31 March 2023

"Nyctinastic" plants explained

I think I've seen this in real life, but never appreciated it.  Pictured above is a three-leaf clover with holes generated by insects.  Note the symmetry, which is explained at LiveScience:
Each night at sunset, a handful of plants "fall asleep." Species as diverse as legumes and daisies curl up their leaves and petals for the evening and do not unfurl until morning. 

Now, a new study suggests that plants may have been folding their leaves at night for more than 250 million years. By tracking the unique bite marks that insects inflict only upon folded leaves, the authors determined that one extinct group of plants were likely nyctinastic — the scientific term for plants curling up in response to darkness...

Charles Darwin described "sleep movements in plants" in 1880 in his book "The Power of Movement in Plants," but the phenomenon had already been documented as far back as 324 B.C. by Androsthenes of Thasos, an associate of Alexander the Great. It's hard to miss — stroll through any garden near dusk, and you'll likely notice a few flower species closing their petals...

But if plant sleeping behavior is a defense mechanism, it clearly does not work every time. In fact, one of the telltale signs of nyctinasty is that the plants' leaves are often pockmarked by perfectly symmetrical holes. Not unlike what happens when a child cuts shapes into folded paper to make a snowflake, any hole punched through a folded leaf by an insect will show up on both sides of that leaf when it opens.
Here is an image of a fossilized leaf depicting the same event:

More details and relevant links at LiveScience.

It's o.k. to be not-for-profit

There is a longstanding and ongoing effort by various members of congress to take the U.S. postal service private because it is "losing money."  Were that to happen, there are enormous profits that could be reaped by the new owners because of the near-monopolistic status of the mail (just as the Russian oligarchs became billionaires by privatizing Soviet industry).  

I'll defer ranting on this subject for now.  There is some salient commentary at the MurderedByWords subreddit where I found the embedded exchange, including opinions that healthcare, education, and public utilities might also be viewed as public services rather than profit centers.

Kindergarten play cancelled because...

 "In April 2014, the Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, New York, sent a letter to the parents of its kindergartners, confirming rumors that the school would not be going ahead with its annual play.
Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians,

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the twenty-first century are changing schools.

The reason for eliminating the kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and careers with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.
These kids, the letter implied, could not spare two days from their regularly scheduled work..."
The essay continues at Harper's.

Movie props

Via Kottke.


"... members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and post-modern professors will no longer be calling the shots...

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion . . . All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet."
That passage was written 25 years ago.  Discussed at Harper's.

28 March 2023

The Gloucester Tree is a fire-lookout tree

The Gloucester Tree is a giant karri tree in the Gloucester National Park of Western Australia.

At 58 metres in height, it is the world's second tallest fire-lookout tree (second only to the nearby Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree), and visitors can climb up to a platform in its upper branches for views of the surrounding karri forest. It is owned by the Shire of Manjimup.
More information at the link.  I just learned yesterday that a friend of mine has climbed to the top of this tree.   Congratulations, Olie.

Here's a video (real-time, not compressed), thankfully without irrelevant music and with minimal narration:

There is no way I would ever climb this behemoth.  It just keeps going and going...  (and there could be drop bears up there)

Agatha Christie's writing being "cleaned up" for modern readers

Several Agatha Christie novels have been edited to remove potentially offensive language, including insults and references to ethnicity.

Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries written between 1920 and 1976 have had passages reworked or removed in new editions published by HarperCollins to strip them of language and descriptions that modern audiences find offensive, especially those involving the characters Christie’s protagonists encounter outside the UK...

The newspaper reported that the edits cut references to ethnicity, such as describing a character as black, Jewish or Gypsy, or a female character’s torso as “of black marble” and a judge’s “Indian temper”, and removed terms such as “Oriental” and the N-word. The word “natives” has also been replaced with the word “local”.

Among the examples of changes cited by the Telegraph is the 1937 Poirot novel Death on the Nile, in which the character of Mrs Allerton complains that a group of children are pestering her, saying that “they come back and stare, and stare, and their eyes are simply disgusting, and so are their noses, and I don’t believe I really like children”.

This has been stripped down in a new edition to state: “They come back and stare, and stare. And I don’t believe I really like children.”
I don't believe I really like sanitized literature.  I quite understand why my favorite novel of hers had its title changed to And Then There Were None, but much of the rest of this is unnecessary and ridiculous.

Remixing explained

I haven't watched this through (it's a hour long), but from the samples I've seen, it looks interesting and well done.  Via Kottke.

It's so sad that nothing can be done about this

NASHVILLE, TN—In the hours following a violent rampage in Tennessee in which a lone attacker killed at least six individuals and injured several others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Tuesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Tennessee resident Laura Campbell, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”
Text from The Onion, photo via the pics subreddit (credit Nicole Hester / USA Today Network / Reuters).  The victims include not just the traumatized survivor depicted above, but indirectly all the other schoolchildren in the United States, who undergo "active shooter drills" to learn how to avoid the people who want to kill them in school with AR15s that will vaporize their facial features to such an extent that their identity can only be recognized by having them wear distinctive green Converse sneakers.  Fuck all the people who enable these tragedies, and the horses they rode in on.

This post is closed to comments because after all there is nothing that can possibly be done.

25 March 2023

A bee roosting for the night

... by clamping its mandibles onto the plant.
Epeolus sp. A brood parasite bee that roosts overnight that clamps itself to plants with its mandibles. This is apparently common among ‘cuckoo’ bees.
From an article about brood parasitism at The Prairie Ecologist.


New word for me.  I encountered it for the first time in last Saturday's New York Times crossword puzzle.
21D. This is a debut entry, although its singular form appeared once before. “Words that form other words when read backward” are SEMORDNILAPS, which have a kinship to palindromes, which read the same forward and backward, of course. As you might have noticed, the singular form, “semordnilap,” is palindromes spelled backward. Martin Gardner, a prolific writer and magician, coined the term.
Examples of palindromes and semordnilaps at Big Dave's Crossword Blog.  See Wikipedia for a list of synonyms.

Name that animal - the end

The critter from round 14 (image above) had the coloration of a wasp and the clasping forearms of a mantis - but it wasn't either one. It is a wasp mantidfly - a relative of the lacewing but with the protective coloration and with "raptorial" forearms that are in fact capable of capturing prey.

Credit to Neatorama for the subject for that round, but frankly I'm running out of ideas for "name that animal" entries; those who want to see the previous 13 entries in the series can look here, but to come up with more I'd probably have to dig deeper into the realms of insects and microorganisms and deep sea teleosts. In the meantime there is so much else going on in the world. I may revisit this topic later, but for now we'll give it a rest.

Reposted from 2008 because I found another image at The Prairie Ecologist:

"Wasp mantidflies can be found throughout much of North America, but either they’re not super abundant on our prairies or I’ve fallen for their mimicry an awful lot."
Agreed.  I need to be more observant and see if I can spot one.

Olympic moment, 1992


A sports video for those who don't particularly like sports, reposted from 2017 because the original video had undergone linkrot.  

There are multiple videos about this event.  Here's the live television broadcast, and here's one with Derek Redmond discussing the injury and the outcome.

Gruesome injury

This pelvic xray shows a left femur fractured at the neck, but the more horrific injury is on the right, where the entire femur has been dislocated from the acetabulum and now protrudes through the medial leg to the pubic area.  

There is a conventional photograph of this same injury at the Eyeblech subreddit, which specializes in gore and notsafeforlife images.

The important lesson to be taken from these images is that the young lady who incurred the injury was riding in an automobile with her legs on the dashboard when the airbags deployed in a collision.

Image cropped for clarity from the original at the interestingasfuck subreddit, where there is no useful discussion.

An "Assassin's Teapot"

Detailed explanation in the video.  Apart from the supposed "assassination" use, this device (or similar ones) could be used to pour alcoholic/nonalcoholic drinks or normal and adulterated drinks.  Worth knowing.  Via Kottke.
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