27 May 2020


Ouse Valley viaduct in West SussexVia.

But... Vy not a chicken?

Any vowel can become a "schwa"

Via Neatorama.

Soliciting input from the neighbors

Legendary blogger John Farrier posted this at Neatorama.  It's a thoughtful gesture by the homeowners, and the scannable QR form included other options, including colors not shown and "By checking [this box] you indicate you have no opinion on the color of our house, but you just like doing random surveys."

Apparently the image went viral and the internet was able to access the survey form, resulting in a deluge of comments - which effectively negated the opinions of the neighbors who actually pass by the house.


Fact-checking done correctly

Atlantic fact-checking editor Yvonne Rolzhausen walks us through her fact-checking routine, a process that continues, sometimes for months, until she and her team have confirmed every last line.
"Every checker has a different system but I’m old-fashioned and still work on paper. I format the piece with wide margins so I can clearly keep track of which source is responsible for which fact. Months later, I need to be able to see the backup for everything. I then underline all the facts that have to be checked in red pencil. Proper names are highlighted. Legal sections are noted in red marker with lots of circled stars to indicate a need for triple-checking. Anything that I have confirmed gets a check mark through it—and, oh, the lovely satisfaction of making a check mark! The checked text disappears into the background, allowing me to focus on the lingering unchecked text. If I’m worried about a detail and want to discuss with the author, I’ll highlight it in yellow, and list possible solutions on a sticky note. After Graeme and I agreed on a change, I circled it with a red pen..." 
More at The Atlantic. The world needs more of this.

Treasure found in a coal bin

"Funny story is that i sold the 4 tons of coal that was inside to random people that dug it out of the container under no particuliar surveillance but they didnt found it under all the coal dust at the bottom. In french law they should have split it in half with me, if they told me about it anyway. :D" 
The image below shows the bin. Apparently as he was selling off the coal, he or the customers busted the concrete walls of the bin to be able to access the contents.

The coins are dated 1947.

26 May 2020

Divertimento #180 (gifs)

The Golden Gate "zipper"
World oil production, 1970s to now
Scary as hell dashcam footageAnother one.
"Hamster wheel" for human babies
Lady destroys a child's chalk drawings
"Dragon's breath" ice cream
A young girl learns a Star Wars secret
Carpet cleaner with upholstery attachment used on toy
Magic trick with coin and matchbox
Worldwide child mortality 1900 to present
Switch on a cog railway
Man intentionally pushes a bicyclist off the road into the ditch

Nature and science
Controlled burn of black poplar fluff in Spain
Putrefied whale carcass explodes
Bioluminescent mushroom
Magnetic field demonstrated

"I don't believe your science"
People protesting a closed gym prove they don't need a gym open

Baby woodcocks learning to lure earthworms.  See also flamingoes feeding.
Monitor vs. garden hose
Leaping lynx (I may have posted this before, but it's worth a repeat)
A bobcat performs a similar leap
Hand-feeding a Nautilus
Sand viper conceals itself
Flicker vs. starling
Dolphins stunning fish with a tail flick
Head stabilization of a cheetah
Yet another cute cat video
Brushing the teeth of a hippopotamus
Woodpecker eats a dove's brains

ASMR vlogger tries to eat an octopus alive.  Octopus fights back.
Outboard motor goes to a watery grave

Impressive or clever
Parrot unlocks a safe
How not to get paint on the rim of the can
Table transforms into bench and vice versa
Hammock facilitates dog grooming
A compilation of "dad reflexes"
Machine converts logs into veneer
Man draws a circle.  That's all.
Awesome outdoor model railway

Sports and athleticism
"Nailed it!"
Distraction for a basketball free-throw shooter

Humorous or cheerful
Saturday Night Live's "Mother's Day commercials"
"Harry Potter and the Return of the Receipt"
Elderly widower receives a special gift
Girl pranks her momAnother one.
Thieves break into a house
"Stickman" Halloween costume goes awry

The embedded images are regional flags of Russia, from a large gallery at Radio Free Europe, via the always-has-something-interesting Dark Roasted Blend.

25 May 2020

"Beef rainbows" explained

I eat beef, and see these frequently.  Never thought much about them until I encountered an Atlantic article that explains how they are formed:
There's enough speculation over the integrity of rainbow beef that the USDA's website has a section on "Iridescent Color of Roast Beef" near similar topics like "What does 'natural?' mean" and "what is beef?" According to the USDA, "When light hits a slice of meat, it splits into colors like a rainbow." This is something called a "diffraction grating," essentially what happens when light waves bend or spread around a surface and create a pattern. It's the same thing that happens to make rainbows on the surface of a DVD. It's understandable that folks mistake diffracted light as a sign of spoilage...
Reposted from 2013 to add this photo of a white-lipped python -

- as another example or iridescence in the natural world.

"This is why the whole concept of tests are not necessarily great"

"Trump administration officials spent the weekend scrambling after two staffers tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the pandemic closer to President Donald Trump even as he works to reopen parts of the country. On Saturday and Sunday, aides attempted to conduct contact tracing for Katie Miller, Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary who tested positive for coronavirus last week."

"Plant and pray"

Farmers have always planted and prayed.  In the past they prayed for good weather and minimal pests/plant diseases.  Now they pray for other farms to fail.
Corn farmers are throwing another government-backed Hail Mary this year, planting more of the crop than in 2019 even though prices are near the bottom of a six-year slump
“They call it plant and pray,” said Al Kluis, a commodities broker in Wayzata. “What you want is a disaster in some other part of the Corn Belt or some other country.”.. 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture now projects a record corn harvest in 2020... Demand can’t keep up with supply. Corn futures hovered around $3.15 per bushel last week, nearly a dollar less than a year ago... 
Farmers came into the spring with a large inventory of corn in storage, and demand for the commodity has been hit on multiple fronts since the onset of coronavirus. 
Ethanol plants have shuttered due to decisions by the Trump administration to exempt oil companies from ethanol standards and, more recently, the cratered demand for all types of fuel caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Ethanol production is running about 70% of capacity, Kluis said. 
Meanwhile, the shutdown of restaurants and idling of meatpacking plants that have led to farmers euthanizing chickens and hogs means the need for corn to feed livestock will probably drop about 20%... 
He acknowledged that the best thing for Minnesota corn farmers would be a weather catastrophe in some other part of the Corn Belt or Brazil or Argentina
“That’s a disheartening part about production agriculture right now, is you only really have success if some other farmer has a bad year,” he said... 
Also, crop insurance, which is 60% taxpayer subsidized, sets guaranteed revenue for corn at $3.88 per bushel this year.  “Without crop insurance, there’s not a bank around that would loan any money to a farmer,” Thalmann said.

Make do with what you have

Fix the dam infrastructure! - updated x2

Thousands of people in the U.S. may be at risk from dams that are rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition. An AP analysis found 1,688 dams in these conditions are high hazard, meaning their failure can cause human death.
An Associated Press interactive graphic shows the location of dangerous dams in the United States.  My part of the country doesn't have many, but my old stomping grounds back in Kentucky and Indiana are just riddled with them.

Note the graphic is interactive, so not only can you zoom to your area, but you can hover the mouse for the information shown in the top image.

I am so very, very tired of this bullshit.  American politicians have been kicking the can down the road for way too many election cycles.  Someone has to raise taxes and fix these things.  Maybe it will require electing a Socialist to get these problems corrected.

Reposted from just a month ago to add new information and a different perspective.   The source I originally cited was picked up by our local Wisconsin State Journal, which then posted an article about the dams at risk in the state of Wisconsin.

We've had significant problems, because in recent years alterations in the climate have resulted in multiple hundred-year flooding events, some of which washed out local dams, exacerbating the flooding damage:

When I wrote this original post for TYWKIWDBI, I concluded with a brief rant about elected officials who are reluctant to increase taxes to pay for upgrades (or basic maintenance) to infrastructure.  What I have now learned from the Wisconsin State Journal article is that federal, state, and local governments are not solely to blame, because many of the at-risk dams in Wisconsin were privately built.
Wisconsin has only six dams considered a risk to human safety that are in poor condition, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. Even so, eight dams in the state were washed out by record-setting rainfalls last year...

The association estimates it would take more than $70 billion to repair and modernize the nation’s more than 90,000 dams. But unlike much other infrastructure, most U.S. dams are privately owned. That makes it difficult for regulators to require improvements from operators who are unable or unwilling to pay the steep costs.

“Most people have no clue about the vulnerabilities when they live downstream from these private dams,” said Craig Fugate, a former administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “When they fail, they don’t fail with warning. They just fail, and suddenly you can find yourself in a situation where you have a wall of water and debris racing toward your house with very little time, if any, to get out.”..

All eight dams [Wisconsin dams that failed] were in fair or satisfactory condition, according to the DNR.
They all failed during extreme rain events,” said Tanya Lourigan, state dam safety engineer for the Wisconsin DNR. “They don’t have a history of being in poor condition and being neglected.”
Micheel said the historic rainfall revealed a design flaw in the dams, which are highest in the center. When spillways can’t keep up and water overtops the dam, that slope focused the rushing water toward one side of the dam, where it quickly ate into the hillside.
Investigations showed that the clay structures themselves held, but the sandstone they were attached to gave way. “They did their job for 50 years,” Micheel said. “Nobody ever envisioned them overtopping. The overtopping showed the weakness.”..

One of the goals is to install weather monitoring stations and warning systems. Another is to re-evaluate the 100-year floodplains based on current land use and rainfall patterns and how best to manage them.
“We need to change what we’re doing here,” Micheel said. “It isn’t going away.”
Mea culpa for jumping to conclusions (it's one of the few forms of exercise that bloggers get).

Reposted from five months ago to add this video of the devastation caused by the breakage of the dams in Michigan this past week:

Note these were private dams.
Unlike roads and bridges, the majority of the nation’s dams are privately owned, including about 75 percent of the dams in Michigan, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Many private dam owners do not finance regular rehabilitation projects, according to the ASCE. And if dams lose their federal licensing — and thus their power revenue — there often isn’t a clear mechanism to pay for needed repairs and upkeep. 
The ASCE gave the nation’s 95,000 dams a D grade in its most recent infrastructure report card. Their average age is 56, and as the population grows, more dams — like the Edenville and Sanford structures that failed in Michigan — are designated “high hazard,” because of the potential for their failure to result in loss of life. The Association of State Dam Safety Officers (ASDSO) has identified 2,000 dams that are in deficient condition and carry a high hazard rating... 
Many older dams have lost the purpose for which they were built: generating electricity or running mills. According to an American Rivers database, more than 1,700 such dams have been removed, including five last year in Michigan. 
And note this:
The company said that it has been working for years to manage the water levels in the lake the dam holds back, but it ended up in a dispute with homeowners in the area who were dismayed when water levels went too low for recreational use — and they sued to keep water levels higher. The state’s attorney general also sued, alleging that the low water levels were having a negative environmental impact. 
Boyce said the moves to keep water levels higher were among the main reasons the dams failed this week....

22 May 2020

The arboretum in May

Yesterday I hiked at the University of Wisconsin's arboretum here in Madison.  May is a favorite time to visit because of the arboretum's famous collection of lilacs.  In fact, yesterday (Thursday) the parking lot was absolutely full - none of the "social distancing" between cars I noted back in April.  The only other time I've seen the parking lot full has been for the annual native plant sales.  I think the lockdown is triggering more arboretum visits, and social distancing is not difficult with the immense acreage available (about half the visitors I encountered were wearing masks).

As shown above, the cool spring has retarded the blossoming of the lilacs, so after a quick walk-through to sample some fragrances I moved past the lilac collection to the fruit trees.

I didn't take time to ascertain which ones are cherry vs. apple vs. crabapple etc.  It's a stunning visual treat to see all of these bursting into bloom.

Apologies for the relatively low-resolution images, because I hiked with only my cell phone, not with the proper digital camera I have used for some of the autumn foliage hikes.

In addition to the fragrance and the colors, there is an interesting variety of conformations of the fruiting trees.  Some, like the one above, may be naturally splayed out, but the one below has clearly had its lower branches trimmed by the arboretum staff.

I didn't realize a tree that young could be pruned that extensively.  You learn something every day.

Beyond the fruit trees is the collection of maples - a favorite destination in the autumn, but even the spring foliage is impressive, as illustrated by the contrast between the lime green and the deep purple in the two maples above.

Some azaleas still in bloom, and then on the way back to my car I encountered a tree I had never noticed before:

This mountain silverbell is not native to Wisconsin, but apparently has tolerated our winters because it was huge.  Conveniently, there was one branch near the label displaying the iconic downward-hanging blossoms.

As I drove home, I decided that my love for flowering trees probably dates back to imprinting when I was a toddler.  I was born in Washington, D.C. because the Navy stationed my dad there after the war.  Every spring without fail, mom and dad took me to visit the cherry blossoms.  In the photo above near the Jefferson Memorial I was less than a year old, and the one below, also in the Tidal Basin, I was two and a half years old.

One final thought.  The trees will be here all year, but the blossoms are ephemeral.  Any readers living within a half-day drive of Madison who don't take advantage of this remarkable facility in May are missing out on a visual and olfactory treat.  I strongly encourage a visit soon (or to your local arboretum).

Loon-on-eagle haliacide

A lake on the outskirts of Portland, Maine, became a highly unusually scene last summer when a kayaker happened upon a dead bald eagle floating face down, pierced through the heart... It’s the first documented case of loon-on-eagle haliacide (Haliaeetus leucocephalus being the Latin name for bald eagles)... The scene also included a dead loon chick... 
An autopsy report revealed that the puncture wound in the eagle’s chest was consistent with the size and shape of a loon’s bill... male loons in particular will defend their territory from interlopers by diving below the water and then propelling themselves up to jab at their foes. Loons are often marked with scars from these kinds of attacks... 
“We have seen lots of instances where eagles and loons are interacting in this way, [where] an eagle is going after either adults or their chicks, and loons trying to defend themselves or defend their chicks. This is the first instance that we know of where an eagle was actually killed by a loon.” 
Loons also aren’t afraid to stand up to people...
More details at Gizmodo.  Posted for my friends up at Leech Lake.

Your next dental visit will be very different

I've been wondering about this, because of all the aerosols generated by dental instruments.  Slate has the story:
Reopened offices will need a sanitation upgrade. Until COVID-19, practices followed protocols that are largely designed to stop the spread of bloodborne illnesses, because they were developed during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. But the way certain dental procedures can make saliva into aerosols makes dentists’ offices a prime environment for dispersing an airborne pathogen like the coronavirus. The coronavirus often infects people via saliva droplets; many dental instruments spray saliva, and the diseased particles can remain suspended in a mist for hours. Fillings, root canals, and other procedures that involve the use of drills and ultrasonic scalers, a cleaning tool that clears away tartar and plaque by vibrating, tend to produce aerosols. Teeth polishing can also result in saliva spray. 
Here is how your appointment might go, from the moment you sit in the chair. You’ll likely have two people working on you at a time—a technique known as “four-handed dentistry”—in order to speed up the procedures and control the amount of spit that gets into the air. You may see a high-evacuation suction device, which looks a bit like a vacuum cleaner, near your face; it will draw in air from the general vicinity and remove infectious material. “It has an extension that we put right in front of the patient,” says Melisande Wolff, a dentist in West Palm Beach, Florida, who reopened her practice on May 4. “Any extra aerosol that gets past the suction devices that my assistant is already using will get picked up by that.” You also might spot HEPA air purifiers, which use a very fine mesh to catch particles. 
Your dentist might have you wear a rubber dam over the bottom half of your face...
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