23 September 2018

Post-mastectomy tattoos

In 2013 I blogged about "Medical nipple tattoos," and two years ago featured an elaborate floral breast tattoo ("Because there's no nipple, I can blast it everywhere all over Facebook and Instagram, and they can't censor it, which I think is really funny," Alison says.)

This week The Guardian explored the subject in a little more depth, featuring photos and brief self-stories by seven women who have chosen breast tattoos after surgery.   For each of them the acquisition of the tattoo was an empowering act that enhanced their self-esteem, allowing them to become more comfortable with and more in control of their body transformation.
The biggest revelation was that I had been avoiding looking at myself in the mirror. I had been averting my eyes from my chest and scar, without realising it. A weight was lifted, and suddenly I had this beautiful piece of art. 
More at the link, including some contact information for artists.

Postulating Alzheimer's as an infectious disease

It's not totally fanciful.  Here are some excerpts from an NPR article:
Norins is quick to cite sources and studies supporting his claim, among them a 2010 study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery showing that neurosurgeons die from Alzheimer's at a nearly 2 1/2 times higher rate than the general population.

Another study from that same year, published in The Journal of the American Geriatric Society, found that people whose spouses have dementia are at a 1.6 times greater risk for the condition themselves.

Contagion does come to mind. And Norins isn't alone in his thinking. In 2016, 32 researchers from universities around the world signed an editorial in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease calling for "further research on the role of infectious agents in [Alzheimer's] causation." Based on much of the same evidence Norins encountered, the authors concluded that clinical trials with antimicrobial drugs in Alzheimer's are now justified...

Tanzi believes that in many cases of Alzheimer's, microbes are probably the initial seed that sets off a toxic tumble of molecular dominoes. Early in the disease amyloid protein builds up to fight infection, yet too much of the protein begins to impair function of neurons in the brain. The excess amyloid then causes another protein, called tau, to form tangles, which further harm brain cells.

But as Tanzi explains, the ultimate neurological insult in Alzheimer's is the body's reaction to this neurotoxic mess. All the excess protein revs up the immune system, causing inflammation — and it's this inflammation that does the most damage to the Alzheimer's-afflicted brain...

Remember when we thought ulcers were caused by stress?" Ulcers, we now know, are caused by a germ.

Best political advertisement ever

The first 40 seconds are pretty conventional.  But the last 20 seconds are brutal.  Cold.  Effective.  Awesome.

More re Paul Gosar.  FWIW, the 538 website projects a 99% chance that he will win reelection (with 64% of the vote).  The advertisement is recent - we'll see if the odds change.

"Pocket lint" screwed up my iPhone

Wherein an English major confronts a problem with modern technology and shares the solution with his readers.

I selected the iPhone SE for its smaller and more convenient size and (relative) affordability.   I was totally pleased with it until the phone began developing battery problems, about the same time in 2017 that Apple announced the implementation of a discounted battery replacement program that included the SE.

What I noticed was that my phone occasionally had problems charging.  Sometimes when I plugged in the lightning-to-USB cable I would return to find the battery charge level unchanged (or lower).  I switched from charging it off the iMac USB port to charging it off a wall outlet via an adapter.  Sometimes the phone charged, sometimes it didn't.

So in I went to the Apple store earlier this summer, where the a staff member ran full diagnostics on the battery.  "Nothing wrong with your battery."  All of the diagnostics accessible via the Settings>Battery>Battery Health menu (maximum capacity, peak performance capability) were within normal limits - as were all of the additional parameters that the technician was able to measure with their in-house proprietary program.

I thought perhaps my charging cable was defective, so I bought another one.  Sometimes when I charged the phone in an upright position, with its weight on the connector the charging "took," which made the cable-port connection more suspicious.  Also, sometimes when I plugged it in, the phone would blink "on" with the icon, then go quiet, then blink "on" again in a repeating cycle.  This would stop if I wiggled the cable just right.

So back I went this week, taking the charging cable with me.  The young lady who helped me solved the problem in five minutes.  First she checked the metrics, which were all normal.  Then when I suggested maybe the port needed to be replaced, she said looked at my cable-phone connection and announced "it's much easier than that."  She pointed out that the plastic "collar" at the end of the cable was not flush with the body of the phone when it was plugged in.

That was the key observation.  I had noticed some "play" in that connection and had wondered if the port was damaged.  The solution was way simpler than that.  She reached in her pocket, pulled out what looked like an otoscope, and peered into the port.  "It's pocket lint.  We'll fix it right here."  She then took out a short handled, soft-bristled brush and began poking away at the port, stopping at intervals to blow dust off the bristles.

The problem of course was that lint from my pants pocket had slowly accumulated in the port.  Each time I plugged the lightning-to-USB cable into the phone, I was gradually packing that lint into the base of the port, eventually disrupting the electrical connection.  Two minutes of vigorous brushing solved the problem: the cable connected with click, totally flush with the phone. 

I decided to write this up for the blog because I suspect some readers may encounter a similar situation (and this probably goes cross-platform to phones other than iPhones.)  To prepare the post I searched for "pocket lint" plus iPhone and immediately found an article that describes the problem and the solution.
On my iPhone 5, I noticed it “chirped” that it was plugged in while already plugged in. After narrowing down the possible maneuver to cause this to happen, I noticed that my Lightning cable had a bit of play in it, but only going to the right. If pushed right, it would stop charging, pushed back it would resume charging...

In the past with my iPods and iPhones, there was a bit of lint build up, but it often fell out. It seems with the Lightning Connector, plugging a cable in smashes the lint even deeper in the phone and I had some nasty buildup. I’ve used compressed air before, but it didn’t seem to really remove much. I used an unbent small paperclip to carefully scrape the inside of the port, avoiding the actual pins (do this at your own risk), and was amazed the amount of things that I was able to pull out.
I had asked the Apple tech about using compressed air at home, as I do with the keyboard, but she suggested a brush tends to work better.  My search also revealed that "dust plugs" are available.

In retrospect, the reason I didn't find the solution the many times I searched for "battery problems" is that this wasn't a battery problem.  So I thought I'd post the problem and solution here today for the benefit of those readers who may also be non-techy English majors.

20 September 2018

"Are You Going With Me?" (Pat Metheny Group)

Filmed at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, but the audio is obviously from a studio recording.  This video has just the music.

"At the time of the song's recording, Latin American and especially Brazilian music had begun to influence jazz in the United States, and when Brazilian musicians such as Nana Vasconcelos came to play with American artists, this influence, in the case of the Pat Metheny Group, became overt. The "Brazilian" quality of "Are You Going With Me?" is frequently noted; and it has been considered by some to be "obviously samba-based"."

Interesting story about Pat Metheny:  "While playing at a club in Kansas City, he was approached by Bill Lee, a dean at the University of Miami, and offered a scholarship. After less than a week at college, Metheny realized that playing guitar all day during his teens had left him unprepared for classes. He admitted this to Lee, who offered him a job to teach instead, as the school had recently introduced electric guitar as a course of study."

He is apparently the only artist ever to win Grammy Awards in ten different categories.

A more recent performance, with the Metropole Orkest (Netherlands jazz/pop orchestra):

19 September 2018

A "rat king", three "squirrel kings" -- and three bucks

"Rat kings are cryptozoological phenomena said to arise when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails, which become stuck together with blood, dirt, and excrement. The animals consequently grow together while joined at the tails, which are often broken. The phenomenon is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of instances have been reported...

Most researchers presume the creatures are legendary and that all supposed physical evidence is hoaxed, such as mummified groups of dead rats with their tails tied together. Reports of living specimens remain unsubstantiated

Specimens of purported rat kings are kept in some museums. The museum Mauritianum in Altenburg (Thuringia) shows the largest well-known mummified "rat king", which was found in 1828 in a miller's fireplace at Buchheim [above]. It consists of 32 rats. Alcohol-preserved rat kings are shown in museums in Hamburg, Hamelin, Göttingen, and Stuttgart. A rat king found in 1930 in New Zealand, displayed in the Otago Museum in Dunedin, was composed of immature Rattus rattus whose tails were entangled by horse hair.

The term rat king has often led to the misconception of a king of rats... The Nutcracker, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, adapts a tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann that features a seven-headed Mouse King as the villain..."
Image and text from Wikipedia. Credit to Neatorama.

Addendum #1:  Reposted to add this example of a "squirrel king" -
The Animal Clinic of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, got a surprise this week when a city worker brought in six squirrels fused together by their tails...

This particular group of six were nesting near a pine tree and sap fused their tails together. A city of Regina worker found the young squirrels and brought them to the clinic. The animals were sedated and the veterinarian team worked to untangle the mess of tails. Their tails were then shaved of the matted fur and they were given antibiotics to prevent infection.  (Via Nothing to do with Arbroath)

Addendum #2:  Reposted in order to add this related interesting phenomenon found by my wife at the Buck Manager website:

[T]hese three white-tailed bucks were found locked during the rut. The bucks were located on a ranch in east-central Texas and, from the information that I received, one of the bucks was still alive when the trio was found. Apparently, the antlers were cut from the dead deer and one very tired buck was lucky enough to run back off into the woods.
There are lots of comments at the site, some opining that the event was faked and arguing the method of death, and one who reported seeing a buck attack a pair that was already locked.   My wife found another example at the same website:

 "...there is nothing worse than finding a dead buck that you did not shoot, but how would you feel if you found not one, but three dead bucks on your property? Okay, it gets worse. What if those three bucks totaled 450 inches of antler? That is exactly what a hunter in the mid-West found on his Ohio farm..."
"They had the bank of this creek all tore up."
Addendum #3: And reader Lisa knew of a ancient example of the phenomenon involving Ice Age mammoths.

Addendum #4:  Reposted from 2013 to add this image found by an anonymous reader -

- of a squirrel king in Nebraska, with the victims, as in the example cited above, fused at their tails by pine tree sap.

Addendum #5:  Reposted yet again to add this "squirrel king" found locally here in central Wisconsin:

Their tails had become entwined with "long-stemmed grasses and strips of plastic their mother used as nest material," the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center wrote on Facebook... "It was impossible to tell whose tail was whose, and we were increasingly concerned because all of them had suffered from varying degrees of tissue damage to their tails caused by circulatory impairment," the post read.

"Acne positivity movement"

[Kali] Kushner, 23, from Cincinnati, Ohio, began documenting her struggle with acne on the Instagram account @myfacestory – her experience with the drug Accutane, dermarolling, makeup, scarring, hyperpigmentation, alongside all the ways people have responded to her acne, from her husband, who has been steadfastly supportive, to the traffic police officer who assumed she was a junkie. To her surprise, people began following. Today, with more than 50,000 followers, she makes up part of the growing acne positivity movement.

After years of oppressive aesthetic perfection, acne positivity is a drive for people to be more open about their skin problems, from the occasional spot to full-blown cystic acne. It joins recent moves to celebrate the many and varied appearances of our skin – from vitiligo to freckles and stretch marks – but also seeks to educate those who still believe that acne is a problem for the unwashed and unhealthy...

He tells of a US study in which participants were shown a selection of photographs of high-school students with skin problems, as well as photographs of the same students with their acne airbrushed out, and asked for their impressions. The results, Shergill says, showed that “as soon as you have any disfigurement on your face, you get viewed as an introverted nerd."

While many regard acne as a teenage affliction, it can evolve into adulthood. An estimated 25% of all women over 30 still have the condition.
The story continues at The Guardian.

Every positive integer can be written as a sum of three palindromes

An engine here allows you to test the validity of the statement.  Via Boing Boing.

Pontevedra, Spain, has banned automobiles

Not just on a boulevard or two, but for all of the central city.
Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores has been mayor of the Galician city since 1999. His philosophy is simple: owning a car doesn’t give you the right to occupy the public space.

“How can it be that the elderly or children aren’t able to use the street because of cars?” asks César Mosquera, the city’s head of infrastructures. “How can it be that private property – the car – occupies the public space?”

Lores became mayor after 12 years in opposition, and within a month had pedestrianised all 300,000 sq m of the medieval centre, paving the streets with granite flagstones. “The historical centre was dead,” he says. “There were a lot of drugs, it was full of cars – it was a marginal zone. It was a city in decline, polluted, and there were a lot of traffic accidents. It was stagnant. Most people who had a chance to leave did so. At first we thought of improving traffic conditions but couldn’t come up with a workable plan. Instead we decided to take back the public space for the residents and to do this we decided to get rid of cars.”

They stopped cars crossing the city and got rid of street parking, as people looking for a place to park is what causes the most congestion. They closed all surface car parks in the city centre and opened underground ones and others on the periphery, with 1,686 free places. They got rid of traffic lights in favour of roundabouts, extended the car-free zone from the old city to the 18th-century area, and used traffic calming in the outer zones to bring the speed limit down to 30km/h.
Details at The Guardian.

'Tis the season for Black Swallowtail caterpillars

The rather unimpressive greenery around our mailbox is a confluent group of rue (Ruta graveolens).  Most homeowners opt for mailbox plantings that are a bit more colorful and showy.  We like the rue because this shrubby perennial tolerates poor soil in hot dry conditions (next to an asphalt road and concrete driveway) and because it is a primary food plant for the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

Earlier in the season the plants are covered with tiny yellow blossoms...

... which, while unspectacular to the human eye, are complex clusters of five-petaled flowers that are very attractive to bees.  We seldom see Black Swallowtail butterflies on the rue (they tend to nectar on larger flowers elsewhere in the garden), but we know females have visited the rue and oviposited there because in September the caterpillars start appearing on the upper outer branches.

What we see are the late-stage instars, mature caterpillars that are starting to look for a place to form a chrysalis.  They seem to know that the greenery of the rue will die back in the winter, leaving only the woody central stems, and they need a secure place for the chrysalis if they are to live through a Wisconsin winter.

When we find the caterpillars, we bring them to our screen porch, which offers them protection from predatory wasps, ants, spiders, etc., and we give them some clippings of the rue for a final snack, and more importantly a variety of sticks they can use for pupation.  In the above photo the two caterpillars have chosen a stick from a birch tree, and the one on the right has already formed its "J", with a silk harness going from the stick around behind its "shoulders."

Several days later (the larger cat having moved on), the caterpillar is now fully pupated, attached at the bottom with some glued adhesive [higher on the stick is a remnant from a prior year's successful sequence], and supported by that amazing little silk sling.

We have eight of these now on the screen porch.  The terrarium will be placed where the chrysalises can be snowed on (I think they might need some moisture in the winter to avoid desiccation), and they will live through sub-zero temperatures, will freeze and thaw (perhaps several times), and in the spring...

... magic.

I've seen metamorphosis countless times, and it never fails to fascinate me.  And the beauty of these creatures up close in just incredible.  Here's a view of the underside of the wings -

And then follows the to-me-incredible event when a creature that in its entire previous life crawled around in a small plant, now lets go of a stick and "knows" how to fly.  And eyes that have never before focused more than millimeters away can now locate food and mates at dozens of meters.

You don't have to be a child to retain a sense of wonder with regard to the natural world.

When you purchase a stock photo but forget to write your own caption

Credit (??) to the StarTribune.

15 September 2018

Divertimento #155

Yet another gif-fest (plus some short videos that seem better linked here rather than in separate posts)

Demonstration of a drone being used to extinguish a fire in a high-rise building.

Surprisingly, nobody was killed in this accident

Clever book cover

Creating art with an ink-soaked string 

A girl riding a horse

Lightness and darkness are relative terms

A "draw hitch knot" is a quick-release knot

How to serve a Korean dinner with a lot of side dishes

Dinner served with shovels

California fire tornado 

Woman dries underpants during an airplane flight 

A Congreve clock uses a ball rolling on a zig-zag track rather than a pendulum

Playing around with a skid-steer loader 

Nutation illustrated

"Trashy" people filmed in reverse at an Ohio wildlife preserve.

Taxi driver has had it up to here with a drunk who litters

Hi-rising dough

Building a Leonardo daVinci bridge (example)


Butterflies puddling on a turtle 

Newfoundland dogs are natural water rescuers

Deer freed from a fence 

Two fish in an aquarium have a territorial dispute 

Elephants in Kenya eating birds' nests with chicks and eggs

Wading bird hitches a ride

Turtles on a log

Two-headed turtle 

Aerial view of a dog herding sheep 

Four-legged hay spreader 

Happy cow 

Owl intimidates woodpecker

Snow leopard mom teaching her cub


Cat escapes from a well by climbing a vertical wall

How to fillet an avocado

Power-washing a rug

Launching a remote-controlled glider

Break dancing (perhaps it has another name?)

Leigh Holland-Keen lifts Scotland’s legendary Dinnie Stones (733 pounds)

Surfer riding a massive wave

Splitting rock (smart to have the pegs tied together)

Carving a watermelon

Saving a sea turtle 

Animatronic triceratops

Lake Superior "yooperlites"

Lavender kunzite


Nope.  Nope.  Nope.

When the ground is lava

Just to clarify, this athlete is not wearing a bra (it's a tracker)

When your older sister is a better athlete

Incredible ping-pong shot 

Punt returned for a touchdown in one second


Driving a car on a carpeted stage

Jumping off a dock in the rain 

Ballerina top goes bye-bye 

Volvo collision prevention system doesn't 

Man tries to rob a store

Watch me dive into the pool

Dad surprises his daughter 

Little girl tries a claw machine 

Wait for me !

He finally made it !  Whew !

Toddler putting on his leg 

Elderly man still enjoys jazz


Fun (?) in a tire swing

When your older sister is a better athlete

All of the embedded images come from a remarkable gallery of 24 award-winning photos in the 2017 Nikon Small World competition.  Please visit the link to learn what the depicted subjects are, and to enjoy the rest of the gallery.

14 September 2018


Fjaðrárgljúfur (pronounced [ˈfjaːðraurˌkljuːvʏr̥]) is a canyon in south east Iceland which is up to 100 m deep and about 2 kilometers long, with the Fjaðrá river flowing through it. The canyon has steep walls and winding water. Its origins dates back to the cold periods of the Ice Age, about two million years ago. It is located near the Ring Road, not far from the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The canyon was created by progressive erosion by flowing water from glaciers through the rocks and palagonite over millennia.
Via the EarthPorn subreddit.  I quite enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek clarification: "For those confused, it's pronounced 'flglhlhaldhslflr.'"

Found under the floorboards of an old house

A vintage eggshell cutter for serving soft-boiled eggs.  Not to be confused with one of these.

Image cropped and improved from the original posted at the WhatIsThisThing subreddit.

Alma Deutscher - musical prodigy (updated)

As reported in The Telegraph:
Deutscher's father said she could name the notes on a piano by the age of two. She was given her first violin for her third birthday, and was playing Handel sonatas within a year.

Earlier this year, Deutscher composed a short opera called The Sweeper of Dreams, which narrowly missed out on making the final of a contest run by the English National Opera to unearth young, talented classical musicians.
Reposted from 2012 (the embed above shows her performing at age 6) to add this incredible video:

Scott Pelley selects four notes, and the now-12-year-old young lady takes less than a minute to compose and play a piano sonata based on those notes.

Via Neatorama.  Her Wikipedia page.

Bridezilla is angry...

The social media entry embedded above will serve as an appropriate introduction for anyone not familiar with the portmanteau term "bridezilla."  And don't get her started on the registry...

12 September 2018



The story of a Confederate flag and a heart attack

I liked Ike

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first U.S. president I knew of (I was an infant during the Truman administration), and I liked him.  He was Pennsylvania Dutch, like my father, and seemed to my youthful mind to be a proper President.  Growing up in a household with one parent a Republican and the other a Democrat, I wound up with zero interest in politics per se until my collegiate years, when the events of the late 60s commanded my attention.

As a blogger, I've posted a smattering of information about him - most remarkably the fact that during his tenure as a conservative Republican, the top marginal income tax rate was 91%, and most memorably his televised "farewell warning" to the nation.

I learned more about him yesterday [2012] from an article in The New Republic, which mused about why today's Republicans seldom mention him:
Conservatives had expected that Eisenhower, as the first Republican president since 1932, would repeal the New Deal; instead he augmented and expanded programs like Social Security, thereby giving them bipartisan legitimacy as well as added effectiveness. Conservatives had expected that the president would support Senator Joseph McCarthy’s crusade to tar all liberals as pro-Communist; instead he denied McCarthy the authority to subpoena federal witnesses and receive classified documents, thereby precipitating the red-baiter’s overreach and fall.

Eisenhower governed as a moderate Republican. While he failed to take bold action against Southern segregation as Democratic liberals and Republican progressives urged him to do, he helped to cool the overheated partisan rhetoric of the preceding two decades and built a middle-of-the-road consensus that marginalized extremists of left and right. He was well aware that his moderation earned him the implacable enmity of GOP conservatives. As he put it, “There is a certain reactionary fringe of the Republican Party that hates and despises everything for which I stand.” But this did not greatly bother him, since he also believed that “their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

The conservative movement’s tablet-keepers have long memories, so it’s unsurprising that Ike has remained a devil figure for the right. What may seem more surprising is that at a moment when Republicans are posing as stalwart defenders of a balanced federal budget, they dismiss the example of the most fiscally conservative president of the past eighty years. Eisenhower balanced the budget three times in his eight years in office, a feat that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush came close to achieving. Ike cut federal civilian employment by 274,000 and reduced the ratio of the national debt to GNP, though not the absolute level of debt. The economy bloomed under his watch, with high growth, low inflation, and low unemployment.

 But Eisenhower’s economic success matters little to today’s Republicans given his deviations from conservative orthodoxy. Ike disdained partisanship, praised compromise and cooperation, and pitched his appeals to independent voters. He approved anti-recessionary stimulus spending, extended unemployment compensation, and raised the minimum wage. He pioneered federal aid to education and created the largest public-works program in history in the form of the interstate highway system. He levied gasoline taxes to pay for the highway construction, and believed that cutting income taxes when the federal government was running a deficit would be an act of gross fiscal irresponsibility. The Republican presidential candidates who are beating the drum to bomb Iran are in stark contrast with Eisenhower’s refusal to intervene in Vietnam. And conservative hawks find something vaguely pinko about Ike’s drive to restrain the pace of the arms race and his famous warning about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.”

 In fairness to today’s Republicans, Eisenhower’s values—prudence, pragmatism, reasonableness, frugality, and respect for the past—find little resonance on either side of our present partisan divide, or in American culture as a whole.
Some day I should read a full biography of him; I'm open to suggestions as to which one to choose.

There's more at The New Republic, via The Dish.

Reposted from 2012 to add some new information.

In 2016 I posted Eisenhower, LeMay, Nimitz: "Hiroshima bombing unnecessary." Some interesting information there, especially in several comments by readers in the discussion thread.

But what prompted my repost this morning is an article in the April issue of The Atlantic about Eisenhower's views on civil rights.  Herewith some excerpts.
At a White House stag dinner in February 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower shocked the new chief justice of the United States. Earl Warren was Eisenhower’s first appointment to the Supreme Court and had been sworn in just four months earlier. Only two months into his tenure, Warren had presided over oral arguments in the blockbuster school-segregation case Brown v. Board of Education. As of the dinner, the case was still under advisement. Yet Eisenhower seated Warren near one of the attorneys who had argued the case for the southern states, John W. Davis, and went out of his way to praise Davis as a great man. That alone would have made for an awkward evening. What happened next made it fateful. Over coffee, Eisenhower took Warren by the arm and asked him to consider the perspective of white parents in the Deep South. “These are not bad people,” the president said. “All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big black bucks.”

It was an appalling moment. Here was the president leaning on the chief justice about a pending case while using the racist terms of an overseer. Several of Eisenhower’s admirers have attempted to downplay the encounter, but reports confirm that he used racially charged language in private. The incident left such an impression that Warren recounted it in his memoirs some 20 years later. Ever decorous, he sanitized the slur from “black bucks” to “overgrown Negroes,” but in his biography, Super Chief, Bernard Schwartz, one of Warren’s confidants, recorded the actual phrase in all its rotten vinegar. Warren had been a prosecutor and a governor, and was no choirboy; he had heard bigoted language before. Yet as the chief justice, he embodied the impartiality of the entire federal judiciary. He was a man who believed in fairness and dignity. The president’s words had shaken him...

[after the Brown decision] Eisenhower pointedly refused to endorse it. Instead he delivered this bafflingly terse answer to a reporter’s question: “The Supreme Court has spoken, and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional process in the country. And I will obey.” There endeth the statement. Eisenhower offered no comment in support of racial equality, no expression of solidarity with African Americans, and no sign of agreement with the Court’s opinion...

...Eisenhower freely praised the Court’s decisions in other contexts, including, as a candidate, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), which invalidated President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the steel mills during the Korean War. And Eisenhower abandoned restraint and threw himself into causes that seemed closer to his heart than civil rights, such as the fight for a balanced budget. During violent melees in protest of Brown, Eisenhower temporized, speaking in private of the need to “understand the southerners as well as the Negroes,” and denouncing “extremists on both sides”—a familiar equivalence that elevated racist mobs to the status of civil-rights marchers...

Sadly, if every president forfeits all civil-rights recognition by using racist language in the ugly spirit of his age, then Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson must go as well. Eisenhower acted to desegregate the armed forces and took strong steps to desegregate Washington, D.C. After procrastinating, he decisively enforced Brown by sending federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to face down Governor Orval Faubus. The president lent his support, with mixed success, to the effort to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957...

Eisenhower believed in incremental change, driven by social progress rather than law. He demanded intolerable levels of patience from African Americans, who had already waited centuries for equality. Warren, by contrast, recognized that America’s formative pathology—its racism—was a terminal cancer that must be dealt with urgently. He engineered the boldest stroke against segregation since Reconstruction.

Facial recognition technology reconsidered

Its capabilities go way past catching terrorists.
Dystopia starts with 23.6 inches of toilet paper. That’s how much the dispensers at the entrance of the public restrooms at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven dole out in a program involving facial-recognition scanners—part of the president’s “Toilet Revolution,” which seeks to modernize public toilets. Want more? Forget it. If you go back to the scanner before nine minutes are up, it will recognize you and issue this terse refusal: “Please try again later.”

China is rife with face-scanning technology... When a camera mounted above one of 50 of the city’s busiest intersections detects a jaywalker, it snaps several photos and records a video of the violation. The photos appear on an overhead screen so the offender can see that he or she has been busted, then are cross-checked with the images in a regional police database. Within 20 minutes, snippets of the perp’s ID number and home address are displayed on the crosswalk screen... The system seems to be working: Since last May, the number of jaywalking violations at one of Jinan’s major intersections has plummeted from 200 a day to 20...

... in Beijing, customers stand in front of a screen, have their face scanned, and receive menu suggestions based on their age, sex, and facial expression...

The technology’s veneer of convenience conceals a dark truth: Quietly and very rapidly, facial recognition has enabled China to become the world’s most advanced surveillance state. A hugely ambitious new government program called the “social credit system” aims to compile unprecedented data sets, including everything from bank-account numbers to court records to internet-search histories, for all Chinese citizens. Based on this information, each person could be assigned a numerical score, to which points might be added for good behavior like winning a community award, and deducted for bad actions like failure to pay a traffic fine. The goal of the program, as stated in government documents, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”..

People in China don’t know 99.99 percent of what’s going on in terms of state surveillance,” she says. “Most people think they can say what they want and live freely without being monitored, but that’s largely an illusion.”
More at The Atlantic.

So you'd like to visit Mars ?

Much faster and cheaper to just watch this panorama filmed by the Curiosity Rover.  It's not as exciting as the movies suggest. Via.

North Carolina passed a law banning climate-change-based policies

From 2012:
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Lawmakers in North Carolina, which has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline and vast areas of low-lying land, voted on Tuesday to ignore studies predicting a rapid rise in sea level due to climate change and postpone planning for the consequences...

A panel of scientists that advises North Carolina’s Coastal Resources Commission, a state policy panel, said coastal communities should plan for about 39 inches of sea level rise by 2100 based on seven scientific studies.

That drew a backlash from a coastal economic development group called NC-20 that called it fake science. The group said making development take into account 39 inches of sea level rise could undermine the coastal economy, raise insurance costs and turn thousands of square miles of coastal property into flood plains that could not be developed...

“The science panel used one model, the most extreme in the world,” McElraft said. “They need to use some science that we can all trust when we start making laws in North Carolina that affect property values on the coast.”  
To be precise, their discussion at that time was about long-term climate change, not hurricane preparedness (more discussion at the via).  But their insistence on promoting coastal development will have its karma tested this week.

Best detailed analysis of Hurricane Florence

In 2017 I featured a video by this guy (private individual, not a Weather Channel or NOAA employee) because his daily video updates were detailed but concise (I have no tolerance for television reports that show endless loops and reporters that lean into the wind). 

Embedded above is last night's analysis of Florence.  At about the 5:00 mark he explains the elements that are affecting the direction of the eye's movement.

His homepage is here.  Daily updates are posted about 6 p.m.

I also recommend this hurricane tracker (the top entry always a stickie).  Please feel free to share other recommendations in the Comments.

11 September 2018

"Earth pyramids" in the South Tyrol

"One of the strangest landscape elements of the Alps are the so-called earth pyramids of South Tyrol. Especially during foggy conditions these pillars appear like from another world. I spent several hours on-location to capture the change of colors and light from dawn till noon."
Photo credit Kilian Schönberger from a gallery of impressive images.  Many of the other galleries at his website are awesome as well.

Tennis ball hoodoo

Excerpts from the Wikipedia entry:
A hoodoo is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements.

Hoodoos (peribacası) are also found in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, where houses have been carved into the formations. The hoodoos were depicted on the reverse of the Turkish 50 new lira banknote of 2005–2009. In French, the formations are called demoiselles coiffées (ladies with hairdos) or cheminées de fées (fairy chimneys).
Etymology of the English word uncertain - probably corruption of voodoo, implying magical cause.

Photo via.

Do you need this ?

That's Robin Williams in the early 1990s, at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park (blocks away from his house at the time).  Via.

How to open a lock with a paper clip

Hurricane risks: wind, flooding, toxic waste, pig manure...

As reported by the New Orleans Times Picayune:
Hurricane Florence's potential for destruction also includes increased risks for the environment and public health as torrential rains could overwhelm the pits where toxic waste from power plants is stored. Animal-manure lagoons are also at risk of flooding.

Duke came under pressure to address coal-ash storage after about 39,000 tons spilled in 2014 from a pond near Eden, North Carolina. In 2016, the state gave the company until Aug. 1, 2019, to dig up and close some coal-ash pits and almost a decade more to deal with others. Duke has begun work at several high-risk sites...

Duke is moving staff and equipment toward North Carolina's coast to monitor the disposal sites for coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. It contains metals including arsenic, chromium, and mercury that pose risks to public health and the environment if spilled into drinking water supplies. After the storm hits, staff are prepared to inspect the sites by foot, boat, and drone...

From the livestock industry, one environmental impact from the storm could be from the lagoons, or lined earthen pits, that hold treated manure. They are commonly used to manage swine waste...  More than 10 billion pounds of wet animal waste is produced annually in the state, according to a June 2016 report by the group, which has monitored the impact of past storms. North Carolina is the top U.S. turkey producer, ranks third for chicken and is home to more hogs than any state other than Iowa, government data show...

"This increasingly severe, potentially unprecedented storm is hurdling to the epicenter of animal agriculture in North Carolina," said Will Hendrick, a staff attorney and manager for a water campaign in the state for the Waterkeeper Alliance. "Because waste is managed using archaic practices, it presents a significant threat to water quality, primarily through run off and/or breach or inundation of hog lagoons."
Update Sept 17: A coal ash-pit near Wilmington has collapsed.

Update Sept 19:  Some hog waste lagoons have breached. More at the Wall Street Journal.

Storm surge

The major storm surge coincides with the landfall of a hurricane, but notice the changes in tide levels that have been measured on Cape Hatteras 3 days before the predicted arrival of the eye.

Via the Hurricane Tracker App.

07 September 2018

Can you find the goats ?

Original content from the DataIsBeautiful subreddit, where it is explained that the blankness of Norway reflects inadequate data, some arguments are raised regarding reindeer in northern Scandinavia, and the goats are noted to be on the Greek archipelago.

Clever logo

Audio Visual Design Group

Here's that controversial Nike ad with Colin Kaepernick

I saw the "Just Do It" ad while watching the opening game of the NFL season last night (the one that aired was slightly different from the embed above).  It's incredible to me to see how much controversy this ad has generated.  For those unfamiliar with the backstory, you can read details at The Guardian or CBS News or a hundred other sites today.

It is, after all, an ad for shoes.  AFAIK, nothing in the images or dialogue is otherwise offensive to anybody.  All of the other context is layered upon the video by the biases and preconceptions of viewers.

Despite Donald Trump's assertion that Nike stock is crashing (it has plunged from $82 to $80 since the ad was announced), there are reports of millenials eagerly buying the shoes, and analysts in the business world indicate that athletes love this ad, so Nike should achieve its goals of selling shoes, plus attracting future endorsers among the world of elite athletes.

Addendum:  Here's the business world's view, as reported by MarketWatch

"Water From Air" is the best applied science I've seen all year

I first heard about this development in a BBC podcast of Science in Action where Dr. Varanasi was interviewed.
A new system devised by MIT engineers could provide a low-cost source of drinking water for parched cities around the world while also cutting power plant operating costs.

About 39 percent of all the fresh water withdrawn from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in the U.S. is earmarked for the cooling needs of electric power plants that use fossil fuels or nuclear power, and much of that water ends up floating away in clouds of vapor. But the new MIT system could potentially save a substantial fraction of that lost water — and could even become a significant source of clean, safe drinking water for coastal cities where seawater is used to cool local power plants.

The principle behind the new concept is deceptively simple: When air that’s rich in fog is zapped with a beam of electrically charged particles, known as ions, water droplets become electrically charged and thus can be drawn toward a mesh of wires, similar to a window screen, placed in their path. The droplets then collect on that mesh, drain down into a collecting pan, and can be reused in the power plant or sent to a city’s water supply system.

The system, which is the basis for a startup company called Infinite Cooling that last month won MIT’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, is described in a paper published today in the journal Science Advances, co-authored by Maher Damak PhD ’18 and associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi. Damak and Varanasi are among the co-founders of the startup, and their research is supported in part by the Tata Center for Technology and Design.
Most people are aware of the way fog or mist condenses into water droplets on a mesh or screen (or on the bodies of insects in the Namib Desert or on redwood trees).  A power plant tower is basically creating distilled water - all you have to do is harvest it.  The principle has been demonstrated in a laboratory setting; now it's being scaled up.  It's cheaper by a log power than fashioning new desalination plants.

Reposted to add an image and text from a more recent BBC report:
If the emerging ‘water from air’ (WFA) devices can crack it, it could go a long way towards solving the world’s freshwater problem...

There are several companies adapting dehumidifier technology for drinking water. Mechanical dehumidifiers contain chilled metal coils filled with a refrigerant gas, much like a kitchen fridge-freezer, which create an artificial ‘dew-point’ (the temperature at which water vapour in the air saturates, turning from a gas into a liquid, like the beads on the side of your ice-cold drink). Water vapour entering a WFA machine condenses on a chilled coil in the same way, but once collected it is filtered, sterilised by UV light, mineralised, and stored in a food-grade tank ready to drink...

There are, however, some important conditions for many of these devices to function at their best. The efficiency, for instance, often depends on the relative humidity – the amount of water present in air, as a percentage of the amount needed to reach saturation. For most of the devices, that figure is above 60% for optimal functioning...

But a new UK company, Requench, is entering the market later this year (2018) with a unit literally the size of a shipping container, and it can reportedly function at a relative humidity of just 15%. The prototype produces 2,000 litres a day in humid conditions and no less than 500 litres even in dry climates.

Another solution may come from entirely different WFA technology. Instead of refrigeration coils, a ‘desiccant’ material absorbs water from the air like a chemical sponge, needing no energy to do so... “You need something that absorbs water at ultra-low humidity, even 5% humidity. For example, when you leave the lid off the sugar bowl, it gets kinda clumpy. Sugar is a natural desiccant...

But there is one more WFA approach that requires zero electricity – solar or otherwise – and is designed for the poorest regions of the world. In rural Ethiopia, Togo, and soon Haiti, stands the near 10-metre tall ‘Warka Tower’. Looking like something from Glastonbury Festival, a giant vase-shaped bamboo frame supports hundreds of square metres of fine polyester mesh. The mesh collects the morning mist and drips down into an underground tank via a stone-based filtration system... Such dew harvesting, however, relies on very high humidity and fog.

06 September 2018

Ibex found a comfy place to rest


Swedish "plate money"

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see and handle an example of 18th-century Swedish "plate money" ("platmynt").
Platmynt or plate money was minted in Sweden between 1644 and 1809 where it both helped and confused the Swedish economy. Sweden's currency system was based on silver, but Sweden produced no silver and traded its copper to get silver for coins. In the early 17th century Swedish copper mines produced two-thirds of Europe's copper. Most of that copper was exported to Spain for small denomination coinage...

Meanwhile Sweden's Falu copper mine had been producing large ingots of unrefined copper, some being several inches thick and weighing as much as 43 pounds. With the placement of a circular seal on each corner showing the date, the Swedish crown and the initials of Queen Christiana, the plates became coins.

Each plate was stamped with a denomination. The largest, the 10-Daler plates, were struck in 1644 and 1645 and only 10 of those 26,774 plates exist. Weighing 43 pounds, they were too large for circulating coins and in 1646 the Swedish Government decreed that the largest denomination would be the 8-Daler plate, a 35-pound coin.
More details at the New York Times and at Past and Present.

Embedded photo via.

1926 Rolls Royce

And today I learned:
Back then you didn't actually buy the whole car, Rolls supplied the engine, chassis etc. and a coach builder custom-made the bodies and interior to the owners' specifications; there are probably no two alike from this period.
Exterior and interior of another one at the always-interesting Just A Car Guy blog.

"Reading away" library fines

Some library systems are modifying their long-standing policies on fines for overdue materials.  I thought this innovation was particularly apt:
So on Thursday, Leilany went to the East Los Angeles Library, a county facility, to read off $4 in late fees. Students can eliminate debt at a rate of $5 an hour under a program that took effect in June...
In an era where screen time dominates the lives of children, librarians and others haven't given up on instilling a love of books and libraries. They also want to make sure there isn’t a “library gap” between the more prosperous and the poor. The program for “reading away” library debt is especially important because the cost of damaged or lost materials can be high.
A library debt of $10 results in suspended borrowing privileges. Since “Read Away” went into effect, the county library system has cleared 3,500 blocked accounts, said Darcy Hastings, the county’s assistant library administrator for youth services.

Even fines of 15 cents a day per book can push children away.
When charges accrue on a young person’s account, generally, they don’t pay the charges and they don’t use the card,” Hastings said. “A few dollars on their accounts means they stop using library services.”
Further details at the Los Angeles Times.

An "all-natural baby"

Via the insanepeopleFacebook subreddit.

04 September 2018

The "Temple burn" is not an ordinary bonfire

Apart from the size of the pyre, this event at the Burning Man festival was remarkable because so many viewers were in tears - and not from the smoke...
People spent months on it with zero infrastructure, just living in the desert. They did it to make a place were visitors could say goodbye to grief that had been plaguing them - literally every inside surface was covered in painful tributes to lost loved ones. When it was set on fire, the entirety of the city stood there dead silent and watched it burn... The Temple is different, though. It's what people visit to let go of things, usually loved ones who have recently died. By the end of the week, it's covered in Sharpie writings saying goodbye, photographs, possessions of the deceased, and sometimes even ashes. Literally covered. It's a very, very heavy place to visit, and a really useful ritual in processing grief... Not just loved ones but mementos of memories you need to let go of. Think pictures from abusive relationships etc. I heard that it gets very, very quiet as everyone is experiencing their own very personal moment.

Anti-populism cartoon

What I find amusing about the cartoon is that the sentiment depicted/mocked in the cartoon could apply to either of the major political parties.  The cartoon has also been roundly criticized for presenting a false equivalency.  But it is still thought-provoking - which is one of the purposes.

The cartoonist and the style looks like New Yorker content (it wasn't attributed in the BoingBoing discussion thread where I encountered it.

Is overpopulation a self-correcting problem?

Excerpts from an article in GQ:
Last summer a group of researchers from Hebrew University and Mount Sinai medical school published a study showing that sperm counts in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past four decades. (They judged data from the rest of the world to be insufficient to draw conclusions from, but there are studies suggesting that the trend could be worldwide.)...

The Hebrew University/Mount Sinai paper was a meta-analysis by a team of epidemiologists, clinicians, and researchers that culled data from 185 studies, which examined semen from almost 43,000 men. It showed that the human race is apparently on a trend line toward becoming unable to reproduce itself. Sperm counts went from 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen in 1973 to 47 million per milliliter in 2011, and the decline has been accelerating. Would 40 more years—or fewer—bring us all the way to zero?..

The results, when they came in, were clear. Not only were sperm counts per milliliter of semen down by more than 50 percent since 1973, but total sperm counts were down by almost 60 percent: We are producing less semen, and that semen has fewer sperm cells in it. This time around, even scientists who had been skeptical of past analyses had to admit that the study was all but unassailable...

Testosterone levels have also dropped precipitously, with effects beginning in utero and extending into adulthood...
One possible explanation:
When a chemical affects your hormones, it's called an endocrine disruptor. And it turns out that many of the compounds used to make plastic soft and flexible (like phthalates) or to make them harder and stronger (like Bisphenol A, or BPA) are consummate endocrine disruptors. Phthalates and BPA, for example, mimic estrogen in the bloodstream. If you're a man with a lot of phthalates in his system, you'll produce less testosterone and fewer sperm.
More at the longread link.

03 September 2018

So, does this egg have varicose veins ?

This is an egg with a wrinkled shell (via)  More about egg oddities.

A list of notable Norwegian Americans

James Arness
James Cagney
Jimmy Fallon
Bob Fosse
Peter Graves
Melanie Griffith
Gypsy Rose Lee
Virginia Mayo
Robert Mitchum
Marilyn Monroe
Priscilla Presley
Sally Struthers
Robert Wagner
Renee Zellweger
The Andrews Sisters
Jackson Browne
F. Melius Christiansen
Peggy Lee
Grace Slick
Tom Waits
Lance Armstrong
Sonja Henie
Sonny Jurgensen
Knute Rockne
Jan Stenerud
Lindsey Vonn
Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Jeff Bezos
Conrad Hilton, Jr.
Matt Groening
Charles M. Schulz
Eric Sevareid
Hubert Humphrey
Walter Mondale
Al Quie
Ole Evinrude
Sally Ride
Eliot Ness

Extracted from a huge list at Wikipedia.

Calling a spade a shovel

Melania Trump's recent participation in a gardening event at the White House provides a teachable moment about garden tools.  Properly speaking, a spade and a shovel are quite different tools:

Shovel Spade
Blade Shape Bowl-shaped (concave) with a rounded or pointed tip Flat (or nearly flat) with a straight edge
Handle/Shaft Long, straight shaft Shorter shaft, may have a “T” or “D” handle
Blade Size Larger Smaller
Best Uses Digging, breaking up, and turning soil Slicing through soil and roots, moving soil and loose material

A shovel [left in the embedded photo] has a broader blade that is curved inwards from left to right and is rounded or pointed at the tip. Blade length and shape can vary, depending on the intended use – you’ll find shovels with extra long blades, saw-tooth edges, and ledges down the sides. The shovel blade tends to be larger than that found on spades.

A spade [on the right] generally has a relatively flat blade with straight edges. It’s smaller than a shovel (although size does vary, depending on use) and the blade tends to be in line with the shaft, rather than angled forward.

You may also notice that a spade tends to be straighter than a shovel from handle to blade tip. Whereas the shovel blade is usually angled forward, the spade blade is not.

It’s that angle that makes the biggest difference in functionality between the two tools. The angled shovel blade makes it efficient for digging. The straighter spade can be used for digging but is better used for slicing through and lifting sod, edging lawns and beds, skimming weeds and opening straight-sided holes or trenches.
Further explanation and photos here.

TYWKIWDBI has absolutely no objections to someone wearing a $4,000 skirt while gardening, or for opting to aerate the soil with 4-inch heels.  Those aspects are commented on at NDTV.

Photo credit AFP Photo.
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