “controlled outpouring of a small amount of liquid for the Olympian gods,” that liquid usually being wine.

Ancient Rome, unabashed copycat of Ancient Greece, also incorporated the practice of libation, both as an offering to the gods and as a means to honor the dead.
 And here's the etymology of the word "libation":
late 14c., "pouring out of wine in honor of a god," from Latin libationem (nominative libatio) "a drink-offering," noun of action from past participle stem of libare "pour out (an offering)," perhaps from PIE *lehi- "to pour out, drip" (source of Greek leibein "to pour, make a libation").
This is from an enlargement of the PIE root *lei- "to flow" (source also of Sanskrit riyati "to let run;" Greek aleison "a cup for wine, goblet;" Lithuanian lieju, lieti "to pour," lytus "rain;" Hittite lilai- "to let go;" Albanian lyse, lise "a stream;" Welsh lliant "a stream, a sea," llifo "to flow;" Old Irish lie "a flood;" Breton livad "inundation;" Gaelic lighe "a flood, overflow;" Gothic leithu "fruit wine;" Old Church Slavonic liti, lêju, Bulgarian leja "I pour;" Czech liti, leji, Old Polish lić "to pour"). Transferred sense of "liquid poured out to be drunk" is from 1751. .

Gary Oldman and his mom


TYWKIWDBI doesn't normally cover celebrities, but I thought this photo of Gary Oldman's mom hugging him the morning after he won his first Oscar is rather touching.

This comment was on the discussion thread:
"She was born just after the end of WWI and would have been 26 when the second world war ended. To live through Churchill's tenure and now her son won an Oscar for portraying him, that's pretty amazing."

16 March 2018

A vampire overslept on this bench this morning


Image cropped for size from the original here.

"Brumation" illustrated


"Brumation is a term used to refer to dormancy of reptiles, which is metabolically somewhat different from mammalian hibernation.

The video above shows alligators lying dormant, not in tunnels in mud, but right in a frozen-over pond, with just their nostrils protruding above the ice.

If anyone has even the faintest doubts about the survival capabilities of this superpredator, this video should change your mind.

Meet the Denisovans - updated

Bence Viola from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig discovered the tooth fragments together with Russian colleagues in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains. Initially, he thought the inconspicuous-looking object was the molar of a cave bear. But when the remaining fragments of the tooth turned up, it became obvious that the researchers had found the tooth of a hominid. It was too large, however, to be from a modern man or Neanderthal. When the researchers finally succeeded in decoding the DNA of the tooth, their suspicion was confirmed: it hailed from a previously unknown early human species living in Asia at least 30,000 years ago.
More on the Denisovans:
Because of the cool climate in the location of the Denisova Cave, the discovery benefited from DNA's ability to survive for longer periods at lower temperatures.  The average annual temperature of the cave remains at 0°C, which has contributed to the preservation of archaic DNA among the remains discovered.  The analysis indicated that modern humans, Neanderthals, and the Denisova hominin last shared a common ancestor around 1 million years ago.  The mtDNA analysis further suggested this new hominin species was the result of an early migration out of Africa, distinct from the later out-of-Africa migrations associated with Neanderthals and modern humans, but also distinct from the earlier African exodus of Homo erectus.  Pääbo noted the existence of this distant branch creates a much more complex picture of humankind during the Late Pleistocene... David Reich of Harvard University, in collaboration with Mark Stoneking of the Planck Institute team, found genetic evidence that Denisovan ancestry is shared by Melanesians, Australian Aborigines, and smaller scattered groups of people in Southeast Asia, such as the Mamanwa, a Negrito people in the Philippines.
And what a superb cave; no wonder it maintained its real estate value for tens of thousands of years.  The narration accompanying the slideshow is concise and superb; this video will be of interest to anyone with even a smidgeon of curiosity about archaeology or human prehistory.

Addendum: To keep relevant material in one place, I'll insert here a post I wrote back in 2011 ("Denisovan genes as markers of migration") -


There's too much to cover here in a short post, but I'll sketch what I understand as the basics.  Denisovans were ?pre-humans/proto-humans of the genus Homo who died out as a species.  They were genetically distinct from us, but some of their genes are present in modern humans.  The distribution of those genes today is not random, as shown by the figure above.
“We haven’t been a very exclusive species, with a very narrow origin,” said Martin Jacobsson. Interbreeding with other members of the human family tree “is not a unique event. It’s a more complex story than we thought before.”

In a study published Oct. 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jacobsson and co-author Pontus Skoglund searched through 1,500 human genome scans from around the world for genes found in Denisovans but not chimpanzees or Neanderthals.

While the previous finding of Denisovan inheritance involved analysis of ultra-high-resolution human genome scans, of which only a few exist, Jacobsson used low-resolution scans. These are more commonly available and allowed the researchers to detect Denisovan signals in genomes from mainland southeast Asia. A signal also appeared in South America, but Jacobsson said that’s probably a false positive.
I'm interested in the South American hits because of my belief in early colonization of the Americas from Oceania.  I believe there's good evidence that the chickens in Chile and Peru came from Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.

Further information at Ars Technica, via Right-reading.

DNA from another human-like primate, the Denisovans, lurks in modern genomes, too. A molar and a chip of pinkie bone found in a Siberian cave provide what little information we have about this species. DNA extracted from the fragments previously revealed cross-species breeding. Yet a new study in the journal Cell shows the ancient hanky-panky did not stop in Siberia: Humans who traveled across South Asia mated with a separate group of Denisovans, as well.

“This is a breakthrough paper,” said David Reich, who studies ancient DNA at Harvard University and was not involved with the study. “It's a definite third interbreeding event,” one that adds to the previously known Denisovan and Neanderthal mixtures.

Humans and Neanderthals divided into separate groups as far back as 765,000 years ago. Denisovans and Neanderthals were closer cousins who split more recently and then vanished — perhaps because we absorbed their lineages...

All groups studied, from British and Bengali people to Peruvians and Puerto Ricans, had a dense cluster that closely matched the Altai Neanderthals. Some populations also had a cluster that matched the Altai Denisovans, which was particularly pronounced in East Asians.
The surprise was a third cluster — not like the Neanderthal DNA and only partially resembling the Altai Denisovans. This, the authors concluded, was a second and separate pulse of Denisovan genes into the DNA blender.
More at the link.

14 March 2018

"Suntree"


 Photo taken by Tobias Messerli in the Canton of Bern.  Awesome composition.

The ecology of driftwood

Logs the size of telephone poles drift along the shore of the Salish Sea. Erik Hammond turns the wheel of his aluminum skiff and closes in. He grabs his ax and towlines, then leaps atop the floating wood, much as his father did, and his father did before him. With the butt of his ax he drives anchor pegs into the choicest three and ties them to the stern... Hammond and Moore are beachcombers, or log salvors, based in Gibsons, British Columbia.. They are practitioners of an occupation once common on the Pacific Northwest coast...

Driftwood makes an enormous if underappreciated contribution to the food web connecting the forests and the sea... Driftwood, it turns out, is also rapidly disappearing...

Immense logjams and floating rafts of naturally occurring wood were once common and well-documented features in rivers and estuaries before they were cleared for navigation. The Great Raft on Louisiana’s Red River, perhaps the most famous, existed for an estimated 375 years before its removal in 1830...

Kramer’s research shows that driftwood serves as building blocks for stable sand dunes and spits in estuaries, providing an important buffer from rising tides and waves. But shorelines around the world—especially in developed, temperate zones—are now severely wood impoverished compared to their condition before human settlement. As rivers lose driftwood, water travels through faster and there is less time for nutrient cycling...
Excerpts from an interesting longread at Hakai Magazine.  The magazine has an abundance of articles on coastal science and societies.

The fate of golf balls in the ocean

About 1.2 billion golf balls are manufactured every year, according to a 2017 report in Chemical & Engineering News, and more than half may be lost in the environment. A New York Times story in 2010 reported that an estimated 300 million disappear each year in the United States alone. With many of the planet’s approximately 32,000 golf courses located beside the ocean, countless golf balls find their way into the water, where they sink and accumulate more rapidly than anyone is cleaning them up.

Weber, a grade 12 student, is doing her best, but is barely putting a dent in the collection of drowned balls. Just two weeks earlier, Weber and her father spent several hours snorkeling in the same cove and cleared the seafloor of about 2,000 balls.

Now, the ocean bottom is again awash with golf balls. “Big waves come through and uncover them,” says Weber, who started collecting golf balls here in 2016. “It can sometimes make what we’re doing feel futile.”..

They don’t just sit inertly on the seafloor, either. As Weber has documented, they corrode.

In fact, golf balls have been found in the stomachs of at least two gray whales found dead in Washington State—one in 2010, the other in 2012—though the balls were not identified as the cause of either death. Golf balls also appear in bird stomachs on occasion—something Steiner says he has seen scores of times while inspecting decayed albatross carcasses in the northwestern Hawai‘ian Islands. Golf balls may even find their way into birds’ reproductive tracts—in one documented case, a golf ball encased in shell was laid by a Canada goose.
More at Hakai Magazine.

Coming in November

13 March 2018

Potter wasp


Impressive not just for the "pot" but for the classical "wasp waist."  More info here.

Via the NatureIsFuckingLit subreddit.

TMI about wedges


This post will be of interest only to golfers.  I researched it after receiving this message in an email from a local public golf course advertising a preseason sale:
These $100 wedges are simply phenomenal and retailed in 2017 for $150. This is a great deal but stock is limited and includes:
50 degree F grind
52 degree F grind
54 degree S grind
56 degree S grind
56 degree F grind
56 degree M grind
58 degree M grind
60 degree K grind
60 degree S grind
60 degree M grind
I was gobsmacked by both the price and the degree of specialization.  I started playing golf 60 years ago using a set of clubs from Montgomery Ward comprised of a driver, 3-wood, putter, sand wedge, and 3- 5- 7- and 9-irons.  I later added and mastered an 8-iron for greenside play.   Wedges became a growth industry several decades later:
Since the mid-80s the number of wedges available to players has grown from 2 (pitching and sand) to 5 (adding gap, lob and ultra lob), most of which are now available in a wide array of lofts and bounces to allow a player to "fine-tune" their short game with the wedges that best meet their needs. In some cases, with the high degree of customization, companies have done away with the traditional names for each club, and instead simply label each club with its loft and bounce angles. A 52-8 wedge, for example, would have 52 degrees of loft and 8 degrees of bounce, generally placing it in the "gap wedge" class. Most players carry three or four wedges on the course, and sometimes more, usually sacrificing one or two of their long irons and/or higher-lofted fairway woods to meet the 14-club limit.
The degree of loft is relatively easy to understand, as per the graph embedded at the top showing relative trajectories for a Lob wedge (60-64 degrees), Sand wedge (54-58), Gap wedge (50-53), and Pitching wedge (40-48).

The "bounce" factor is more complex:

Bounce is the group name for the elements involved in sole design: the bounce angle, sole width, leading edge, rocker and camber of a wedge. Bounce, and specifically the bounce angle, is added to prevent a wedge from digging into sand or turf, stopping the momentum of the club through the ball. Wedges with minimal bounce will be better suited to players who sweep the ball, taking a shallower divot, firmer turf conditions (i.e. links courses)...
For "links courses" read "public golf courses where the turf bakes into concrete in the summer."

Only the most fanatic golfers will move onward to read about "grinds" in this article about Vokey wedges.  More at this interview with Bob Vokey at the Titleist website.

(The fonts got all mixed up in this post and I can't seem to fix the problem.  Moving on...)

Which U.S. household do you belong to ?

Golf Carts and Gourmets
Colleges and Cafés
Modest Metro Means
Status-Seeking Singles
Footloose and Family-Free
Settled and Sensible
Diapers and Debit Cards
Babies and Bliss
Kids and Cabernet
Digital Dependents
Full Pockets, Empty Nests
Town Elders
Generational Soup
Booming and Consuming
Birkenstocks and Beemers
Progressive Potpourri
Cul-de-Sac Diversity
True-Grit Americans
Countrified Pragmatics
Red, White, and Bluegrass
American Royalty
Tough Times
Tight Money
I guess our household is "Settled and Sensible."

Selections from a larger list of 71 categories developed by Experian, a credit data corporation, and published in Harper's under the much better title "Glass Menagerie."

Dwarf Kingfisher


Via the Pics subreddit.

Neonatal surgery without anaesthesia

In 1986, the world was shocked when reports of infants undergoing major surgery with out anesthesia arose in both the USA and UK. In the USA, mothers of two premature infants wrote letters to the medical journal, BIRTH, protesting the “barbarism of surgery without anesthesia.”..

Why did infants not receive anesthesia that was comparable to that received by an adult? In the following years, numerous books and articles were written on the subject . A survey of such literature reveals that the two repeatedly cited reasons were: 1. Infants do not have the capacity to perceive pain. 2. It is too risky to use potent anesthetics on infants, given the risk for cardiorespiratory compromise and death...

The 19th century surgeon was rough, having inherited an attitude of indifference to pain from the days predating anesthesia. It was said that the role of a surgeon was to preserve life and not to prevent the temporary pain of the experience. As such, the use of anesthesia was originally restricted to those considered sensitive, primarily the rich, white and educated women and children...

...one of the two consistently cited reasons for the withholding of anesthesia from neonates was the belief that infants are insensitive to pain. When the American Academy of Pediatrics released its statement on neonatal anesthesia in 1987, it cited the commonly taught rationale that “nerve pathways [in neonates] are not sufficiently myelinated to transmit painful stimuli or that neonates do not have sufficiently integrated cortical function to recall painful experiences... 
Continue reading at this submission to the Osler Student Essay Contest.

Cable cars as mass transit

Known as the Mexicable, the 3-mile, $90 million gondola system opened to great fanfare in late 2016, an ambitious effort to improve public transportation in this suburb of more than 1.6 million. Initially met with some doubts, it has since provided more than 5.5 million rides, with about 20,000 passenger trips on a typical weekday. It has also drawn praise for giving low-income workers better access to public transportation.

“They didn’t have enough roads to relieve the traffic,” said Victor Jasso, who directs the Mexicable. “There was no space for expanding the roadway. Making [bus-only lanes] was impossible. And building a subway? Also not a chance.”

That’s a marked departure from how gondolas have historically been used: climbing steep hills, as in Portland, Ore.; crossing bodies of water, like the Roosevelt Island Tram in New York City; or giving tourists a new perspective on a city, as they do in London.
More information at the Boston Globe, because Boston is considering a similar system.

09 March 2018

The mystery of the "cotton" in the window frame - updated


The arrival of September at our latitude marks the time when windows closed all summer can be opened to admit cool night air.  As I opened the window on our guest room, I was startled to see a wad of cotton-like material tumble from the upper window frame (above, placed on the concrete driveway for imaging).

My initial anxiety was that some sort of insulation was coming loose, but the original location of the material (photo below) ruled out that possibility.


My attention was now drawn to the contents of the mass, which to my initial dismay revealed an insect pupa and a number of living larvae:


After searching several combinations of key words in Google Images, I found one entry that matched my experience.  The brief explanation there was that the mass was the creation of a solitary bee.

Now I did feel bad, because my wife and I are great fans of solitary bees.  But armed with that clue, it didn't take long to track down the answer:
Anthidium manicatum, commonly called the European wool carder bee, is a species of bee in the family Megachilidae, the leaf-cutter bees or mason bees.

They get the name 'carder' from their behaviour of scraping hair from leaves such as lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina)... They scrape the hairs from the leaves and carry them back to their nests bundled beneath their bodies. There it is used as a lining for their nest cavities.  Females tend to build their nests at high locations.
I don't know whether the larvae in the photo are bee-related or parasites.

Reposted from 2016 because this week I was wandering through the "gardening" section of our local Target store and found this:


The shelf tag erroneously said "butterfly house."  The label on the product was slightly less inaccurate with "insect house."  It is in fact a structure designed for solitary bees.  There are online instructions for making these as a DIY project, but this one was nicely made and inexpensive.  I'll hang it from a shepherd's crook near ground level in our garden and hope to see some of the tubes getting filled as the summer progresses.

Here is a photo of an equivalent bee-condo viewed in cross-section:


This one was made by drilling holes in a wood block (presumably with a removable flap so the curious home scientist could inspect the process and the season progressed).

If I remember, I'll try to post followup photos in the summer and autumn.

Updated May 2018 to show the bee "condo" installed in our back garden -


Helpful hint:  A "shepherd's hook" (used for hanging flower baskets, bird feeders etc), when purchased from a home decor or gardening store can be somewhat pricey.  I went instead to our local farm supply store and picked up the "pigtail" post shown in the photo (used on farms for stringing electric fences around fields) for about $2.  An added advantage is the little S-shaped part at the bottom which grips the post for stepping it into the ground and digs into the ground to provide 2-point stability for the post.

Updated again:


Well, back to the drawing board.   After a week of drenching rains, the "bee condo" was in multiple pieces.  I don't think I can blame raccoons, because there was no honey or larvae in it yet.  Wind might have banged it around a bit, judging from the current position, but I rather suspect this was assembled using water-soluble glue.

It was cheap.  You  get what you pay for.

Fortunately I have several rolls of duct tape in the garage.

Ruby and Rosie

Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring is a 1943 painting by the British painter Laura Knight depicting a young woman, Ruby Loftus (1921–2004), working at an industrial lathe as part of the British war effort in World War II. The painting was commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee (WAAC), and is now part of the Imperial War Museum's art collection. The painting brought instant fame to Loftus, and has been likened to the American figure of "Rosie the Riveter".

More about Rosie the Riveter.

U.S. Electricity demand has been flat for ten years


The chart above shows no increase in electricity sales (the blue line) in the U.S. since 2007 despite a growing economy (GDP upper line).  Discussed at Vox:
The US electricity sector is in a period of unprecedented change and turmoil. Renewable energy prices are falling like crazy. Natural gas production continues its extraordinary surge. Coal, the golden child of the current administration, is headed down the tubes. In all that bedlam, it’s easy to lose sight of an equally important (if less sexy) trend: Demand for electricity is stagnant. Thanks to a combination of greater energy efficiency, outsourcing of heavy industry, and customers generating their own power on site, demand for utility power has been flat for 10 years, and most forecasts expect it to stay that way...

“TVA now expects to sell 13 percent less power in 2027 than it did two decades earlier — the first sustained reversal in the growth of electricity usage in the 85-year history of TVA.”

... the US utility sector was built around the presumption of perpetual growth. Utilities were envisioned as entities that would build the electricity infrastructure to safely and affordably meet ever-rising demand, which was seen as a fixed, external factor, outside utility control. But demand is no longer rising... 
Worthwhile reading for anyone with funds invested in electric utilities.

Subtypes of Goth - updated



Traditional, Romantic, Cyber, Victorian, Medieval, Vampire, Geek, Gothabilly, Stempunk -- and a dozen more stereotypical variations explained at Blackwaterfall.

Reposted from 2009 because I ran across this video of a Goth rave at a funeral...


 ... which naturally got me wondering about the gas masks.  I found the best information at a Vice article entitled Why Cybergoth Refuses to Die:
Too creepy for the ravers, too neon for the goths, cybergoths occupied a new space entirely. With shaved eyebrows, colored contacts, and cyberlox—synthetic dreadlocks—they listened to industrial music or industrial-dance...

Cybergoth began its decline in the late noughties. Jilly's shut down, as did much of Manchester's thriving clubbing scene, and organized raves became an anomaly...

Their online presence is declining, too: the cybergoth subreddit has barely any updates and 'cybergoth confessions' Tumblr stopped posting two years ago. It's rare to see a flash of neon cyberlox or space goggles on the streets anymore... It's more likely that it's just operating in a different space.

The original cybergoths, meanwhile, have grown up. Sarah is now a mom to a small child and can't go clubbing anymore—"even if I could afford the time or money"—and can't keep up with expensive alternative brands...

"The gas mask thing, people generally laugh at nowadays too. It was very 2004, but not in right now." Goggles, on the other hand, are just about acceptable.  
And I don't mean to mock, but I did have to chuckle when I encountered this Onion-like item:



Best to close with Miranda's exclamation in The Tempest:
Miranda:
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!




 

The story of the "Broccoli Tree"


Via Neatorama.
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