23 August 2019

In Sweden, a "fart" can go backwards or forwards

Explained at Neatorama.

The "hygiene hypothesis" of allergy and autoimmune disorders

This abstract from Clin Exp Immuol provides a concise summary:
According to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, the decreasing incidence of infections in western countries and more recently in developing countries is at the origin of the increasing incidence of both autoimmune and allergic diseases. The hygiene hypothesis is based upon epidemiological data, particularly migration studies, showing that subjects migrating from a low-incidence to a high-incidence country acquire the immune disorders with a high incidence at the first generation. However, these data and others showing a correlation between high disease incidence and high socio-economic level do not prove a causal link between infections and immune disorders. Proof of principle of the hygiene hypothesis is brought by animal models and to a lesser degree by intervention trials in humans. Underlying mechanisms are multiple and complex. They include decreased consumption of homeostatic factors and immunoregulation, involving various regulatory T cell subsets and Toll-like receptor stimulation. These mechanisms could originate, to some extent, from changes in microbiota caused by changes in lifestyle, particularly in inflammatory bowel diseases. Taken together, these data open new therapeutic perspectives in the prevention of autoimmune and allergic diseases.
Some other excerpts from the publication:
The hypothesis was first proposed by Strachan, who observed an inverse correlation between hay fever and the number of older siblings when following more than 17 000 British children born in 1958... The leading idea is that some infectious agents – notably those that co-evolved with us – are able to protect against a large spectrum of immune-related disorders...

In 1998, about one in five children in industrialized countries suffered from allergic diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis or atopic dermatitis. This proportion has tended to increase over the last 10 years, asthma becoming an ‘epidemic’ phenomenon... The prevalence of atopic dermatitis has doubled or tripled in industrialized countries during the past three decades, affecting 15–30% of children and 2–10% of adults... Part of the increased incidence of these diseases may be attributed to better diagnosis or improved access to medical facilities in economically developed countries. However, this cannot explain the marked increase in immunological disorder prevalence that has occurred over such a short period of time in those countries, particularly for diseases which can be diagnosed easily...

The "Sprinkler Rainbow Conspiracy"

An old video, but apparently I've never posted this before.   Just a reminder that people like this exist.

First day of school

The BBC has some context.
When Jill saw the "state" of her daughter on Monday afternoon, she asked what Lucie had been up to.  "Nothing much," Lucie said,

21 August 2019

Divertimento #167

A month and a half since my last non-gif linkfest; incredible amounts of material have accumulated; 
this is less than a third of what I've bookmarked.

She was born during the reign of James I, was a youngster when René Descartes set out his rules of thought and the great fire of London raged, saw out her adolescent years as George II ascended the throne, reached adulthood around the time that the American revolution kicked off, and lived through two world wars. Living to an estimated age of nearly 400 years, a female Greenland shark has set a new record for longevity.

Remember: bottled water companies do not produce water; they produce plastic bottles.

A beautifully-designed longread from the BBC on a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils in Wyoming.  ""There's probably enough dinosaur material here to keep a thousand palaeontologists happy for a thousand years."

Plastic recycling is a myth. ‘It’s going to be recycled in China!’ I hate to break it to everyone, but these places are routinely dumping massive amounts of [that] plastic and burning it on open fires.”

Eight questions to ask to jumpstart a conversation when you are getting to know a stranger.

Barack Obama's summer reading list.

Why bounty hunters can break into the wrong home, injure/kill someone and plead innocence.

Man who donated his mother's body to an Arizona center for Alzheimer's research discovers it was sold on to the US Military for $6,000, strapped to a chair and blown up in 'blast test'

The feral dog is one of the most destructive animals in the natural world.

Why you can't find wild broccoli.

American basketball player Donell “D.J.” Cooper has been banned from the sport for two years after his urine test showed evidence of pregnancy.

Why you won't get $125 from the Equifax security breach settlement.

OpEd piece in the Los Angeles Times: "Health Insurance Companies are Useless: Get Rid of Them."
Health insurers have been successful at two things: making money and getting the American public to believe they’re essential.”

Climate change has left a graveyard of abandoned ski resorts on the Italian Alps

Warshipping: Mail a snooping device to a company.  When it gets to the company mailroom, "The device scans for visible wifi networks; once it senses a network associated with its target (indicating that it has arrived on the target company's premises), it alerts its controllers over the cellular radio, and then scans the local wifi for instance in which users' devices are initiating new connections to the network. It captures the handshake data from these connections, transmits them over the cellular network to its controllers, and they can then crack the password offline, send login credentials to the warshipping device, login to the target network, and attack the network from within."

"The Trump administration has reauthorized government officials to use controversial poison devices – dubbed “cyanide bombs” by critics – to kill coyotes, foxes and other animals across the US."

"...lots of election officials, including many in heavily contested districts that have determined the outcomes of national elections (cough Florida cough) just leave their machines connected to the internet all the time, while denying that this is the case, possibly because they don't know any better."

Retail stores are closing in New York City, including Fifth Avenue: "According to recent estimates, certain swaths of Manhattan now have vacancy rates of 25%, when 5% is considered normal. And the carnage is getting worse, with the US forecast to lose 12,000 stores this year – far above 2018’s record losses of more than 5,800 sites."

"The bacteria in and on our bodies make thousands of tiny, previously unidentified proteins... The proteins belong to more than 4,000 new biological families... Because they are so small — fewer than 50 amino acids in length — it’s likely the proteins fold into unique shapes that represent previously unidentified biological building blocks..."

A tiger shows the "eyespots" behind its ears while drinking water (photo at right)

There is a difference between service animals and emotional support animals.  "Nothing can stop people from lying, or exploiting others’ confusion by using the terms “service animal” an “ESA” interchangeably. “The majority of folks who slap a vest on their pet have already crossed that line..."

"As canned cocktails, including ready-to-drink fizzy wine concoctions and portable hard-liquor classics, have become more available across the country, their sales have climbed more than 40 percent in the past year. Sales of boozy seltzers have nearly tripled in the same period... Even real-liquor cocktails such as those packaged by You & Yours tend to keep the alcohol content pretty light, which is a selling point that might feel counterintuitive to older, harder-drinking people. Adults under 40 are reshaping America’s relationship with booze, and for many of them, that means seeking out low- or no-alcohol options."

The Candyland board game was invented for polio patients.

"Contrary to President Donald Trump’s assertion that “our nation is stronger today than it ever was before,” the “Salute to America” looked more like a military antiques road show than a display of a 21st-century military power... The M-1A2 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley infantry combat vehicles parked near the Lincoln Memorial represent a generation of armored vehicles that were designed in the 1970s and procured in large numbers during the 1980s. More than three decades later, they remain, albeit with modification, the mainstay of the U.S. Army and have been used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...The wars of the future may depend not so much on the kinds of things you can put on parade, but on new technologies that reimagine warfare."

A subreddit devoted to documenting desire paths.

"Scott Amos found the game in the attic of his childhood home in Reno this past Mother's Day after his mom asked him to pick up a few boxes of his childhood stuff. Among the contents was a Nintendo game cartridge for Kid Icarus, still in the bag from J.C. Penney's catalog department three decades earlier."  It's expected to bring $10,000 at auction.

 A cloud that sort of looks like a farting squirrel (at left).

Incredible Zigzag Curveball Illusion.

The counterargument when someone says girls wearing skimpy clothes are "asking for it."

"Former President Reagan in a newly unearthed tape disparaged “monkeys” from African countries during a phone call with then-President Nixon while Reagan was governor of California."

"The 13-year-old boy was flown to Spokane after receiving temporal skull fractures in the incident that happened at the Mineral County Fairgrounds. Witnesses tell MTN News that Curt Brockway grabbed, picked up and slammed the boy on the ground because he did not remove his hat during the national anthem."

"We attached miniaturized radio transmitters (less than 300 mg) to monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) and common green darner dragonflies (Anax junius) and tracked their autumn migratory movements through southern Ontario, Canada and into the United States using an automated array of over 100 telemetry towers. The farthest estimated distance a monarch travelled in a single day was 143 km at a wind-assisted groundspeed of 31 km/h."

Redefining a "billionaire."

"On Monday, a Iowa man's request that charges against him be denied for burning LGBT-related library books was denied... Representing himself in court this week, Dorr filed a motion to dismiss his case, arguing arrest violated his First Amendment rights... "Mr. Dorr isn't being sent the message that he cannot burn books when he disagrees with the contents of those books," Mazurek wrote in her ruling. "He is being sent the message that he cannot burn books that do not belong to him."

If you don't like the government of your country, should you leave or stay?

"The Dutch scouting tradition is known as a "dropping," in which groups of children, generally preteenagers, are deposited in a forest and expected to find their way back to base."

The Minnesota Twins have established a new all-time major-league record for most games (nine) in a season with five or more home runs. There are still 36 games to be played before the season ends.

First human case of this parasitic eye worm.  Photo (at right) credit CDC.

A true Cats fan won’t settle for seeing the show once, twice or even 10 times. Just ask Hector Montalvo, 62, a retired product demonstrator from New York. “I wouldn’t call myself a legend,” he says. “Just a patron who loves the show.” But before Cats ended its first Broadway run in 2000, Montalvo had seen 703 performances.

Variety magazine's concise bio of the late Rutger Hauer.

"People who can smoke a bowl and go about their day will find that when they eat a weed candy (or two—is it even working?), they feel like their hands are about to detach from their body. Though cannabis is safer than many other drugs, edibles feel scary to some people because of the heightened delusional symptoms they seem to induce... Indeed, in Colorado, edibles are responsible for a disproportionate share of emergency-room visits, relative to their sales."

"What the oligarchs want is not the same as what the old corporations wanted. In the words of their favoured theorist, Steve Bannon, they seek the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. Chaos is the profit multiplier for the disaster capitalism on which the new billionaires thrive. Every rupture is used to seize more of the assets on which our lives depend. The chaos of an undeliverable Brexit, the repeated meltdowns and shutdowns of government under Trump: these are the kind of deconstructions Bannon foresaw. As institutions, rules and democratic oversight implode, the oligarchs extend their wealth and power at our expense."

Why does Ilhan Omar hate America?

How invasive grasses are overwhelming environments (especially reed canary grass).

If you listened to the BBC's fascinating "Death in Ice Valley" series of podcasts, you'll want to read this followup article.

An Ohio lawmaker who routinely touted his Christian faith and anti-LGBT views has resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office.  I can't even count the number of times I've read similar reports.  But someone else has tabulated them.

A National Geographic longread about the Canadian tar sands and their environmental impact.

Darius Brown, an awesome kid from Newark, New Jersey, makes bow ties for shelter animals to help them get adopted.

Teens committing hate crimes on a campus didn't realize that their cell phones autoconnected to the school's WiFi under their usernames.

A gallery of "begpackers" - people who backpack to other countries and beg locals for funds to cover their travel expenses.

Rude zipper (image NSFW).

20 August 2019

Down Syndrome couple, married for 25 years

The video is worth three minutes of your time. Photo below cropped from this via.

Cleaning up an old car

It's a bit hyperbolic to call this the "dirtiest car ever!", and the 18 minutes is probably TMI for readers who are not named The Car Guy, but there are some interesting tips and observations made during the video that apply to cleaning a regular car.  Try browsing through it, at least.

This tree stump is "undead"

One of the most interesting things I've learned in recent years is the degree to which trees and other plants communicate with one another.  An old Radiolab podcast covered the topic, and more can be found by asking Mr. Google.  Here's more from a Gizmodo article:
A tree stump in New Zealand is very much alive, thanks to an interconnected root system that benefits both the stump and its neighboring trees. Scientists say this unusual symbiotic arrangement could change our very conception of what it means to be a tree...

On some occasions, these elaborate root systems involve a seemingly dead tree stump, an observation first made in the 1830s. Why living trees should expend resources to support leafless cohorts is not fully understood, nor the extent to which resources are shared among living trees and stumps...

These measurements indicated that the kauri stump is inactive during the day when living trees transpire. But during the night and on rainy days, the tree stump becomes active, circulating water—and presumably carbon and nutrients—through its tissues...

For the stump, the advantages of this arrangement are obvious—it gets to stay alive despite not being able to produce carbohydrates. But as the authors point out in the study, this arrangement may actually be symbiotic in nature.  Joined together, for example, the living trees have enhanced access to resources like water and nutrients. This setup also increases the stability of the trees on the steep forest slope, with the firm, healthy roots working to prevent erosion.
It all makes perfect sense.   There is so much to see in the world if you only take the time to look.

Washing removes numbers and scale from a measuring cup

Discussed at the mildlyinfuriating subreddit.

Professional trucker records his travels

There's an app for this (Fog of the World).  Discussion at the Dataisbeautiful subreddit.

Manure-laden tap water in rural Wisconsin

"Kewaunee County conservation officer Davina Bonness collected this tap water from a homeowner in 2016. It contained animal waste that matched manure spread on a nearby farm field."
As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal:
The majority of private wells in southwestern Wisconsin are substantially polluted with fecal matter as concerns intensify over pollution of rural drinking water, according to a new study.
Results from the independent study released Aug. 1 indicated that 32 of 35 wells — or 91% — contained fecal matter from humans or livestock, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“As a researcher of groundwater for 25 years now, I continue to be amazed by the level of fecal contamination in Wisconsin groundwater,” said Mark Borchardt, a research microbiologist for the U.S. Agricultural Research Service...

During testing in April, it was discovered that some of the wells contained illness-causing pathogens such as salmonella, rotavirus and cryptosporidium...

On July 31, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed new rules aimed at farmers and their use of manure and fertilizer. The regulations would focus on the regions vulnerable to nitrates, another source of groundwater pollution.
But those measures will require authorization by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Rhabdomyolysis urine

The brown color comes from excreted myoglobin, resulting from the breakdown of skeletal muscle.  An impressive specimen, made moreso because it resulted not from major trauma but from participation in a squatting competition.
Xiao Tang, a 19-year-old sophomore at a college in Chongqing, China, was not used to exercise. This, combined with an apparent competitive streak, led to her being hospitalized when she got into an exercise fight on a video chat with an equally competitive friend... "We both did not want to lose and so we kept trying to beat each other," she explained. Neither of them willing to back down and stop squatting first, they both ended up doing over 1,000 squats.
The other girl also got rhabdo.  Brief discussion at the link re her rx and the risk of renal failure.

19 August 2019

Botryoidal chalcedony

Chalcedony ( /kælˈsɛdəni/) is a cryptocrystalline form of silica, composed of very fine intergrowths of quartz and moganite. These are both silica minerals, but they differ in that quartz has a trigonal crystal structure, while moganite is monoclinic. Chalcedony's standard chemical structure (based on the chemical structure of quartz) is SiO2 (silicon dioxide).

Chalcedony has a waxy luster, and may be semitransparent or translucent. It can assume a wide range of colors, but those most commonly seen are white to gray, grayish-blue or a shade of brown ranging from pale to nearly black. The color of chalcedony sold commercially is often enhanced by dyeing or heating.

The name chalcedony comes from the Latin chalcedonius (alternatively spelled calchedonius). The name appears in Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia as a term for a translucid kind of Jaspis. The name is probably derived from the town Chalcedon in Asia Minor. The Greek word khalkedon (χαλκηδών) also appears in the Book of Revelation (Apc 21,19). It is a hapax legomenon found nowhere else, so it is hard to tell whether the precious gem mentioned in the Bible is the same mineral known by this name today.
Image viaI rather suspect this specimen has been dyed.  It was described as "natural" at the link,  but the word may have applied to the structural formation rather than the color.

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging cap (and my rockhounding sunhat) to an anonymous reader who found a discussion of this "grape" chalcedony in a mindat discussion thread.  Apparently the color can be natural, and it may be appropriate to consider this a form of amethyst! 

Hundreds of strangers attend an El Paso funeral

Earlier this month, Margie Reckard, 63, was gunned down along with 21 others in the El Paso, Texas, massacre that authorities believe was driven by racial hatred. Two weeks later, strangers amassed by the hundreds to honor Reckard and surround her widower, Antonio Basco.

"Never had so much love in my life," Basco said on Friday as he beheld the crowds, many who waited in triple-digit heat to attend Reckard's memorial service and support a man they had never met.

When Reckard was killed, she left behind Basco, her partner of 22 years, who considered her his only close family. The couple had moved to El Paso a few years earlier and didn't have many local relatives and friends...

The funeral home where Reckard's service had been planned put out a call on Facebook on Tuesday, issuing an open invitation. "Mr. Antonio Basco was Married for 22yrs to his wife Margie Reckard, He had no other family," the post read. "He welcomes anyone to attend his Wife's services."

The response was overwhelming... When he bowed to kiss his wife's casket, it was adorned by flower arrangements sent in from across the world.

"We lost count after 500," Perches said.
The story continues at NPR.

Coal-powered energy plants continue to close

As reported by Scientific American:
When the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona shuts down later this year, it will be one of the largest carbon emitters to ever close in American history.

The giant coal plant on Arizona’s high desert emitted almost 135 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2010 and 2017, according to an E&E News review of federal figures.

Its average annual emissions over that period are roughly equivalent to what 3.3 million passenger cars would pump into the atmosphere in a single year. Of all the coal plants to be retired in the United States in recent years, none has emitted more.

The Navajo Generating Station isn’t alone. It’s among a new wave of super-polluters headed for the scrap heap. Bruce Mansfield, a massive coal plant in Pennsylvania, emitted nearly 123 million tons between 2010 and 2017. It, too, will be retired by year’s end (Energywire, Aug. 12).

And in western Kentucky, the Paradise plant emitted some 102 million tons of carbon over that period. The Tennessee Valley Authority closed two of Paradise’s three units in 2017. It will close the last one next year (Greenwire, Feb. 14).

 “It’s just the economics keep moving in a direction that favors natural gas and renewables. Five years ago, it was about the older coal plants becoming uneconomic,” said Dan Bakal, senior director of electric power at Ceres, which works with businesses to transition to clean energy. “Now, it’s becoming about every coal unit, and it’s a question of how long they can survive.”..

There’s also this: The vast majority of super-polluters have no closure date in sight. That’s because massive coal plants generally benefit from large economies of scale. Because they crank out power around the clock, their cost of generating electricity is relatively cheap.

“The coal plants remaining have generally installed all the environmental controls,” Larsen said. “There are no additional regulatory threats, or they are cost-effective in a world where gas is $2.50 per MMBtu.”

Hip exosuit (exoskeleton shorts)

I hope they can embed or add a gyroscope to help prevent falls.  Via Boing Boing.

"Club sandwich" offered on a 13-hour flight

Image cropped and brightened from the original posted here

"Northern Cities Vowel Shift"

Perhaps better viewed with "cc" activated (although it contains some errors).

Some people use fake service dogs - updated

As reported by the BBC:
California-based Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organisation that provides highly trained assistance dogs for people with disabilities, says "service dog fraud" is making it more and more difficult for genuine owners to be taken seriously...

It is easy to buy a service dog vest on the internet. Numerous websites offer products such as official harnesses and tags. In some cases they are sold with a note stating that it is the owner's responsibility to ensure their animal is properly trained, but there is no system of enforcement.

Erin, who preferred not to give her full name, lives with her boyfriend and their dog, Bo, in Los Angeles.

She went online to buy a service vest for her pooch, because she wanted to avoid the fees charged by airlines for non-service animals - in the region of $90-$150 (£60-£100) to fly, one-way. Unlike working animals, they must be restrained in a container for the entire flight.

Erin, who is not disabled, travels everywhere with Bo because she says she can not bear to leave him home alone....

Many travellers are accompanied by their pets because they have special permission, based on a doctors' letter and an official certificate. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals (ESAs) are not required to have any formal training, but are allowed on board without an additional fee...

Still, she says, "I know more faux emotional support dogs than real ones."
Reposted from 2015 to add this new development:
After months of deliberation, the Department of Transportation has released formal guidance regarding animals on planes. The 28-page document released this month makes it clear that three types of service animals should be prioritized for travel: cats, dogs and miniature horses...

There are many reasons someone would fly with a miniature horse, disability experts say. Although a growing number of emotional support animals have emerged in recent years, in the case of miniature horses, their function as service animal is primarily physical... The animals are mild-mannered and fast learners, with nearly 360-degree vision. They may also offer balance support to individuals with physical disabilities...

True miniature horses, which are not to be confused with ponies, are less than 34 inches in height...

Before going to the gate, Ramouni will ask someone to lead them to the women’s restroom. “My horse has been trained to go potty in a plastic bag,” she said. “I would just give her the command to go potty, then I flush it down the toilet.”..

Airlines have typically put Ramouni and Cali in the bulkhead row, which has more legroom and no seats in front. Throughout the flight Cali stands at Ramouni’s feet.

Gender-dependent humor - The Window Cleaner


Found at the now sadly defunct Titam et le Sirop d'Erable.  (Reposted from 10 years ago)

Denmark offers to buy the United States

COPENHAGEN—After rebuffing Donald J. Trump’s hypothetical proposal to purchase Greenland, the government of Denmark has announced that it would be interested in buying the United States instead.

“As we have stated, Greenland is not for sale,” a spokesperson for the Danish government said on Friday. “We have noted, however, that during the Trump regime pretty much everything in the United States, including its government, has most definitely been for sale.”..

If Denmark’s bid for the United States is accepted, the Scandinavian nation has ambitious plans for its new acquisition. “We believe that, by giving the U.S. an educational system and national health care, it could be transformed from a vast land mass into a great nation,” the spokesperson said.
Excerpted from The Borowitz Report in The New Yorker.

Mussel has natural googly eyes


Stephen Jay Gould's "Great Asymmetry"

First elucidated in an article in Science in 1998,...
As an example of the misuse of science and technology for destructive and immoral ends (usually quite contrary to the inventor's genuine intent as well), the guillotine hardly merits a glance compared with such efficient agents of wartime destruction as gunpowder, napalm, or atomic weaponry—not to mention the truly unintended and purely consequential impacts of technology on global environments, human social problems, and biodiversity...

The essence of human tragedy... lies in the power of politics, reaction, and irrationality to overwhelm the still, small voice of science, and even to use its tools of intended benevolence for perverse ends...

Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species. But the architecture of structural complexity—the great asymmetry of my title—permits moments to undo what only centuries can build. The essential human tragedy, and the true source of science's potential misuse for destruction, lies in the ineluctable nature of this great asymmetry, not in the character of knowledge itself. We perform 10,000 acts of small and unrecorded kindness for each surpassingly rare, but sadly balancing, moment of cruelty...
... Gould reaffirmed his view in a NYT opinion piece in 2001:
Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ''ordinary'' efforts of a vast majority.

17 August 2019

"Sack it to me"

My cousin's son, competing today for the Minnesota state championship at the Mall of America.  Readers of TYWKIWDBI who may be at the mall today will know who to cheer for.

Go Paul!

Addendum -  Some viewers may be bewildered by the notice above so here's the ELI5:  the placing of groceries in paper bags goes back in my memory to probably the 1950s, when most grocery stores had young men doing the "bagging" and carrying the groceries out to your car for you.  The process has been "modernized" by the advent of plastic bags and the expectation that shoppers will carry or push a cart of groceries to the parking area.

A variety of generally upscale grocery stores have maintained the old tradition intact.  The Minnesota Grocers Association explains as follows:
MGA Best Bagger Contest – August 17 at The Mall of America, Bloomington, MN
A dynamic, fast-paced competition where grocery baggers from across the state show off their bagging skills to be Minnesota’s best. This contest is important to the MGA and its membership because it showcases the talents of one of our key employees.  The bagger is the person responsible for the last experience customers have at our stores. They truly represent customer service.
To get to today's championship, Paul first had to win an in-store competition at the Lunds/Byerlys located in Wayzata.  He then competed against the winners from the other Lunds/Byerlys stores in the region.  Now he represents the company at this statewide competition against the winners from other grocery store chains in Minnesota, with the winner proceeding to the national championship in San Diego ($10,000 grand prize).

Here are the judging criteria.  It's not just a matter of speed.

Apparently Paul has acquired a cheering section at the Mall of America -

Unfortunately I'm in Madison Wisconsin with errands to run and chores to do.  I'll update this post tomorrow.

Update:  Paul will not be traveling to San Diego to compete in the nationals; he performed well on the time component, but did not have the best distribution of weight between bags (see criteria above).     It was, however, an enjoyable experience for him.  I'll monitor YouTube to see if any videos of the competition are posted.

16 August 2019


Image cropped for size and desaturated from the image posted here.

1.4 million lakes (10 ha or larger)

I'll save U.S. readers a click: 10 hectares (hectare = 10,000 square meters) is about 25 acres.  The map can be enlarged once at the MapPorn source, where I took a screencap of my favorite part of the country:

The "wide AM" - an uncommon variety of the 1999 Lincoln penny

The US Mint produced two major varieties of the 1999 Lincoln Memorial Cent (Penny). The most common variety for the Philadelphia-minted 1999 is the close "AM" variety...

In the word "AMERICA" on the reverse of the coin: The close "AM" meant that the letters "A" and "M" were very close and almost touching while the wide "AM" had the two letters separated much more. In Addition: The initials "FG" was closer to the Lincoln Memorial Building on the wide "AM" variety and it was further away on the close "AM" variety. The difference between the close "AM" and wide "AM" varieties are shown in the example image below... 

USA Coin Book Estimated Value of 1999 Lincoln Memorial Penny (Wide AM Variety) is Worth $518 or more in Uncirculated (MS+) Mint Condition 
I can't tell what year the source article was written.  Can any readers with numismatic knowledge estimate a current value for circulated coins?

Why the turtle can't leave its shell


Trash cans reimagined

Explained by the poster at the HumansBeingBros subreddit -
In Norway you get a small amount of money for recycling bottles/cans. They're often collected by poor people, homeless etc. A lot of our trash cans have these holders around them so people don't have to search through the trash to collect them.
- where another Redditor posted this image of a trash can in Denmark angled so that those on bicycles can more expeditiously dispose of their water bottles:

The problems of minimum wage, lucidly explained

A five-minute summary shows how the inflation-adjusted minimum wage is lower now than in 1960, how congressional step-changes to the wage are difficult for employers to predict and manage, and how different the United States is from the rest of the world in the implementation of this measure.

I didn't see the narrator's name.  She sounds remarkably like This American Life's Zoe Chace.

Screencap from the video:

And for the record....

About those dimples on the sides of milk jugs - updated

I had never paid attention to these dimples before; if I had I would have assumed they were to facilitate gripping the jug, but they are on the wrong side and seemingly superfluous for that purpose when a handle is present on the other side.

I have seen claims that these are pressure relief valves that pop out if the jug is dropped or the milk spoils and produces gases or freezes, or that they are structural supports for an otherwise smooth wall, or that they allow the size of the container to be varied without changing the mold,

As soon as this jug is empty I'm going to test the pressure-relief theory by dropping a water-filled one and/or freezing it.


It worked - sorta.   When the jug was empty I refilled it with water, adjusting the level to match the new unopened jug (airspace about 5cc under the cap).  I then tightened the cap and took the jug to the driveway, where I dropped it from waist level to simulate a shopper's misadventure...

Both dimples popped, one of them blowing out completely.  I'll plan to try once more, next time dropping from a lower height.

14 August 2019

"Wing pollination" of azaleas by swallowtails

The most interesting thing I've read about butterflies this year was a study by Mary Jane Epps, an assistant professor of biology at Mary Baldwin College who examined the reproduction of flame azaleas, publishing her results last August in The American Naturalist.  Here's the abstract:
Although many angiosperms are serviced by flying pollinators, reports of wings as pollen vectors are rare. Flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) is visited by diverse insects, yet previous observations suggested that only butterfly wings may transfer pollen to stigmas. We used an experimental approach to determine whether butterfly wings are the primary vehicle of pollination in flame azalea. Over two seasons of observations, only butterflies (Papilio glaucus and Speyeria cybele) contacted both anthers and stigmas, yet because of differences in wing-flapping behavior, P. glaucus transferred pollen most efficiently. In contrast, bee species specialized either on pollen or nectar but did not contact both anthers and stigmas. A field experiment revealed that flowers excluding butterflies experienced almost complete fruit failure, whereas fruit set in open flowers did not differ from those that were hand pollinated. Additionally, butterflies had 56-fold more azalea pollen on their wings than bodies, while azalea stigmas bore both pollen and wing scales. These results suggest that plants with many visitors contacting reproductive organs may still specialize on a single guild of visitors for pollination and that wing-borne pollen transfer is a key mode of flame azalea pollination.
Every reader of this blog will be familiar with mechanisms of pollination by bees and similar small insects, which transfer pollen on their bodies and feet.  This becomes a problem when the blossoms are large:
“In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator – usually an insect – has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” Epps says. “In the case of the flame azalea, the distance between these two structures meant that it was unlikely for a bee or other small pollinator to come into contact with both anther and stigma during a visit.”

The researchers discovered something else interesting – the pollen was most likely being transferred by the butterflies’ wings, instead of their bodies. “We observed two species of butterfly that frequented these flowers: the eastern tiger swallowtail and the great spangled fritillary. However, the majority of the butterflies were the swallowtails, who differ from the fritillaries because they tend to keep moving their wings even when gathering nectar from a flower,” Epps says. “The constant fanning motion gives the wings a number of contacts with both anther and stigma, making the swallowtails more efficient at pollination.”
I've noticed this behavior in our back yard, when Tiger Swallowtails and Giant Swallowtails constantly flutter their wings while visiting large blossoms (not azaleas at our latitude).  In the past I considered this wing motion a nuisance because it frustrated my attempts to get good photographic images, but I assumed it was done to achieve aerodynamic stability (though it doesn't occur with almost-as-big fritillaries, who hold their wings quite still).

Here's one additional relevant photo, of Spicebush swallowtails on azalea, by Jim McCormac:

Top photo: Great Spangled Fritillary on a flame azalea, by Suzanne Allison, via NC State University College of Sciences News.

Reposted from 2016 to append this photo of a Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) nectaring on Monarda ("bee balm") in our front yard yesterday.

A surprisingly sharp image.  This fellow was so eager for the nectar that he let me get an inch away with my cellphone.  The Monarda (and the phlox behind it) was very busy with bees and butterflies (also a Monarch, two Painted Ladies, and a Silver-spotted Skipper).

"Medical tourism" goes to the next level

Most Americans are familiar with the concept of "medical tourism" - traveling to another country to get necessary care at more affordable prices.  An article in Kaiser Health News shows how far this concept can be taken.  The patient from Mississippi traveled to Mexico, as did a surgeon from Wisconsin.  Her total knee replacement prosthesis was made in the United States.  And the entire process was paid for by her American medical insurance company.
The hospital costs of the American medical system are so high that it made financial sense for both a highly trained orthopedist from Milwaukee and a patient from Mississippi to leave the country and meet at an upscale private Mexican hospital for the surgery.

Ferguson gets her health coverage through her husband’s employer, Ashley Furniture Industries. The cost to Ashley was less than half of what a knee replacement in the United States would have been. That’s why its employees and dependents who use this option have no out-of-pocket copayments or deductibles for the procedure; in fact, they receive a $5,000 payment from the company, and all their travel costs are covered...

Parisi, a graduate of the Mayo Clinic, is one of about 40 orthopedic surgeons in the United States who have signed up with NASH to travel to Cancun on their days off to treat American patients. NASH is betting that having an American surgeon will alleviate concerns some people have about going outside the country, and persuade self-insured American employers to offer this option to their workers to save money and still provide high-quality care...

The high prices charged at American hospitals make it relatively easy to offer surgical bargains in Mexico: In the United States, knee replacement surgery costs an average of about $30,000 — sometimes double or triple that — but at Galenia, it is only $12,000, said Dr. Gabriela Flores Teón, medical director of the facility.

The standard charge for a night in the hospital is $300 at Galenia, Flores said, compared with $2,000 on average at hospitals in the United States.

The other big savings is the cost of the medical device — made by a subsidiary of the New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson — used in Ferguson’s knee replacement surgery. The very same implant she would have received at home costs $3,500 at Galenia, compared with nearly $8,000 in the United States, Flores said...

“It’s been a great experience,” she said two days after the surgery. “Even if I had to pay, I would come back here because it’s just a different level of care — they treat you like family."

Hockey drills

Obscene photo

As much as possible I try to cluster all of my Trump-related postings into occasional "Trump clumps," but this publicity photo is so egregiously offensive that I felt compelled to highlight it.  The commentary is by Graeme Wood at The Atlantic:
The latest publicity photograph of the president in El Paso, Texas, knocked me into silence for a good half hour this morning while I tried to figure out the many layers of obscenity on display. The photo features a baby whose parents were killed in El Paso a few days ago. The baby survived because his parents shielded him with their bodies. In the photo, he is cradled by Melania Trump. The president is next to her; both are smiling broadly, and the president is offering a thumbs-up. The child is expressionless and wearing a cute plaid bow tie...

First there are the smiles, so chipper in the aftermath of mass murder... Then there is the thumbs-up, ... in this case to signal approval of what, exactly? The narrow survival of the infant? The heroism of the hospital staff and first responders who cared for the wounded?...

The optical demands of the job are impossible to appreciate, and we should forgive him for the occasional failure to twist his face into an appropriate expression. But sometimes—and this is one of those times—the optical demands of the office are the only demands. In the immediate bereavement of an infant’s parents, nothing is needed but respectful silence.

Plastic fibers falling from our skies

The image will be reasonably familiar to anyone who has seen a contaminated specimen through a microscope, but this is a view of rainwater from the mountains of Colorado.
Rainwater samples collected across Colorado and analyzed under a microscope contained a rainbow of plastic fibers, as well as beads and shards. The findings shocked Wetherbee, who had been collecting the samples in order to study nitrogen pollution...

“My results are purely accidental,” he said, though they are consistent with another recent study that found microplastics in the Pyrenees, suggesting plastic particles could travel with the wind for hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers. Other studies have turned up microplastics in the deepest reaches of the ocean, in UK lakes and rivers and in US groundwater.

A major contributor is trash, said Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher and sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend. More than 90% of plastic waste is not recycled, and as it slowly degrades it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. “Plastic fibers also break off your clothes every time you wash them,” Mason said, and plastic particles are byproducts of a variety of industrial processes.
The original publication is here (pdf).

I wonder if anyone else is reminded of Morgellons, which was prominently in the news about ten years ago and had its own research foundation.

Some interesting political maps

Additional maps and informed analysis at The New York Times, via BoingBoing.

Fun variants of Scrabble

Many bloggers and blog-readers were up in arms this past week when a story circulated that the game of Scrabble was going to begin allowing proper names to be used during gameplay.   What will actually happen is that another Scrabble variant will be produced by Mattel, but the standard game will still adhere to the traditional rules.

I found it amusing that so many people got their panties in a twist over this announcement, because at our house, Scrabble is played using house rules that would horrify a traditionalist.

The "house rules" are that Scrabble will be the "open book, double bag, triple return, blank start and recycle" version. This means that each player starts with a blank, and after it is played as a given letter, anyone with that letter in their rack can play the letter and pick the blank up for reuse (that's the "recycle" part).

The "double bag" refers to the fact that we keep consonants and vowels in separate bags. When you draw your letters you can do so from either bag in whatever proportion best balances your rack. If you get three of a letter, you can exchange one of them for a different letter. This prevents winding up with the dreaded IUIUCIW-type rack.

The "open book" part is fairly common among recreational Scrabblers. We have not only several dictionaries available, but also a variety of word building books, and sometimes a laptop logged on to an anagramming website.

And finally we spin our racks around to ask the other person (I wouldn't use the word "opponent") for advice/suggestions.

Using these rules, an inlaw and I had a game with 2000+ combined points, including 14 "bingoes." I suppose it's not really "Scrabble" - it's more of a mutual word-puzzle game. But it's fun - especially when the players are also lubricated with their favorite beverages.

Reposted from 2010 to add this video of championship Scrabble:

The 2019 North American SCRABBLE Championship was played July 20-24, 2019 in Reno, NV. Almost 300 players battled it out over 31 games of SCRABBLE to crown 2019’s North American SCRABBLE Champion. This year, the top two finishers faced off in a best-of-three match to decide the winner.
The video includes live expert commentary. 

11 August 2019

An "up north" family portrait

Last week several members of my extended family gathered at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to paddle and portage the chain of lakes there.  Pictured here are Doug from Florida, Dean from Wisconsin, Misha from North Carolina, and Karl from Barcelona.  I wish I could have joined them, but at my age pleasures like this have to be enjoyed vicariously.

Related: a previously-posted family portrait.

Cup stacking as a competitive sport

Via Neatorama.


I stole the title of this post from the discussion thread at the mildlyinteresting subreddit, where I encountered this photo [croppped by me for emphasis] of headphones that had been dropped in sand with high iron content.  Two comments from the thread:
"I grind metal at work and its super annoying. I have to wipe the metal off meticulously after every shift or else it starts to stain the airpod case."

Iron sand beaches are fairly common around the world. The ones I've been to have fine grain like a regular beach but it's a lot darker because of the iron mixed in. They get ridiculously hot on a sunny day - as in they will burn your feet if you stand still for more than half a second

Cannabis garden, Paris, 1910

Via, where this comment is posted:
"It was a very common ingredient in pain relieving medicines back in the day. My great grandmother would refuse to take even an aspirin, but she used tincture of cannabis for her migraines. You could buy it in many places right up until the Second World War."

How fast can YOU run in deep snow?

Those long legs give the moose access to underwater vegetation in a lake, but also truly remarkable speed going through deep snow. 

If you're short of time, the action really begins at about the 1:30 mark.

You can't even trust a connecting cable

As reported by Vice:
But this cable was hiding a secret. A short while later, a hacker remotely opened a terminal on my Mac's screen, letting them run commands on my computer as they saw fit. This is because this wasn't a regular cable. Instead, it had been modified to include an implant; extra components placed inside the cable letting the hacker remotely connect to the computer.

"It looks like a legitimate cable and works just like one. Not even your computer will notice a
difference. Until I, as an attacker, wirelessly take control of the cable," the security researcher known as MG who made these cables told Motherboard after he showed me how it works at the annual Def Con hacking conference.

One idea is to take this malicious tool, dubbed O.MG Cable, and swap it for a target's legitimate one. MG suggested you may even give the malicious version as a gift to the target—the cables even come with some of the correct little pieces of packaging holding them together.

MG typed in the IP address of the fake cable on his own phone's browser, and was presented with a list of options, such as opening a terminal on my Mac. From here, a hacker can run all sorts of tools on the victim's computer.
More at the link.

Apparently Florida has anti-incest billboards

Via the Cringetopia subreddit.

09 August 2019

Word for the day: ecofascism

I encountered the word in an extremely interesting Gizmodo article about the El Paso shooter:
This weekend’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, has re-opened the festering debates over gun control, immigration, and the president’s penchant for racist hate speech. But the manifesto believed to have been authored by the suspected shooter also reveals another horrific idea edging its way toward the mainstream from the primordial sludge of racist message boards...

Included among its racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric are ideas central to the mainstream environmental movement. “[O]ur lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources,” it reads.

Where Crusius’ views violently diverge is the solution to these real issues. The manifesto suggests Americans overconsumption will never stop, so the only option is “get rid of enough people” to make the American lifestyle “more sustainable.” Horrific, disgusting, and absurd, this so-called ecofascist ideology uses legitimate environmental concerns to justify racist policies and, sometimes, mass murder...

The El Paso shooter manifesto itself echoes that of the gunman who killed 51 in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year. Brenton Tarrant, the accused shooter in that massacre, identified as an ecofascist and defined it as “ethnic autonomy for all peoples with a focus on preservation of nature and the natural order.” The El Paso manifesto is in the same vein, going further in some ways by noting that the goal of the murders was to preserve Americans’ unique position as one of the world’s biggest per-capita carbon polluters on Earth...

Deploying racialized fears of overpopulation destroying the environment, members of the Tanton network even tried to take over the Sierra Club in the late 1990s and turn it into an anti-immigrant organization. Fortunately, they were defeated. What we are facing now is the greening of hate, stage two. Old ideas, but with some new actors and manifestations. While ties exist between the Tanton network and the white nationalist movement, the lethal embrace of these ideas by violent, armed white nationalists is another order of magnitude...

But we can’t ignore how Malthusian ideas about overpopulation and the environment are taught in high schools all over the United States. They are an important part of many environmental studies curricula. There’s a deep racial undercurrent with poor people of color are presented as having too many children and destroying the environment. Unfortunately, Malthusianism has achieved the status of conventional wisdom in the U.S. It’s not surprising that white nationalists are influenced by it and deploy it for their own hateful aims.

Now, there’s also a powerful apocalyptic discourse that links climate change, environmental degradation, overpopulation, and scarcity. White nationalism is already steeped in violent apocalypticism—fears about the white race coming to an end feed the impetus to mount an Armageddon-style bloody-but-cleansing race war. The manifestos of the shooters in both New Zealand and El Paso in a sense represent a coming together of a green apocalypse and a brown fascist one. This toxic mix serves as a rationale for saving nature and the white race. ..

I don’t want to deny that there may be climate conflicts or climate-related migration. But there is a deeply problematic, apocalyptic discourse about climate and conflict and climate refugees that is quite common in liberal policy circles and even documentaries. It draws on highly racialized depictions of poor people—especially in Africa—as more prone to violence in times of resource scarcity as if they’re savages not capable of cooperation. And these narratives also simplify the migration process with the claim that climate change is going to cause scarcity, scarcity’s going to cause conflict, and that’s going to cause migration. Most climate migration researchers believe a lot of migration that is likely to occur will be within countries not across borders. But to the extent that it is across borders, why are negative images fomented of these poor people coming to get us? That’s not on the far right, that’s in some liberal foreign policy and military scenarios around climate change...

This past fall, Matthew Phelan wrote an article in the New York Review of Books on ecofascism. He talks about how sustainability discourse is becoming popular in Europe among right-wing populists, especially in Italy with the Five Star Movement. Sustainability could become a mantra of these people, but their kind of sustainability excludes. It’s sustainability for white people and for their particular nativist vision of the nation-state. So sustainability needs to be clearly delineated in terms of whose interests are being served. The same with climate policy. Green comes in many shades. We need to understand the differences between them.
And for the TL;DR reader, here's the briefer Wikipedia entry.

To me it is absolutely fascinating (and unexpected) to learn that environmentalists who trumpet scenarios of rising oceans and crippling droughts/floods are unintentionally (and unknowingly) fuelling the end-times fantasies of radical extremists.

112-year-old Minnesota fish

As reported by the Star Tribune:
Sampling in the waters of west-central Minnesota and collecting catches from anglers, Lackmann found five bigmouth buffalo fish more than 100 years old — including a 112-year-old female taken from Crystal Lake near Pelican Rapids in Otter Tail County.

Bomb radiocarbon dating verified the fish’s age, making it the oldest age-validated freshwater fish ever taken. Lackmann and his research team recently published their findings in the scientific journal Communications Biology...

“Many people think buffalo fish are carp,” said Lackmann, 28, who grew up in Moorhead and Detroit Lakes. “They aren’t.  “Calling a bigmouth buffalo fish a carp is like calling a human a lemur.”..

Lackmann’s study of nearly 400 buffalo fish yielded an abundance of fish older than 80 to 90 years.  
And a photo of the otoliths from their publication in Nature Communications Biology:

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