28 February 2008

Not Dr. Jarvik

I've apparently missed out on this because I don't watch network television, but for several years Pfizer has been running commercials featuring Robert Jarvik (artificial heart scientist) sculling on a lake and touting Lipitor to lower cholesterol. But, as noted by Time.com and Consumerist.com, Jarvik can't row (it was a body double in the ads) and is not an expert on cholesterol metabolism; in fact he never did an internship or residency and has never been licensed to practice medicine.

According to a Pfizer spokesman "The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions..." Misimpressions, not deception. Not Big Pharma's fault - it's the viewer's fault for misinterpreting the advertising...

All the water and air on earth

Conceptual computer artwork of the total volume of water on Earth (left) and of air in the Earth's atmosphere (right) shown as spheres (blue and pink).

The water sphere measures 1390 kilometres across and has a volume of 1.4 billion cubic kilometres. This includes all the water in the oceans, seas, ice caps, lakes and rivers as well as ground water, and that in the atmosphere. The air sphere measures 1999 kilometres across and weighs 5140 trillion tonnes.

Credit to Sciencephoto.com, where you can order copies.

Harper's Index #4

Chances that an American is an immigrant: 1 in 14
Chances that a Canadian is an immigrant: 1 in 6

Number of members of the Cossacks, a Moscow motorcycle gang: 8
Number of motorcycles they own: 1

Percentage of American households in which no books were bought last year: 60
Number of Ph.D.s hired last year to "develop" carrot sticks for McDonald's: 45

Percentage of Taiwan's cabinet who have Ph.D.s from U.S. universities: 43
Percentage of United States cabinet members who have Ph.D.s: 0

Percentage of Americans who don't know how long to hard-boil an egg: 74
Percentage of Americans who say they are "excellent" or "very good" cooks: 63

Percent of Japanese high-school seniors who have taken 6 years of English: 100
Percentage of Americans who think "espresso" is an "overnight delivery system" : 7
Percentage of annual U.S. economic aid to Israel used to pay debts to the U.S.: 99
Estimated number of seconds it takes a N.Y.C. thief to break into a locked car: 27
Portion of the world's countries to which the United States has sold arms: 5/6
Number of new saints canonized by the Vatican since 1978: 262
Pairs of moose-dung earrings sold each year at Grizzly's Gifts in Anchorage: 6,000
Value Lloyd's of London has placed on a Viking turd owned by England's Archaeological Resource Centre: $34,000
Ratio of the density of the average fruitcake to the density of mahogany: 1:1
Change, since 1969, in U.S. median household income, adjusted for inflation: 0

Nineteenth century Norway

From a Russian photography blog, an interesting album of colored photographs of Norway in the nineteenth century. This would correspond to the time period when half of my ancestors emigrated from Norway to America. In 1982 I went back with family members to the fjord where the original family farms were (the Fjaerland Fjord, a branch off the Sognefjord). Some family still living there were able to give us a family tree full of Endresons, Andresons, Olsons, and Torsons to an Endre Distad born in 1623. When we visited, the road around the fjord wasn't much better than the one illlustrated in the album.

From the CIA Factbook

A ranking of the "current account balance" of 163 countries. I didn't post the entire list, which would be over three feet long vertically - too much for this blog. You can view the entire list at this cia.gov link.

It's not surprising that China, Japan, and Germany top the list. Then a group of oil-producing countries. Then Hong Kong, Finland, Angola...

So where is the United States? It's further down, below Belgium and below Botswana.
Keep going. Bangladesh is ahead of us, as is the Cook Islands.
Look further down. Lower than Cuba.
Keep going. Below Slovenia. Below Romania.

Bank failures coming

"The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is taking steps to brace for an increase in failed financial institutions as the nation's housing and credit markets continue to worsen. The FDIC is looking to bring back 25 retirees from its division of resolutions and receiverships... There have only been four bank failures in the past 12 months, a rate the FDIC has easily been able to handle. Regulators are bracing for well over 100 bank failures in the next 12 to 24 months..."

Full story at this Wall Street Journal article.

27 February 2008

A tribute to Panda...

... whom we adopted and brought home at three weeks of age (10 oz weight) after someone abandoned him behind the shop where we buy cheese. This week he reached the age where (as the famous Far Side cartoon put it) he went to the vet to get tutored. But he didn't have Neuticles implanted (if you have to ask what those are, you probably don't want to know).

So you're sitting in class at college, when a gunman bursts through the door...

"An armed man who burst into a classroom at Elizabeth City State University was role-playing in an emergency response drill, but neither the students nor assistant professor Jingbin Wang knew that.... The drill was conducted just eight days after a gunman stormed a Northern Illinois University classroom, killing five people before he took his own life. Brown said students, staff and faculty were notified five days in advance that a drill would take place. The word went out via e-mail and text messages. Not everyone got the word.... The intruder instructed Wang to close the door and then ordered the seven students to line up along the wall. Wang said the man told them that he had been kicked out of school and that he needed a lung transplant. At one point, Wang said, the man threatened to kill the student who had the lowest grade point average..."

Brilliant. Truly brilliant. It might have been even more interesting had they performed the drill in a state with concealed carry laws. Full story at this link.

Blind man sees after tooth implanted in eye

I have to admit I was a bit flummoxed when I saw that title on a news story. Even after reading the text it was hard to understand. A 57-year-old man lost his vision two years ago when molten aluminum splashed in his eye(!). At the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton he underwent a Osteo-Odonto-Keratoprosthesis (OOKP), which involves "creating a support for an artificial cornea from the patient's own tooth and the surrounding bone."

Finally I found an article in the "Ocular Surgery News of India" that includes pictures, including the one embedded above, which shows an eye one month after surgery. What the procedure does is create an iris for people who have severe scleral damage but intact retinas; the iris is of necessity fixed in size, but still functions like a pinhole camera to focus images on the retina. Below is a picture of the same eye after it has been fitted with a "cosmetic scleral shell." Truly amazing.

25 February 2008

Has the Amber Room been found?

Der Spiegel is reporting that treasure hunters claim to have found a man-made cavern that may contain two tons of Nazi gold as well as the disassembled Amber Room. The mayor of the town of Deutschneudorf, where this is occuring, said the location of the cavern had come from documents of a recently deceased Luftwaffe signaller. "There was a note written next to the coordinates that the site contained Nazi party gold in 12-kilo bars. If the gold is there, the Amber Room will be too." It may take until Easter to get into the chamber because it may contain booby traps and has to be secured by explosives experts and engineers.

The Amber Room is one of the world's greatest unlocated treasures. It was created in Prussia and given to Peter the Great in 1716. During WWII it was looted by the Nazis and shipped back to Konigsberg Castle, but was "lost" during the war. Speculation was that it was inadvertently bombed or sunk in the Baltic, but there has been heated controversy about this, well summarized in the Wiki link earlier.

If this report is confirmed, the discovery will be the most spectacular news in years, though likely most Americans will pay more attention to the fate of Britney... gag-me-with-a-spoon-I-can't-finish-this-sentence......

Frustrating (but simple) math problem

I found this on a "puzzle-a-day" calendar Christmas gift. The math required to solve it is 8th grade algebra. But it is agonizingly frustrating...

"Ellie is 33 years old. This is three times as old as Sophie was when Ellie was as old as Sophie is now."
How old is Sophie now?

Try it. Get a pencil/pen and paper (you'll need it). You'll think a sentence or some data is missing. It isn't - everything necessary to solve the question is in those two sentences.

Answer in the "comments" section. Don't peek until you sweat it out for 10 minutes.

Tortoises in the refrigerator

75 of them, in two fridges, at the Tortoise Sanctuary in Jersey (England). "...tortoises were given three weeks without food, allowed to complete their toilet needs (tortoises must empty their digestive system before hibernating), then bathed, weighed, wrapped [in tea towels, removed for the photo] and put to bed... She opens the doors each day to waft fresh air inside. As tortoises breathe only once a minute during hibernation, this is sufficient to keep them healthy..."

24 February 2008

"Girls shouldn't read big books"

"My customers often annoy me. They often make me mad, and often I think they are idiots.
However, they seldom make me want to physically assault them.
Today, though, I came very close to hitting someone.

I work at a bookstore. I was cashiering today when a woman and her two kids (a boy and a girl, both somewhere between 13-15) came up to the register. The mom was buying 2 celeb gossip magazines, and the boy put down a book. The girl then walked up and set down the newest volume of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.

The mom says "You can't buy that."

Girl: Why?
Mom: Because it's too big.
Girl: [Brother] is buying a book that big. It's not very expensive.
Mom: [Brother] is a boy. You're a girl. And girls shouldn't read big books like that. It's too thick. Boys don't like girls who read thick books. You want boys to like you, don't you?

The girl went and put the book away.

Reading it, this doesn't sound like much. And I suppose it -wasn't- that big of a deal. But I can't express the -tone- this woman used, nor the expression on her daughters face when she went to put the book away. I had to actually walk away from the register, and into the back room to avoid saying something. Still, little or not, it upset me a lot. More than just about anything I've experienced in customer service."

Posted at this website, along with six pages of comments from readers (you can guess the tone of the comments...)

Do you remember the scene in "Alien"...

...in which Sigourney Weaver is face-to-face with the creature, and it opens its mouth, and a smaller mouth is inside the first one (and there's drool slobbering all over everywhere...)

Well, it turns out that it almost exactly what happens in moray eels! After the forward teeth latch onto prey, a "pharyngeal jaw" thrusts forward, grabs the prey, and drags it into the gullet. The process has now been captured on high-speed video; I don't have the code to embed it here, but you can watch the video at this LiveScience website.

Is your name on the "Terrorist Watch List?"

The FBI now reports that there are 750,000 names on the list. Criteria for inclusion includes "individuals who are reasonably suspected of having possible links to terrorism." If your name is similar to one of those names it may result in some "inconvenience" but not necessarily arrest.....

The list is expected to reach 1 million by next year.

A nice story out of Iraq

While on patrol in the Anbar province, Marine Maj. Brian Dennis spotted this dog, which he named Nubs after learning someone cut the ears off "believing it would make the dog more aggressive and alert"... He had lost a tooth and been bitten in the neck. Dennis found Nubs near death in freezing temperatures. The dog had been stabbed with a screwdriver. Dennis rubbed antibiotic cream on the wound and slept with Nubs to keep him warm.... Dennis thought he had seen the last of the dog when his squad headed back to its command post some 65 miles away. He couldn't take the dog with him and watched as it tried to follow the Humvees away from the border. Two days later he looked up and saw the dog staring at him. "Somehow that crazy damned dog tracked us..."

My inner skeptic has some doubts that the dog could "track" someone riding in a vehicle to a previously unvisited destination; I suspect the marine's buddies helped the dog find him, but in any case the story a pleasant change from the usual Iraq news; more details here, including the Marine's successful effort to get the dog back to the United States.

If you have a dog...

...or if you have a friend with a dog, or if you like dogs... or if you just know what a dog is... you should watch this video. Carolyn Scott and her Golden Retriever "Rookie" performing to the music of Grease in the Canine Musical Freestyle competition.

23 February 2008

Award-winning photographs

From the 2007 Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar. The first described thus -
Adem Hadei, Associated Press. A woman takes her dead son into her arms, as she grieves for her six-year-old son, Dhiya Thamer, who was killed when their family car came under fire by unknown gunmen in Baqouba, capital of Iraq's Diyala province, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007. The boy's ten-year old brother, Qusay, was injured in the attack as the family returned from enrolling the children in school, where Dhiya was to begin his first year.
and the second described thus -
John Moore, Getty Images. Mary McHugh mourns her slain fiance, Sgt. James Regan, a US Army Ranger killed in Iraq, at Arlington National Cemetery May 27, 2007.
I'll refrain from any personal commentary. The photos speak for themselves.

Two burglaries thwarted

A 15-year old boy and his sister were at home alone in Miami when burglars broke in. They saw a Playstation 3 box and started to search for the console. The boy decided to fight back; he grabbed his... samurai sword!! ... and struck the burglar with it, then chased the man down the street! His sister called the police, who apprehended the malefactor. (Apparently it wasn't one of those really great swords like in Kill Bill, or the chase would have been unnecessary).

The other episode occurred in Terrell, Texas. "An elderly couple remains shaken by an incident where seven people threatened to kill them as they tried to break through the couple's front door... As the door was coming down, the homeowner's son, Don Ashby, grabbed a shotgun and shot through the bottom of the door striking Lily in the right foot.... After the shooting, Ashby got a call from Lily's mother who reportedly told him she didn't appreciate him shooting her son..." (That qualifies as a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot). Shirley Ashby told the teen's mother she was sorry, but that the man shouldn't have been trying to break into their home. (no need to be that polite, ma'am)

Abandoned Russian village

The picture above is from a photoessay in English Russia (which, by the way, is an interesting website to explore, since as they note "something cool happens daily on 1/6 of the world's surface.) A place like this, with wooden buildings and a wooden church, and no people around, would be so interesting to explore...

What's the singular of "paparazzi"

It's "paparazzo." Speaking of which, the LA Times has an op-ed piece today by one who has quit his profession because of disgust with paparazzi behavior, specifically re Britney Spears.
"...celebrity pictures were worth far more than news pictures.... a spread in a glossy showbiz magazine could easily get you $10,000.... The market for photos of Britney Spears was particularly huge, with many photo agencies earning a full 30% of their income from the images of her latest trip to Starbucks or Rite-Aid -- or of her most recent mental breakdown.... Britney's white convertible would speed past... You'd drive so close that you'd keep one foot on the gas and the other covering the brake. Accidents were common... as she left a Rite-Aid on Sunset, I saw the pack (walking backward to continue shooting) knock a homeless woman to the ground. No one bothered to even check whether she was hurt... But for me, it had to end. We were not, after all, pursuing a Third World dictator responsible for the massacre of thousands of his own people. This was Britney Spears, a 26-year-old mother of two, suffering from mental illness..."

22 February 2008

The story of my life...

...and perhaps yours, summed up in this poem by Robert Frost -

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This didn't happen at a Muslim school....

....it was at a Catholic academy near Topeka -
The Kansas State High School Activities Association said referees reported that Michelle Campbell was preparing to officiate at St. Mary's Academy near Topeka on Feb. 2 when a school official insisted that Campbell could not call the game. The reason given, according to the referees: Campbell, as a woman, could not be put in a position of authority over boys because of the academy's beliefs.
The headmaster has subsequently spun the event differently saying it was a matter of role models, not Biblical submission of women to men. That's not what the referees were told at gametime. Since it's a private school, the administration is probably within their rights to make such a demand, but the referees are also within their rights to refuse the conditions, and I'm pleased to note that Ms. Campbell's male colleagues walked out with her.

The wheelchair-dumping video

Those who cruise the internet have probably heard about the incident last week in Tampa, Florida in which a deputy intentionally tipped a paraplegic out of his wheelchair onto the floor, apparently not believing that a man who had driven himself to the jailhouse could be paralyzed. There are multiple videos of the event, which was captured on jailhouse security cameras, and is disconcerting for its violence; I've embedded the local television news report above. The responsible deputy has subsequently been charged with felony abuse.

The Customer Is Not Always Right

Gas Station | Olympia, WA, USA

Woman: “I’ve been standing out there trying to pump gas for the last 10 minutes! Your @&$%*# gas pump is broken!”

Me: “I’m sorry. I’ll go out with you and see what I can do.”

(I see a bright red “Out of Order” bag on the nozzle; she had shoved everything into her tank, bag and all.)

Me: “Yes, that pump is broken. You’ll need to pull up to another pump.”

Woman: “Oh, well you guys should really mark it better. I wasted a lot of time here!”

Me: “Um…yes, we usually put a traffic cone in front.”

Woman: “Oh yeah…I saw it, but I didn’t know what it was for, so I just drove over it.”

(The cone was wedged under her car.)


Retail | Colorado, USA

Woman: Excuse me, I’ve lost my child somewhere in the store.

Me: “Okay, I’ll get someone right away.”

(I call in a code yellow.)

Me: “Okay, how old is your child?”

Woman: “She’d just turned three. Ooohhh, what if she’s been kidnapped?”

Me: “Don’t worry, I’m sure that’s not the case.”

(Security comes up to talk to her and she turns around.)

Security: “Ma’am, how many children do you have?”

Woman: “Just one, why?”

Security: “Because your child is on your back.”

(She was wearing one of those harnesses.)


Hundreds more examples at this website.

20 February 2008

Right feet are washing ashore near Vancouver

Three of them, so far. Three right feet.
Human. Without legs or bodies.
All of them in sneakers.
All in the last six months.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating, but aren't sure at this time whether foul play is involved.....

An artificial big toe

And speaking of feet... one doesn't have to be a physical therapist or an orthopod to appreciate the artifact illustrated here. It's a prosthetic big toe on the foot of a mummy in the Cairo Museum. Made of linen, glue, and plaster, the toe shows signs of wear, suggesting that it was functional rather than just decorative. Researchers in Great Britain are recruiting volunteers who have had toe amputations, to test replicas of this prosthesis. More details at this link.

Photo credit: Matjaž Kačičnik, via PhysOrg.

Why do teardrops explode?

Prince Rupert's teardrops, that is.

First, some background from New Scientist:
In 1661, King Charles II asked his personal scientific society, later to become the Royal Society, why do teardrops explode? The teardrops he had in mind were the size of a fingernail and made of glass, and they had been brought to England by Prince Rupert of Bavaria. Prince Rupert's drops, as they are now known, had a quite remarkable property: they were immensely strong, able to withstand the weight of a 1-tonne wagon without shattering, but at the touch of a finger they exploded like a bomb.
The video at the top shows the creation of a Prince Rupert drop, but the explosion is done underwater; the second video demonstrates the explosion more impressively by doing it inside a glass jar. When the tail is cracked, the crack crack "races up the tail towards the head at almost 7000 kilometres an hour - three times the speed of Concorde." The explosion occurs in a few millionths of a second, leaving only glass powder. For details about the physics involved, see the New Scientist article at the link.

Thanks to Metafilter for posting the links this morning.

19 February 2008

Wednesday night

The next one won't occur until 2010. Note that the times in the image above are CST, so adjust accordingly depending on where you live. For extensive details, go to NASA's web page on the event.

Wisconsin primary today

18 February 2008

Those guys on the cover of the Abbey Road album....

You know, of course that John and George died long ago.

Now Paul is dead.

Keep an eye on the price of wheat and bread

This graph scares me. I found it today in TwinCities.com, in a report about the agricultural markets. Here are some selections from the text of the article:

Decades from now, farmers will still talk about this week - the moment when wheat in Minneapolis soared to nearly $20 a bushel. Like a 100-year flood, spring wheat prices have risen relentlessly all winter, obliterating every record in sight. At the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, wheat fever pushed prices to $19.80 a bushel in trading Friday - nearly triple the record from 1996.... For the past month, the hottest market in the nation has been the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, the nation's center for trading spring wheat futures. The high-protein wheat that farmers grow in Minnesota and the Dakotas is prized for making bread, but poor crops worldwide have left wheat supplies at a 60-year low.

The impact of that shortage reaches far beyond the wheat trading pit in Minneapolis. Trading in Minneapolis has supercharged wheat markets in Chicago and Kansas City, Mo., as well. That has pushed corn and soybean prices to near-record levels - fueling a wave of uncertainty about everything from food price inflation to subsidies in the new farm bill to hunger in the developing world....

"It's telling us how close we are to that tipping point in all commodities," said Usset, a former grain trader. "Every commodity I know would like more acres: corn needs more, soybeans need more ... durum wheat, malt barley, sunflowers, they all want a little more production."
I remember seeing a link earlier this week about a baker complaining that the price he was paying for wheat was skyrocketing, and he couldn't absorb the change and would have to pass it along to consumers. There are probably many reasons for this including temporary weather and crop problems, but also recent shifts in cropland from wheat to corn production to supply ethanol for fuel, and perhaps most importantly a growing worldwide demand for wheat- the latter accentuated by the plunging value of the dollar versus worldwide currencies making our grains and other products more attractive to overseas buyers.

One writer in the Financial Times (London) has suggested this past week that the next crisis will be over food. I don't think that concept (or this wheat graph) has made it to the "mainstream media" (making it one of the Things You Wouldn't Know If We Didn't Blog It). But I'll bet the impact of the graph embedded above shows up at grocery stores before spring. Wish there were some way to stock up on doughnuts.....

The "Yes We Can" video

After Barack Obama won the New Hampshire primary last month, he spoke to his supporters with an underlying theme of "Yes We Can, " excerpted here -

"... Yes we can heal this nation.
Yes we can repair this world.
Yes we can.
We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.
We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics...they will only grow louder and more dissonant ........... We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.

But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope... we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea --

Yes. We. Can...."

The speech was a outstanding piece of oratory, and Obama has a masterful delivery style reminiscent of Martin Luther King. Those who want to read the entire speech or watch it can easily find it with two clicks on Google or YouTube. What I find even more interesting is the video embedded above; it was created by a variety of professional musicians and celebrities using Obama's words and overdubbing them to music. It's a bit over 4 minutes long and well worth watching to keep up with what is going on in this year's interesting presidential campaign. This video has gone viral on the web with over 4 million views already; the style especially appeals to younger cybersophisticates, but it's unlikely to reach mainstream television.

Even though this blog and its host support Ron Paul for the presidency, I'm delighted to grant one spot to this video. If you decide to watch it, when you're done scroll down lower in this blog to the "Anti-John McCain video" entry or click here to jump to it. The latter is a superb (and effective) parody of the original.

17 February 2008

Mother throwing knives at child

Note that this wasn't a "magic trick" with the knives popping out from the boards - you can clearly watch them travel through the air. Somehow I don't think this would be approved today - which is one reason to wonder which of our current behaviors/tolerances will leave people aghast one generation from now...

"Nice kitty, nice kitty....."

Will Rogers defined "diplomacy" as the art of saying "nice doggy" until you can find a stick. That was the thought that came to mind when I viewed these photos sent to me by a friend. The original claim was that these pictures were taken near the town of Spooner, Wisconsin, looking from the kitchen out toward the deck, with the cougar watching the family's children playing on the kitchen floor. Others have doubted the Wisconsin provenance of the images, and the second one showed up on Pizdaus, a Russian photo-storing website; as I view the first image, the wooden chair looks more European than upper-Midwest-American, so until I hear otherwise, I will assume this is a European/Russian cougar. Still, it's an impressive pair of images.

These are magnificent animals almost always harmless to humans, but the display of dentition in the second photo is a reminder of the respect that must be accorded to wildlife.

Things we learn from the movies

Lists like this have been on the internet since the days when hard drive capacities were measured in megabytes, so it's impossible to give credit to the original creator. There have been hundreds of entries, whose humor or relevance depends on which movies you've seen; the ones below are some of my favorites.

All grocery shopping bags contain at least one stick of French bread.

The ventilation system of a building is a perfect hiding place. No one will think of looking for you there, and you can travel to any other part of the building without difficulty.

Should you wish to pass yourself off as a German officer, it will not be necessary to speak the language. A German accent will do.

The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris.

A man will show no pain while taking the most ferocious beating, but will wince when a woman tries to clean his wounds.

Vehicles that crash always burst into flames.

Medieval peasants had perfect teeth.

All single women have a cat.

It does not matter if you are outnumbered in a martial arts fight; your enemies will wait to attack you one by one until you have knocked out their predecessor.

When you turn out the light to go to bed, everything in your room will still be clearly visible, just slightly bluish.

Dogs always know who's bad and will naturally bark at them.

When they are alone, all foreigners prefer to speak English to one other.

Many musical instruments - especially wind instruments and accordions - can be played without moving the fingers.

All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices so you know when they're going to go off.

It is always possible to park outside the building you are visiting.

Laptop computers are powerful enough to override the communication systems of an invading alien civilization.

All computer disks will work in all computers, regardless of software.

When driving a car, you should look at the person sitting beside you for the entire journey.

Having a job of any kind will make a father forget his son's birthday.

All beds have special L-shaped top sheets that reach up to armpit level on a woman but only waist level on the man beside her.

Kitchens don't have light switches; at night, you should open the fridge door and use that light.

Mothers routinely cook eggs, bacon and waffles every morning, even though the family never has time to eat them.

Stolen clothes are always a perfect fit.

Television news bulletins usually contain a story that affects you personally when you turn the television on.

Computers never display a cursor on screen but will always say: Enter Password Now.

You're likely to survive any battle in any war unless you make the mistake of showing someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.

14 February 2008

Harnessing the energy of children at play

It's a common observation among mature adults that when they watch children playing they muse "I wish I had that much energy." Some extremely imaginative individuals have figured out how to harvest that energy for practical use. Playpumps International hooks a playground-type merry-go-round to a water pump, so that when children push it around, they pump groundwater up to where it can be stored and used. This virtually eliminates the risk of surface-water-related infectious diseases in the community.

The fence, clothespin, and advertisement in the post above this one are labelled "clever," but it's for inventions like this one that I created the category. I strongly recommend viewing the brief video at the company's website. It's the cleverest idea I've seen all year.

Is John McCain Electable?

This YouTube video is pure politics, and therefore of minimal interest to most of the viewers of this blog. It presents John McCain as being unsuitable for the presidency because of his bellicosity and apparent prevarication. It's almost 9 minutes in length and therefore will never be seen on television, so only the internet-savvy will have an opportunity to view it. It is decidedly not an uplifting viewpoint on the candidate, but it does present aspects of the man that will likely not be available from the mainstream media.

Those who have come to this blog for entertainment rather than enlightenment should skip this entry and continue further down the column, where there are links to some cheerful cartoons.

Anti-John McCain video

Those who have no interest in politics should just skip over this post also, as should McCain supporters. For the rest, this is a clever YouTube entity; at a minute-and-a-half it's a concise presentation of the reasons some people are wary of his candidacy. It is a parody of the pro-Obama "Yes We Can" video, and like that one, this one was not created by any official campaign committee (like most political videos, the best ones are done by the amateurs).


Just finished watching on cable the Oscar-nominated Will Smith-and-son movie "The Pursuit of Happyness," which I can recommend without reservation; it's a heartwarming story of a man who works his way up from homelessness to financial success. The reason I decided it was blogworthy is that by coincidence I encountered two related items on the 'net today.

The first was this story in the Christian Science Monitor of a young man who after graduation from college decided to see if he could truly "work his way up" starting only with a gym bag and $25. He lived in a shelter, worked as a day laborer, and used common sense and thrift; ten months later he was living in an apartment, had bought a truck, and had $5,000 in savings.

In contrast to that is this older MSN article about lottery winners who blew their fortunes and returned to poverty.

p.s. - yes, I know the title of this post is misspelled; you have to see the movie to understand why.

13 February 2008

"Gerald McBoing-Boing"

Michaelangelo Matos has done the internet-surfing time-wasting world a great favor by collecting in one blog entry links to YouTube videos of 44 Academy Award-winning short animations. (Wiki has a comprehensive list of nominees and winners from 1931 to the present).

I've selected seven animations to place here in TYWKIWDBI, starting with Gerald McBoing-Boing, embedded above, which won the Academy Award in 1950.

A brief note to several computer novices in my family. The videos are stored at YouTube and embedded here as an image. If you have a reasonably fast internet connection you can play the video by clicking on either one of the forward arrows. This will not save it to your computer; if you wish to view it again or send it to someone, you can use this blog's address, or click the "menu" button under the video to see the url for bookmarking. Some of these animations have no dialogue, but I recommend playing all of them with your computer sound on (for this one it's mandatory, since the text was written by Dr. Seuss.)

"When Magoo Flew"

I'll admit there's no particular "artistic merit" that distinguishes Mr. Magoo cartoons, but no child of my generation grew up without encountering him, and one would have to be a curmudgeonly grouch not to at least get a smile out of these six minutes of predictable silliness that won the award in 1954.


We now jump forward to the award-winning animation in 1989, and it is obvious that computer graphics have already supplanted traditional "cartoon" technology. "Balance" is frankly a bit bizarre, and one commenter at the YouTube hosting site indicated that he had "wasted 8 minutes of his life" watching it. That's a harsh judgment, and frankly if someone has time to browse the internet (and this blog in particular), then you can afford to spend eight minutes on this impressive creation.

"Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase"

In 1992 the winning animation featured "morphing" technology, which always fascinates me, and which I featured in a previous post on 500 Years of Women in Art. The one embedded above uses colored clay renditions of modern art sequenced using digital morphing. I don't personally care for most modern art, but many of the images used here are common icons of our culture (Lichtenstein, Warhol, Picasso, Munch, O'Keeffe etc), and whether or not you like the art, the morphing transitions are fascinating.

Wallace and Gromit - "The Wrong Trousers"

I'm embarrassed to admit that I was unfamiliar with Wallace and Gromit until I encountered this video. The two main characters (the man and his dog) are created with stop-motion clay modeling; the video I've embedded above is an "promo" excerpt (the chasing of the penguin bandit) from "The Wrong Trousers," which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film in 1993. After viewing this 3-minute episode I checked our library website and was delighted to find that they have DVDs of all three Wallace and Gromit movies.


"Quest" won the Academy Award in 1996. It has an alternate-reality, science-fiction-like appearance, with imagery that I believe would be better appreciated on a large screen. The "plotline" is circular and ultimately not particularly satisfying (in my view), but the artwork justifies the viewing.

"Father and Daughter"

The last animation I'll use is the one that won the award in 2000. "Father and Daughter" represents a return to a more "minimalist" style that looks like it could be created with a "flip book." It has no dialogue, a distinctly European flavor, and a striking poignancy.

As a reminder, links to videos of the other 40 award winning animations are stored at this blog.

10 February 2008


I haven't posted many entries this past week. First a blizzard dumped over a foot of snow here, and since then a variety of household and community activities have had to take priority, since this blog is a hobby rather than a profession. I do have lots of items bookmarked for future use, but I want to reiterate the advice I offered two months ago - that TYWKIWDBI is probably best visited about once a week rather than on a daily basis.


This photo was posted at Pizdaus, as is usual at that site, without attribution re the photographer or the city/country where the incident occurred. I'm offering it here without editorial commentary simply because it is such an impressive image.

Addendum. Image credit to Glauber Costa. The location is Sao Paolo. Thanks, drpaule.

Leaning Tower of Pisa illusion

Two photos of the famous tower at Pisa, placed side-by-side. The one on the right appears to be leaning at a greater angle. In fact, both photos are identical. This was rated the Best Visual Illusion of the Year in 2007.

You won't believe your eyes...

Analogous to the "checkershadow" illusion I posted here two months ago, this color cube defies logical viewing. On the top of the cube, the center tile looks brown; the center tile on the left front looks yellow. Despite how they appear, those two tiles are exactly the same color.
Proof and some discussion at the Mighty Optical Illusions website.

09 February 2008

Hermit crab in a glass "shell"

Curiosities of the English language

Emile Littre was a famous grammarian; when his wife discovered him making love one afternoon to the household's maid, she drew back and said, "I am surprised." Ever the man of letters, Littre, buttoning his clothing, replied, "No, madame, you are astonished. I am the one who is surprised."

"The exception that proves the rule." The etymology of that cliche, usually mistaken for a reversed meaning, is not "prove" in the sense of verify, but "probe" in the sense of test or challenge. This definition, from the Latin probare, is not entirely archaic in English - consider printer's proof, or a proving ground for testing weapons.

How did the term “rhubarb” come to refer to a baseball altercation?
The Latins called the plant “rhabarbarum” because it grew in the foreign (barbarian) land along the river Rha, better known now as the Volga. In Shakespeare’s time, the sullen sound of the word “rhubarb” led to a practice of actors repeatedly mumbling it offstage to give the impression of angry talk. By the time baseball became popular, “a rhubarb” had become a commonly accepted term for an argument.

The characters OUGH represent five different sounds, in bough, cough, tough, trough, and dough.

The difference between a smokestack and a chimney is that to be a smokestack it must be more than 100 feet tall, according to the definition of the Comite International des Cheminees Industrielles.

Ambrose Burnside was a Union general in the Civil War. He was a big man, with ample, bushy whiskers billowing around a clean-shaven chin. After the war, Burnside's style of whiskers became so popular they were dubbed "burnsides." Over the years, the name was transposed to the current "sideburns."

Torpenow Hill near Plymouth, England means "hill hill hill hill." - from Saxon tor, Celtic pen, Scandinavian how, Middle English hill.

08 February 2008

For my friends at Leech Lake...

As reported in Kottke today, this is the "tempest prognosticator," also known as a "leech barometer." It was a 19th century invention used to forecast the weather, based on the principle that leeches apparently become agitated by atmospheric or barometric changes. Twelve leeches were placed in glass pint bottles surrounding a large bell. When an approaching storm disturbs the leech, it wiggles into a tube that triggers a small hammer to strike the bell. The number of leeches ringing the bell would presumably reflect the intensity of the approaching storm. Out of deference to the sensibilities of the leeches, they were placed in a circle to prevent them from feeling to prevent them from feeling "the affliction of solitary confinement." The inventor tested the device in 1850, reportedly with favorable results, but the device inexplicably never found favor with the government or the public. More details and references are available at this Wikipedia link.

Cormorant eating pike

This photo will have special relevance to some friends in northern Minnesota who saw Leech Lake virtually depleted of walleye pike by cormorants. This photo and the two other impressive ones that accompany it were taken in Great Britain, so the species are a bit different, but the ability of the cormorant is nevertheless awesome; in this sequence he ingests a foot-long pike. Full story and other pix at the UK's Daily Mail at this link.

02 February 2008

The Face on Mars

 No, not THAT face on Mars. This is a new one - and a much happier one at that. Planetary.org published this photo acquired by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter just four days ago. And this isn't even the first happy face seen on Mars; the Mars Global Surveyor photographed another one in 1999.

Apparently the universe is full of happy faces. Who knew?

Day 983 of my captivity...

It has been suggested that the principal reason the "internets" were created was to serve as means to disseminate cute photos and stories about cats and dogs. I had vowed when I started this blog not to yield to the temptation to post such items, but I can't resist this item posted yesterday at Craigslist (abbreviated here - full text at this link):
The Dog's Diary
8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!...
1:00 PM - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!...
8:00 PM - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 PM - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

The Cat's Diary
Day 983 of my captivity.
My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength... The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet... Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow, but at the top of the stairs....

I'm not going to allege vote fraud...

...but I believe it's only fair to point out some problems. During the South Carolina primary I was monitoring internet forum discussions, and found this posted in one thread...
I asked if the results would be read at the precinct when the polls close. The answer was no. They take the cartridges from the machine to the election commission (the head poll worker at each precinct takes them). I asked how that was possible, since the SC constitution states that the ballots would be counted in public. The answer was that I "could see them reported on TV...that's public."
Here's the relevant part of the South Carolina constitution:
All elections by the people shall be by secret ballot, but the ballots shall not be counted in secret. The right of suffrage, as regulated in this Constitution, shall be protected by laws regulating elections and prohibiting, under adequate penalties, all undue influence from power, bribery, tumult, or improper conduct. South Carolina Constitution, Article II, Section 1
This happened shortly after the New Hampshire primary generated some unusual activity, documented by some ladies with videocams who checked the "chain of custody" of the ballots in New Hampshire and found that the ballots were not locked up during the night and the boxes were not securely sealed (with a vigorous discussion at Reddit).

Again, I'm not suggesting that any malfeasance of the election process has occurred. But if the United States is going to continue to promote democracy overseas, the process here should be like Caesar's wife - not only pure, but above suspicion.

A followup on witches knickers

Several weeks ago in this blog I posted a rant about plastic bags getting loose in the environment. Today I'm pleased to offer information from a New York Times article:
In 2002, Ireland assessed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register... Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags.... Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with ... not cleaning up after one’s dog.
As usual, there is a long discussion of this article at Reddit. I'm delighted that plastic bags have virtually disappeared from Ireland [from whence the term "witches knickers" originated], although my libertarian instincts cringe a little at a paragraph later in the article:
Ireland has moved on with the tax concept, proposing similar taxes on customers for A.T.M. receipts and chewing gum. (The sidewalks of Dublin are dotted with old wads.)... This year, the government plans to ban conventional light bulbs, making only low-energy, long-life fluorescent bulbs available.
It's getting close to that "no food for fat people" policy I bemoaned last night. Sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line between good intentions and intrusive government.

01 February 2008

Click on this video and watch it

Even if you don't normally like nature videos, this one is fascinating. Dolphins at an aquarium blowing bubble rings (the way people blow smoke rings) and playing with them. Watch at 0:47 when the dolphin spins the ring! I'm still trying to figure out how they get the rings to travel horizontally through the water. The natural world is so amazing.....

One Hundred Years of Solitude with Lolita

Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Vladimir Nabokov. An excellent example of how the number-crunching capabilities of computers can produce results that may not be valid, but are still interesting. A person at Cal Tech used information in Facebook to compile a listing of "favorite books," and the colleges attended by those who read them. He then downloaded the average SAT scores at the colleges and ran a correlation analysis to see what books are read by smart people and which ones are read by dumb people.  Marquez and Nabokov's books are at the top, with "The Color Purple" and something called "Zane" at the bottom. Not surprisingly, most books are in the middle, so the statistical relevance is weak, but the website is still interesting if only for the subpage where 1300 colleges and universities are ranked by average SAT score of their students.

I have kissed this face so many times...

... without knowing it was the face of a real girl. Thanks to Neatorama for telling the story of L'Inconnue de la Seine ("the unknown woman of the Seine"), whose body was pulled from the river in the late 1880s. Her beauty and her Mona Lisa-like smile prompted a pathologist to make a death mask of her face; copies were produced and became popular to such an extent that in this pre-Internet era she "went viral" and became the "erotic ideal of the period." (more details at Wiki).

In 1960 Asmund Laerdal, a Norwegian toymaker, used this face when he created a mannequin for the teaching of CPR. This is the face of Resusci Anne. And now you know the rest of the story.

No food for fat people!!

You'll think I'm making this up. Legislation has been introduced in the state of Mississippi to forbid restaurants from serving food to fat people:
"... Should this pass, scales will appear at the door of restaurants, people with BMIs of 30 or higher won’t be allowed to be served. And to comply with government regulations, restaurants will have to keep records of patrons' BMIs...."
This law is being proposed because of the “urgency of the obesity crisis and need for government action.” It's hard to comprehend the hubris, the utter arrogance, of lawmakers who believe they can be this intrusive into private lives. If you think I'm making this up, read the original article at the Junkfoodscience blog.
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