15 November 2019

Ancient Egyptians mummified MILLIONS of ibis

From an interesting article in National Geographic this week:
Between roughly 650 and 250 B.C., ancient Egyptians sacrificed staggering numbers of mummified ibises to Thoth, god of magic and wisdom, who was depicted with a human body and the distinctive long-beaked head of the bird. Archaeologists have found literally millions of these votive offerings in ancient Egyptian necropolises, where the bird mummies were interred after being offered to Thoth to cure illnesses, gift long life, or even sort out romantic troubles...

Due to the sheer scale of the ibis mummy industry, many Egyptologists have assumed that the bird—specifically the African sacred ibis (T. aethiopicus)—was deliberately bred in large centralised farms. This assumption has been bolstered by archaeological and textual evidence for large-scale bird-raising operations. However, a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that most ibises were actually captured in the wild and possibly kept on farms for only short periods of time before being sacrificed and mummified.
The study revealed a DNA diversity in the mummies more consistent with widespread harvesting rather than local farming.   Not everyone agrees:
But archaeologist Bosch-Puche, who was not a part of the study, believes that the birds were indeed bred in captivity, due to signs of healed fractures and infectious diseases seen in ibis mummies that are similar to those documented in modern captive animal populations that have little genetic diversity...

The new DNA research also may help answer a bigger question of why the African sacred ibis eventually went extinct in Egypt by the mid-19th century.
Data, discussion, and more images at the PLOS ONE article.

Fix the dam infrastructure!

Thousands of people in the U.S. may be at risk from dams that are rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition. An AP analysis found 1,688 dams in these conditions are high hazard, meaning their failure can cause human death.
An Associated Press interactive graphic shows the location of dangerous dams in the United States.  My part of the country doesn't have many, but my old stomping grounds back in Kentucky and Indiana are just riddled with them.

Note the graphic is interactive, so not only can you zoom to your area, but you can hover the mouse for the information shown in the top image.

I am so very, very tired of this bullshit.  American politicians have been kicking the can down the road for way too many election cycles.  Someone has to raise taxes and fix these things.  Maybe it will require electing a Socialist to get these problems corrected.

Clever? Or a nuisance?

Clock-radio in a hotel has time displays on three sides so bed occupants can check the time without getting up.   Personally, I would cover it up with a towel.  (and interesting how iconic that wall surface/furniture finish is for a hotel/motel)

Concerns re oceanic microplastics

As reported in Vice:
The study, led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, found that larval fish nurseries off the coast of Hawaii are hotbeds of plastic pollution, with trash pieces outnumbering actual fish seven to one. As a result, baby fish looking for a bite are sometimes chowing down on tiny flecks of “prey-sized” plastic instead...

By dissecting hundreds of fish larvae, the researchers learned that those small pieces of plastic are making their way into the bellies of many types of fish, including commercially-important species like swordfish and mahi-mahi as well as flying fish, a key prey item for seabirds. Overall, fish larvae in slicks were about twice as likely to have ingested plastic as those found elsewhere.

The researchers aren’t sure how ingesting plastic impacts the health of these baby fish, but there are reasons to be concerned. Plastic can absorb a variety of chemical pollutants, potentially causing them to bioaccumulate in animals that eat it. In adult fish, one study found that plastic “nanoparticles” can cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger behavioral problems. In developing larvae, the researchers say a bite or two of plastic might cause fish to feel full when they haven’t consumed anything edible.

Plastic ingested by fish larvae could also be making its way into anything that eats them, including us...

Normal tree growth revealed

An interesting perspective.  Via.

To detect a hidden "nannycam"

Hidden cameras are everywhere nowadays.  Travelers especially need to be wary in rented rooms.  A WikiHow article shows how to find one using your smartphone.

Note the red dot in the blackness above (from a hidden camera) is not visible light - you could see that with your naked eye.  This is infrared light from the spy camera, detected by the front-facing camera on your phone.

More procedural details at the link.

A suggestion for next Halloween

In previous years we have given trick-or-treaters a choice between candy and seashells.   This year we offered something else.

The story begins in early summer, when we noticed an unexpected melon plant growing in our tomato patch in the back yard.  We left it alone to see what would happen, steering it away from the tomato cages (it eventually engulfed one of them).  It spread over and between the pots with the Bell peppers and eggplants and headed out into the lawn.  Less grass to mow - fine.

At its late autumn peak that single plant covered an area half again as big as shown in the photo above, and the fruit revealed itself as a decorative squash (top photo).

We had purchased a small bag of varied decorative squash for a previous Halloween, and had tossed them away out back for the local critters to enjoy.  One of them escaped predation and began this growth.  As the season ended we had dozens and dozens of gourds - and no use for them.  So, I loaded them into a wheelbarrow and parked it next to the sidewalk leading to the front door.  When the trick-or-treaters came to the door, they received their small bag of chips, and then we told them "help yourself to a gourd from the wheelbarrow."

The reaction was uniformly enthusiastic.  None of these well-behaved kids had taken anything from the wheelbarrow on the way to the door, figuring that it was a decorative display like the neighbors' ghosts and gravestones.  But on the way back to the street they dove in, and... "YAY!  Mom, look!  I got a gourd!"

Now I'm thinking ahead to next Halloween.  What else do I have that I need to dispose of?  Maybe some of my old comic books, but I wonder if they would be interested in picking through twelve years of back issues of Consumer Reports...?

13 November 2019

Highly recommended

Etiquette has to change with the times; social behaviors that were standard even one generation ago may be totally inappropriate nowadays.  And so it was that Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, was encouraged by her family to create etiquette guidelines for a cannabis-tolerant society.  As she notes in an introductory chapter:
"In Oregon, I watched as a friend tossed a half-smoked joint that had gone out into the garbage.  "What are you doing?" I shrieked.  "I'm so sorry," he said.  "I just figured we'd roll another."  I had to laugh... Many folks who live legal liken offering saved bowls and roaches (the ends of blunts, spliffs, and joints) to offering someone half a can of beer, the rest of their cocktail, or their leftover food."
I grew up in the "prohibition" era, so for me there was a lot of useful information in the book.  Inserted below are screencaps of some sample pages:

There are sections on edibles and drinkables, and of course how to be a considerate guest (or a host) of a party, what to expect at a dispensary, how to behave at a cannabis-friendly bed-and-breakfast (a "bud-and-breakfast"), or at a "lit on lit" book club, or on a "weedcation."

I found the book in our local library system (and Wisconsin is not a 420-friendly state) (yet...)

12 November 2019

The unnecessary carnage of Armistice Day 11/11/11

Excerpts from a chilling article in Harper's:
A hundred years ago this month, the First World War shuddered to a close. The end came when the armistice took effect on the Western Front at 11 am on November 11, 1918—the famous eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a phrase that seems like an obscenity now, a romantic gesture to cap a war that long before should have buried any possible remaining romance of war. The armistice had been coming since at least August 8, 1918, the “black day of the German Army,” when some 15,000 German men surrendered on the first day of a French and British offensive. Germany’s allies had been dropping away since September, with Bulgaria, then the Turks, then Austria-Hungary suing for peace.

The Germans had initiated peace negotiations on November 8, and their delegates pleaded that fighting be suspended at once. Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme Allied commander, refused. The signing of the armistice agreement was announced at 5:45 on the morning of November 11, but Foch decreed that the official ending time would be eleven o’clock.

In the ensuing five hours and fifteen minutes, the two sides suffered a combined 10,944 casualties, including 2,738 dead, according to the historian Joseph E. Persico in his book Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour. The fighting went on, to get revenge, to use up “leftover” ammunition, to teach the enemy a lesson. It continued because, even after four years of what British prime minister David Lloyd George would call “the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind,” men were still willing to go dutifully forward to kill when they were ordered to do so.

Most of the killing that last morning seems to have been initiated by the Allies, but the Germans shelled the town of Mézières, flattening the hospital there, and ambushed British troops at a little village near Valenciennes. British cavalry raced into the Belgian town of Lessines at ten to eleven, where they chased down German defenders as if they were on a fox hunt.

“I fired 164 rounds at [the enemy] before he quit this morning,” Captain Harry S. Truman, the only future American president to see action in World War I, wrote. Truman, the commander of an artillery battery, maintained, “I’m for peace, but that gang should be given a bayonet peace and made to pay for what they’ve done to France.” He kept his guns flaring until precisely eleven. Some American artillery batteries kept banging away even past that deadline.

Colonel Thomas Gowenlock, an intelligence officer with the US 1st Division, was surprised to find the shelling from both sides unusually heavy and growing worse as he approached the front near Le Gros Faux. “It seemed to me that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last eleven o’clock came—but the firing continued,” Gowenlock would write in his memoir of the war.
Numerous American units—the 32nd and 33rd Army divisions, the 5th Marine Regiment—were ordered into combat that morning and suffered serious losses. The all-black 366th Regiment of the Army’s 92nd Division, in America’s segregated armed forces, was ordered to make three separate assaults on German positions heavily fortified with machine guns; the last one commenced at ten-thirty, and the troops absorbed 319 casualties that day, including seventeen dead.
More at the link, none of it uplifting.

10 November 2019

When pumpkins go bad

Note to self: in the future, don't leave pumpkins on the front porch through hard freezes.

At our latitude, temps are typically in the 40s in early November, and decorative pumpkins can be left until about Thanksgiving.  Not this year; arctic cold arrived with killing frosts and hard freezes weeks ahead of schedule.  Glad I got my dahlias out of the ground promptly.

I loaded this fellow into a wheelbarrow and gave him a ride to the woods behind the house, where it will provide some welcome nutrition for local critters.

Addendum:  Relevant article at The Atlantic this week - What To Do With That Rotting Pumpkin Corpse.
You might be tempted just to throw them all away—and that’s certainly what many people do. Every year, more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkin get tossed out and left to rot in America’s landfills. Some are thrown away the day after Halloween, contributing to the 30.3 million tons of annual food waste in the U.S. When left to decompose in a landfill, that food waste produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that’s far more potent than carbon dioxide. (It’s not just in the U.S.; The Guardian reported that in the U.K., people are expected to throw away a record 8 million pumpkins this year.)
Suggestions at the link.

A bold prediction about Big Ten football - updated with video

Posted for family and a few friends with an interest in collegiate football.
Other readers can just scroll past to more interesting stuff.
Tomorrow the Big Ten football season starts with the first preseason games.  The pundits and national analysts have published their predictions; the list embedded at the top is from USA Today.   Of the Big Ten teams, Ohio State (predicted 5th), Michigan (7th), Penn State (14th), Wisconsin (17th), Iowa (19th), Michigan State (20th), and Northwestern (25th) are all expected to be in the top 25 nationally.  Minnesota received 1 measly point, out of 21,000 awarded by 65 headcoaches around the country.  Reporters covering the Big Ten are similarly dismissive; they collectively predicted Minnesota to finish sixth in the 7-team West division.

TYWKIWDBI hereby predicts Minnesota to finish in the top 25 nationally and second in their division.  You heard it here first.

Last Year
The Gophers closed out the 2017 season two years ago with two losses by a combined score of 70-0, and in the past two years under their new coach P.J. Fleck their record against Big Ten teams has been 5-13.  The problem last year was that the team lost both of their premier running backs to injuries in September, and they lost Antoine Winfield, their star defensive safety after just four games.  So they struggled; after a change in the assistant coaching staff, the defense went from giving up 500 yards/game to 300 and from 43 pts/game to 15, and the team's offense compensated and managed to finish the year by beating ranked Wisconsin at Wisconsin and then blowing away Georgia Tech in a bowl game.

Last year they fielded a team that was the youngest in U.S. collegiate football; at times the entire backfield was composed of freshmen right out of high school.  This year the team returns 78% of its offensive production.   Their injured star running backs (Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks) are back for their senior seasons, as is last year's star sophomore Mo Ibrahim; the three have combined for 6,000 rushing yards.

The only major players lost to graduation were the placekicker and center, two defensive tackles, and the best linebacker.  The team has 17 returning starters: the Gophers return an amazing 100% of passing yards, 99% of rushing yards, and 99% of receiving yards. None of the Big Ten teams they play can say as much; most of the opposing teams in the division lost key players from last year to graduation or transfer. 

The offensive line has four returning starters, and pound-for-pound is bigger than the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line. The four average 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds (the Vikings’ line averages 6-foot-4, 302)  Sophomore Daniel Faalele is 6-foot-9 and 400#. The wide receivers include all-Big-Ten senior Tyler Johnson, who could have turned pro last year but elected to stay with the team.

The Gophers have one difficult preseason game in week two, against Fresno State, which went 12-2 last year, beat Boise State for the Mountain West championship, and then beat Arizona State in a bowl game.  The game is at Fresno State in the second of a home-and-home pairing.  But.. of those two losses last year, one was to Minnesota in the preseason, and Fresno State lost to graduation their star quarterback, and will play this year with an inexperienced one.

A little-known fact:  the Gophers have won 15 straight nonconference games.  That is the longest streak in the nation, dating back to when they lost to #2 TCU in 2015.  I expect the Gophers to repeat as winners against Fresno State and thus enter the conference schedule 3-0 after wins against South Dakota State and Georgia Southern..

When the conference schedule starts in late September, the first five games will be winnable (at Purdue, home against Illinois and Nebraska, at Rutgers, and then Maryland at home).  By then they could be 8-0 and ready to roll against the big boys, because the season ends against presumably ranked teams: home against Penn State, away to play Iowa and Northwestern, and then the season-ending traditional game against Wisconsin (at home).

This year the Gophers are not scheduled to play Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State.   The West division's toughest schedule may go to Wisconsin, which must face Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. And Iowa will play against Michigan and Penn State.

I predict the Gophers to finish 6-3 in the West division, behind only Iowa, and thus 9-3 overall and ranked in the top-25 nationally. The one thing that could derail my prediction would be unexpected injuries to key players.  Already in the preseason one of the team's two experienced quarterbacks has been declared out for the season with a foot injury.

Update Oct 1:
After five weeks of the season (4 games and a bye), the Gophers are 4-0, with the three nonconference wins and a Big Ten opening win at Purdue (in that game Gopher QB Tanner Morgan was 21 for 22 (!!) for 396 yards and four touchdowns).  In the national poll, the "others receiving votes" now looks like this:
California 125; Southern Methodist 118; Arizona State 96; Army 47; Minnesota 34; Baylor 34; Appalachian State 28; Colorado 18; Duke 17; Tulane 16; Utah State 15; Kansas State 13; Hawaii 10; Southern California 9; Texas Christian 6; Washington State 3; Mississippi State 3; Air Force 3; Wyoming 2.
Effectively tied for 30th.  Home games vs. Illinois and Nebraska coming next.

Update Oct 8:
One week after a record-setting passing performance, the Gophers coped with cool drizzly weather this past weekend by reverting to a dominating ground game, with one back exceeding 100 yards and the other exceeding 200.  Now ranked 25th in this poll (and 26th in the other national one):

Nebraska next week.  Can't wait...

Update Oct 22:
Two more weeks, two more victories -- a 34-7 drubbing of Nebraska followed by a 42-7 win over hapless Rutgers.  In the national rankings the Gophers moved up last week from 25th to 20th, and this week to 17th (AP) or 16th (Coaches poll):

This week's game will be against Maryland, at home.  ESPN gives them a 17-point spread with an 83% probability of winning the game.  That would put them at 8-0 for the first time since forever. Then a bye week to get ready for a November 9 showdown against #6-ranked Penn State.

Update November 8:
An easy 52-10 trouncing of the Maryland team that beat us by a similar score last year.   Season record 8-0 (5-0 in Big Ten), with national rank 13 because of softness of prior schedule.   The Gophers are 7-point underdogs in tomorrow's game vs. 5th-ranked Penn State.  Only once in the last 40 years have two undefeated Big Ten teams met this late in the season. 

Nobody is predicting a Minnesota win tomorrow.  They will have home-field advantage in front of the first 50,000-seat sellout crowd in probably ten years.  They do have adequate personnel to pull off the upset, and a one-score differential can be overcome by a couple turnovers.  And note this:
"Minnesota (8-0) is a 6.5-point home underdog to Penn State. In the last 40 seasons, teams 8-0 or better are 12-4 straight-up and 12-3-1 against the spread as home underdogs, per ESPN Stats and Information."
I'm sure that historical comparison doesn't include many matchups against other 8-0 teams.  I'll predict a 28-24 victory for Minnesota (and if they lose I can always erase this sentence...)

Update November 10:
No erasure necessary.   Reposted to add this highlight video from yesterday's game:

Unquestionably one of the most dramatic and significant victories in long history of Minnesota football.  

Apparently I've been wrapping tortillas wrong

TL;DW?  To skip all the humor, just start at the 3:45 mark.

Apparently I've been tying my shoelaces wrong

Gif here.

Video here.

TED talk here.

And while I'm on the subject, I've always wondered whether the Cold War "secret communication" method illustrated at the top (with examples that wouldn't work on the illustrated shoe...) was real, or just something that John LeCarre made up for his books.

Apparently I've been charging my phone wrong

Searching the topic yesterday, I found information at two sites.  First, from Science Alert:
Many of us have an ingrained notion that charging our smartphones in small bursts will cause long-term damage to their batteries and that it's better to charge them when they're close to dead. But we couldn't be more wrong.

In fact, a site from battery company Cadex called Battery University details how the lithium-ion batteries in our smartphones are sensitive to their own versions of 'stress'...

Don't keep it plugged in when it's fully charged
According to Battery University, leaving your phone plugged in when it's fully charged, like you might overnight, is bad for the battery in the long run...

In fact, try not to charge it to 100 percent
At least when you don't have to.  According to Battery University, "Li-ion does not need to be fully charged, nor is it desirable to do so. In fact, it is better not to fully charge, because a high voltage stresses the battery" and wears it away in the long run. ..

Plug in your phone whenever you can
It turns out that the batteries in our smartphones are much happier if you charge them occasionally throughout the day instead of plugging them in for a big charging session when they're empty.
Charging your phone when it loses 10 percent of its charge would be the best-case scenario, according to Battery University. Obviously, that's not practical for most people, so just plug in your smartphone whenever you can. It's fine to plug and unplug it multiple times a day.
And then from Digital Trends:
Your smartphone is capable of recognizing when it’s fully charged and stopping the incoming current, just as it turns itself off when the lower limit is reached.

“You won’t be able to overcharge or over-discharge a cell,” Daniel Abraham, senior scientist at the Argonne Laboratory, told Digital Trends for a previous article about the impact of wireless charging on battery health...

While leaving your phone plugged in overnight is unlikely to do any major harm to your battery, because it will stop charging at a certain level; the battery will start to discharge again and when it drops below a specific threshold set by the manufacturer it will charge back up. You are also prolonging the time that the battery is fully charged, which is potentially speeding up its degradation...

Charging your phone as little as possible is going to result in the longest battery lifespan, so learning how to squeeze the most from your smartphone battery is important. The general consensus is that you should aim to keep your smartphone battery between 20% and 80%, so a couple of tops up throughout the day are likely better for battery longevity than overnight charging...

You should try to keep your smartphone cool whenever possible, so never leave it on the dashboard in a hot car. Apple suggests removing your iPhone case during charging to lessen the risk of overheating. Samsung says it’s best not to ever let your battery go under 20%, warning that “completely discharging the battery on your device may reduce its life.”

It’s also a bad idea to use your phone while it’s charging because it will increase the heat generated. If you are going to charge overnight, then consider switching your phone off before plugging it in to reduce the stress on the battery.
More at the various links.

09 November 2019

Ein "Mauerspecht"

In 2014 Der Spiegel carried a story about how the Berlin Wall is gradually disappearing, and the mixed feelings Germans have regarding its preservation or obliteration.
...some locals wonder if they could have taken better care of one of the world's best-known monuments. Less than a quarter of the Wall is under historical protection and you can find more pieces of it overseas than in Germany…

Yet somehow, up until very recently, most Germans did not seem to regret the disappearance of the Wall. Nor have they been inclined to make a big deal out of what's left.

For example, even Berlin locals might be surprised to know that there are actually over 1,000 sites in and around Berlin where remnants of the Wall can be found. Yet less than a quarter of them are protected by any sort of conservation edict

"It was a border, it was a reminder of an uncomfortable past and everyone actually just wanted to be rid of it," Roland says, "which I think can be hard for outsiders to understand."
Historians date the onset of this process of wall disappearance to November 9, 1989, when East Berliners surged through the wall, and locals on both sides of the wall began chipping off souvenirs. "These people were nicknamed "Mauerspechte" (wall woodpeckers)."

Two weeks later, the person in the photo above arrived in what was then East Berlin to present a lecture at a symposium. That evening his host family asked what he would like to do, and he expressed an interest in seeing the wall from the east side. They drove him through back streets to an obscure section of the wall and stood guard while he, suitably attired in a trench coat, slipped past some red and white guard rails and scrabbled at the wall with his fingernails until a piece of mortar came loose from a crevice. When he returned triumphantly to the car, he was reminded that had he tried that several weeks earlier he would certainly have been shot.

That piece of mortar now rests on a little stand in an étagère in his living room. We will withhold his name, just in case the Stasi are still looking for him...

For an extensive photoessay on the Wall and the old border between East and West Germany, see this link.

Re-reposted from 2009 to note the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall.  

08 November 2019

A surprise in the sports trading card marketplace

I'll begin with the backstory.  In the 1950s I rode to school with three classmates in a car driven by one of our teachers (I have no doubt he earned some well-needed cash by saving our parents from driving us).  If we "behaved" during the week, on the Friday trip home he drove us to a candy store and gave us I think 10c or 25c to buy candy.

My choice was always baseball cards or football cards, depending on the season.  I saved them all, unfortunately never trading my duplicates for Bart Starrs or Johnny Unitas ones.  By the time I got to be a young adult I discovered that old trading cards were rising in value, so I stored everything away.  Now I'm sort of elderly and presenile, so it's time to do some döstädning and sell the cards on eBay to reap my rewards.

First step was to go to the library to check out the Beckett price guide for football and baseball cards.  I was a little surprised to see how little prices had changed in recent decades.  I knew of course that the cardmakers had absolutely flooded the marketplace with product in the 1980s-90s and thereafter, to the extent that modern cards can be purchased in bulk for pennies or less.  But I thought the "legacy" cards from the early days would have held their value.  Not so in most cases (actual sale prices tend to be well below the "catalogue" prices).

Upon further reflection I surmised that basically nobody remembers these players anymore.  The "stars" are still valued, but who remembers Art Spinney or George Preas?  Even the minor stars (Alan Ameche, Lenny Moore) are familiar only to old men like me, and our demographic group is in rapid decline.

So to save time, I've boxed up groups of 25-50 cards to sell in bulk and will move on to my comic books next.

But the reason I'm posting this today is circled in red in the embedded image.  The prices of the wrappers is higher than even for the star players.  It's obvious why: in those years nobody ever saved the wrapper.  You chewed the gum (maybe), saved the card (or not), and tossed the wrapper.

What's circled is a price guide price.  Do the wrappers actually sell well?  Here's a recent transaction on eBay:

I should have tossed the cards and put the wrappers in a safe deposit box.  You learn something every day.

Casual sexism

Via BoingBoing.

"Where is the 5th pig?" fold-in puzzle from 1940

Image desaturated from the one found at the via.  I'm surprised this concept hasn't been revived by modern political enthusiasts.

An introduction to "Dolly Parton's America"

I long ago gave up radio in favor of podcasts.  The most interesting and enjoyable one I've heard this year is embedded above.
Radiolab creator and host Jad Abumrad spent the last two years following around music legend Dolly Parton, and we're here to say you should tune in! In this episode of Radiolab, we showcase the first of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons.

We begin with a simple question: How did the queen of the boob joke become a feminist icon? Helen Morales, author of “Pilgrimage to Dollywood,” gave us a stern directive – look at the lyrics! So we dive into Dolly’s discography, starting with the early period of what Dolly calls “sad ass songs” to find remarkably prescient words of female pain, slut-shaming, domestic violence, and women being locked away in asylums by cheating husbands. We explore how Dolly took the centuries-old tradition of the Appalachian “murder ballad”—an oral tradition of men singing songs about brutally killing women—and flipped the script, singing from the woman’s point of view. And as her career progresses, the songs expand beyond the pain to tell tales of leaving abuse behind.
It's probably fair to say that "nobody doesn't like Dolly Parton."
JAD: Like, she tore right through all of that noise. Through the general election and beyond. And I kept bumping into people who would describe the experience of being at a Dolly show as, like, standing in an alternate vision of America than what was unfolding on the TV.

JESSIE WILKERSON: I remember just standing out in the lobby and just people watching, because it was the most diverse place I’ve ever been. I was seeing a multi-racial audience. People wearing cowboy hats and boots. I was seeing people in drag. Church ladies. Lesbians holding hands. Little girls who were there with their families.

WAYNE BLEDSOE: You had a whole audience of people who absolutely their philosophies were in opposition to each other co-mingling, and everybody is polite to each other.

JAD: So that was one thing that caught my attention. That in this very divided moment, Dolly seems to maybe be a kind of unifier. And after doing a little poking around, the data does kind of bear this out. If you look at her global Q Score, this is a measure of how well people think about your brand, globally. What they do is they assemble a very diverse sample of people, they ask them a bunch of questions, and out of all of these different brands that are out there, all these different performers, she is in the top 10 globally in terms of everybody's favorites. But she's almost number one when it comes to lack of negatives, if that makes any sense.
The embed above is from a Radiolab presentation.  The series is available here.

Types of skirts

The discussion thread at the coolguides subreddit notes that "lengths" and fabrics are not per se "types," but the graphic is still useful.

"Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite."

Some medieval Europeans slept in box beds - an arrangement that continued well into the 19th century.  An interesting article at Amusing Planet discusses the various reasons for doing so (privacy, warmth, security from animals or intruders) and provides additional images. 

Via the neverending abundance of Neatorama.  More info at Wikipedia.

Hans Rosling clarifies world demographics - updated

I have featured Hans Rosling on a number of previous posts at TYWKIWDBI because I truly admire his style of presentation.  The best hours of my academic life were spent behind or beside the podium in front of an classroom full of students, so I'm supersensitive to the nuances of lecturing.  This guy has all the skills.  He is recognized as a wizard at portraying otherwise-dry statistics in comprehensible visual forms (see his superb TED talk on the developing world).  In addition his stage presence is captivating, and his use of English (as a second language) is excellent.

I'm not blogging today, but I wanted to put this up for you.  I know everyone's life these days is one continuous TL;DR, but take my word for it, if you are interested in the world beyond your doorstep, this video is worth 15 minutes of your time.  Or at least the first five, and then see if you can stop.

Reposted from 2015 to cleanse my mind.  A lifelong (60+ year) best friend emailed me a link to a Mark Steyn video, identifying it as "the biggest story of the year."  The video began by deploring the childlessness of European leaders (and Europeans in general), then devolved into frank Islamophobia and a broader xenophobia.  This was done by presenting demographic data and concluding from those data that the Europeans who "built the modern world" will "be extinguished" by an overwhelming tide of brown-skinned invaders.

I needed the intellectual equivalent of the "eye bleach" recommended for "unseeing" internet images, and then I remembered this old post featuring one of Hans Rosling's presentations.  He presents data that is probably equivalent to that which Mark Steyn employs, but does so with the perspective of a man of the Enlightenment, not a fearmonger.

Totally worth viewing if you've not seen it.  And worth reviewing every now and then.

Reposted from 2017 to add this image -

- from a Bloomberg article about the world's falling birthrates. The image at the link is interactive, so you can mouse over those grey lines to see which country is which.  Some interesting results...
While the global average fertility rate was still above the rate of replacement—technically 2.1 children per woman—in 2017, about half of all countries had already fallen below it, up from 1 in 20 just half a century ago. For places such as the U.S. and parts of Western Europe, which historically are attractive to migrants, loosening immigration policies could make up for low birthrates. In other places, more drastic policy interventions may be called for. Most of the available options place a high burden on women, who’ll be relied upon not only to bear children but also to help fill widening gaps in the workforce...

Productivity gains can make up some of the gaps as populations taper off and begin to shrink, but it's a much more challenging way to grow an economy and may not be sustainable over time: For most of the countries in the OECD’s study, the relative contribution of productivity to growth has fallen over time.
Ultimately, no country will be left untouched by demographic decline. Governments will have to think creatively about ways to manage population, whether through state-sponsored benefits or family-planning edicts or discrimination protections, or else find their own path to sustainable economic growth with ever fewer native-born workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs. 
Some other interesting graphics and discussion at the link.  I note in passing that the Bloomberg author shares the common belief among businesspeople that "economic growth" is a sine qua non for progress.

05 November 2019

Si Hoc Legere Scis Nimium Eruditionis Habes*

*Translation: If you can read this you're over-educated

Non calor sed umor est qui nobis incommodat.
It's not the heat, it's the humidity.

Di! Ecce hora! Uxor mea me necabit!
God, look at the time! My wife will kill me!

Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Animadvertistine, ubicumque stes, fumum recta in faciem ferri?
Ever noticed how wherever you stand, the smoke goes right into your face?

Sona si Latine loqueris.
Honk if you speak Latin.

Noli me vocare, ego te vocabo.
Don't call me, I'll call you.

Fac ut gaudeam.
Make my day.

Radix lecti
Couch potato

Mellita, domi adsum.
Honey, I'm home.

Fac ut vivas.
Get a life. 

Source lost (if you know, please leave info in the Comments).

03 November 2019

Monarch costumes

To me, the top photo is more fascinating

The images are "before and after" photos of the "El Castillo" step-pyramid at Chichen Itza.

The lower photo reveals the incredible workmanship and brings to mind the probably decades of human labor required to create this magnificent structure.  The upper photo shows how the natural world "reclaimed" the pyramid during a thousand years of rampant growth, giving just a hint of what can be accomplished given enough time.  Extend that to tens of thousands of years, or hundreds, and wonder how much of the "anthropocene" will be detectable in our planet's future.

So true

Some of my favorite dreams involve time travel.

The "tears in rain" soliloquy

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

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

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

When Hauer performed the scene, the film crew applauded and some even cried. This was due to the power of the dying speech coming at the end of an exhausting shoot.
Reposted from 2017 because today is Roy Batty's birthday ("incept date") - as documented by this screencap from an early scene in the movie:

And reposted once more, because November 2019 is "Blade Runner month", as indicated by this frame from the movie's opening credits:

The proper term for the above is an "intertitle" (with a tip of the blogging cap to Miss C).

The "technical debt" of America's infrastructure

Excerpts from a very sobering article in The Atlantic:
A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.

In software development, engineers have long noted that taking the easy way out of coding problems builds up what they call “technical debt,” as the tech journalist Quinn Norton has written...

Almost everywhere you look in the built environment, toxic technical-debt bubbles are growing and growing and growing. This is true of privately maintained systems such as PG&E’s and publicly maintained systems such as that of Chicago’s Department of Water Management. It’s extremely true of roads: Soon, perhaps 50 percent of Bay Area roads will be in some state of disrepair, not to mention the deeper work that must occur to secure the roadbeds, not just the asphalt on top.

Then there are the sewers and the wastewater plants. Stormwater drains. Levees. And just regular old drinking water. Per capita federal funding for water infrastructure has fallen precipitously since the 1970s. Cities are forced to make impossible decisions between funding different services. And even when they do have the money they need, officials make bad or corrupt decisions. So, water systems in the United States have built up a $1 trillion technical debt, which must be paid over the next 25 years. The problem is particularly acute in the Great Lakes states. One investigation, by American Public Media, found that from 2007 to 2018 Chicago residents’ water bills tripled, and Cleveland residents’ doubled. In Detroit, a city with a median income of less than $27,000, the average family paid $1,151 for water. At these rates, poor residents are far more likely to have their water shut off, and the systems still aren’t keeping up with the maintenance they need. Runaway technical debt makes it nearly impossible to pay the “interest,” which is just keeping the system running, let alone to start paying down the principal or start new capital projects.

All told, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will cost $3.6 trillion to get Americans back to an acceptable level of technical debt in our infrastructure.
The linked article by Quinn Norton is also sobering.
What Californians, as well as many other Americans, and hundreds of millions of people around the world need to give up on is living where they think they ought to be able to live. Californians are busy building new neighborhoods into the rightful territory of giant fast moving infernos; post-Hurricane Texans think they have the right to build in low-elevation Houston, and poverty-stricken Bangladeshis and Indonesians think they should hold on to the shores they’ve always lived on.
Houston is technical debt. New Orleans is technical debt. Puerto Rico is plagued by intertwined monetary and technical debt.

30 October 2019


Four or five days to rest up and spend time with family.

29 October 2019

Seeking advice re dahlias

I am new to the world of dahlias.  I've been told it should be "in my blood" because my Norwegian grandfather used to dig up his dahlia tubers to store in the root cellar in the winter (probably buried in sawdust or sand) along with carrots and potatoes.

I grew up living not far from the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which has a section devoted to dahlias (photos above and below).
Each year the Dahlia Society of Minnesota plants a new selection of hybrid dahlias (Dahlia var.) which are then monitored by the Society for growth, habit, disease, flower quality and other guidelines and makes recommendations to The American Dahlia Society. Therefore you will only find numbers and letters on the labels - not names. 
The blossoms are sometimes spectacular:

But the naturalist in me noted that the bees prefer the more basic (?more primitive) flowers -

- rather than the complex ones that the hybridizers prefer.   I've noticed that with other types of garden flowers - convoluted ones probably have less accessible nectar and pollen.

The other thing I noticed about the arboretum dahlias was the impressively robust stems (tip of my trekking pole for size comparison in the photo above).   Clearly these particular specimens are several years old and have had their tubers protected through multiple Minnesota winters.

This year I decided to add dahlias to our garden.  This past spring at our local Farm & Fleet I purchased a couple dahlia tubers.  I didn't think to take any "before" photos, but they were basically small scrawny shriveled things that were totally unimpressive.  I tilled the top couple inches of an unused portion of the garden and stuck them in.  By midsummer I had to add some vertical supports because they were already 3 feet high.  By the end of the summer they were about 5' tall, with fist-sized attractive blossoms.

After the first frost but before the hard freezes to come, it was time this past week to dig up the tubers.  I wound up having to dig a rather deep trench to be able to get under them (and note the plant stems are still rather gracile compared to the old-timers at the arboretum) -

The digging entailed a bit of work, because the plants had sent roots below the topsoil into the clay underneath, and I didn't want to fragment the cluster of tubers while getting them out.

I checked out a couple library books for advice on how to overwinter the specimens.  The first step seems to be to "hang them up to dry", so I've got them sitting in an elevated wire basket on the wall of the garage -

After they dry out a bit I'll clean them up by brushing the dirt off, but won't wash them because moisture increases the risk of mold.  I plan to wrap them in newspaper and keep them in the unheated garage, which in midwinter will get below the recommended 40-50 degree optimal storage temp, but should protect them from the subzero temps that will occur outside.

When spring arrives I apparently will have the choice of subdividing those clusters or replanting them as they are.  I'll probably choose the latter.

I'm posting this partly for family but also to ask readers here for any advice you may have to offer on the management of dahlias.  The books and website I've read offer some variations on how to store and how to replant the tubers; I'd love to hear comments from any readers who have actual hands-on practical experience with these plants.

RelatedFirst prize at Corso Zundert, 2012.

Update:  After the tubers sat on that rack in the garage for a week, the soil around them dried out enough that I was able to brush it off without damaging the tubers themselves:

Now I need to store them in some material that will keep them not-wet, but also not dried-out by the winter air.  Lacking sawdust and sand, my choices are probably clean cat litter, potting mix, or straw.  I'm concerned the cat litter might have desiccant properties.
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