23 September 2022


There is a patch of ground next to the driveway that used to be planted with a variety of ornamental flowers and foliage plants.  About 5-10 years ago some goldenrod appeared, and was happy with the sun exposure and soil, so it proliferated.  As did the milkweed (which has happily colonized all of our gardening areas).  

Last week as I walked back from the mailbox, my eye noticed something unusual on one of the milkweed leaves (highlighted with the red circle).

It was a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor), which I've noticed previously on other milkweed leaves.  When I went over to take his/her photo, I noticed a second and a third one...

The reason we have allowed the goldenrod to proliferate is that it serves as an absolute magnet for pollinators - bees especially, but also flies, beetles, and some butterflies.  Nectar and pollen sources are particularly valuable at our latitude in late summer/early fall when other flowering plants are subsiding [the goldenrod is already going to seed, but the New England Asters have taken over as nectar and pollen sources].

I postulated that it wasn't a coincidence that these three frogs were on the milkweed plants in the goldenrod patch, so I did a quick survey around the front yard.  It didn't take more than five minutes, because these little guys are not hard to spot when you look for them.  Three frogs on three milkweeds in the goldenrod patch, none on the 75+ other milkweeds scattered around the other flowerbeds.  

There's a reason these frogs are called Hyla VERSICOLOR

For the past several weeks we've had frogs on our windows picking off mosquitoes and moths that come to the windows at night.  Coincidentally, this week I found a blog post at Naturespeak about the Gray Tree Frog, and learned that they can change colors:
It takes around a half hour for an individual to change color. They do so by controlling the pigment in their star-shaped skin cells. Though they can only go from green to gray and back again, they can also control the intensity of the dark splotch pattern found on the back. The sides appear to stay gray for the most part regardless of the chosen back color. Against natural settings, Gray Tree Frogs are masters of camouflage. Since the color choice is primarily intended for the daytime rest period (they are nocturnal) Gray Tree Frogs can pass the daylight hours in either color mode depending on background.  In the photo below, this fellow was resting up against the chunk of bark and his pattern matched perfectly. The second photo is of the same frog at night, at which time he was in green mode...
Photo credit Gerry Wykes.

Reposted from 2010 to accompany a new post.

"Artificial blowhole" harvests wave energy

This video is well worth five minutes of your time.  The technology is harvesting not tidal energy, but wave energy, and as noted it can be incorporated into preexisting or planned barriers that are needed for other purposes (harbors, erosion control).  

I find it interesting that the turbines are driven not by the salt water, but by the displaced air, and that they use the incoming air, not the "blowhole" air - presumably to minimize contact with salt.

Fascinating.  And logical.

"Christian Nationalism" exemplified

Excerpts from an article at Insider:
A recent speech by Rep. Lauren Boebert — during which she invoked the end times and said it's time for Christians to "rise up" — demonstrated how Christian nationalist ideals, including some associated with violence, have made it to the halls of Congress.

"It's time for us to position ourselves and rise up and take our place in Christ and influence this nation as we were called to do," the Colorado Republican told the crowd at a Christian conference held by the Truth and Liberty Coalition in Woodland Park, Colorado, on September 9.

"We need God back at the center of our country," she added.
"We know that we are in the last of the last days," Boebert later said, referencing the belief held by some evangelical Christians that Jesus will return after a period of tribulation, or great suffering, and save believers. "But it's not a time to complain about it. It's not a time to get upset about it. It's a time to know that you were called to be a part of these last days. You get to have a role in ushering in the second coming of Jesus."

Boebert's comments expressing an intrinsic tie between the US and Christianity aren't new: In June she said she was "tired of this separation of church and state junk" and that "the church is supposed to direct the government." But by invoking the end times, Boebert is tapping into a side of Christian nationalism that has been associated with violence.
Photo credit Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Addendum:  this from the same woman -
Preaching from a Bible verse, Lauren Boebert got stumped by the meaning of “wanton killing” and pronounced “wanton” like wonton, the Chinese dumpling:

“I don’t know what a [wonton] killing is. I’m going to have to look that one up, but it sounds interesting.”

Vanity Fair argues that Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene make the case for Congressional IQ minimums.
As cartoon villains who vote against bills that benefit cancer patients. As bigots who vilify transgender people and want to criminalize transgender medical care. As bat-shit crazy lunatics who believe that Democrats are part of a satanic cult of pedophiles who eat children and that California wildfires are caused by Jewish space lasers. As people in charge of making laws who nevertheless say things like “gazpacho police,” when referring to the gestapo, “peach tree dish," when they mean petri, and “wonton killings,” when the word they were likely looking for was “wanton.”

Putin can't match Hitler and Mussolini

Recent videos on the news show young Russian men fleeing the country en masse following Putin's announcement of a conscription of fighting-age men.  A columnist at Bloomberg opines that "Neither he nor Russia’s hard-core nationalists have come up with convincing arguments to persuade ordinary post-Soviet Russians to die in a discretionary conflict."
Putin can only dream of the volunteer numbers the 20th-century fascist regimes could raise. Months into the war, the combined strength of the volunteer battalions formed in the Russian regions was barely in the tens of thousands, and it was hard to say if many of the volunteers were motivated by patriotism in the sense Putin or the Russian far right understand it. Rather, the battalions’ main lure for able-bodied men was the promise of salaries they couldn’t count on in their home regions...

One could say Russians aren’t joining Putin’s war in Nazi Germany-like numbers simply because they fear for their lives, or because they’ve heard stories of how poorly equipped and commanded the Russian military was, or simply because Russia doesn’t appear to be winning. But one could also argue that a strong ideological motivation could push these concerns into the background. The ever-swelling Waffen SS was an all-volunteer force well into 1942. Belief in the superiority of the German Volk and the “Aryan race,” and thus in their final victory, prevailed for many months after Hitler’s armies ceased to be unbeatable.

Russians don’t believe in anything of the kind, nor do they, en masse, hate Ukrainians. In August 2022, the Levada Center, one of the last pollsters still trying to obtain objective results in Russia, reported that 68% of Russians held a positive opinion of Ukrainians — down from 83% in October 2021, but still an overwhelming majority, especially given the realities of an oppressive regime. Many respondents would hesitate to tell a pollster — who might be a secret police official or some other kind of informer — that they like the folks the Russian military has been fighting for the last seven months...

An affinity for cash has been the Russian regime’s only true ideology throughout Putin’s rule. According to the latest wave of the World Values Survey, a plurality of Russians — 48.8%, compared with 37.9% in the supposedly more materialistic US — consider economic growth the country’s most important goal. Russians learned to be self-sufficient in the 1990s as the paternalistic Soviet state fell apart, and they reveled in this self-sufficiency as the country’s economy was gradually restored. “Every man and woman for themselves” has been the nation’s unofficial motto, first a survival refrain, then a recipe for well-being. So, when the regime needed something akin to the Mussolini- or Hitler-style nationalist, imperialist revival, the regime struggled to offer its volunteers anything more convincing than cash. 
More at the link.

Another mass stranding of whales

"More than 200 whales have been found stranded on a remote beach on the west coast of Tasmania, Australia. Half of the pod, thought to be pilot whales, are believed to be still alive. Rescuers are being sent to the area.

It's unclear what caused the whales to beach on a sandflat at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour, the same remote location where Australia's worst stranding occurred two years ago.

It comes a day after a separate mass stranding in northern Tasmania..."

Wife smelled husband's Parkinson's disease 12 years before clinicians diagnosed it

Joy Milne was the care partner for her husband with PD. For many years, she noticed that he emitted a musky odor, but assumed that this scent was unique to him. In 2012 however, she smelled the same odor on a fellow support group member with PD, which led her to question whether this was a wider phenomenon. Her curiosity led her to a collaboration with Dr. Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who hypothesized that it was possible that PD produces a particular metabolite that gives off a specific odor. Dr. Kunath tested Milne and she was able to correctly identify with incredible accuracy whether a person had PD or not by smelling clothing that that person had worn. This early effort was chronicled in an article in 2016 in Lancet Neurology...

The source of the smell appeared to be the back of the neck, where there are many sebaceous glands that produce sebum, an oily, waxy substance produced by the skin. It is well known that people with PD have increased rates of seborrheic dermatitis which causes patches of scaly, red skin due to over-secretion of oils from the sebaceous glands. One hypothesis for why people with PD have seborrheic dermatitis at higher rates than the general population is that in PD there is dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system that controls the oil glands on the face...

A related news story is about the existence of programs which train dogs, well known to have much better senses of smell than humans, to smell PD. One such program, the first of its kind established in the US, is PADs (which stands for Parkinson’s Alert Dogs) for Parkinson’s and operates in the Pacific Northwest. This program was established directly as a result of Joy Milne’s story.  Accounts from PADs for Parkinson’s and Medical Detection Dogs certainly support the idea that dogs can be trained to identify an odor in people who have been diagnosed with PD. For both these programs, the ultimate objective is not for trained dogs to diagnose PD by smelling bio-samples, but rather to identify the chemicals that the dogs are detecting so that an early diagnostic test can be developed.
Note Joy Milne has hyperosmia - a markedly heightened sense of smell.  Most spouses (and most people) cannot detect an altered odor in Parkinson's patients.

The effect of deep brain stimulation on Parkinson's Disease

"Andrew was diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson's Disease in 2009 when he was 35 years old. He lives with his wife and two children in Auckland, New Zealand. In November 2012 and February 2013 he underwent a surgical procedure, Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, to help control his motor symptoms. This has been hugely beneficial to his quality of life. He is the author of a blog youngandshaky.com which he created to raise awareness of the effects of Parkinson's Disease. This is his experience of how DBS has helped him and in the usual manner, results may vary."
A fascinating video.  Stick with it, or jump to the 1:30 mark and watch for a minute to see the dramatic difference the deep brain stimulation makes when he turns the device off.

Reposted from 2013.

A brief story about Parkinson's disease

"When Emma Lawton was 29 she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. As a graphic designer, drawing is a huge part of her life but over the past three years the tremor in her hands has grown more pronounced stopping her from writing and drawing straight lines. Enter Haiyan Zhang and her invention that is changing Emma's life."
Here you go:

Informed discussion at the Gadgets subreddit.  Reposted from 2016.

How to build an "immersed tunnel"

19 September 2022

Can you read this message?

If so, you're doing better than many college students, according to Drew Gilpin Faust, retired president of Harvard University:
It was a good book, the student told the 14 others in the undergraduate seminar I was teaching, and it included a number of excellent illustrations, such as photographs of relevant Civil War manuscripts. But, he continued, those weren’t very helpful to him, because of course he couldn’t read cursive.

Had I heard him correctly? Who else can’t read cursive? I asked the class. The answer: about two-thirds. And who can’t write it? Even more. What did they do about signatures? They had invented them by combining vestiges of whatever cursive instruction they may have had with creative squiggles and flourishes. Amused by my astonishment, the students offered reflections about the place—or absence—of handwriting in their lives. Instead of the Civil War past, we found ourselves exploring a different set of historical changes. In my ignorance, I became their pupil as well as a kind of historical artifact, a Rip van Winkle confronting a transformed world.

In 2010, cursive was omitted from the new national Common Core standards for K–12 education. The students in my class, and their peers, were then somewhere in elementary school. Handwriting instruction had already been declining as laptops and tablets and lessons in “keyboarding” assumed an ever more prominent place in the classroom. Most of my students remembered getting no more than a year or so of somewhat desultory cursive training, which was often pushed aside by a growing emphasis on “teaching to the test.” Now in college, they represent the vanguard of a cursiveless world...

Yet the decline in cursive seems inevitable. Writing is, after all, a technology, and most technologies are sooner or later surpassed and replaced...

Given a current generation of students in which so few can read or write cursive, one cannot assume it will ever again serve as an effective form of communication. I asked my students about the implications of what they had told me, focusing first on their experience as students. No, most of these history students admitted, they could not read manuscripts. If they were assigned a research paper, they sought subjects that relied only on published sources. One student reshaped his senior honors thesis for this purpose; another reported that she did not pursue her interest in Virginia Woolf for an assignment that would have involved reading Woolf’s handwritten letters. In the future, cursive will have to be taught to scholars the way Elizabethan secretary hand or paleography is today

The thought-provoking essay continues at The Atlantic.  The embedded handwriting sample comes from an article about National Handwriting Day (January 23, the birthday of John Hancock).


See also:

"Nina Gonchar stands in her cellar entrance"

There are so many evocative images coming out of Ukraine since the onset of the war.  My eyes lingered over this one for the longest time, moving from the elderly lady emerging from her cellar to the war damage and the implied preexisting poverty surrounding her.  (the photo supersizes with a click)

For me this photo was a stark reminder of Hawkeye's comment to Father Mulcahy that war is worse than Hell because there are no innocent bystanders in Hell, but war is full of them: "little kids, cripples, old ladies..."

Seneca's "lessons for a happy life"

Selections from an essay at The Atlantic:
Lesson 1: I will look upon death or upon a comedy with the same expression of countenance.

Lesson 2: I will submit to labors, however great they may be, supporting the strength of my body by that of my mind.

Lesson 3: I will despise riches when I have them as much as when I have them not; if they be elsewhere I will not be more gloomy; if they sparkle around me I will not be more lively than I should otherwise be: Whether Fortune comes or goes I will take no notice of her.

Lesson 6: Whatever I may possess, I will neither hoard it greedily nor squander it recklessly.

Lesson 9: I will be agreeable with my friends, gentle and mild to my foes: I will grant pardon before I am asked for it, and will meet the wishes of honorable men halfway.

Lesson 11: Whenever either Nature demands my breath again, or reason bids me dismiss it, I will quit this life, calling all to witness that I have loved a good conscience, and good pursuits; that no one’s freedom, my own least of all, has been impaired through me.
The other lessons are at the link, each with salient commentary.  In all fairness it seems appropriate to append this observation from the Wikipedia entry:
Even with the admiration of an earlier group of intellectual stalwarts, Seneca has never been without his detractors. In his own time, he was accused of hypocrisy or, at least, a less than "Stoic" lifestyle. While banished to Corsica, he wrote a plea for restoration rather incompatible with his advocacy of a simple life and the acceptance of fate. In his Apocolocyntosis he ridiculed the behaviors and policies of Claudius, and flattered Nero—such as proclaiming that Nero would live longer and be wiser than the legendary Nestor. The claims of Publius Suillius Rufus that Seneca acquired some "three hundred million sesterces" through Nero's favor are highly partisan, but they reflect the reality that Seneca was both powerful and wealthy. Robin Campbell, a translator of Seneca's letters, writes that the "stock criticism of Seneca right down the centuries [has been]...the apparent contrast between his philosophical teachings and his practice."

16 September 2022

In celebration of Edith Piaf's 100th birthday

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edith Piaf, who died in 1963 at the too-young age of 48. The best way I know to celebrate her career is by offering two videos of the outstanding movie La Vie en Rose.  The one above is the trailer for the movie, for which Marion Cotillard won every conceivable "best actress" award.

The iconic scene from the movie is in the closing moments, when Piaf/Cotillard delivers the final public performance of her signature song "Non, je ne regrette rien" -

To fully appreciate the personal significance of a song entitled "No, I regret nothing," one needs a little backstory, which is nicely provided by these excerpts from a well-written tribute in The Guardian:
From growing up in a bordello, to spending four years blinded by keratitis in her infancy, to joining her acrobat father on the road in her teens, to shooting up morphine, cortisone and falling into alcoholism to alleviate a dodgy back sustained in a car crash as an adult (precipitating what she described as her “years of hell”), [her life] certainly wasn’t without event.

To paraphrase an old footballing cliche, fashion is temporary, class is permanent. Her brand of torch songs and cabaret showtunes might seem antediluvian to some, but a voice with such power to convey emotion never dates. What’s more, she led a life so bohemian and wild that she makes Jim Morrison – buried, like her, on Père Lachaise cemetery – look like a calculable conformist who got a bit carried away on his gap year. Avert your ears and Piaf’s life was a punk opera decades before the genre exploded.

After her death, Piaf received the highest honour from the French government when the tricolor flag was draped over her coffin. It was no empty gesture. During the second world war, she toured the unoccupied zone of Vichy France and apparently helped free as many as 300 POWs at the Stalag III-D camp near Berlin, by talking the camp commander into allowing her to be photographed with all the inmates – the photos then used to create false papers for them, crediting them as free French workers in Germany.

In the years since Piaf’s death it’s been commonplace to refer to musicians as “brave” for all sorts of reasons: releasing an unusual album, saying unexpected things in interviews, touring places that are rarely visited, playing gigs while not feeling very well. On the eve of her centenary, it’s worth remembering a musician who really was brave.
"La Vie en Rose" is available from several streaming services and should be present as a DVD in your local library.  I highly recommend it.

Reposted from 2015 because I rewatched the movie last week, and I still give it my highest (4+) rating.  This should be on every movie/music lover's bucket list.

14 September 2022

The Queen's bees have been notified of her death

The 79-year-old housekeeper told the outlet: “It is traditional when someone dies that you go to the hives and say a little prayer and put a black ribbon on the hive... “You knock on each hive and say, ‘The mistress is dead, but don't you go. Your master will be a good master to you.’
A New York Times article indicates that this tradition dates back centuries.
“It’s a very old and well-established tradition, but not something that’s very well-known,” said Mark Norman, a folklorist and the author of “Telling the Bees and Other Customs: The Folklore of Rural Crafts.”..

In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was believed that neglecting to tell the bees could lead to various misfortunes, including their death or departure, or a failure to make honey. Nowadays, beekeepers may be less likely to believe they risk bad luck, but they may continue to follow the tradition as “a mark of respect,” Mr. Norman said.
It certainly is a quaint tradition, but it does indicate a modicum of respect for the natural world, and in a way it echoes the Native American traditional "guidelines for the Honorable Harvest."
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