08 June 2021


I'm going to leave cyberspace for at least a week - probably two - to see what's happening in real life.

Hair receiver, ratts, ratting, and Victorian hair art

I saw a group of these in a local auction and had to look up some information:
Although rare today, the hair receiver was a common fixture on the dressing tables of women from Victorian times to the early decades of the 20th century. Its purpose was to save hair culled from the hairbrush and comb, which were used vigorously on a daily basis. The hair could then be stuffed into pincushions or pillows. Since hair was not washed as often as it is today, oils were frequently used to add scent and shine to hair. The residual oil made the hair an ideal stuffing for pincushions because it lubricated the pins, making it easier for them to pierce material. Small pillows could be stuffed with hair, which was less prickly than pinfeathers.

But possibly most important, hair receivers made the creation of ratts possible. A ratt (sometimes spelled rat) is a small ball of hair that was inserted into a hairstyle to add volume and fullness. The ratt was made by stuffing a sheer hairnet until it was about the size of a potato and then sewing it shut.
The word "ratt" as a Victorian term for a hairdo enhancer is interesting because decades ago I remember girls "ratting" their hair with combs to give the hairdo greater size; IIRC it was a back-and-forth motion, but no hair extensions or padding was involved.  I presume the words are distantly related in terms of etymology.

Image credit.

Reposted from 2017 to add a link about Victorian hair art (three examples shown):

"Flesh rots to bone, taking our faces and figures with it. But clip a lock of hair, and it will keep its color for decades, even centuries. Thus, art crafted from hair—a 19th-century tradition in which tresses were braided into jewelry, looped to resemble flower petals, even ground up for use in pigments—remains frozen in time.

Hair art has its roots in the 17th and 18th century, when high infant mortality rates meant that “death was everywhere,” writes Karen Bachmann in an essay for the recent book Death: A Graveside Companion. “The keeping and saving of hair for future use in jewelry or other commemorative craft (such as wreaths) was common.” But it wasn’t until the Victorian era that “the ‘cult of the dead’ became almost a mania in Britain.”

Rarely does the name of the artist survive. It’s believed that most works of hair art were made by women; books on ladies’ “fancywork” provided instructions alongside other Victorian parlor crafts like needlework or wax flowers. One technique, known as palette work, required hair to be laid flat and woven into a pattern, then cut with stencils into shapes. Table work, on the other hand, called for hair to be plaited into jewelry or heirlooms. An 1867 edition of a hair art guide by Mark Campbell affirms: “Persons wishing to preserve and weave into lasting mementos, the hair of a deceased father, mother, sister, brother, or child, can also enjoy the inexpressible advantage and satisfaction of knowing that the material of their own handiwork is the actual hair of the ‘loved and gone.’”
More at the Artsy link, which is quite interesting.

A recent article in Vogue highlights the work of a modern hair artist.
"She arranges her hair one by one, gluing each strand onto delicate Japanese tissue paper before the compositions are framed in lockets or miniatures..."

Elephants working in a salt mine. By choice.

Kitum Cave is a non-solutional cave developed in pyroclastic (volcanic) rocks (not, as some have presumed, a lava tube). It extends about 200 metres (700 ft) into the side of Mount Elgon near the Kenyan border with Uganda. The walls are rich in salt, and animals such as elephants have gone deep into the cave for centuries in search of salt. The elephants use their tusks to break off pieces of the cave wall that they then chew and swallow, leaving the walls scratched and furrowed; their actions have likely enlarged the cave over time. Other animals including bushbuck, buffalo and hyenas come to Kitum Cave to consume salt left by the elephants. 
Via Futility ClosetReposted from 2020.

Two of my favorite things

1) watching a video that explains something I didn't know, and 
2) listening to people speaking Scottish English.

Re the latter, may I heartily recommend the movies of Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting x2, No Country For Old Men, but especially Puzzle).

06 June 2021

Eric Clapton and Willie Nelson - "Nightlife"

I love duets. This one is by two undisputed legends. Performed in New York City, 2003 on the occasion of Willie Nelson's 70th birthday.  What a fantastic birthday party that must have been.

For Clapton performing "Layla" and the history of the song, see here.

Even better is the story behind "Tears in Heaven."

Reposted from 2009.  Shouldn't have waited so long.

04 June 2021

"Tornado Alley" moving east

"Meteorology professor Victor Gensini of Northern Illinois University and Harold Brooks of NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory tracked the number of tornado reports from 1979 to 2017, while also investigating regional trends in the daily frequency of tornado-environment formation over the same time period, using an index known as the Significant Tornado Parameter (STP). Frequently used for predicting severe weather, the index captures the coexistence of atmospheric ingredients favorable for producing tornadoes. Both the number of actual tornado reports and the historical STP analysis showed the eastward uptick in tornado frequency."

03 June 2021


A Speckled Racer (Drymobius margaritiferus) in south Texas.  Beautiful.  Best comment at the via: "Non venomous but it sure looks dangerous. Judging by its striking color and pattern it's likely that it evolved to camouflage itself among piles of early 90's neckties."

Props to this man

Via the always-interesting Nag on the Lake.

Re poison ivy

"It can be a ground cover, or shrubby, or a woody vine (called a liana), achieving nearly treelike proportions. Its leaves can be shiny or matte (even in the same population), in various shades of green (or red-bronze, upon emergence), and they vary in size and shape, with margins from smooth to toothed or deeply lobed."
“In one area in Quebec,” Ms. Pell said, “it has straplike leaflets and looks like a fern. In the Southeast, I have seen leaflets as long and wide as my head, and elsewhere, often very close by, leaflets shorter than my thumb.”
"Remember that any tools you use and garments you wear will be tainted with urushiol, and unless they’re thoroughly cleaned they can transfer it to your skin. Carefully bag any debris for the trash, but don’t add it to a burn pile: Urushiol can be released in smoke and will damage lungs.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will wear off over time.

“I have heard of rashes caused by contact with tools that hadn’t been used in two years, but still had resin on them,” Ms. Pell said. Researchers referring to old herbarium specimens in scientific collections have likewise had reactions to the dried, pressed plants."
More information re identification and management of poison ivy at the New York Times.

I know of one huge patch of poison ivy on a golf course in northern Minnesota.  Since I'm not sensitive to the oil, I have on occasion waded in to retrieve errant drives, once emerging with my ball and twelve others.

For those interested in North American prehistory

Obsidian flakes found at the bottom of Lake Huron at a location that apparently was a land bridge across the lake 9,000 years ago.  More about the topography of Lake Huron.

Interesting because this obsidian was obviously crafted by humans, and it was not locally sourced.  It would have come from the area that is now the state of Oregon.

This is such an American headline

Details and commentary at Boing Boing.

Reposted from 2020 to add this even more American headline:

Story at ABC News.

31 May 2021

These bridges allow horses towing boats to cross to other side of the canal

The one shown above crosses the Macclesfield Canal in east Cheshire.
A roving bridge, changeline bridge, turnover bridge, or snake bridge is a bridge over a canal constructed to allow a horse towing a boat to cross the canal when the towpath changes sides. This often involved unhitching the tow line, but on some canals they were constructed so that there was no need to do this by placing the two ramps on the same side of the bridge, which turned the horse through 360 degrees. On the Macclesfield Canal this was achieved by building spiral ramps and on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal and others by constructing roving bridges of iron in two cantilevered halves, leaving a slot in the middle for the tow rope. This was also called a split bridge. For cost reasons many ordinary Stratford bridges were also built in this way as they had no towpath.

The ramps of the bridge are typically studded with alternating rows of protruding bricks to prevent the feet of the horse from sliding. The bridge may be constructed of cast iron (particularly in industrial areas) or of more conventional brick or stone.
Here's another one:

Addendum:  An enjoyable (and relevant) video found by reader Gelvan Tullibole 3rd:

What a pleasant way to spend a summer's day.

Addendum:  Reader nb Amy Jo offers this explanatory video of how a crossover bridge works -

I was pleased to see that "Ian received no harm during the making of this film."

"Portals" appear in Poland and Lithuania

Residents in Lublin and Vilnius can see each other in real time.
The sci-fi-like portals were designed to connect and unify people in different parts of the world amid the months of isolation caused by the pandemic, and the increasing "social polarization" of recent times.

The devices look like circular doors into another world, as imagined in many fictional worlds of fantasy and sci-fi. In fact, the team behind the project said it chose the circle as it is a well-known sci-fi symbol for an interactive "bridge." The minimalist design with LED lighting, meanwhile, was chosen to portray the image of a future city.
Via Interesting Engineering, where there is a promotional video.  A longer report at Bored Panda indicates that other portals are being planned, including at Reykjavik and London.  I think a pair in Florida and Minnesota would help promote travel between the two, as residents take turns winter/summer wishing they were in the other state.

Newspaper article from 1963

Monarchs in the Oyamel fir forests of central Mexico - updated

It's always amazing to see the spectacular clusters of Monarchs at their overwintering grounds.  This page at Journey North has lots of related information.  But iNaturalist reports that the severe late-winter storm in Texas did wreak havoc on the first part of the northward migration path:
The 11-day cold spell (10-20 February) in Texas was a disaster. Freezing temperatures covered the state and extended well into Northern Mexico. While many of the immediate effects of the freeze are clear, season long and multiple year effects may linger. The damage to the flora was extraordinary, and it is likely that nearly all above ground insects died over a wide area. Plants already in flower may have been so damaged as to not flower this year. We are seeking help to record that damage and the recovery of plants that flower in March along with the appearance of milkweed shoots and buds. Both are resources used by monarchs returning from Mexico in mid-March. We also need help recording the number of returning monarchs. ALL monarch observations are of value. How well the monarch population will develop in 2021 will be determined by the March conditions in Texas.
The link provides information on how citizen scientists can contribute data.

This updating map shows where Monarchs have been sighted so far this year. 

Addendum:  Reposted from March of this year to add this discouraging news about the deterioration of one of the Mexican monarch reserve sites:
"... you and I will never again see La Lagunita as the Bruggers saw it. More consequentially, neither will the monarchs, because during these past 15 months of pandemic-induced deprivation and desperation, La Lagunita has been trashed. Last year, someone — likely impoverished young men from a nearby community — illegally cut down several dozen oyamel firs, hauling them away for lumber. In December, the arriving monarchs tried to form a colony at La Lagunita but failed, according to Ellen Sharp, who runs a monarch-centric hotel at the foot of the mountain.

A few weeks later, the monarchs gave up and abandoned La Lagunita altogether, shifting to a different location on the mountain. These migrants had become refugees.

Sharp and her husband, Joel Moreno Rojas, have gone to great lengths to try to protect Cerro Pel√≥n from loggers, even forming a nonprofit organization that has hired local “forest guardians” to patrol the mountain and report what they see to the Mexican authorities. But their reports are usually ignored, Sharp says.

Last month, the guardians found another six trees felled at La Lagunita. Eight more were cut down a few days later. These latest wounds make it even less likely that La Lagunita will ever again successfully host roosting monarchs...

The motivation behind these destructive incursions is sadly obvious. The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the struggling, tourist-dependent communities bordering the 52-square-mile core zone of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, where logging is nominally banned but is now on the rise, reversing years of progress. Reserve officials recently acknowledged that 33 acres in the core zone had been illegally logged last year, up from just one acre the year before. The toll this year will surely be worse.

Violence is on the upswing, too, including the unsolved killings of two men who worked at the most heavily visited monarch colony, El Rosario. Now that the pandemic has driven away international tourists, gangs are filling the vacuum..."
More at the link, none of it encouraging.
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