30 July 2019

Gleanings from The Big Sky


The Big Sky is the first novel in A.B. Guthrie's trilogy about the opening of the American west (the sequel to this novel (The Way West) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950).  Set in the 1830s, the story follows a Kentucky boy as he voyages up the Missouri to its headwaters and becomes a mountain man.  The protagonist is a crude, uneducated, quick-to-violence loner who has been compared to Faulkner's Mississippi characters.  I first read the book back in 1996 and decided it was time to give it a final goodbye read.  Guthrie is a admirable prose stylist, and the book has a lot of evocative passages, such as this one about a trapped beaver -
"He saw now that she had been at work on her leg.  A little bit more and she would have chewed herself free.  There were just the tendons holding, and a ragged flap of skin.  The broken bone stuck out of the jaws of the trap, white and clean as a peeled root.  Around her mouth he could see blood.

She looked at him, still not moving, still only with that little shaking, out of eyes that were dark and fluid and fearful, out of big eyes that liquid seemed to run in, out of eyes like a wounded bird's.  They made him a little uneasy, stirring something that lay just beyond the edge of his mind and wouldn't come out where he could see it.

She let out a soft whimper as he raised the stick..."
The repeating "out of eyes..." is also reminiscent of Faulkner.  The unspecified something "just beyond the edge of his mind" is I think the similarity of the beaver's eyes to those of his wife. 
"He would sit at the campfire and smoke or go about the horses or tend to the skins, and a man would know that he was away back in his mind, seeing old things, things that had happened long ago...  It was age getting him, likely; a man was lucky if he didn't grow too old and have to think that the best of what was going to happen to him had already happened.  God was mighty mean in some ways, letting a body get on to the point where he always hungered to turn back, making him know he wasn't the man he had been, making his bed cold but keeping in his mind the time when it wasn't.  It was like a man was pushed backwards down hill, seeing the top getting farther from him every day, but always seeing it, always wishing he could go back."

"Boone knocked out his pipe and sat still, letting time run by.  Each part of time was good in itself, if a man knew to enjoy it and didn't press for it to pass so as to get ahead to something different."

"Boone walked over and let himself out of the room. Rooms made a man feel shut in on himself; they made him uneasy, so’s his mind never rightly put itself to a thing but kept thinking about a way out, like a mouse in a bucket."

"When he came to a town, though, it wasn’t any better, with fools staring and wagging tongues and thinking as how one man ought to be like another and all knuckling under to rules and ways and work and sheriffs and judges, and calling themselves free. And all living smothered by walls and roofs, breathing air that the good was gone from, breathing each other’s stinks and the stinks that the hogs made in the pens back of the houses."
And also some interesting new words:

"He limped to the wall, making an uneven thump on the puncheon floor.."  Apparently a split log or heavy slab of timber used for flooring.

"He ate it all, ending by crunching up the softer bones [of the chicken] and sucking out the pockets of lights..."  I'm familiar with "lights" being used in reference to the lungs; here it presumably refers to fatty marrow, which would be light and float on water.

"His hand reached into the pocket of his black coat and came out with a key through which a whang was looped."  A leather thong.  The alternative meaning of "penis" doesn't seem applicable...

"... had found work in a store, where he got to parcel out beans and meal and copperas."  Crystals of iron sulfate is all I could find - not sure how they would be used by pioneering families.  Addendum: thoroughly explained here, with a hat tip to reader Bob the Scientist.

"Boone had just pulled the trigger on the cow and heard the punkiny sound of the ball as it went home."  Beats me.  Perhaps the sound of a bullet penetrating a pumpkin?

"Summers felt his legs playing out on him.  His head was dauncy, as if it wasn't fixed rightly to his neck."  Derived from the Gaelic, "the American sense, in either spelling, has always been rather a regional term, and these days is rare. The usual meaning is of a person who is feeling sick, weak, lacking in vitality, or not completely well."

"Let them bring their beaver to him, and he would bring them strouding and paints and sky-blue beads and powder and ball and alcohol and all that made a nation happy and great."  A coarse cloth used in trading with Native Americans, apparently derived from the name of the town in England.

"The wind was warm, coming over the mountains, and notionable.  Sometimes it cried shrill and wintry in the branches of the trees and then it would ease up and be no more than a whisper..."  I couldn't find a strict definition applicable to wind, but apparently the sense of a notion being vague and poorly-formed is applied to a wind that is variable in direction and intensity.

"Boone looked back at the horse.  With his mane roached and his tail combed he made a pretty sight."  Trimmed so that the hairs stand straight up, like a Mohawk.  Couldn't find an applicable etymology.

"How's a man to know?  Goddam it!"  "I didn't mean to r'ile you."  I've seen "rile" used many times, but never with an apostrophe to indicate an elision.  Rile is related to roil, which comes from the French rouiller, so maybe that's the pathway.

"Darkness seemed to squeeze around him - darkness and silence, made the darker and silenter by the little flame of the campfire and the mindless chuckle of the water." Apparently an acceptable alternative to "more silent."

Perhaps it's a kindergarten graduation


Via the mildly infuriating subreddit.

And this probably applicable observation:

Sturge-Weber syndrome



Sturge–Weber syndrome, sometimes referred to as encephalotrigeminal angiomatosis, is a rare congenital neurological and skin disorder. It is one of the phakomatoses and is often associated with port-wine stains of the face, glaucoma, seizures, intellectual disability, and ipsilateral leptomeningeal angioma (cerebral malformations and tumors)... Sturge–Weber syndrome is usually manifested at birth by a port-wine stain on the forehead and upper eyelid of one side of the face, or the whole face. The birthmark can vary in color from light pink to deep purple and is caused by an overabundance of capillaries around the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve, just under the surface of the face.
I have a port-wine mark (but not the Sturge-Weber syndrome), so I was interested in a Fox News report about the young woman pictured above, who finally received life-changing corrective surgery.
Ellahe Heghani, who came to the U.S. in 2009 to begin her treatment, has undergone more than 20 surgeries to treat Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS), which caused a red, purple-colored mark to take over her face, and robbed her of vision in her right eye,..

... Waner saw her case different, and he removed the extra tissue from her face and began laser treatment to lighten the birthmark. Haghani then had skin grafts on her cheeks and nose and tissue expanders placed in her neck.

She told the news outlet that it wasn’t until she began to see the improvements from Waner’s treatment that she realized how much her birthmark affected her. “Horrible people told me I shouldn’t come out in public and stay inside, but I didn’t listen to them because it’s my life,”...

Heghani said her birthmark is still visible on her nose and forehead, but that she has regained her confidence and chose to go to nursing school to help others.
A sequence of photos is included in the source article at Caters News

Readers who have vascular birthmarks (or family members with such) might want to visit the website of the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation.

It never seems to end...

The title of the Vanity Fair piece says it all:

As Deficit Explodes, GOP Demands Emergency Tax Cut for the Rich


[Ted Cruz is] currently devoting his efforts to a much more important cause: demanding another tax cut for the rich, this time without Congress’s approval.

In a letter sent to Steve Mnuchin on Monday, the senator from Texas urged the Treasury Secretary to use his “authority” to index capital gains to inflation, a move that would almost exclusively benefit the mega-rich. Claiming, falsely, that the United States economy “has experienced historic levels of growth as a result of Congress and the current administration’s policies such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Cruz insists that it is now crucial for the Treasury Department to adjust capital gains for inflation “so that everyday Americans can continue to enjoy better lives and livelihoods.” And by “everyday Americans,” he of course means (but doesn’t say) the spectacularly wealthy.

Missing from Cruz’s call for Mnuchin to use “executive authority” to end this “unfair” treatment of taxpayers, which was signed by 20 of his Republican colleagues, is the fact that, according to the Penn Wharton Budget model, a whopping 86% of the benefit of indexing capital gains to inflation would go to the 1 percent (and reduce annual tax revenue by an estimated $102 billion over a decade). Perhaps seeking to address this criticism, Cruz claimed that changing how capital gains are taxed “would…unlock capital for investment, increase wages, create new jobs, and grow the economy, benefiting Americans across all income levels.” In other words, he’s arguing that the executive branch should give the super-rich another tax cut and it’ll benefit everyone because of trickle-down economics which—checks notes—has never actually worked. Including in the case of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

... Trump has reportedly “told confidants...that he remains deeply invested in making the change,” and his National Economic Council chair, Larry Kudlow, has been pushing for it since he was hired. Also, as Bloomberg points out, “Trump is looking for issues to win favor with voters and donors during his 2020 reelection campaign,” so perhaps the rich will get another well-deserved break.
I can't help but be reminded of the Russian oligarchs raping their country.  What I fear is that this ongoing uncontrolled expansion of the deficit will place the newly-elected Democratic president and Congress in the position of having to raise taxes, perpetuating the trope that they are the party of tax and spend.

I'll close comments for this post.

Subterranean junkyard


Explained at Wired:
The Gaewern Slate Mine in Ceredigion, Wales, was once rich in slate, a purplish-gray rock sought for its beauty and durability. It was extracted between 1812 and 1960. But once humans had emptied the mine of everything they wanted, they filled it with everything they didn't: broken washing machines, shot microwaves, and dozens of rusty old cars...

None were so tricky to photograph as the Gaewern mine, though. To reach it, Friend and a companion drove seven hours from London, then hiked down a precariously narrow ledge hugging a cliff face to the entrance. Inside, they rappelled five stories down—a huge tripod, large format camera, and other equipment on their backs—then crept 20 feet through a low, claustro­phobic tunnel that opened to the cavern you see above.

Friend was most struck by the almost religious shaft of light pouring in through a crack in the rock above. Capturing that light, while properly illuminating the rest of the scene, required keeping his camera's aperture open for a full five minutes. During the first minute of the exposure, he used a powerful flashlight to trace the darker objects he wanted to highlight. Then he switched it off and let the natural light accumulate on the film for the remainder of the shot.
An impressive image - and a reminder that there is no "away."

AddendumVideo here.

29 July 2019

The "aluminum foil in the keyboard" trick


This morning my wireless keyboard (Apple 2007) died.  I checked the batteries - they were good.  Not only did the iMac not "find" the keyboard, but the green light in the upper right corner didn't light up when the button at the end of the board was pressed.  That meant that the problem was with the keyboard itself, not with the computer.  The batteries were not making proper contact with the circuit; various styles of shaking and bumping and banging the keyboard didn't resolve the problem.

I searched online, finding several recommendations for ways to clean the battery channel, and finally found a suggestion to try wadding up a small piece of aluminum foil and inserting that into the channel before reinserting the batteries.  Nothing to lose, so I tried - and it worked!  The green light smiled at me, and the iMac found the keyboard.  [the piece I inserted was smaller than the one I placed on top for the photo].

You learn something every day.

28 July 2019

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)


I found several eggs on leaves of borage plants in our garden and didn't know what butterfly had laid them.  Borage is a common weed, and is used by a wide variety of butterflies as a food plant for their caterpillars.  I kept the leaves in a jar, and after a while some small black caterpillars emerged. began eating voraciously, and grew much larger.


They look ferocious, but were no problem to raise except for their copious, wet, messy frass that required frequent cleaning and changing of the container (other caterpillars, like the Polyphemus silkmoth ones, excrete dry little pellets that resemble pepper grains and are easy to clean up after).


When they were full size, the caterpillars climbed to the lid on the jar, hung in a "J" shape, and proceeded to undergo that remarkable metamorphosis that is endlessly fascinating to me - the formation of a chyrsalis.

I didn't know how long the conversion to a butterfly would take.  With Monarchs, it's easy to tell by looking at the outside of the chrysalis when the butterfly is ready inside; with these it was more difficult.  But all one has to do is wait...


... and voila!  One morning, there she is, wings hanging down.  By the time I found her she had pumped the fluid into the wings, which were fully inflated but not yet dried.  She was docile and not ready to fly, so she readily transferred to my finger for a portrait:


The pattern is quite beautiful and intricate close-up (much harder to appreciate in the field when she tends to be a blur of activity, but easier here where you can enlarge the image with a click).  She is closely related to the American Lady (whose life-cycle I documented two summers ago) and looks rather similar top-side, but on the underwings this Painted Lady has four eyespots on the hindwing, while the American Lady has two larger ones.

Painted Ladies are very common in the United States, and with Monarchs are probably the two butterflies most often raised in classrooms by small children.  Kits are available from Carolina Biological Supply and other sources; these contain food in the form of a sort of agar, which is all the caterpillars need for nutrition, so you don't have to scour the wilds of your neighborhood looking for food plants.  Raising them is a pleasant diversion for small children.  And for some adults.

Reposted from 2012 to add some additional photos:


 I was weeding the garden today when a Painted Lady arrived.  She was actively nectaring on the coneflowers and Monarda and sat for the above portrait that is rather better than the original one at top.  At one point I was also able to obtain a backlit view -


Note the four small eyespots on the back of her lower wing - these distinguish her from the very similar-looking American Lady, which has two large eyespots in that location.

After nectaring she got busy ovipositing on a variety of plants in the garden, but especially on some scrawny Pearly Everlastings (Anaphalis).  Like the American Ladies, the Painted Ladies oviposit on the top of the leaves, so it was easy for me to spot the eggs.  I brought one leaf into the house in order to photograph the egg with my desktop digital microscope:


The egg in terms of size, shape, color etc looks quite like the American Lady eggs (see my 2010 photoessay).  But the microscope revealed what I had not seen before - that the egg is actually deposited beneath the network of soft hairs that coat the leaves of the Pearly Everlasting.  The first instar will hatch into a semi-protected environment.  Fascinating.  I've never seen that before.

(some reader may know the technical term for those "hairs" that cover the leaves - I'd like to amend the text accordingly.  Tx in advance)

27 July 2019

Sweet corn and freezer corn

"Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered."            --Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
For Ray Bradbury, summer was preserved in dandelion wine.  Here in Wisconsin and Minnesota, we preserve summer in freezer corn.

The first step is an early morning visit to a local farm.  They harvest at sunrise and bring it into a barn for processing.  Modern sweet corn is incredibly sweet - much more so than the strains of corn I grew up with 50-60 years ago.  And modern corn holds that sweetness longer, before the intrinsic sugars start turning into starch.  Even so, it's best to obtain, prepare, and eat the corn as soon as possible after it's harvested.  Throughout the summer we go to this farm once or twice a week.


After the shank is chopped and the ear is inspected (top photo), the corn is moved to a self-serve table, and then it's first-come first-served until they run out.  The entire process is done on the honor system.  You take what you want, figure the cost from a chart on the wall (it's about 50c/ear), put your money in the open cashbox and take change if you need it.  Grocery bags are provided, but most people bring their own reusable ones.

Here's the recipe for freezer corn, which is of course a bit different from the heat-and-eat process for regular corn-on-the-cob:


The Stonemans grow a supersweet bicolor corn.  The ears were a little smaller this summer because of unusually cool temperatures during the growing season.


We process about two dozen ears for the freezer, first cutting it off the cobs out in the garage (it can be messy, with kernels and juice flying around).  Note at this point the kernels are ready to eat - and very sweet.
 

Then to the kitchen to be processed according to the directions in the third photo above.


And finally packed in Ziplock bags and stored in the freezer next to the other essential food groups...


Reposted from last fall to remind locals that Stoneman's is open and has the season's first crop available.  The heavy rains this spring delayed planting, so several of the fields are a week or two behind schedule.  Best to visit their Facebook page to check availability before driving out.

Re-reposted for the same reason.   First corn of the season available this morning is yellow sweet corn; the bicolor should be ready by next week.

Addendum - adding a photo of one ear of the bicolor.


 Husked and ready for the microwave:

For movie enthusiasts


Genetic testing for inherited neuropathies

This summer when I saw my neurologist for a routine post-polio checkup, she asked whether I would be interested in participating in a large scale study of genetic screening for peripheral neuropathies.  Since I have some atypical (sensory) deficits and it seemed reasonable to rule out concomitant non-polio etiologies, I agreed.  There was no cost to me or my insurance for the testing, I believe because the project is still in the investigative stage where they are trying to establish the sensitivity and specificity of the findings in a test population with known disorders.

Here are my results:


So, as an incidental finding, I'm a carrier of an autosomal recessive gene for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.  This is of no clinical relevance for me, and since I have no children, the gene dies with me.

I'm not posting this as an endorsement of Invitae, and I certainly wouldn't recommend that everyone go out and get tested for everything.  But the information is worth sharing with my extended family, and with readers of the blog who might have an unexplained peripheral neuropathy, or a family history of a known disorder.  I am recurrently amazed at the advances being made in the field of medical science since my retirement from the profession.

26 July 2019

How dare you take a photo of me ??!!


Just because I'm changing my baby's dirty diaper on an Old Navy clothing counter.

There is some trenchant discussion and a sharing of experiences with publicly-disposed diapers at the trashy subreddit source.

Note from that thread: "...Supreme Court ruling that states; you now have no privacy in public places and can be filmed without consent."

Language used by Wilkie Collins in "The Moonstone"

A classic and well-written book, considered by many to be the original detective novel.  Dorothy Sayers considered it "very probably the finest detective story ever written." 
One of the features that made The Moonstone a success was the sensationalist depiction of opium addiction. Unbeknownst to his readers, Collins was writing from personal experience. In his later years Collins grew severely addicted to laudanum and as a result suffered from paranoid delusions, the most notable being his conviction that he was constantly accompanied by a doppelganger whom he dubbed "Ghost Wilkie". 
Herewith some interesting words and phrases I encountered while reading the book.
"... my lady's second sister, I say, had a disappointment in love; and taking a husband afterward, on the neck or nothing principle, made what they call a misalliance."  [elsewhere]: "Judge from this what motives he had to run the risk which he actually ran.  It was "neck or nothing" with him - if ever it was "neck or nothing" with a man yet."  The meaning of all-or-nothing is obvious, but why this choice of words?  Perhaps conflated with "risking one's neck??"

"In society he was constantly making mistakes, and setting people unintentionally by the ears together."
I couldn't find a good explanation of this one.  Idioms are hard as heck to look up.

"... plying her confidentially with a glass of hock."  A Rhenish wine, the name coming from the town of Hochheim am Main.

"The other women took to their Bibles and hymn-books and looked as sour as verjuice over their reading..."

"This was the first attack of the megrims that I remembered in my mistress..."  Depression, unhappiness, moodiness.  Interestingly, derived from Middle French migraigne, in turn from Latin hemicrania referring to migraine.

"... and making a sudden snatch at the heap of silver, put it back, holus-bolus, in her pocket."  Said to be "pseudo-Latin" meaning the "whole" bolus, the latter directly from the Latin for a big lump.

"Bating her lame foot and her leanness... the girl had some pleasing qualities..."  "Apart from", related to bate/abate to reduce the force of.

"She was always in the habit of feeding the bird herself.  Some groundsel was strewed on a table which stood immediately under the cage."  A plant related to ragwort and asters.

"I cast the miserable trammels of worldly discretion to the winds, and spoke with the fervor that filled me..."  Something that impedes activity, from the French tramail for a type of fishnet.  We're more familiar with the converse "untrammeled."

"... there he was in the old corner, on the old bee-hive chair, with his pipe in his mouth..."

 "I looked at the once lively, rattle-pated, humorous little doctor..."  Apparently using pate to mean head, rattle would imply empty-headed.

"His gypsy complexion, his fleshless cheeks, his gaunt facial bones, his dreamy eyes, his extraordinary party-colored hair..."  [I believe elsewhere in the book his hair was referred to as particolored]  Meaning multicolored - probably the parti indicating different parts in different colors.

"I could have taken my oath that I saw Mr. Luker pass something to an elderly gentleman in a light-colored paletot."  French word for loose outer jacket.

"Light this halt of the pilgrims by the wild red flames of cressets and torches..."  Again French, referring to a lamp with burning pitch suspended from a pole.
And finally two good turn of phrases [or should that be turns of phrase?]:
"There's a bottom of good sense, Mr. Franklin, in our conduct to our mothers, when they first start us on the journey of life.  We are all of us more or less unwilling to be brought into the world.  And we are all of us right."

"What a case!" I heard him say to himself, stopping at the window in his walk, and drumming on the glass with his fingers.  "It not only defies explanation, it's even beyond conjecture!"

Westworld Season 3 trailer



The intriguingly-titled website Birth, Movies, Death offers this comment:
Back in June, someone over on Reddit discovered that MarkMonitor Inc., the company which handles all of Westworld's interactive websites, had registered a new domain name: discoverwarworld.com (don't bother looking it up, there's nothing there yet). The prevailing theory amongst the Westworld fanbase was that the show would soon introduce a World War II World, perhaps one where visitors could hunt and kill Nazis.

Given the show's history, this didn't seem outside the realm of possibility, but it wasn't until today, at SDCC 2019, that the rumor was confirmed via a new trailer: Westworld S3 will, in fact, spend some time in War World

Hieroglyphic numbers


At the via it was noted that the numbering system is non-positional, so the symbols can be arranged in any order.

Also cited there, and tangentially related, was this rather sad statistic:
A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.

John Dick, chief executive of Civic Science, said the results were “the saddest and funniest testament to American bigotry we’ve ever seen in our data”.

Seventy-two per cent of Republican-supporting respondents said Arabic numerals should not be on the curriculum, compared with 40 per cent of Democrats. This was despite there being no significant difference in education between the two groups.

“They answer differently even though they had equal knowledge of our numerical nomenclature,” Mr Dick said. “It means that the question is about knowledge or ignorance but [also] something else – prejudice.”

This bias was not limited to conservative respondents and attitudes towards Islam.
Another poll question was worded: “Should schools in America teach the creation theory of Catholic priest George Lemaitre as part of their science curriculum?”

Seventy-three per cent of Democrats answered “no”, compared to 33 per cent of Republicans – with some respondents on either side presumably assuming Lemaitre’s theory was related to intelligent design.

In fact, the Belgian priest was also a physicist who first discovered the universe was expanding and proposed its origins lay in the explosion of a single particle - an idea that became known as the Big Bang theory.

“While Lemaitre is more obscure than Arabic numerals, the resulting effect is almost identical,” Mr Dick said. “Dems are biased against Western religion, if latently."

Why walk around the pole?


Perhaps it could be bicyclists not wanting to duck.  But that logic is harder to apply to this taller space:


I've spent countless hours walking trails in the woods, so I understand a healthy respect for spiderwebs might be a logical reason, but that wouldn't apply in this case:


And those are not bicycle tracks.  So... what's the reason.  Superstition?

Top image via.  Second and third photos via.

I didn't even know there is a need for a "yacht-transporting ship"


The transport vessel partially submerges itself so that the superyacht can be floated on board.

Reposted from 2016 to show this photo of Dilbar:


Note:  TWO heliports.  Photo via.

Tick saliva

It's more complex than one might expect:
Ticks evolved this molecular cocktail because they, unlike virtually any other blood feeder, feed for days at a time on a single host. Most tick species feed only once during each stage of their life cycle (larva, nymph, adult), so they have to get a “voluminous blood meal” out of each host, says Sarah Bonnet, who studies ticks at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research. A tick might even wait years between feedings. In the meantime, it must subsist entirely on its previous blood meal...

When a tick starts to feed, it doesn’t suck blood out of blood vessels. Instead, it secretes enzymes in its saliva that destroy a small ring of host tissue. This creates a “feeding cavity,” which Ribeiro likens to a “lake of blood.” “The tick sucks blood from that lake,” he says. For this strategy to work though, ticks also need to make proteins that prevent blood from clotting, as it normally wants to do in an injury site. Over the course of days, a host’s body will try to heal the wound by sending cells that make collagen. Normally, this would allow the wound to scar over, but tick saliva has molecules to counteract this, too...

To start, ticks secrete molecular “mops,” which bind to and neutralize histamine. Histamine is best known for causing itching and redness, but it also plays an important role in opening up blood vessels to allow immune cells to get to a site of injury. Tick saliva prevents this, so tick bites don’t itch and immune cells can’t get to the bite. Tick saliva also degrades pain-inducing molecular signals in a host. That’s why tick bites also do not hurt. Ticks then inject molecules that neutralize or evade a suite of white blood cells that would otherwise be eating or attacking an invader.

The exact cocktail of a tick’s saliva proteins changes every few hours, Ribeiro says. The thousands of proteins in its saliva are highly redundant in function, and the tick cycles through them as a way of circumventing a host’s immune system. Immune systems take time to recognize and react to a foreign tick protein, and this strategy simply doesn’t give a host’s cells a chance to do that. Suppose, Ribeiro says, “Monday a tick starts feeding on you and injecting the saliva in you.” By Friday, when your body can mount a proper immune response against those first proteins, “the tick has already changed the repertoire.”
More information at The Atlantic.

23 July 2019

Divertimento #166

 
A gif-fest of the past month's findings

Making a bowl out of plastic soldiers
Confronting a panhandler
Puzzle box
Disgusting
Pickpockets in London
Instant karma for litterer
When you buy cotton candy, you're buying air
Ice cream cone

Nature and Science
When you puncture a lithium polymer battery...
Cutting a bloodwood tree
Cockroaches hatching
Pocket of lethal carbon dioxide revealed by a flare
Silicone skin prosthesis
Recycling circuit boards
Giant jellyfish off the coast of Cornwall
Ammonite exposed


Animals
How dogs drink water
Don't get close to a bull elephant in musth
Bird removes anti-bird-nest spikes
Man vs. cobra.  Man wins.
Orca uses bait to catch a bird
Dog has a parasite in his ear
Dog politely hints he wants to go for a walk
Buffalo vs. lion.  Buffalo wins.
Crow and dog are best friends
Otter juggles a stone
Dolphin megapod
Gazelle vs. lion.  Gazelle wins (and lion disappears)


Sports and athleticism
"Mountain of hell" bike race
Bo-taoshi
Her amazing skills are explained in the last image
Water slide in Voss, Norway
GIFs can be reversed
Hammer throw
Baseball fans will appreciate this pitch

Fails
Don't annoy the bull
Hot air balloon filled with fireworks in Myanmar
Horrible door design
Texting tram driver
Rafters go over waterfall (no deaths)
"It slipped"
You are not supposed to touch the Assateague wild horses


Impressive or clever
How to remove a (dead) bird's feathers
Extracting a cord from under a table
Person cuts garlic but their hand
Pine tree pollen
Installing foam insulation
How to make a DaVinci bridge
Children learn about science
Wearable wings with jet engines
Carving a rock
Ankle used as a knee (explained here)
Cutting things with a waterjet

Cheerful
Dog wearing "cone of shame" meets cat
Toddler's first steps


The embedded images are from a collection of panoramic photo fails (hat tip to Neatorama).

22 July 2019

Vine snake


Via the DamnThatsInteresting subreddit.

World map of paper sizes (A4 in yellow vs. US Letter in blue)


From the discussion at MapPorn:
For those unfamiliar with A4: the significant advantage of this system is its scaling: if a sheet with an aspect ratio of √2 is divided into two equal halves parallel to its shortest sides, then the halves will again have an aspect ratio of √2. put very simply...

A4 is our standard size for letters, etc. A3 is EXACTLY twice this size, A5 is EXACTLY half this size...

In other words, you can cut an A4 sheet in half to get two A5 sheets, and so on. To put it simply: you can keep cutting it in half midway along the long edge, and the result will be 2 sheets with half the area and the same aspect ratio. No other aspect ratio has this property.

It’s is set so A0 is 1 square meter, and the number increases every time it’s halved. Hence A4 is 1/16 of a square meter.

When CPR is a "huge mistake"

"This is what end of life looks like in the U.S. My wife had insurance she paid $500 per month for. The bottom two bills are for $400,000 the rest are between $50 to $5000. Sudden cardiac arrest at 47. I did CPR. Huge mistake. She lived two weeks in intensive care then told she was brain dead.?

American "exceptionalism" is not limited to one political party


And a new word for me:
Baizuo (/ˈbaɪˌtswɔː/; Chinese: 白左 báizuǒ, literally "white left") is a derogatory Chinese neologism and political epithet used to refer to Western liberal elites. In more than 400 answers submitted by Zhihu users during 2015 to May 2017, the term is defined as referring to those who are hypocritically obsessed with peace and equality in order to satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority motivated from an ignorant and arrogant Western-centric worldview who pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours.
Via.

Halloween costumes for special needs children

As reported by bizjournals:
Target will offer four costumes this Halloween that cater to children with special needs, including covers that transform a wheelchair into a pirate ship or princess carriage and costumes without the tags and seams that can be problematic for children with sensory-processing disorders. 
The collection is an extension of the disability-friendly clothing the retailer added to its Cat & Jack line two year ago. The Cat & Jack pieces feature heat-transferred labels in place of tags, flat seams and one-dimensional graphics designed to minimize discomfort when in contact with the skin as well as pull-on pants cut more generously to accommodate diapers at an older age...

In April, the company added adaptive pieces to its Pillowfort kids’ furniture collection that accommodate both the need for stimulation and for calming, per Fast Company, including a foam “crash pad,” a desk chair that rocks, a weighted blanket and bean bag chairs with waterproof covers.

20 July 2019

If you're wondering what to do with your old bras...


The clips on the back of brassieres are used by staff at Carolina Waterfowl Rescue to help wire fractured turtle carapaces back together.
"Freitas says when it’s time to release the reptiles back into the wild, they wear the glue down a little, the clasps pop right off, and they’re good as new."
Details at WLBT News, via Neatorama.  (Image cropped and brightened from the original)

FBI fingerprint files in 1944


And to think all of this information would probably fit on a modern thumb drive.  Via.

More information about this building at Rare Historical Photos.

Donald Trump may have dyslexia - updated


This video presents a very interesting proposition: that Donald Trump has difficulty reading.   He has admitted - publicly and unabashedly - that he "doesn't" read (books, reports, briefings) and prefers to get his information from television.  Examples are presented of him appearing to have problems reading when presented with documents during court testimony and public signings.

I think it's unfortunate that the video title questions whether Trump "knows how" to read.  The problem, presuming it exists, would be a reading disability rather than a lack of knowledge of how to read.  It would also explain his famously low-reading-level speech as being easier to memorize or to read off a teleprompter.

Dyslexia does not preclude advancement or competence in professions.  Wikipedia's List of people diagnosed with dyslexia is long and impressive, including Alexander Graham Bell, Richard Branson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Edison, David Rockefeller and many others.

If he is dyslexic, he really ought to come out and say so, and tell his staff that that is why he has avoided the morning briefings, and make arrangements for information to be presented to him in other ways.  A public announcement would probably garner a measure of sympathy and perhaps some improved tolerance for his shenanigans.

Addendum:  Support for this hypothesis comes from the numerous public gaffes that have occurred when he attempted to read a written speech off a teleprompter.

Reposted from February 2017 to add the latest incident:


The above photograph was taken while Trump was reading prepared remarks about Ilhan Omar and other freshman congresswomen.  In recent weeks he has emphasized that he is a "really good speller" and that misspellings in his Twitter comments are the result of "fat fingers" on the keys.  But as I've annotated with the red oval in the photo, the document he was reading from has "Alcaida" and "some peopel" in handwritten form.   This mistake cannot be attributed to an accidental "typo."

There are at least three acceptable spellings for Al-Qaeda, but Alcaida is not one of them.  We'll grant that many, perhaps most, Americans would also misspell the group's name, but it should be well known to the President of the United States.  I suspect he does not read his daily security briefings.

For many years I gave spelling tests to third-year medical students, and counted the results toward their grades (never published the data - perhaps I should publish the results in TYWKIWDBI...)  My firm belief is that the reason otherwise intelligent and well-educated students spell crucial words incorrectly is because much of this information is acquired aurally (by hearing the words) rather than by seeing and reading them.  The result is a lot of phonetically-decipherable but incorrectly-spelled words (hemmorhage, hemmorage, hemorhage, hemorrage, hemmorrhage or gauaic, gauiac, guaic, guiac, guiaic).

I'm sure the same applies to Mr. Trump - that he has heard "Al-Qaeda" spoken thousands of times, that he pronounces it correctly, but that he has not seen it in print enough times to register the proper spelling in his memory.

19 July 2019

Hereditary gap in an eyebrow


There is some discussion of the genetics in the mildlyinteresting subreddit thread, though most of the comments center on the great-great-grandfather's tie.

Politicians ponder how to improve the economy


Paying someone to pray for you

Excerpts from a interesting article in The Atlantic:
In recent years, tens of thousands of Indians have turned to ePuja and other prayer-by-proxy companies, whose smartphone apps and websites make summoning a godly intercession as easy as ordering a pizza. Another such company, Shubhpuja, has marketed itself as a way to “connect to God in one click.” The offer appeals to Hindus—both in India and abroad—who don’t have the time, money, or physical ability to travel to the temple with the best reputation for resolving their particular problem. Just select a puja and temple, pay a fee, and the company gets a priest to perform the ritual. Shubhpuja even allows customers to Skype into rituals as they’re being performed...

Although paying for a prayer might seem crass to some non-Hindus, it’s common in India, Narayanan says. Even in-person temple visits tend to involve giving a donation to the temple or an offering to the priest who performs a ritual. Nor does it strike most Hindus as strange for the supplicant to be absent. One of Narayanan’s earliest memories of growing up in India is of her grandmother filling out mail-order forms to have priests perform rituals at distant temples.

“I think there’s a fairly significant difference between, say, a generic Protestant idea of prayer and a generic Hindu idea,” Narayanan adds. “In the theology in India, there’s much more value given to the ritual itself.” It doesn’t matter if someone is saying a prayer for you because you paid him $15 to do so. It matters that the prayer is being said, because the words themselves are believed to have the power to transform the universe.

Or, as Kumar says, “I am just a postman carrying your request to God.”

18 July 2019

New word for the day: disfluency (or dysfluency)


I encountered the word in an Atlantic article about voice assistants (Alexa, Siri, et al.) -
"Duplex speaks with remarkably realistic disfluencies - ums and mm-hmms - and pauses, and neither human receptionist realized that she was talking to an artificial agent."
It's an interesting article about how voice assistants are programmed not only for content, but also for style and pronunciation and inflection and the ability to express (and detect) moods.  But back to the word, which means "not fluent" - i.e. "not flowing."  I started at Wikipedia:
A speech disfluency, also spelled speech dysfluency, is any of various breaks, irregularities, or non-lexical vocables that occurs within the flow of otherwise fluent speech. These include "false starts", i.e. words and sentences that are cut off mid-utterance; phrases that are restarted or repeated and repeated syllables; "fillers", i.e. grunts or non-lexical utterances...

Recent linguistic research has suggested that non-pathological disfluencies may contain a variety of meaning; the frequency of "uh" and "um" in English is often reflective of a speaker's alertness or emotional state. Some have hypothesized that the time of an "uh" or "um" is used for the planning of future words; other researchers have suggested that they are actually to be understood as full-fledged function words rather than accidents, indicating a delay of variable time in which the speaker wishes to pause without voluntarily yielding control of the dialogue...
And that led to "backchannel" -
In linguistics, a backchannel during a conversation occurs when one participant is speaking and another participant interjects responses to the speaker. A backchannel response can be verbal, non-verbal, or both. Backchannel responses are often phatic expressions, primarily serving a social or meta-conversational purpose, such as signifying the listener's attention, understanding, or agreement, rather than conveying significant information. Examples include such expressions as "yeah", "uh-huh", "hmm", and "right". 
- and "aizuchi" -
In the Japanese language, Aizuchi are the frequent interjections during a conversation that indicate the listener is paying attention or understands the speaker. In linguistic terms, these are a form of phatic expression. Aizuchi are considered reassuring to the speaker, indicating that the listener is active and involved in the discussion... Business relations in particular can be hampered by non-native speakers assuming that their Japanese counterparts have been agreeing to their suggestions all along, when in reality the Japanese have only been saying that they follow or understand the suggestions – "got it", not "agreed."
So much to learn.  So little time.

Image cropped for size from the original at the source.
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