22 January 2022

Before the lightning strike

Both of the brothers survived.

"[the top photo] was taken by his 15-year-old sister, Mary, using an old Kodak Instamatic camera, McQuilken said. He and his siblings were hiking the granite dome. When they reached the top to enjoy the view, someone noticed that their hair was standing on end.

“At the time, we thought this was humorous,” McQuilken recalled. “I took a photo of Mary and Mary took a photo of Sean and me. I raised my right hand into the air and the ring I had on began to buzz so loudly that everyone could hear it.”

The rest of the story is at NBC News.   The original report by the persons involved is in Social Positive via the Wayback Machine.

Wi-Fi extender

I don't typically do product endorsements (and never for money), but I want to share my experience with the item above.

Our house has a relatively "dead zone" for Wi-Fi.  The router is placed optimally for servicing the computers, but the television's location results in intermittent loss of signal ("Wi-Fi not connected" message interruptions repeatedly while watching a movie).  

This extender was relatively cheap ($25).  It came with instructions that included downloading a program and keying in various codes, but blessedly there was an "alternate" method:  plug this in near your router, wait for the light to stop blinking, then plug it in closer to the dead spot.  Problem solved in ten minutes.

"The button"

I'm sure this is a repost, but I couldn't find my original, so I'm entering it again with a more searchable title.

This news gives me the shivers

The Federal Reserve took a key step in weighing the creation of its own digital currency, a move it said could help ensure the U.S. dollar’s dominance as the central bank grapples with fast-growing private cryptocurrencies and coins issued by other nations.

The central bank made no firm conclusions on whether issuing such a currency was prudent and in any case said it doesn’t intend to proceed without support from the White House and Congress -- so it’s not likely a U.S. digital dollar will be issued anytime soon. But the 35-page discussion paper issued Thursday on a government-backed coin, known as a central bank digital currency or CBDC, marks the Fed’s most significant action yet as it seeks to dive deeper into digital assets. 

“The introduction of a CBDC would represent a highly significant innovation in American money,” the Fed said in the paper.
More at Bloomberg.

Morse code schematic

I remember learning these letters as a Cub Scout in the 1950s.  One of my grandfathers had been a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and  I believe at the time I viewed Morse Code as a useful skill to have as an adult. 

I can still spell my name.

Image via

Robot vacuum cleaner escapes from captivity

As reported by the BBC:
"A robot vacuum cleaner made a break for freedom after giving staff the slip at a Travelodge hotel.

The automated cleaner failed to stop at the front door of the hotel in Orchard Park in Cambridge on Thursday, and was still on the loose the following day.

Staff said it just kept going and "could be anywhere" while well-wishers on social media hoped the vacuum enjoyed its travels, as "it has no natural predators" in the wild...

While some readers joked about the robot's adventures, one feared for its safety in the great outdoors, pointing out that "nature abhors a vacuum".

However, much to everyone's relief, the device was found nestled under a hedge on Friday afternoon by a (human) hotel cleaner sprucing up the front drive."

19 January 2022

Sterling silver tin can

Available from the Everyday Objects collection at Tiffany & Co. for $1,135 (engraving extra).   It's more expensive than the sterling silver golf tee ($205), but less than sterling silver dog bowl ($3,000).

No editorial comment from me.  This is part of the world we live in.  Via Harper's.

"There is no word for the parent of a dead child"

 Excerpts from "When Children Die," an essay in the June 2021 Harper's.
"There is no word in the English language for the parent of a dead child. No equivalent of widow, widower, or orphan, even of fatherless or motherless—words denoting losses so grave that they assign people to new human categories. Do we lack such a word because that grief is the most tragic of all family losses, the hardest to contemplate? Or is it possible that the opposite is true—that throughout history, the likelihood that a parent would lose a child was so high that such a term would have been a useless distinction?

If such a term existed, it would have applied to every eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century president who had children*...

*George Washington (his stepdaughter, Patsy, died at the age of seventeen from epilepsy); John Adams (two daughters, one who was stillborn and another who died in infancy); Thomas Jefferson (of the six children born to his wife, Martha, only two survived early childhood; of the six born to Sally Hemings, two died very young); James Monroe (a son died at sixteen months); John Quincy Adams (a daughter died in infancy; two of three sons died as young adults); Andrew Jackson (his adopted son, Lyncoya, died at sixteen); Martin Van Buren (a son died in infancy); William Henry Harrison (a son died at age three); John Tyler (a daughter died in infancy); Zachary Taylor (two daughters died in early childhood; a third, who was married to Jefferson Davis, died of malaria at twenty-one); Millard Fillmore (a daughter died of cholera at twenty-two); Franklin Pierce (two sons died very young; a third died at age eleven in a train crash not long before his father’s inauguration); Abraham Lincoln (two sons died, at three and eleven).
That is an incredible statistic, and a stark reminder of life just a few generations ago.
Until the middle of the twentieth century, that lifelong loss and special sorrow were neither unnatural nor unexpected. Children used to die, and parents knew that losing children was a relatively common and even predictable risk. In 1800, nearly half the children born in the United States died before the age of five. By 1900, between a fifth and a quarter of them did; in 1915, as my grandparents were growing up, one out of every ten infants died before turning one...

Losing a child has become a comparatively rare experience, and one that everyone, including experts in pediatric palliative care, now regards as unnatural and traumatic. Does that make the grief harder to bear?.. The authors of the 2018 article consider the possibility that the very rareness of childhood death in developed countries may mean that family and friends don’t know how to respond to or help bereaved parents. The Roosevelts certainly grieved their dead son, but they matter-of-factly reused his name, unworried that calling another baby Franklin Jr. might bring up unthinkably sad memories...

Today, parents feel that if they make all the right decisions, from the right sleep position to the right car seat to the right foods, they can keep their children safe. But these good and valuable steps to ensure children’s safety can leave some parents terrified that somewhere along the way they will make a mistake, a wrong turn. My guess would be that for all their anxieties, the parents of my grandparents’ generation did not live with the same fear that one bad decision could compromise their children’s safety, because they didn’t believe their children could be kept absolutely safe—no child could be...

In our overanxious age, worrying is sometimes now associated with the problem of overparenting...  Anxiety not only gnaws at parents, he writes, but it can get in the way of children’s development... Paradoxically, there are parents who have come to take that safety so for granted that they have grown cavalier about the great gift of childhood vaccines, or perhaps have decided to be more frightened of vaccines than of diseases, and let their children ride on the back of herd immunity.

RelatedFree-range parenting punished 

17 January 2022

Corner pianos

Said to be at the Australian Piano Warehouse in Melbourne.  Pic via.  And apparently it's not unique:

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

Removing a burned cross from his yard (1960).    Trenchant commentary about Martin Luther King Jr. in an op-ed in today's Guardian.

Image via the now inactive Palahniuk & Chocolate tumblr.

15 January 2022

The Black Sea deluge

Another addition to my list of recommended books, this one explaining in detail the hypothesis that an immense and abrupt irruption of water into the Black Sea from the Aegean/Mediterranean seas was responsible for major cultural disruptions and may have been the basis for the "great flood" hypothesis seen in so many cultures.

In prehistoric times what is now the Black Sea was an immense freshwater lake, fed by glacial meltwaters.  When the outflow drainage at the Bosphorus closed and when the climate changed (disappearance of glaciers, aridity of the overall watershed), the lake evaporated to a smaller size.

The schematic at right shows the approximate relative sizes and shapes of the ancient freshwater lake and the current Black Sea.  That freshwater lake was a magnet for early human civilization because of the presence of water, game, and arable land.

When the Bosphorus "opened up," the inflow of seawater was on a scale not seen anywhere in the modern world.  The Mediterranean was open to the Atlantic, and the sea level was about 500 feet higher than the lake.  When water found a crack in the Bosphorus the flow would have started as a trickle, then as the passage eroded the flow would increase exponentially.  
"Ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls, enough to cover Manhattan Island each day to a depth of over half a mile."  
The lake then began to rise 6" per day, and depending on the gradient, the shore would expand by as much as a mile a day - every day, without pause.  The people living on the shores of the lake would be forced to flee.
"It is hard to imagine the terror of those farmers, forced from their fields by an event they could not understand, a force of such incredible violence that it was as if the collected fury of all the gods was being hurled at them.  They fled with family, the old and the young, carrying what they could, along with fragments of the other languages, new  ideas, and new technologies gathered from around the lake."

The diaspora is detailed in several chapters of the book.
"All these people appeared in Europe shortly after the flood.  All have been described [by archaeologists] as outsiders: people who migrated from some distance... all seem to have been more culturally advanced than those [original European residents] whom they displaced.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, at that time in the middle of the sixth millennium B.C., Europe began a rapid ascent into what has been called a "Golden Age"...

The diaspora also happened in the other direction, creating enormous population changes in Anatolia and the Middle East.
"In the [Mesopotamian] epic of Gilgamesh the seven sages are credited with building the walls of Uruk and bringing the arts of civilization to the Sumerians - irrigation, farming, and the use of copper, gold, and silver.  The question of where the Sumerians came from is still unanswered."

"The oldest known written versions of the flood were committed to clay tablets over two millennia after [this flood] event in Sumerian, the language of the first known writing, a language with no known roots and no known descendants..."
The final point to make is that the story of the flood would have been passed by oral history down through dozens of generations.  Archaeologists have noted that the peoples who fled to Europe tended to settle some distance away from freshwater lakes and streams.  But those who fled to the fertile crescent would have been reminded of the great flood because their new territory was also subjected to annual flooding from the Tigris and Euphrates, which may explain why the legend was maintained there until the invention of cuneiform writing.

If you don't have time for the book, you can browse the high points at the Wikipedia page for the Black Sea deluge hypothesis.

Other interesting bits from the book:
"[King Darius I the Great] governed skillfully and managed a vast empire long before that of Alexander the Great, a regime that encompassed all the prior realms of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Ionians, Persians, and Medes, extending to the east as far as the Indus Valley, to the west into Europe, and to the south into Africa, flourishing in economy and culture."

"Apparently what had so deeply moved Smith was the realization that the [cuneiform] fragments he had assembled contained an independent version of the biblical deluge.  The heathen words told almost exactly the same story as the Hebrew narrative, right down to the selection of a survivor of the deluge through the intervention of a god, the forewarning that gave time to build a wooden ark, the refuge in it of every kind of animal, bird, and reptile, the grounding of the boat on the side of a mountain, the details of dispatching a swallow, raven, and dove to find land, the offering of a sacrifice, and the pledge that the gods would never again return the world to its primeval watery chaos."  "... after the feast one of the goddesses flung her jeweled necklace into the sky to be the sign of a covenant never again to drown the world."  "There was no doubt that the deluge described so vividly in the Gilgamesh legend had been inscribed on stone tablets long before the writing of the first books of the Old Testament."

The fact that the Mediterranean basin had once been a desert is confirmed by the discovery that the Nile River has an immensely deep central gorge (now filled with sediment) as a result of erosion when the Nile used to empty into a much lower basin.  The separation of the Mediterranean from the Atlantic occurred during the Messinian time interval between 7.2 and 5.4 million years ago.  "The transition from sea to land and back to sea had taken less than half a million years."  "Although no humans lived five million years ago, had any been present, they would have witnessed the Mediterranean desert disappearing permanently beneath a mile of salt water in a matter of a single human lifetime."

"... the Sumerians and Akkadians, and even the Greeks, did not believe in a reward after death.  Death might be postponed through a petition to a god, but  no one could escape it.  The body returned to clay, and a duplicate "phantom" entered a new abode through an aperture in the grave, leading to an immense, dark, silent, and sad netherworld where one had a torpid and gloomy existence forever."

Noting some changes in a children's dictionary

"... in 2007, the words “acorn” and “buttercup” were taken out of the Oxford Children’s Dictionary, in favor of words like “broadband” and “cut and paste” to reflect changing usage of the language. “Hamster,” “heron,” “herring,” “kingfisher,” “lark,” “leopard,” “lobster,” “magpie,” “minnow,” “mussel,” “newt,” “otter,” “ox,” “oyster” and “panther” were also deemed archaic and removed."
An excerpt from Losing Eden, a recently-published book that argues that today's children are losing touch with the natural world, as cited in a Harper's book review.

The deletions and new entries in Oxford's Children's Dictionary (which has over 30,000 words) have been roundly criticized and defended.  TYWKIWDBI isn't taking a position on this matter - just noting it for the record.

14 January 2022

This is a truly remarkable adventure story

This is another book I've just given a "goodbye read" to, after having first read it decades ago.  Unlike my typical format with recommended books posts, I'm not going to insert any excerpts, because it would be hard to know what to select.  Notably, this is not a tale of discovery or the "conquest" of nature - on the contrary it's an extended narrative about human survival in the world's most inhospitable environment.

A Gerrymandered voting district

Discussed and explained at The New York Times.  Those tired of politics can read about the etymology of "gerrymander" instead.

Apparently the modern conventional pronunciation is incorrect (historically it was pronounced as Gary-mander).

Pope Francis exiting a music store with a CD

"The shop owners later told The Associated Press that Francis had arrived unannounced at around 7 p.m., after he had told them during a previous encounter at the Vatican that he would come to visit. “He walked in the shop and it was an amazing meeting. And as he promised, he blessed the shop,” said shop owner Tiziana Esposito.

Co-owner Danilo Genio said Francis was a longtime customer who had popped in whenever he was in Rome for meetings at the Vatican when he was a priest, archbishop and then cardinal in Buenos Aires.

Francis, who grew up listening to opera on the radio and loves tango, Mozart and Wagner, didn’t buy anything this time around. But the shop owners gave him a CD of classical music."
Associated Press via Bloomberg.
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