30 September 2022

Deciphering an old photo of Norway

[this post is written for family members and will likely be of little interest to others]

Half of my genes came from Norway, and half of those from the Fjaerland fjord, where the Distad family had its roots.  About fifteen years ago Google Maps showed "Distad" marked on the western side of the fjord, about halfway between Balestrand on the Sognefjord and Fjaerland up at the northern terminus of the fjord.

I visited the Fjaerland fjord in 1982 and met some distant relatives who kindly gave me a chart of family names going back to the 1600s.  One of my cousins had the good fortune to be able to spend a summer there working on a farm.  When it was time for her to return to the United States, the family she was staying with presented her with a gift of the photo embedded at the top, which they thought might show the original Distad homestead.

The photo (image quality impaired by glass frame) shows four timber-framed buildings on stone foundations with what are probably sod roofs.  Behind the buildings is a deep cleft in the mountains, and in front is a flowing stream.  The text at the bottom includes an identification number (8271), the words "suphellerbraen" (in) "Fjaerland", and the photographer's name ("K. Knudsen, Bergen").  

The photo was a duplicate of an original stored in The National Archives of Norway.  I tried to track it down to see if any additional notes associated the name Distad with the photo, but didn't have any success.  Apparently material in the archives is labeled with the photographer's name, but not with info about the subject matter, and a search of Knudsens (and for "Fjaerland" and "Distad") didn't locate the original image.

What puzzled me was the topography in the photo.  The "Distad"-associated region in the mid-portion of the fjord that I had visited (and could now view on Google 3D maps) did not look at all like the landscape behind the four structures in the photo, since that property faced a fjord, not a flowing stream.

This week while "mousing around" tilting and dragging the Google 3D view, my  eye was suddenly caught by the word "suphellebreen"-

- at the far right of the photo, a long distance up the valley from the town of Fjaerland at the head of the fjord (yellow oval).  And suddenly everything made sense.

"Suphellebreen" is "soup-ladle-glacier" - one of the branches of the massive Jostedalsbreen glacier (when I had visited Fjaerland forty years ago, the Distads had driven me up to see the glacier, which I remembered as Jostedalsbreen).  So the snowfield behind the buildings in the heirloom photo is actually the tongue of the glacier (visible more vertically at the top left of the photo), and the stream running in front of the buildings is glacial meltwater heading down to join the fjord near Fjaerland.  The location for the photo of the buildings is probably the other red oval (labeled "glacier viewpoint").

The unanswered question is whether the Distads owned or lived in those buildings.  In more modern times they have clearly been further south, but there's not much tillable farmland along the fjord, where the slope is steep, while up near the glacier there probably has always been better topography for farming.  Maybe someone in the family (someone younger than me) can tackle either the national archives for more details on the photo or can perhaps find records of old land ownership.

FWIW, this entry marks my 18,000th post on TYWKIWDBI in 15 years of maintaining the blog (and those posts have generated about 64,000 comments).

26 September 2022

The immense urban/rural divide in modern politics. And some interesting cannabis attitudes.

In 2018 I wrote a post for the blog entitled "Blue dot in a red state," illustrating how the metropolitan areas of Minnesota voted overwhelmingly blue (Democratic), while the rest of the state voted overwhelmingly red (Republican).  The phenomenon clearly exists nationwide.

This week the StarTribune reported the results of a statewide poll that covered a variety of topics, but most importantly the upcoming midterms.  I've embedded one salient chart at the top.  Hennepin and Ramsey counties comprise the bulk of the metropolitan Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  Tim Walz is the currently-seated Democratic governor.  His support is intense in the cities, but not in the rest of the state. 

This is also interesting - and perhaps surprising:

In the past two years, support for legalization of recreational marijuana has increased among Democrats and Independents and fallen among Republicans, which is perhaps not surprising.  But support for legal recreational cannabis has also fallen among those age 18-34 and 35-49 years of age, while rising among older Minnesotans. Not sure how to explain that.  

The forests of Iceland

Really? you ask.  Yes, and certainly unexpected by most of us based on our standard perceptions of the country.  This is a ten-minute video with perhaps a bit too many "selfie" camera views, but the narration is very good and the content is interesting just because it is so surprising.

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 [dead] 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..."
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