23 January 2021

Vineyards of the Canary Islands

Volcanic eruptions are terrible for vineyards, but only briefly. Once the lava cools, the volcanic soil left behind creates delicious wine that is lean, racy, and mineral: Santorini’s Assyrtiko, Nerello Mascalese from the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Northern Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. Vines planted by Spanish and Portuguese settlers made the Canaries famous: In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Sir Toby Belch speaks of “a cup of canary.” Then their popularity waned, and for 200 years, the trade winds brought no trade.

“And a good thing, too,” says Jonatan García Lima of Suertes del Marqués on Tenerife, the Canaries’ largest island. No trade meant vines could grow and adapt in peace, and the result is a remarkable range of varieties that, if not precisely indigenous (Listán Blanco is also Palomino, the grape of sherry, while Listán Prieto is better known as Mission, the earliest European variety planted in the Americas), are so different from their other incarnations as to be almost unrecognizable.

Those vineyards are starkly beautiful but surpassingly strange: covered in black volcanic ash, each vine planted in an individual depression, shielded from that chill wind by its own semi-circular wall of ink-dark rock. Driving through La Geria, the island’s principal wine region, is like crossing a giant muffin tray with vines where the muffins should be. 
More info at Food & Wine.

Edit icon now missing from blogspot posts

It's always something.  Now something has happened at Google's Blogspot hosting service that has made the little icon for editing existing posts disappear.   There used to be something to click down in this corner that allowed the blogger to make updates, changes etc.  That disappeared several days ago.

I'm not the only one to notice this.  The problem is present while using either Chrome or Firefox.  There is one workaround that involves adding an extension to one's browser, but I'm reluctant to do this.  For the present I need to go to my dashboard of 17,000 posts, search for the one I want, and open the post there to edit.

Seeking comments and input from other bloggers.  Regular readers can ignore this.

Addendum: And this evening I find I can't delete comments from old posts, even via the dashboard. ???


The photos above were taken at the Gippsland Lakes (Victoria, Australia), where in 2007 fires and floods resulted in massive amounts of nitrogen being washed into the lakes, which resulted in an algal bloom...
But this was not the blue-green algae that had appeared in the lakes before. Early analysis identified the cause of the green tinge as an algal outbreak of Synechococcus... As summer took hold at the end of 2008, what happened surprised everyone – a new species called Noctiluca Scintillans began to prosper, by feeding on the Synechococcus.

In contrast to the widespread bright green of the Synechococcus, Noctiluca Scintillans was visible during the day as localised murky red patches, often building up on sections of shoreline facing the wind during the day. At night though, Noctiluca Scintillans produced a remarkable form of bioluminescence (popularly referred to as ‘phosphorescence’) – the water glowing brightly wherever there was movement – in the waves breaking on the shore, in ripples in the water and wherever people played in the water.
You can read the rest of the story at Phil Hart's webpage and see additional photos in his gallery (via Neatorama).

Massive blooms of bioluminescent organisms can produce "milky seas" that can be seen from satellites, as shown in this image from Chemical and Engineering News:

"Generated most likely by the bacterium Vibrio harveyi, this awesome display of flamboyant biological chemistry happened on a vast scale: The researchers estimate that it took a bloom of 40 billion trillion (4 X 1022) bioluminescent cells to generate the milky sea that the Lima had encountered."
Reposted from 2011 to add this video of bioluminescence in the Wadden Sea.

Wisconsin Republicans want to revoke the current mask mandate

"Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature will vote next week on a resolution that would end the statewide mask mandate designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.  Twenty-seven Republican lawmakers signed on to the resolution introduced Thursday...

[Governor] Evers first issued a statewide mask requirement in July and has extended the order three times, most recently on Tuesday.

“From day one, I’ve been ready to repeal Governor Evers’ unconstitutional edicts,” Bradley, a freshman lawmaker, said in a statement. “The governor has grossly overstepped his authority. I am hopeful that the Senate will vote for this resolution on Tuesday, and I encourage Wisconsinites to reach out to their legislators to support this effort.”

Republicans control the Senate 20-12 and the Assembly 60-38."
5,600 deaths in the state thus far.

A lot of people feel this way

21 January 2021


Jargon* is the specialized terminology associated with a particular field or area of activity. Jargon is normally employed in a particular communicative context and may not be well understood outside that context. The context is usually a particular occupation (that is, a certain trade, profession, vernacular or academic field), but any ingroup can have jargon. The main trait that distinguishes jargon from the rest of a language is special vocabulary—including some words specific to it and often different senses or meanings of words, that outgroups would tend to take in another sense... 
The word "jargon" came to mind yesterday evening as I was finishing a final reread to the book illustrated above.  It's a mid-1990s textbook explaining geophysical processes to students of archaeology.  Way TMI for the general reader, but a delight for the armchair enthusiast - extensively illustrated and lucidly explained.  Here are some sample pages:

The page above explains that when you are dealing with erosional terraces, the older artifacts will be on the higher terraces - the reverse of the intuitive assumption that older items are deeper down.

In the evolution of a rockshelter, debris typically falls onto the scree on the slope, potentially burying important older material.

Above, a graph of world sea levels for the time period of North American occupation.  The low levels during glaciation allowed early man to traverse Beringia, and the subsequent rise will have put original shoreline occupation sites under many meters of seawater on the Pacific Coast.

And my favorite from this group.  A schematic explaining "cryoturbation" and why recurrent frosts heave objects from the ground to the surface.  My uncles used to walk the farm fields every spring to clear newly emergent rocks from the surface before it could be cultivated.

But back to the title of this post.  Every technical field has a "jargon" that simplifies and speeds communication.  Geoarchaeology uses a boatload of terms, most of which were new to me.  The book explained these in clear understandable terms...
Equant, prolate, imbrication, evaporite, tuff, sapropel, diastem, eolian, lacustrine, colluvial, facies, pedology, eluviation, illuviation, chroma, mollic, umbric, histic, plaggen, ochric, albic, argillic, spodic, cambic, duripan, fragipan, petrogypsic, haplargid, paleustol, calciorthid, gleyed, paoleosol, time transgressive, unconformable contacts, floralturbation, cryoturbation, crystalburbation, synchronic, bajada, barchan, ventifact, turbidites, colluvium, ablation till, eboulis, spelothem, breccia, talus cone, chenier, strandplain, prograding coastline, palimpsest sediment, frost pull, solifluction, gelifluction, tree-throw, kratovina, manuport
... and now that I've finished reading it, I'm already rapidly forgetting the definitions.  But they were interesting to read and learn.

If anyone is interested in my copy of this book, I have listed it on eBay.

* The French word is believed to have been derived from the Latin word gaggire, meaning "to chatter", which was used to describe speech that the listener did not understand. The word may also come from Old French jargon meaning "chatter of birds".  The first use of the word dates back to the usage of the word in The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1387 and 1400. Chaucer referred to jargon as the utterance of birds or sounds resembling birds.

20 January 2021

How butterflies survive the impact of raindrops

An interesting brief video.  Insect wings (and other natural objects such as bird feathers and plant leaves) are superhydrophobic.
In analyzing the film, they found that when a drop hits the surface, it ripples and spreads. A nanoscale wax layer repels the water, while larger microscale bumps on the surface creates holes in the spreading raindrop.

“Consider the micro-bumps as needles,” Jung said. If one dropped a balloon onto these needles, he said, “then this balloon would break into smaller pieces. So the same thing happens as the raindrop hits and spreads.”

This shattering action reduces the amount of time the drop is in contact with the surface, which limits momentum and lowers the impact force on a delicate wing or leaf. It also reduces heat transfer from a cold drop. This is important because the muscles of an insect wing, for example, need to be warm enough to fly.
Reference: “How a Raindrop Gets Shattered on Biological Surfaces” by Seungho Kim, Zixuan Wu, Ehsan Esmaili, Jason J. Dombroskie and Sunghwan Jung, 8 June 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The high-speed film clip at the end of the video showing  the swallowtail launching is absolutely beautiful.  I'll just add that the butterfly depicted earlier in the video appears to be one of my all-time favorites - an Olympia Marble.  Here's one I was able to photograph back in 2014:


As reported by the BBC:
The rare condition likely afflicting the Sarker family is called adermatoglyphia. It first became widely known in 2007 when Peter Itin, a Swiss dermatologist, was contacted by a woman in the country in her late twenties who was having trouble entering the US. Her face matched the photograph on her passport, but customs officers were not able to record any fingerprints. Because she didn't have any.

Upon examination, Professor Itin found the woman and eight members of her family had the same strange condition - flat finger pads and a reduced number of sweat glands in the hands. Working with another dermatologist, Eli Sprecher, and graduate student Janna Nousbeck, Professor Itin looked at the DNA of 16 members of the family - seven with fingerprints and nine without.

"Isolated cases are very rare, and no more than a few families are documented," Prof Itin told the BBC... Prof Itin dubbed it "immigration delay disease", after his first patient's trouble getting into the US, and the name stuck...

Amal and Apu recently got a new kind of national ID card being issued by the Bangladeshi government, after presenting a medical certificate. The card uses other biometric data too - retina scan and facial recognition.

But they still can't buy a Sim card or obtain a driver's licence, and obtaining a passport is a long and drawn out process.
In discussions of this syndrome, comments are sometimes made that the afflicted family members would be excellent thieves.  But the counterpart of that is that they would be arrested on suspicion for every crime in which no fingerprints were found.

President Jimmy Carter

The 39th president of the United States lives modestly, a sharp contrast to his successors, who have left the White House to embrace power of another kind: wealth.  Even those who didn’t start out rich, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made tens of millions of dollars on the private-sector opportunities that flow so easily to ex-presidents...

The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to “capitalize financially on being in the White House.”

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that Gerald Ford, Carter’s predecessor and close friend, was the first to fully take advantage of those high-paid post-presidential opportunities, but that “Carter did the opposite.”

Since Ford, other former presidents, and sometimes their spouses, routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it,” Carter says over dinner. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”..

Carter decided that his income would come from writing, and he has written 33 books, about his life and career, his faith, Middle East peace, women’s rights, aging, fishing, woodworking, even a children’s book written with his daughter, Amy Carter, called “The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer.”

With book income and the $210,700 annual pension all former presidents receive, the Carters live comfortably. But his books have never fetched the massive sums commanded by more recent presidents...

Ex-presidents often fly on private jets, sometimes lent by wealthy friends, but the Carters fly commercial. Stuckey says that on a recent flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Carter walked up and down the aisle greeting other passengers and taking selfies...

That no-frills sensibility, endearing since he left Washington, didn’t work as well in the White House. Many people thought Carter scrubbed some of the luster off the presidency by carrying his own suitcases onto Air Force One and refusing to have “Hail to the Chief” played...

When Carter looks back at his presidency, he says he is most proud of “keeping the peace and supporting human rights,” the Camp David accords that brokered peace between Israel and Egypt, and his work to normalize relations with China. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

“I always told the truth,” he says.

Carter has been notably quiet about President Trump. But on this night, two years into Trump’s term, he’s not holding back.

“I think he’s a disaster,” Carter says. “In human rights and taking care of people and treating people equal.”..

They watch Atlanta Braves games or “Law and Order.” Carter just finished reading “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson. They have no chef and they cook for themselves, often together. They make their own yogurt.

On this summer morning, Rosalynn mixes pancake batter and sprinkles in blueberries grown on their land. Carter cooks them on the griddle.
Then he does the dishes.
I highly recommend reading the full story at the Washington Post.  His life and his personal principles offer such a stark contrast to current and recent presidents.  Here's one final excerpt about his home:
...a two-bedroom rancher assessed at $167,000, less than the value of the armored Secret Service vehicles parked outside.
Photo credit Library of Congress, via CNBC.

Reposted from 2018 to add this photo of Jimmy Carter at his 96th birthday party several months ago:

He was too frail to attend the inauguration today, but was fondly remembered by several commentators (and me).

Via the Pics subreddit, where there is an affectionate comment thread.

A record of Halley's Comet (164 BCE)

The Babylonians kept astronomical diaries from about the 7th century BCE onward.  This clay cuneiform tablet in the British Museum records the appearance and passing of the comet from 22-28 September, 164 BCE.  Via.

19 January 2021

Looking forward to the "internet of things" ??

"The Internet of things (IoT) describes the network of physical objects—“things”—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the Internet."
Be careful what you wish for:
In October of last year, security researchers found that the manufacturer of an Internet of Things chastity cage*—a sex toy that users put around their penis to prevent erections that is used in the BDSM community and can be unlocked remotely—had left an API exposed, giving malicious hackers a chance to take control of the devices. That's exactly what happened, according to a security researcher who obtained screenshots of conversations between the hacker and several victims, and according to victims interviewed by Motherboard.   

A victim who asked to be identified only as Robert said that he received a message from a hacker demanding a payment of 0.02 Bitcoin (around $750 today) to unlock the device. He realized his cage was definitely "locked," and he "could not gain access to it." 
More details at Vice.  Image from Amazon.  NSFW images at the chastity cage link.

Just pretend it's ramen......

... but with more protein.
Yellow mealworm finger foods, smoothies, biscuits, pasta and burgers could soon be mass produced across Europe after the insect became the first to be found safe for human consumption by the EU food safety agency...

The insect’s main components are protein, fat and fibre, offering a potentially sustainable and low carbon-emission source of food for the future. When dried, the maggot-like insect is said to taste a lot like peanuts...

Dried yellow mealworms can be eaten as an aperitif and come in a range of flavours. Alternatively, the insect can be turned into a flour-type ingredient for a dessert.

Thanks to a recipe provided by Jiminis edible insect company, a yellow mealworm cupcake is easy to knock up with three tablespoons of cocoa, 60g of margarine, an egg, a tablespoon of low-fat yoghurt, 30g of flour and 25g of powdered mealworm – with some whole ones left for later.

Add a little water to the cocoa and mix that into the melted butter, egg, yoghurt and some baking powder. Add in some freshly crushed mealworms. Distribute the mix between moulds and cook for 20 minutes. Glaze the top of the freshly baked cupcakes with some icing sugar – and add the spare mealworms on top for decoration.
More at The Guardian.

18 January 2021

Three kidneys

Instead of the usual two kidneys seen in a typical person, the man had three: a normal-looking kidney on his left side and two fused kidneys located near the pelvis, the report said.

Usually, each kidney is connected to the bladder through a single duct called a ureter. In the man's case, one of the pelvis kidneys was directly connected to the bladder via a ureter. However, the ureter of the other pelvis kidney joined the ureter of the normal, left-side kidney before it entered the bladder.

Having three kidneys is rare, with fewer than 100 cases reported in the medical literature, according to a 2013 report of a similar case published in The Internet Journal of Radiology. The condition is thought to arise during embryonic development, when a structure that typically forms a single kidney splits in two.
The supernumerary kidney has a horseshoe component, described in detail here.

The National Debt

"Economists agree that we needed massive deficit spending during the COVID-19 crisis to ward off an economic cataclysm, but federal finances under Trump had become dire even before the pandemic. That happened even though the economy was booming and unemployment was at historically low levels. By the Trump administration’s own description, the pre-pandemic national debt level was already a “crisis” and a “grave threat.”

The combination of Trump’s 2017 tax cut and the lack of any serious spending restraint helped both the deficit and the debt soar. So when the once-in-a-lifetime viral disaster slammed our country and we threw more than $3 trillion into COVID-19-related stimulus, there was no longer any margin for error.

Our national debt has reached immense levels relative to our economy, nearly as high as it was at the end of World War II. But unlike 75 years ago, the massive financial overhang from Medicare and Social Security will make it dramatically more difficult to dig ourselves out of the debt ditch...

Falling deeper into the red is the opposite of what Trump, the self-styled “King of Debt,” said would happen if he became president. In a March 31, 2016, interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post, Trump said he could pay down the national debt, then about $19 trillion, “over a period of eight years” by renegotiating trade deals and spurring economic growth.

After he took office, Trump predicted that economic growth created by the 2017 tax cut, combined with the proceeds from the tariffs he imposed on a wide range of goods from numerous countries, would help eliminate the budget deficit and let the U.S. begin to pay down its debt. On July 27, 2018, he told Sean Hannity of Fox News: “We have $21 trillion in debt. When this [the 2017 tax cut] really kicks in, we’ll start paying off that debt like it’s water.”..

The tariffs did bring in additional revenue. In fiscal 2019, they netted about $71 billion, up about $36 billion from President Barack Obama’s last year in office. But although $36 billion is a lot of money, it’s less than 1/750th of the national debt. That $36 billion could have covered a bit more than three weeks of interest on the national debt — that is, had Trump not unilaterally decided to send a chunk of the tariff revenue to farmers affected by his trade wars. Businesses that struggled as a result of the tariffs also paid fewer taxes, offsetting some of the increased tariff revenue.

Normally, this is where we’d give you Trump’s version of events. But we couldn’t get anyone to give us Trump’s side. Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, referred us to the Office of Management and Budget, which is a branch of the White House...

OMB didn’t respond to our requests."
More discussion at ProPublica.

Testing a football helmet in 1912

There was no damage.  To the building.  Via.
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