28 January 2008

A man walks into a dentist's office...

... and says, "Can you help me? I think I'm a moth."

The dentist tells him, "You don't need a dentist. You need a psychiatrist."

"Yes, I know," the man says.

The dentist asks, "So then why did you come in here?"

The man replies, "The light was on.”

The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca

That's the subtitle of A Land So Strange, by Andres Resendez. The other subtitle summarizes the story: "The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the Sixteenth Century." In 1528 about 300 Spaniards trying to reach Mexico were stranded on the western side of Florida near Tampa Bay. They travelled by foot and horse to the Panhandle area, eventually eating their horses to fend off starvation. They fashioned rafts and tried to sail westward along the Gulf, only to be ravished by storms, finally reaching the barrier islands near present-day Galveston. Further starvation winnowed the survivors down to three Spaniards and an African from Morocco. They proceeded naked and barefoot across south Texas and the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico, surviving by eating cactus, spiders, and "deer excrement." Eight years after leaving Florida they made contact with the Spaniards in the Mexico City area.

Cabeza de Vaca was a well-educated man who later wrote an account of his journey. Resendez has compiled that information along with other historic and archaeologic investigations into this book, which is an easy and well-illustrated read.

Map credit.

26 January 2008

Illustrated blockbooks

Many thanks to Scribal Terror for their brief entry this morning about a fifteenth-century illustrated Apocalypse, which included a description of a blockbook:
Blockbooks of mid-fifteenth century Europe were often printed, not with a press, but by laying the sheet of paper over the inked block and rubbing the back of the paper with some rounded object (a "rubber" or "burnisher") to transfer the ink. (The technique will be familiar to many people who have done some introductory experiments in printing, perhaps in school art classes.) When you print this way, you can only print on one side of the sheet, since the rubbing of the "verso" would damage the printing on the "recto".... The blockbook technology was not, as you might imagine, an early stage of printing from which printing with moveable type evolved. In fact, the age of the blockbook in Europe was contemporary with the first two or three decades of printing from moveable type; most blockbooks are dated in the 1450's, 60's or 70's.
More details at the blockbook link above. And more images at the fascinating blog entitled BibliOdyssey, which I hope to explore and provide more links to in the future.

rice resonating with sound frequencies

I had posted this back in January with a link to what I believe is the original site, but their code was apparently defective, and the video didn't play well for some visitors to TYWKIWDBI. I've subsequently found a better copy on YouTube (embedded above).

The phenomenon is fascinating, and of course best appreciated with your computer's sound on on (and probably with dogs excluded from the room...)

25 January 2008

Is "dwarf crime" really a growing problem?

Sounds like an Onion story, but this was published today in Ananova:

Thieves are robbing long-distance coaches by sneaking dwarves into the luggage holds in sports bags. Once inside, they slip out from their hiding places to rifle through the belongings of unsuspecting travellers. Then they take their loot back to their hiding place and wait to be collected by another gang member when the coach reaches its destination, reports The Sun.They have stolen thousands of pounds in cash, gems and other valuables in recent months. Swebus, which ferries thousands of Brits across Sweden, has been among coach firms targeted. A spokesman said: "We have had reports about several thefts by dwarves on the stretch between Vasteras and Stockholm. "We're thinking of installing video cameras."

A Stockholm Police spokesman said: "We are looking at our records to identify criminals of limited stature."

Please feel free to leave comments

I received an email today from a friend who indicated he had wanted to comment on one of the posts in TYWKIWDBI, but didn't want to create a "Blogger/Google account." That is not required.

To leave a comment, click on the "comment" feature below an entry; the webhost offers to let people sign in using their Blogger or Google identities, but it is not necessary to have or to create one. Just write your comments, then scroll down to "anonymous", check that, and click on the "publish comment" command.

I do "moderate" (screen) the comments, but that is only to delete spam, profanities, and inanities; I don't screen out conflicting opinions. Your comment should show up within a day (whenever I check the blog).

23 January 2008

Roadkill can work both ways

Last week the Guardian (U.K.) reported that people were placing jam sandwiches, sausage rolls, or mince pies on the highway to lure deer onto the roadway. When the deer is struck, they then "dash out and cart the carcass off to be turned into venison steaks and added to game pies."

The Guardian piece cautions re the risk of a motorcyclist skidding on a jam sandwich (?), but fails to emphasize the danger to motorists of striking a deer - well illustrated in these photos of an accidental roadkill in Minnesota...

Tetris quilt

Interesting design for a backpack

Who would the world choose for President of the United States?

Since the entries this morning have an international flavor, I thought I would add this one. If people in other countries could choose the president of the U.S., whom would they elect? One website was created to address this question - appropriately called whowouldtheworldelect.com. When people click on a candidate's picture to "vote", the computer records what country they were in at the time, and compiles the data accordingly. As of this morning, there have been 108,000 votes cast, from 165 countries!

I invite readers to click on the link and either vote or just view the results. Before doing so, who do you think the world (at least the online world) would elect? Hint - it's not Hillary Clinton, although she dominates the voting from Croatia (??).

Nous sommes desoles que notre president soit un idiot. Nous n’avons pas vote pour lui.

The Tom Bihn company placed these labels in tote bags it was selling in France. Originally created by the seamstresses and intended as a joke about the company's president, the French public interpreted it as a criticism of Jacques Chirac. Since it was an American company, it then hit the internet as a commentary on George Bush, and immediately went viral. The company cleverly responded by creating T-shirts with the label displayed on the chest; the resulting sales raised $18,480.00 for the Seattle Vet Center for their Homeless Vet Program.

If TYWKIWDBI were made of fabric, it would have this label


The comment on the previous post from a viewer in Argentina reminded me that TYWKIWDBI is reaching a wider audience than the small circle of friends and family I envisioned when I created it three weeks ago. I've been monitoring traffic using Google Analytics, which tells me where visitors come from (but not who they are); so far this blog has been viewed in 31 of the United States plus Canada, the U.K., Greece, Pakistan, Argentina, Mexico, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Finland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Panamal, and Sweden. As a greeting to the newest reader, I'll decorate this post with a picture of Mar del Plata, which must have a lovely seaside.

18 January 2008

The face of a child

This is a remarkable image. I would like to give credit to the photographer, but no data accompanied the image when I found it on Pizdaus.

Amazing ant colony

A remarkable 6-minute video depicting the structure and mechanics of a colony of leaf-cutting ants. (The investigators make a cement cast of the underground structure, then dig it out to see how the ants can make ventilation shafts where some air goes in and other shafts where carbon dioxide goes out). Posted this morning at Neatorama.

17 January 2008

Odin's Castle

As long as I'm listing recommended websites tonight, I have to include Odin's Castle. It is far and away the best organized and most extensive accumulation of links about history that you can find anywhere. Recipient of many, many awards - richly deserved. If you have any interest in anything related to history, bookmark this site.

All You Could Possibly Want to Know...

...about trilobites is collated at trilobites.info. It's a great example of the outstanding content that can be found on the internet if you know where to look. Superb, detailed, well-organized material, plus outstanding pictures on an award-winning website. Worth a peek even if you don't have a pet trilobite.

Cluster bombs are not bad...

...if they are used correctly, as reported in Reuters today:

GENEVA, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Cluster bombs, which nearly 100 countries are seeking to ban, should not be considered bad as long as states involved in conflicts use them responsibly, a senior United States official said on Wednesday....

The International Committee of the Red Cross says some 400 million people in countries and regions like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Russia's Chechnya live in effective minefields, under daily threat of maiming from cluster bombs.

Other campaigners say at least 13,000 civilians are known to have been killed or injured by the bombs -- used heavily most recently by Israel in its 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon -- in recent years.

The Dead Sea is Dying

The Dead Sea, among the most remarkable natural phenomena on the earth's face, has lost a third of its surface area over 50 years, and continues to shrink three or more feet annually -- entirely because of human behavior... Most have no idea, though, that each time they visit, the shore has moved. That the Dead Sea's single source, the Jordan River, has been reduced to little more than a sewage canal, with less than 10 percent of the flow it had 60 years ago -- about half of which is raw human waste.

16 January 2008

I couldn't make up stuff like this...

A five-year-old boy was taken into custody and thoroughly searched at Sea-Tac because his name is similar to a possible terrorist alias. As the Consumerist reports, "When his mother went to pick him up and hug him and comfort him during the proceedings, she was told not to touch him because he was a national security risk. They also had to frisk her again to make sure the little Dillinger hadn't passed anything dangerous weapons or materials to his mother when she hugged him."

I found that at BoingBoing, but for a thoroughly devastating commentary on airline security and the TSA, see the December 28 portion of the Jetlagged column in the New York Times:
No matter that a deadly sharp can be fashioned from virtually anything found on a plane, be it a broken wine bottle or a snapped-off length of plastic, we are content wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and untold hours of labor in a delusional attempt to thwart an attack that has already happened, asked to queue for absurd lengths of time, subject to embarrassing pat-downs and loss of our belongings.

Crime Wave grips Montana

A man on West Babcock Street complained to police about a person accusing him of pointing his finger at a person.
A woman on Bridger Drive intentionally walked over her boyfriend's new couch with muddy feet. She was cited for criminal mischief.
A deputy offered a man walking along the frontage road a ride home. The man stated that we should all become liberals. He refused the ride.
A person on Doane Road reported finding a suspicious substance in a tea pot. The substance appeared to be buildup from hard water.
A man on West Main Street told police that another man threw orange juice into his car. The man who threw the orange juice said the other man swore at him. Both men were warned.
A juvenile girl was driving down Babcock Street and saw a spider on her window. When she tried to kill the spider, she swerved to the left and struck a parked vehicle.
A person on Gallatin Road reported a duck at large. The person was worried that the duck might cause a traffic accident.

These and hundreds more are collected at The Best of the Bozeman Chronicle Police Reports. (Credit to J-Walk for posting the link this morning).

The Archimedes Codex

Archimedes was a remarkable mathematician who elucidated theories fundamental to the development of calculus 1,800 years before Newton and Leibniz. His writings contributed to the education of Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo, but few original copies remain, many of them destroyed when Christian soldiers sacked Constantinople in 1204. One palimpsest that did survive is the subject of The Archimedes Codex by Reviel Netz and William Noel. The book is a (overly-)detailed account of the discovery and conservation of the palimpsest and the interpretation of the findings. It will appeal to those with an interest in medieval manuscripts/incunabula or the history of mathematics. It's not an easy read, but it can be skimmed for the essentials in an evening.

For those with limited time, Wikipedia has a reasonable summary of the book and another on the equally fascinating topic of palimpsests in general. The authors and publishers of the book have produced an excellent website replete with photographs.

15 January 2008


Desperado is, in my view, the finest Eagles song - at least in terms of lyrical content. As far as I know, the identity of the person to whom it was "directed" has never been revealed (candidates include Jim Morrison, Eric Clapton, and Joe Walsh), but the lyrics have always rung true to me (and if I'm ever intoxicated enough to sing at a Karaoke night at a bar, this is what I will choose).
There are many versions of Desperado, by a variety of artists. Even though the words might sound best coming from a female, the Karen Carpenter version seems to lack any evocative tone, and the Johnny Cash version is to "Cashy." The best (at least of those available on YouTube) is by the author - Don Henley, linked above to the performance during the farewell tour in Melbourne. It still amazes me that this song is 30 years old.....

update May 2008 - Drat. The original video is "no longer available." So here is another version, taken from a 2004 concert in Melbourne - not quite as good, but it will do...

here's a Karaoke-style video, but it's suboptimal because the appearance of the words often lags the melody by a beat or so.

Learning to swim

My Mom said she learned how to swim when someone took her out in the lake and threw her off the boat. I said, "Mom, they weren't trying to teach you how to swim."
--Paula Poundstone

Witches Knickers

The title of this post is the term used in Ireland for plastic shopping bags caught in trees. The Word Fugitive column in the Atlantic collected some other appropriate phrases, including "shoppers kites" and "urban tumbleweed." I decided to blog this today after encountering an article in Consumerist in which a Best Buy employee told a customer that company policy prohibited him from carrying a videogame out of the store unless it was in a plastic bag (!!).

Plastic shopping bags are a well-recognized scourge on the environment. One doesn't have to be a tree-hugger to understand not only the visual blight they create, but the dangers to wildlife. They are mistaken for jellyfish by sea turtles and other marine life; Planet Ark has a compilation of such tales, and thousands more can be found with a quick Google search. I was delighted to read earlier this week an NPR report that China has banned plastic bags.

Our household is virtually plastic-bag-free; we have canvas bags (from Lands End) that we take to the grocery store. Some stores even give a small credit on purchases to customers who bring their own bags. I encourage others to try this; it's not difficult.

14 January 2008

20 bald eagles die in truck full of fish guts

(this is not from the Onion. More details at this Alaskan website)
Dozens of bald eagles descended on a dump truck hauling fish guts at a Kodiak processing plant Friday and got tangled in the mess, leaving at least 20 of the birds drowned, buried or crushed, according to federal wildlife officials. About 50 eagles were watching and waiting for a meal outside the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant when the uncovered dump truck pulled out of a garage, said wildlife biologist Brandon Saito, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Once the birds began landing to gorge themselves, their massive numbers pushed the earlier arrivals down into the sludge, which was about the consistency of quicksand....

13 January 2008

Precious Images

Precious Images is an 8-minute montage of 500 movie clips. It received the Academy Award for best short film in 1987. If you enjoy movies, this video is worth clicking.

IMDb has a list of the movies from which these clips were extracted here; unfortunately the list is in chronological order rather than sequenced in the order shown in the montage. (If anyone has a link to the latter, please let me know or leave a comment).

Vote fraud in the New Hampshire primary?

One has to take claims of vote fraud with many grains of salt, because losers always claim that something was amiss. The Iowa caucus results generated some controversy (not covered in the mainstream media) and the N.H. primary has resulted in more. Preelection polls and day-of-election exit polls often were different from final data - but this was explained by the assumption that the polls were inaccurate, or voters lied to pollsters.

Of more interest is that in New Hampshire, some precincts counted votes by hand, while others used computerized Diebold voting machines. The results were different. The initial explanation was that the difference occurred because small towns count by hand, large cities count by machine, and the difference in outcome occurred because people in small towns have different interests/preferences than people in cities.

But all the data are public, and they have undergone some intense scrutiny. Look at this analysis published today in the European Tribune:
... based on the official results on the New Hampshire Secretary of State web site, there is a remarkable relationship between Obama and Clinton votes, when you look at votes tabulated by op-scan versus votes tabulated by hand... the numbers match to within .0001% !

Optical Scan
Clinton 91,717 52.9507%
Obama 81,495 47.0493%
Total 173,212

Hand Counted
Clinton 20,889 47.0494%
Obama 23,509 52.9506%
Total 44,398

The percentages appear to be swapped.

Coincidences do occur - but coincidences to four decimal places are so unlikely as to mandate further study. That analysis is obviously of the Democratic primary. I may post some data re the Republican primary later.

12 January 2008

A mnemonic for Pi

Proposed by Isaac Asimov:

How I want a drink - alcoholic, of course - after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!

Count the letters in each word and you'll get 3.14159265358979.

Harper's Index #3

Average amount of milk an American dairy cow produces, in gallons: 1,703
Average amount a cow produced in 1950, in gallons: 618

Number of trial lawyers who have taken acting lessons from Applied Theater Techniques in Los Angeles: 8,000
Years it would take to execute every American on death row, at a rate of one execution per day: 7
Percentage of Americans who say they watch "too little" television: 23
Number of United States universities that offer a bagpipe major: 1
Estimated number of Americans who have had wires, screws, pins, nails, or plates surgically implanted: 4,400,000
Number of florists on the White House staff: 5
Ratio of the production cost of a Coca-Cola can to the production cost of the Coca-Cola it contains: 2:1
The longest time a Life Saver has been kept intact in a human mouth, in hours: 7
Tons of gold made into wedding rings in the United States each year: 17
Number of American farmers who asphyxiate in manure pits each year: 3
Number of Americans treated last year for bowling-related injuries: 22,515
U.S. consumer debt in 1991 as a percentage of total disposable income: 96
Percentage of all American astronauts who were Boy Scouts: 45
Ratio of the number of Chinese who will watch the Super Bowl to the number of Americans who will: 3:1
Number of Americans who have been shot in the last decade by children under six: 138,490
Average number of drugs prescribed each year to an American over 60: 16

"Watch and learn"

Three women and three men are traveling by train to an event; at the station, the men each buy a ticket, but the three women buy just one ticket.

"How are the three of you going to travel on only one ticket?" asks one of the men.
"Watch and learn," they reply.

When they all board the train, the three men take their seats but all three women cram into a toilet together and close the door.

Fifteen minutes after the train departs, the conductor comes around collecting tickets. He knocks on the toilet door and says, "Ticket, please." The door opens just a crack, and a single arm emerges with a ticket. The conductor takes it and moves on.

The men see this and agree it was quite a clever idea, so they decide to do the same thing on the return trip.

On the return trip, the men buy a single ticket but see, to their astonishment, that the three women don't buy any ticket at all!!

"How are you going to travel without a ticket?" they ask.
"Watch and learn," answer the women.

When they board the train, the three men cram themselves into a toilet with their ticket, and the three women cram into another toilet.

Five minutes after the train is underway, one of the women leaves her toilet and walks over to the toilet in which the men are hiding.

The woman knocks on their door and says, "Ticket, please."

Old jokes

This blog sometime gets peppered with "gloom and doom" posts about the economy, politics, rants about injustices, and so forth. To relieve the tedium I've dredged up some very OLD jokes from a file stored deep in my hard disk. I have no idea where they came from (some sound like they came from 4th graders...)

A woman in labor is yelling, “Shouldn’t! Wouldn’t! Couldn’t! Can’t!”
She’s having contractions.

What kinds of bugs live in chimneys? Chimney crickets!

What did the fish say when it ran into a concrete wall? Dam!

Why are restaurants on the moon so boring? There’s no atmosphere.

A philosopher refused anaesthesia while getting a root canal.
He wanted to transcend dental medication.

What’s green and smells like red paint? Green paint.

Two peanuts were walking in a bad neighborhood and one of them was a salted.

What do you call a fish with no eye? “Fsh”

Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.

Two atoms are walking down the street. One turns to the other and says “Bill, I think I lost an electron!!” “You sure, Bob?” “Yeah, I’m positive!”

A duck walks into a pharmacy and says “Gimmie some Chapstick and put it on my bill.”

What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot.

A boy in school says, “I can walk through walls.”
His teacher replies, “Prove it!”
“Okay,” the boy says. He opens the door and walks out.

What’s the difference between roast beef and pea soup?
Anyone can roast beef.

What’s Irish and hangs out in the back yard? Patty O’Furniture.

and my favorite in this bunch...
Heisenberg was driving down the highway when a cop pulled him over. The cop asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Heisenberg says, “Yes, but I have no idea where I am!”

11 January 2008

Throwing gasoline on the fire?

an opinion by Lew Rockwell, at his blog...
The Fed, at the expense of every current dollar holder, will payoff Bank of America to buy the bankrupt Countrywide. Bank of America, like all fractional-reserve commercial banks, is bankrupt at the best of times, and would go under in a minute without federal backing. But it is even shakier than normal now. Bernanke, as Ron Paul pointed out last night, is attempting to cure the recession with more of what caused it in the first place: easy credit. The result will be an even worse recession, perhaps for a very long time.

...and from the reference he cites - the Herb Greenberg blog at Marketwatch...
We’ll know soon enough, but with the leak that Bank of America is near acquiring Countrywide, several things would appear apparent:

1. The Fed is behind the deal.
2. The Fed is behind the deal because the rumors yesterday of a near bankruptcy were probably true.
3. As part of the deal, the government likely agrees to guarantee BofA against Countrywide-related losses.
4. Lost in the in the noise yesterday was that Moody’s downgraded the ratings on 30... tranches of Countrywide’s mortgage debt... They did something similar before American Home Mortgage filed for bankruptcy...
7. Rule of thumb with bankruptcies: Stocks often double on their way to zero.
8. BofA gets a free bank and a put to the government.

10 January 2008

Rapid reversal of Alzheimers symptoms (!!??)

ScienceDaily (Jan. 9, 2008) — An extraordinary new scientific study, which for the first time documents marked improvement in Alzheimer’s disease within minutes of administration of a therapeutic molecule, has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.

This new study highlights the importance of certain soluble proteins, called cytokines, in Alzheimer’s disease. The study focuses on one of these cytokines, tumor necrosis factor-alpha(TNF), a critical component of the brain’s immune system. Normally, TNF finely regulates the transmission of neural impulses in the brain. The authors hypothesized that elevated levels of TNF in Alzheimer’s disease interfere with this regulation. To reduce elevated TNF, the authors gave patients an injection of an anti-TNF therapeutic called etanercept. Excess TNF-alpha has been documented in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with Alzheimer’s.

The new study documents a dramatic and unprecedented therapeutic effect in an Alzheimer’s patient: improvement within minutes following delivery of perispinal etanercept, which is etanercept given by injection in the spine. Etanercept (trade name Enbrel) binds and inactivates excess TNF. Etanercept is FDA approved to treat a number of immune-mediated disorders and is used off label in the study.

The skeptic in me has to point out that this study was funded the pharmaceutical company Amgen, that, as noted, "Author Edward Tobinick, M.D. owns stock in Amgen, the manufacturer of etanercept, and has multiple issued and pending patents assigned to TACT IP LLC that describe the parenteral and perispinal use of etanercept," and that etanercept can cause or exacerbate multiple sclerosis.

Several hundred comments at Reddit already, including the interesting quandry of whether it would be worthwhile to trade the tragedy of Alzheimers for the impairments of MS.

How to win a fist fight

A perhaps unsavory topic, and information one hopes one would never need to know, but for the intellectually curious and inexperienced, here is an explanation of how to fight.

Found on Reddit this morning, which has a long, interesting, and sometimes humorous discussion of the previous link.

How big is our federal government?

No commentary by me; just the data, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website:

With more than 1.8 million civilian employees, the Federal Government, excluding the Postal Service is the Nation’s largest employer.

Of the three branches, the executive branch ... employed 98 percent of all Federal civilian employees (excluding Postal Service workers) in 2005. The executive branch is composed of the Executive Office of the President, 15 executive Cabinet departments ... and nearly 90 independent agencies...

Cabinet departments ... listed by employment size:
  • Defense
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Homeland Security
  • Treasury
  • Justice
  • Agriculture
  • Interior
  • Health and Human Services
  • Transportation
  • Commerce
  • State
  • Labor
  • Energy
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Education
[much, much more info at the link]

There are some weird people in New York

from the Associated Press, this morning...

Detective Travis Rapp has seen his share of corpses, but this was new: two men wheeling a rigid, pale body down a Manhattan street in a red office chair, drawing a crowd of suspicious onlookers.

Looking out the window of the restaurant where he was having lunch, Rapp initially assumed "it was a mannequin or a dummy," he said. "I thought it was a joke, honestly."

A closer inspection showed that it wasn't. The man was dead, and two of his friends had hauled his corpse to a store to cash his $355 Social Security check, police said. They were arrested before they could get the money....

(more details at the link)

09 January 2008

Headlines with double meanings

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
Collegians are Turning to Vegetables
Defendants Speech Ends in Long Sentence
Drunken Drivers Paid $1000 in `84
Enfields Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax
Eye Drops off Shelf
Fund Set Up for Beating Victim's Kin
Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last A While
Include your Children When Baking Cookies
Infertility Unlikely To Be Passed On
Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years
Lack of Brains Hinders Research
Lansing Residents Can Drop Off Trees
Lawyer Says Client is Not That Guilty
Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
Lung Cancer in Women Mushrooms
March Planned For Next August
Miners Refuse to Work after Death
Never Withhold Herpes Infection From Loved One
New Vaccine may Contain Rabies
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
Patient At Death's Door - Doctors Pull Him Through
Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
Queen Mary Having Bottom Scraped
Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
Sex Education Delayed, Teachers Request Training
Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
Stolen Painting Found by Tree
Stud Tires Out
Two Convicts Evade Noose, Jury Hung
Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies
Woman Improving After Fatal Crash

a VERY sobering article about the US economy...

...and it comes not from a "goldbug" trying to scare investors, but from a respected UK site - the Telegraph. There's room here only for excerpts; go to the primary site if you want to read all the (grim) details.....

Bush convenes Plunge Protection Team
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor. 08/01/2008

On Friday, Mr Bush convened the so-called Plunge Protection Team for its first known meeting in the Oval Office. The black arts unit - officially the President's Working Group on Financial Markets - was created after the 1987 crash.

"At this point the debate is not about a soft landing or hard landing; it is about how hard the hard landing will be," said Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at New York University.

"Financial losses and defaults are spreading from sub-prime to near-prime and prime mortgages, to commercial real estate loans, to auto loans, credit cards and student loans, and sharply rising default rates on corporate bonds. A severe systemic financial crisis cannot be ruled out. This will be a much worse recession than the mild ones in 1990-91 and 2001," he said.

It appears to have powers to support the markets in a crisis with a host of instruments, mostly by through buying futures contracts on the stock indexes (DOW, S&P 500, NASDAQ and Russell) and key credit levers. And it has the means to fry "short" traders in the hottest of oils.

The team is led by Treasury chief Hank Paulson, ex-Goldman Sachs, a man with a nose for market psychology, and includes Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and the key exchange regulators.

The White House certainly has grounds for alarm. The global picture is darkening by the day. The Baltic Dry Index has been falling hard for seven weeks, signalling a downturn in bulk shipments. Singapore's economy contracted 3.2pc in the final quarter of last year, led by a slump in electronics and semiconductors.

The US data is now relentlessly grim. Unemployment jumped from 4.7pc to 5pc - or 7.7m - in December, the biggest one-month rise since the dotcom bust and clear evidence that the housing crunch has spread to the real economy.

Bad news from Lascaux

"The survival of the most important cave paintings in the world is in doubt because of a severe fungal infection that spread after an air-circulation system was installed to protect them... The 17,000-year-old paintings known as “the Sistine Chapel of pre-history” - the Lascaux cave in the Dordogne region of southwest France - are being damaged by black spots that are spreading at an alarming rate. Fragments of the cave walls have broken off and some colour tones are fading..."

More information at the Times (UK) online.

Man amputates and microwaves his hand

A man who believed he bore the "mark of the beast" used a circular saw to cut off one hand, then he cooked it in the microwave and called 911, authorities said... "It had been somewhat cooked by the time the deputy arrived," sheriff's Capt. Ben Wolfinger said. "He put a tourniquet on his arm before, so he didn't bleed to death... The book of Matthew contains the passage: "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (Associated Press, January 8, 2008)

Politicians are like diapers.

They need to be changed frequently.

And for the same reason.

06 January 2008

This graph is IMPORTANT to understand...

...if you want to know why you are paying $3.00+ for a gallon of gasoline that only cost $2.00 three years ago. The graph was published in the Wall Street Journal on January 4 (text of the article reprinted in the Common Sense Forecaster blog this morning).

Yes, there is a greater worldwide demand for oil/gas now, but the main problem is NOT, as John Edwards suggested in the Democratic debate, because oil companies are greedy, and NOT, as some catastrophists have suggested, because we have hit "peak oil" and will run out soon. The problem is that the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar is plummeting.

Note from the graph that the cost of oil for people buying it with Euros is only about half what the increase has been for us. And if one were to buy oil with gold, the price would be unchanged from 7 years ago. The falling dollar affects more than just imported oil; as the WSJ article says, "On Wednesday alone the price of wheat and soybeans increased 3.4% and 2.8%, respectively. That follows a 75% increase in their price in 2007 -- which ran ahead of the oil price, which gained a mere 57% for the year. Neither OPEC nor China caused food commodity prices to rise like this. The main culprit here is a global loss of confidence in Federal Reserve policy and the dollar."

This fact (and this graph) were cited by Ron Paul last night in the Republican debate in New Hampshire. (He is the ranking member of the House Banking Committee and has been crusading for years for stricter monetary policy). None of the other candidates in the debate understood what he was talking about.

This isn't likely to improve any time soon. It's a scary situation. Read more about it in the article here (there's no sublink, so scroll down to where the graph is).


all of these from Wikipedia:

When a meteor lands on Earth, it is not usually hot. Small meteorites are not hot when they fall to Earth — in fact, many are found with frost on them. A meteorite has been in the near–absolute zero temperature of space, so the interior of it is very cold. A meteor's great speed is enough to melt its outside layer, but any molten material will be quickly blown off (ablated), and the interior of the meteor does not have time to heat up because rocks are poor conductors of heat. Also, atmospheric drag can slow small meteors to terminal velocity by the time they hit the ground, giving them time to cool down.

Lemmings do not engage in suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating. This misconception is due largely to the Disney film White Wilderness, which shot many of the "migration" scenes on a large turntable in a studio. Photographers later pushed the lemmings off a cliff using a broom.

The blue color of lakes and oceans is not only a reflection of the blue sky. Water looks blue because water is blue; the water molecules do absorb some light, and they absorb red frequencies more than blue. The effect is small, so the blue color only becomes obvious when observing layers of water many meters (or more) thick. (This effect is noticeable to a lesser amount in white-painted swimming pools.) In salt water or mineral-laden fresh water, the color of dissolved minerals can also be seen. Sky-reflection does play a role, but only when the water surface is very calm, and only when the water is observed at a glancing angle less than approximately ten degrees.

The word "theory" in "the theory of evolution" does not imply doubt in mainstream science about the validity of this theory; the words "theory" and "hypothesis" are not the same in a scientific context (see Evolution as theory and fact). A scientific theory is a set of principles which, via logical deduction, explain the observations in nature. The same logical deductions can be made to predict observations before they are made. The theory describing how evolution occurs is a "theory" in the same sense as the theory of gravity or the theory of relativity.

The Wright Brothers did not make the first heavier than air flight. New Zealander Richard Pearse takes the prize, nine months before O & W.

A funny parody of a campaign commercial

Before you click on this video you need to view the original so you can appreciate the parody. Either scroll down through this blog to the entry entitled "Word of the day - monger" and click on the video illustrating the word "fearmonger" or just click here to go to that entry. After you view that video, then click on this one....

05 January 2008


"Der Hasen und der Löffel drei,
und doch hat jeder Hase zwei.".

A 16th century window motif in a 13th century cathedral (Paderborn cathedral, Germany). Extensive discussion of the three-rabbit puzzle at this link. Image and link found in Neatorama this morning

Will we run out of helium?

A thought-provoking article, excerpted here:

Next On The Endangered List: Helium?

Are we running out of helium? Lee Sobotka, professor of chemistry and physics at Washington University in St. Louis says it is being depleted so rapidly in the world’s largest reserve, outside of Amarillo, Tex., that supplies are expected to be depleted there within the next eight years. The helium we have on earth has been built up over billions of years from the decay of natural uranium and thorium. The decay of these elements proceeds at a super-snail’s pace.... Helium plays a role in nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectroscopy, welding, fiber optics and computer microchip production, among other technological applications. NASA uses large amounts annually to pressurize space shuttle fuel tanks.

I would guess that a shortage would increase prices, which would increase exploration etc. But I wasn't aware that there is not way to synthesize it.

Rough year ahead...

Investors May See Dividends Disappear
Saturday January 5, 4:24 am ET
By Stephen Bernard, AP Business Writer

Dividends in Financial Services Sector Likely to Be Casualties of Tightening Credit Markets--

With credit markets continuing their downward spiral, investors could see their dividends disappearing in 2008.<>Dividend cuts or suspensions will continue to pick up among financial services firms in 2008, said Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst at Standard & Poor's....Many investors rely on dividend payments as a source of income, and financial institutions in particular have been rich sources of large payouts. Their need to raise capital in the face of rising loan defaults, though, has made their dividends one of the first places they look to save money...

As a result of the rising defaults, investors have shied away from purchasing bonds and debt backed by the loans because of fears of mounting losses. As investors stopped buying the debt, banks and other holders of the bonds have been forced to write down their value.

The writedowns -- which eclipsed $100 billion in 2007 -- have strained earnings, forcing companies to look for new ways to raise capital and preserve cash.

Silverblatt said if the credit markets continue to deteriorate and the economy further weakens, the problem is likely to expand into other areas, such as the consumer discretionary sector.

full article here.

Another story written in the snow

Internet insecurity

If any readers of this blog have shopped online with Sears, you definitely should read this column in Bruce Schneier's cybersecurity blog.

Is Sears Engaging in Criminal Hacking Behavior?

Sears.com is distributing spyware that tracks all your Internet usage - including banking logins, email, and all other forms of Internet usage - all in the name of "community participation." Every website visitor that joins the Sears community installs software that acts as a proxy to every web transaction made on the compromised computer. In other words, if you have installed Sears software ("the proxy") on your system, all data transmitted to and from your system will be intercepted....

Here is a summary of what the software does and how it is used. The proxy:

  1. Monitors and transmits a copy of all Internet traffic going from and coming to the compromised system.
  2. Monitors secure sessions (websites beginning with ‘https'), which may include shopping or banking sites....
If a kid with a scary hacker name did this sort of thing, he'd be arrested. But this is Sears, so who knows what will happen to them. But what should happen is that the anti-spyware companies should treat this as the malware it is, and not ignore it because it's done by a Fortune 500 company.

04 January 2008

Special forces on standby over nuclear threat

From an article published in The Herald (U.K.) several days ago:

US special forces snatch squads are on standby to seize or disable Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the event of a collapse of government authority or the outbreak of civil war following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The troops, augmented by volunteer scientists from America's Nuclear Emergency Search Team organisation, are under orders to take control of an estimated 60 warheads dispersed around six to 10 high-security Pakistani military bases.

Military sources say contingency plans have been reviewed over the past three days to prevent any of Pakistan's atomic weapons falling into the hands of Islamic extremists if the administration of President Pervez Musharraf appears threatened by civil unrest.

I wonder whether China and the Soviet Union also have similar contingency plans, since they are closer to Pakistan than we are...

Don't Tread on Me (video)

There are quite literally thousands of videos on YouTube presenting various aspects of the Ron Paul candidacy. This is one of the better ones - in about 8 minutes it summarizes the essence of his positions using excerpts from debates and speeches.

You poor Floridians...

...having to endure this -

455 PM EST THU JAN 03 2008



I know one global warming skeptic down there who will find the event encouraging.
I'm also thankful that NOAA specified that this occurred at "930 AM this morning" so as to distinguish it from 930 AM in the evening....

An omnivore and his daughter

...one day when Iris was around twenty months old we went to a Chinese restaurant that has live fish in tanks at the front of the restaurant ... We ordered a striped bass, and then I took Iris to look at the fish in the tanks. I explained to her that these fish swimming in the tanks were for people to eat, and that when we ordered our fish for dinner, a waiter came out and caught one of the fish in a net, took it back to the kitchen, and they killed it and were cooking it for us.

...I really did not know how Iris would respond to this. Some people have a very strong negative response when they first learn that meat comes from animals, so negative that they never eat meat again. But I thought Iris should know the truth and make her own decision about how to respond.

Iris's response was to point at one of the striped bass and say "I want to eat that one."

the full story here and a long discussion of the expected ramifications at reddit.

02 January 2008

The Power of Trees

Tree versus car --- Tree wins
Tree versus sign --- Tree wins

A pacifier and a surgical mask

Gloom re the economy

I have to be somewhat cautious while assembling this blog not to include too many rants or gloom-and-doom pieces because then I risk upsetting visitors who are looking for entertainment and don't want to be confronted by warnings of fiscal Armageddon. But I do think someone needs to occasionally highlight the bad news; the mainstream media tend to underplay or sugarcoat such offerings, perhaps for fear of making things worse.

In the interests of "full disclosure" re possible biases, I should point out that I turned bearish on the economy and the markets more than a year ago and began selling my stocks and emailing a few close friends re my concerns re economy and real estate in particular. This summer I began actively shorting certain sectors (real estate first, consumer stocks more recently) using exchange-traded funds. I'm not recommending that anyone else do the same, because everyone has unique financial needs and different risk tolerances.

All of the above is a prelude to this next bit, which I've extracted from a website (rgemonitor.com) maintained by Nouriel Roubini. I first heard an interview with this guy last summer on Bloomberg (via satellite radio) when the housing crisis was just heating up. He is an economist with excellent credentials (from Wikipedia) -
Nouriel Roubini born on March 29, 1958 in Istanbul, Turkey, is a professor of economics at New York University. He is also the chairman of Roubini Global Economics.

He served in various roles at the Treasury Department, including Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for International Affairs and Director of the Office of Policy Development and Review (July 1999 - June 2000). Previously, he was a Senior Economist for International Affairs on the Staff of the President's Council of Economic Advisors (July 1998 - July 1999).

Roubini spent one year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before receiving his B.A. summa cum laude in Economics from the Bocconi University (Milan, Italy) in 1982. He received his Ph.D from Harvard University in 1988.

Here's how he starts his first article of the year:
Recession ahead...
Nouriel Roubini | Jan 02, 2008

As expected - and argued in this space for a while - a US recession is now unavoidable: the year started with (these being the top Bloomberg news headlines today):

- the manufacturing ISM for December plunging to 47.7 (with a reading below 50 signaling an outright contraction of the manufacturing sector);

- retail sales being lousy in the holiday period (they fell 0.7% in December relative to November according to Redbook Research and they fell 0.2% relative to the week before in the week ending on December 29th according to the ICSC/UBS securities weekly index); and they fallen in real terms in this holiday period relative to a year ago;

- growth of internet sales being mediocre;

- LBO deals being dropped (the PHH- Blackstone deal) as financing shrinks.

- oil surging to $98 a barrel;

- National City slashing payout and jobs;

- the outlook for 2008 Detroit car makers and overall auto sales being awful.

- Global manufacturing activity fell sharply in December to a near 4-1/2 year low; so the world is not decoupling from the US hard landing.

No wonder the stock market started the year with another bearish fall; and as predicted here yesterday a lousy stock market in 2007 will look good compared to an awful stock market in 2008.

The combination of the worst housing recession ever getting worse, a severe liquidity and credit crunch being worse now than in August, oil close to $100, capex spending by the corporate sector falling for four months nows, commercial real estate being in serious trouble, the labor market beginning its slack (as initial claims and continuing claims are surging), and a shopped-out, saving-less and debt-burdened consumer having stopped its shopping spree this holiday season will all lead to a severe - rather than mild - recession in 2008.

He could certainly be wrong or have biases skewing his judgment. But I think the viewpoint is at least worth considering. Those with the interest (and courage) to read further can do so at this link, which also includes some interesting commentary after the main article.

That's enough for now. I need to balance this out with some cartoons or something.

The other Man in the Iron Mask

... one evening in 1907 at the National Sporting Club in London, Morgan and Lonsdale were arguing whether a man could walk around the world without being identified. Bensley, a notorious "playboy" and womaniser with a substantial private income, overheard the conversation and offered to test the proposition on their behalf...

Bensley had to satisfy 15 conditions, including:

* Bensley was never to be identified;
* He was to walk around the world but first through specific 169 British cities and towns in a specific order; to prove his visit he would have to collect a signature from a local prominent resident. After that he would begin a tour of 18 countries and would have to visit them, also in pre-specified order.
* Bensley was to finance himself, starting off with just GBP 1 and selling picture cards about himself;
* Only a change of underclothes was allowed as baggage;
* He was to complete the journey wearing an iron mask weighing 2 kg (4.5 lb) from a suit of armour;
* He was to push a perambulator (baby carriage) the entire journey;
* Another man was to accompany him to see that he fulfilled the conditions in all times and
* On the journey he was to find a wife without her seeing his face (note that he was possibly married already).

If that interests you, more details and links are available at Wiki.

Offered without commentary

original data here.

best viewed in conjunction with this:

A story written in the snow...

Animal tracks enter from the upper left. They terminate at the body print of the raptor....

01 January 2008

Non-transitive dice

An amusing new game to trick and baffle your friends, based on a recent discovery made at Stanford University, USA. These so-called 'Non Transitive Dice' (Magic Dice) demonstrate a probability that violates common sense and traps the unwary.

Ask your opponent to select any one of the four dice. You select another and both dice are thrown, at the same time, a predetermined number of times, to see who gets the highest number on each throw, and hence wins that throw. In a game of 'The Best of Ten Throws' you will almost always have more wins. Invite the player to choose another dice - perhaps your 'winner' - leaving you to select another for yourself and play again. Again you will win. Whichever die your opponent selects, your choice, in a longer run of ten or more throws, will always win.

The secret
Turn up the highest faces on each of the four dice and arrange them in a circle, as shown in the diagram.

more information at this website

originally posted this morning at J-Walk
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