31 December 2007

Why did the chicken cross the ocean?

Argument about the origins and date of introduction of the domestic fowl or chicken (Gallus gallus) to the Americas has raged for over 30 years. Despite claims that it might be native to the region, it has never been recovered or reported from paleontological, Paleo-Indian, or, until now, prehistoric archaeological contexts in the Americas. A Portuguese or Spanish introduction to the east coast of South America around AD 1500 has been suggested, but when Pizarro reached Peru in 1532, he found that chickens were already an integral part of Incan economy and culture, suggesting at least some history of chickens in the region. Consequently, there have been numerous suggestions of a pre-European chicken introduction to the west coast of South America, in which both Asian and Polynesian contacts have been proposed. Here, we provide the first unequivocal evidence for a pre-European introduction of chickens to South America and indicate, through ancient DNA evidence, that the likely source of that introduction was Polynesia. This evidence has implications for debates about ancient Polynesian voyaging capabilities as well as those addressing prehistoric population interactions and exchange. This study also presents the first published ancient DNA sequences for chickens providing valuable data for researchers concerned with the loss of genetic variation in modern domestic stocks.
Full text of this manuscript at the NIH website: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1965514

28 December 2007

My first hospital bill

When I was two years old I fell ill while my family was visiting relatives in the small town of Ada, MN (west of Leech Lake and Itasca, near the ND border). I was hospitalized for four days. Above is the complete hospital bill (I've photoshopped out my mom's name, but the rest is undoctored). How things have changed, not just re pricing, but in terms of the complexity of billing.....

The arrogance of corporations

(Yes, I know the bank may be legally justified in denying the claim, but it still offends me to encounter such hubris in the corporate bureaucracy.)

Associated Press
December 28, 2007

An 82-year-old widow has filed suit against the officers of the nation's third-largest bank to get back her life savings of $19,700.

Willie Floyd thought the money was safe in a safe deposit box, but the bank's attorney says her cashier's check has long since expired and the money turned over to the state.

Floyd and her husband, Douglas, saved the money during the nearly 40 years he worked as a mechanic for a Waukesha car dealership. They withdrew it from a Marine Bank branch near his work when he approached retirement.

They planned to deposit the check in another bank when they resettled in Arkansas, where they grew up. But then Floyd's husband got prostate cancer.

The couple held out hope he would get better, and Douglas Floyd put the cashier's check in a safe deposit box until they could move.

"He got nervous about having the money in the house and he said, 'What if the house catches fire?'" Floyd said. "So we decided to get a safe deposit box out at the bank way out in Waukesha."

<>Douglas Floyd died in October 1988, and Floyd moved in with her granddaughter. She kept paying the annual fee on the safe deposit box. She said she asked a teller how long she could keep the check there. "I was told that as long as they were a bank, it would be good," Floyd said. "I didn't think much of it until I got a letter from the bank and I didn't recognize the name" of the bank.

Marine Bank had been bought by Bank One in 1988, but Floyd didn't notice until after Bank One was purchased by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in 2004.

Worried by the letter, Floyd tried to deposit the check in a regular savings account in the spring of 2006. Bank officials told her it was no good.

She hired a lawyer, Tarena Washington Franklin, who said bank officials told her the money had been turned over to the state as unclaimed.

"I checked with the state, and it was not there," Franklin said. "That money has to be somewhere, and we couldn't get any answer from them. We filed a lawsuit to get their attention."

The check does not have an expiration date, she noted.

Joshua Stubbins, a local lawyer representing the bank, filed a written response to the lawsuit, saying that after five years the check was presumed abandoned under state law. He asked for the case to be dismissed.

One night in the 12th century.....

On June 18, 1178, five monks at Canterbury reported witnessing a catastrophe in the sky:

There was a bright new moon, and as usual in that phase its horns were tilted toward the east; and suddenly the upper horn split in two. From the midpoint of this division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals, and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the moon which was below writhed, as it were, in anxiety, and, to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the moon throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then after these transformations the moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance.

Stony Brook earth scientist Jack Hartung speculates that this may have been an impact event that created the 20-kilometer crater Giordano Bruno.

More discussion and an alternative explanation at the NASA website:

and, of course, at Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno_%28crater%29

Harper's Index #2

Number of people in New York City who jump subway turnstiles, per minute: 105
Amount a cousin of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd lost at casinos on the French Riviera: $21,640,000
Number of U.S. states that dispose of hazardous waste in another state: 50
Maximum running speed of a wild turkey, in miles per hour: 25
Percentage of hunting injuries in Georgia that are the result of hunters falling out of trees: 36
Ratio of Coast Guard employees disciplined for drug violations to drug smugglers caught by the Coast Guard: 1:3
Chances that a CIA officer stationed in Mexico City can speak Spanish: 1 in 5
Number of years since the balanced-budget bill became law in 1985 that its deficit-reduction targets have been met: 0
Number of months after the Pentagon bought 80,000 camouflage helmet-covers that it found 80,000 in storage: 3
Number of the 11 magazine articles about lottery winners published in 1989 that ran in Jet magazine: 11
Rank of Washington, D.C., among U.S. cities with the highest rate of tax delinquency: 1
Portion of the 115 armed conflicts worldwide that are civil wars: 9/10
Amount Americans spend each year on birdseed: $1,100,000,000
Number of curbside frog ramps in the streets of Stevens Point, Wisconsin: 4
Total number of the US government's 3 million employees who were fired last year for poor performance: 290
Amount the Republican Party was fined for illegally giving $2,700,000 to Senate candidates in 1986: $24,000
Estimated amount of time that Michael Jordan has spent aloft while playing in NBA games, in hours: 3
Number of the 6 best-selling extracurricular books in college bookstores that are collections of cartoons: 4
Number of people killed by stray bullets in New York City in 1989: 39
Number of the ten largest environmental magazines that were printed on recycled paper as of 1990: 3
Pages of guidelines the NYC Transit Authority sent to a Boy Scout who wanted to clean a subway station: 6
Fine for parking a pickup truck in one's own driveway in Flossmoor, Illinois: $10
Percentage of Southern Calif. drivers who say they have made "indecent gestures" at other drivers: 38
Portion of all deaths worldwide in 1989 that are children under age 5 in developing countries: 1/3
Chances that a U.S. obstetrician has been sued at least once: 7 in 10
Percentage of American parents who say they yell at their children every day: 19
Percentage increase in the protrusion of a woman's buttocks when she wears high heels: 25
Number of pigs an American eats in a lifetime: 28
Number of times WXTB, a Florida radio station, played "Stairway to Heaven" consecutively on Dec 31, 1989: 181

Percentage of men living in Bangladesh who live past the age of 65: 55
Percentage of men living in Harlem who do: 40

Rank of Washington, D.C., high school students, among students with the lowest mathematics scores nationwide: 1
Rank of Washington, D.C., high school students, among those most likely to say they are "good in math" : 1

Weeks it took the poultry industry to produce a full-grown chicken in 1940: 12
Average number of weeks it takes today: 6

Chances that a chicken sold in a supermarket is infected with salmonella: 1 in 3
Children admitted to hospital ERs last year for injuries involving shopping carts: 32,866
Number of the 100 buttock implants performed in the United States last year that were done in California: 92
Weight of the ovarian cyst removed from a West Virginia woman, in pounds: 180
Number of unsolicited phone calls made by U.S. telemarketers each second: 200
Chances that a worker anywhere in the world is employed by the travel and tourism industry: 1 in 15
Estimated number of grains of sand in one acre of beach: 2,000,000,000,000,000

27 December 2007

Proof that 4 equals 3

Begin with a simple algebraic equation:
a + b = c

Now, replace each letter with 4 of that letter minus 3 of that letter:
4a - 3a + 4b - 3b = 4c - 3c

Rearrange, so that the 4s are on the left and the 3s on the right
4a + 4b - 4c = 3a + 3b - 3c

Simplify by factoring:
4(a + b - c) = 3(a + b - c)

Then divide each side by a+b-c:
4 = 3

There is, of course, a fallacy in this process. I invite someone to point out the defect with an appropriate comment in the "comments" section.

26 December 2007

Checkershadow optical illusion

One of the best optical illusions I've ever encountered:

The squares labelled A and B are exactly the same color.

Here is a proof in which the first illustration has been overlain by two gray bars; note how the bars blend equally with square A and square B.

No matter how many times I look at this, and no matter how logically I think about it, I still cannot wrap my mind around the reality.

Worst Christmas eve - ever

The 77-year-old spent part of Monday wedged in the tank's opening upside down, with his head inside.
Last update: December 26, 2007 - 12:25 PM
DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa man who got stuck above his septic tank is calling it the worst Christmas Eve ever.
The 77-year-old spent part of Monday wedged in the tank's opening upside down, with his head inside and his feet kicking into the air above. He'd been trying to find a clog, but lost his balance. He says he hollered for help, but it was an hour before his wife walked by a window and noticed two feet in the air. It eventually took two Polk County sheriff's deputies to yank the man free.
He says he's very glad his wife spotted him, adding that he couldn't have lasted much longer.
[...perhaps literally. Septic tank atmospheres are not only oxygen-deficient, but may have high levels of the irritant gas ammonia and the asphyxiant gas hydrogen sulfide. He's lucky to be alive.]

Harper's Index #1

I don't know whether I'm allowed to reproduce in this blog some items from the Harper's Index; perhaps I will be spared punishment if I provide suitable documentation. I've been an avid reader of Harper's for at least 20 years. For most of that time I've selected items from the famous Index and retyped them onto a "favorites" list. I'll use this category in TYWKIWDBI to offer some of those for the enjoyment of others. Please note that dates and times in the items are not related to the present - that is, I may have copied a post in 1992 referring to "last year" without inserting the numerical year, so take all such entries as being approximations only. Items that are related to one another are grouped in pairs; the remainder are gathered in larger groups ----

Convicted drunk drivers in Orange County, CA, 1988-89, whose sentence included a tour of the morgue: 569
Number of repeat offenders among them: 1

Number of times that the U.S. Congress has declared war: 5
Estimated number of times that a U.S. president has sent troops into combat situations: 130

Average size bra worn by an American woman in 1985: 34B
Average size in 1990: 36C

Number of bees that invaded a Bayport, New York, house while the owners were on vacation: 20,000
Estimated pounds of honey they produced before being removed: 10

Percentage of all valentines that are sent by women: 85
Estimated number of American dogs that have been named as beneficiaries in wills: 1,000,000
Estimated number of miles an item of food consumed in the United States travels before it is eaten: 1,200
Average number of pounds of pennies in an American home: 6
Average ratio of US funds spent fighting a war to United States funds spent on that war's veterans' benefits: 1:3
Chances that an employed American works in a shopping center or mall: 1 in 11
Percentage of fast-food restaurant workers who admit to doing "slow, sloppy work on purpose": 22
Number of times a nude or seminude woman accepted a Domino's Pizza delivery in Washington, D.C. last year: 15
Fee a Norwood, Mass bank requires from depositors before they can ask a question about their account: $1
Gas mileage of an M-1 tank, per gallon: 0.56
Number of doctors who belong to the Surfer's Medical Association: 504
Percentage of American men who say they clean their navel every day: 42
Percentage of Americans who say that, given the choice, they would rather hear the bad news first: 63
Estimated amount the national debt will increase in the time it takes to read this line: $33,000
Number of snails that animal-rights activists liberated from a snail farm in England: 153,000

Average number of Americans who are injured annually by chain saws: 36,000
Average number who are injured by clothing: 112,000

Ratio of women who buy Mother's Day cards to men who do: 5:1
Ratio of women who buy Father's Day cards to men who do: 8:1

Incidents of international terrorism since 1977 that involved a BMW: 33
Incidents that involved a Chevrolet Camaro: 1

Percentage of Peru's coca crop destroyed by U.S.-assisted forces last year: 1
Percentage destroyed by insects: 20

Number of people per square mile during peak season in Yosemite Valley: 3,320
Number of people per square mile in Houston: 2,986

Barrels of oil the United States imports from Iraq and Kuwait annually: 290,000,000
Barrels of oil that could be saved by raising United States auto-efficiency standards by 2.75 mpg: 290,000,000

Number of words in the written vocabulary of a 6-14 y.o. American child in 1945: 25,000
Average number today: 10,000

Curiosities #2

Nobody knows which is the 39th and which is the 40th state. North and South Dakota were admitted on the same day and President Harrison kept the text covered while signing both proclamations. Covered wagons originated the traffic system of passing to the right in America. President James A. Garfield could write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other - simultaneously. Roger Sherman is the only American who signed these four historic documents: Articles of Association, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, U.S. Constitution. The first woman to ride side-saddle was Anne of Bohemia (1366-1394), daughter of German Emperor Charles IV and Queen of Richard II of England. She had a deformity which precluded her from straddling a horse and one of her legs was shorter than the other. In 1893 Henry Ziegland of Honey Grove Texas, jilted his sweetheart, who killed herself. Her brother tired to avenge her by shooting Ziegland but the bullet only grazed his face and buried itself in a tree. In 1913 Ziegland was cutting down the tree with the bullet in it; it was a tough job so he used dynamite and the explosion sent the old bullet through Ziegland’s head, killing him.  [hat tip to a reader who found a report that this story is a hoax]
    “It’s supposed to be automatic, but actually you have to press this button.” [chapter title in John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar.] Geronimo's Indian name was Goyahkla (or Goyathlay, per Random House Dictionary), which means "One-who-yawns." The designation carnivore appears to be based principally on dentition and other anatomical features, not nutrition. Therefore not all carnivores are obligate flesh eaters. Indeed, the zoological literature lists the giant panda and the black bear as "strictly herbivorous carnivores." "Credo quia absurdum" - it is to be believed because it is impossible to be believed. (it's too weird or impossible to make up) "No Englishwoman, of any class, had ever worn anything beneath her petticoats up to this date (1736), nor was to do so for at least another sixty years. One might write an essay on this incomprehensible and little-known fact about their under-clothing, or lack in it. French and Italian women had long remedied the deficiency, and English men also; but not English women. All those graciously elegant and imposing upper-class ladies in their fashionable or court dresses, whose image has been so variously left us by the eighteenth-century painters, are - to put it brutally - knickerless." (Fowles, A Maggot)

Dr. Ron Paul - a brief biography

Raised in Pennsylvania, Dr. Paul is a retired OB/GYN specialist (Duke University) who has been a congressman from the Galveston area of Texas for the past 20 years. He is best known for being a strict advocate

of the Constitution; he therefore favors strictly limiting the power of the federal government. To that end he has advocated actually shrinking the federal bureaucracy by eliminating agencies such as the Department of Education.

Dr. Paul is the only candidate for president (in either party) who advocates immediate cessation of the war in Iraq; more than that, he would favor bringing home all U.S. troops stationed overseas (in Korea, Europe etc). He is not anti-generic-war (he is ex-military, retired flight surgeon), but feels this war was unjustified and has been poorly managed, that it is creating more ill-will and terrorists, and that we cannot financially afford it. In terms of foreign policy he is best described as a "non-interventionist" - not an isolationist.

In terms of monetary policy, Dr. Paul in his congressional role on the House Banking Committee and finance committees has spoken out strongly against the role played by the Federal Reserve in inflating our currency. He is a "fiscal conservative" who strongly decries deficit spending and the enlargement of the federal deficit. He has never voted to raise taxes and indicates that if the federal budget can be trimmed by decreasing military and bureaucratic expenditures that he would then advocate eliminating personal income taxes (and the IRS).

This Venn diagram greatly oversimplifies complex issues, but it at least serves to provide general guidelines as to where Dr. Paul's positions lie in relation to the political right, the political left, and the libertarians:

In subsequent posts I hope to provide more detail on his policies and positions. In the meantime, those interested might consider visiting some of these websites:

the official campaign website - http://www.ronpaul2008.com/

a good summary of his positions - http://www.the-daily-record.com/news/simple_article/2825122

forums where all manner of items are discussed - http://www.ronpaulforums.com/

an all-encompassing website - http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/rp-everything.html

24 December 2007

Fooling rattlesnakes

To mask their odor from rattlesnakes, California ground squirrels and rock squirrels chew on sloughed-off snake skin and smear it on their fur, according to a new study. The act most likely persuades the predators that another snake, not a squirrel, is in the area.

"To our knowledge this is the first case where [this idea] has been tested systematically and shown to have an anti-predator function—protecting the squirrel from rattlesnake predation," said study lead author Barbara Clucas.

Clucas, a graduate student in animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, said she first noted this behavior in 2002. She saw rock squirrels at Caballo Lake State Park in New Mexico licking themselves to apply chewed snake skin to their flanks, tails, and rear ends, which gave them the pungent, musky scent of a rattlesnake. In 2003 she saw California ground squirrels at Lake Solano County Park in California doing the same thing.

Her team's study of the squirrels appeared in the November issue of the journal Animal Behaviour.

Found at Neatorama. Original source here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/40445561.html

23 December 2007

You are a true Minnesotan when...

Someone in a store offers you assistance, and they don't work there.
You have worn shorts and a parka at the same time.
You have either a pet or a child named "Kirby".
You have had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number.
You know how to say Wayzata, Mahtomedi, Edina and Shakopee.
A traffic jam is ten cars waiting to pass a tractor.
"Vacation" means going up north past Brainerd for the weekend.
You measure distance in hours.
Your local Dairy Queen is closed from November through March.
You know several people who have hit deer more than once.
You often switch from "heat" to "A/C" in the same day and back again.
Your whole family wears Viking purple to church on Sunday.
You can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard, without flinching.
You install security lights on your house and garage and leave both unlocked.
You carry jumper cables in your car and your girlfriend knows how to use them.
You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.
Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow.
You refer to the Vikings as "we."
You can identify a southern or eastern accent.
Your idea of creative landscaping is a statue of a deer next to your blue spruce.
A brat is something you eat.
You have more miles on your snow blower than your car.
You find 0 degrees "a little chilly."
Every time you see moonlight on a lake, you think of a dancing bear, and you sing, "From the land of sky-blue waters."
You actually understand these jokes, and you forward them to your Minnesota friends.

Fact-checking is important

In part because the content is relevant to my starting a new blog, but mostly because I want to test the mechanism for uploading photos to blogger, here is a (self-explanatory) image -

(This and most future photos will have been loaded from popular websites; if there are copyright restrictions, the owner should notify me and I will remove the item)

22 December 2007

I wish I'd thought of doing that

The Mitford sisters reportedly posted this sign in their home:



(transferred from a Word document I've been compiling for ?10-15 years. Unfortunately I can't offer the original source for much of the information (and frankly can't guarantee the accuracy of the material - but it's still interesting...)

Catherine de Medici had the Palace of the Tuileries built as a future residence for her in the parish of Saint Germain in Paris from 1564-1566. During its construction an astrologer told her that her death would occur in the vicinity of Saint Germain. She therefore kept away from the palace and the parish for the next 23 years. At the time of her death in Blois, she was given extreme unction by the Bishop of Clamercy, whose name was Jean de Saint Germain.

The Nozon River in Switzerland flows in two directions. It divides at the town of Pampaples. One half of the river continues south to the Mediterranean. The other half reverses its course and flows north to the North Sea.

These twelve English words are pronounced alike:
are air ayr e’er ere eyre heir ayer eyr eir ear ayre
(curiously, err is not included in the list)

"Uncopyrightable" and "dermatoglyphics" are the longest English words (15 letters) in which no letter is repeated.

The head and the foot of an arrow are at the same end.

If you take a bushel of corncobs and remove the kernels from the cobs, the grains alone will fill the bushel.

The pretzel was invented by Charlemagne (742-814). When he subdued the Saxons he forced them to bake the sign of the cross into all their bread and pastries as a token of their conversion to Christianity. It received its name in Italy from its resemblance to a pair of crossed human arms (brachiatelli).

The Aruwimi River in the Belgian Congo was named by David Livingstone. He inquired of a native, “What is the name of this river?” The answer was “Aruwimi,” meaning “What is this fellow saying?”

The Journey of a Thousand Miles...

... begins with one step (Lao Tzu, ~550 B.C.).

I should begin with a word of acknowledgement regarding the blog title. In the 1970s the president of Bluegrass Mensa, Jackson Lackey, published a newsletter entitled TYWKIWDTY (Things You Wouldn't Know If We Didn't Tell You); I've simply changed the last two words*, but the purpose remains the same - to compile for the amusement of my friends an eclectic collection of gleanings from the internet, from my readings, and from my files.

As with most blogs, the content will lean toward lighthearted humor, trivialities, ephemera, curiosities, and exotica - but I reserve the right to delve into sports, current events, social commentary, politics (especially presidential politics), and even conspiracy theory as the mood strikes me.

This is a pastime, not an obsession, so there will not be new material daily. I may post a dozen items one day and nothing for two weeks thereafter. Friends and relatives who wish to monitor the contents would probably be best served by checking in here each week rather than on a daily basis. I welcome comments; I moderate them not for content, but to keep the site spam-free.

*and yes, I do know that it should be "blog them" to match "things", rather than "blog it", but for the sake of being able to pronounce the acronym, I'll leave it as is.

Update 2009: TYWKIWDBI was originally the acronym for "Things You Wouldn't Know If We Didn't Blog It", but a visitor noted that the "it" could be changed to "incessantly" for better grammatical correspondence. By that time the blog had grown from an occasional task to a daily matter, so I made the change in the name.

Update 2010:  After flirting with "burnout" from so much blogging,  I've changed the "I" in the acronym from "incessantly" to "intermittently."
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