30 June 2008

A followup on the cownose rays

Last month I blogged a brief entry with a photo of a boat hovering over a gathering of cownose rays. Today the Daily Mail has a feature article on the migration of these beautiful creatures, with some impressive pictures.
Taken off the coast of Mexico's Holbox Island by amateur photographer Sandra Critelli, this breathtaking picture captures the migration of thousands of rays as they follow the clockwise current from Mexico's Yucatan peninsula to western Florida.

Measuring up to 6ft 6in across, venomous golden cow-nose rays migrate in groups - or 'fevers' - of up to 10,000 as they glide their way silently towards their summer feeding grounds...

There are around 70 species of stingray in the world's oceans, but these cow-nose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) have distinctive, highdomed heads, giving them a curiously bovine appearance...

They migrate long distances, and can be found as far south as the Caribbean and as far north as New England.

They use their extended pectoral fins to swim, and often turn upside down, curling their fin tips above the surface of the water - leaving terrified swimmers convinced that they have seen a shark..."
Three impressive images in the article, one of them embedded above. And this article answers Tess' question about what the venereal term is for rays: "fevers."

Fooling age-verification cameras

Japanese cigarette-vending machines have been equipped with "face recognition cameras" -

"The face-recognition machines rely on cameras that scan the purchaser’s face for wrinkles, sagging skin and other signs of age. Facial characteristics are compared with a database of more than 100,000 people, and if the purchaser is thought to be well over 20 years old (the legal age), the sale is approved. If the purchaser looks too young, they are asked to prove their age by inserting a driver’s license. According to Fujitaka, the machines are 90% accurate."

So a reporter went up to one of the new machines, held up to the camera a page from a magazine with the face of an older man... and the machine dispensed cigarettes for him.


An amazing database of ages

Everyone knows that bristlecone pines live longer than fruitflies, but between those extremes there are some fascinating numbers. These have been compiled by Human Aging Genomic Resources into a massive compilation of 4000 entries called the Animal Age (AnAge) database.

In this amazing table, species are ranked for longevity, starting with the oldest. I presume the "longevity" number is a maximum (since humans are listed at 122), and there are some intriguing numbers:

Bristlecone pine 4,731
Ocean quahog (a clam) 400
Bowhead whale 211
Box turtle 138
European eel 88 (!)
Mute swan 70
Bushmaster 31.6
Deer mouse 8.3

There were also names that had me scrambling for wiki - warty oreo, kakapo, stinkpot - sounds like potential material for "name that animal."

It's an interesting list. Take a peek.

Mercury poisoning of medieval monks

June 27, 2008 -- Medieval bones from six different Danish cemeteries reveal that monks who wrote Biblical texts and other religious materials may have been exposed to toxic mercury, which was used to formulate just one of their ink colors: red...

Since the monks, who were buried in the cloister walk of the Cistercian Abbey at Øm... contained mercury in their bones, scientists believe the monks were either contaminated while preparing and administering medicines, or while writing the artistic letters of incunabula, or pre-1500 A.D. books.

Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a University of Southern Denmark scientist at the Institute of Physics and Chemistry, suspects that ink used in the abbey's scriptorium was the culprit.

He told Discovery News "it is very human to lick the brush, if one wants to make a fine line."

It is also known that metallic liquid mercury was given in vapor form to diseased patients. So if the monks "were just a little careless, they would be exposed this way, however, they might also be exposed during the preparation of the medicine."

The war in Iraq - oil as the motivation

Last week, the New York Times reported that Western oil companies -
"Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields..."
Note these are NO-BID contracts and that oil companies from non-Western countries - Russia, India, China - were not even offered the opportunity to compete for the work. The contracts "include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today’s prices: the ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash."

This development fulfills the prediction offered last year in the London Review of Books:
"The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest – including all yet to be discovered oil – under foreign corporate control for 30 years. "
One of the few prominent American journalists to publicize this event is Bill Moyers:
"Oh, no, they told us, Iraq isn't a war about oil. That's cynical and simplistic, they said. It's about terror and al Qaeda and toppling a dictator and spreading democracy and protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. But one by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire, and ashes. And now the bottom turns out to be....the bottom line. It is about oil...

After a long exile, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP are back in Iraq. And on the wings of no-bid contracts – that's right, sweetheart deals like those given Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater. The kind of deals you get only if you have friends in high places. And these war profiteers have friends in very high places..."
Both articles cite the well-known quote from Alan Greenspan, recently retired chairman of the Federal Reserve: ‘I am saddened,’ he writes, ‘that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’

I don't know which is more embarassing - to have a government that is so rapacious that it makes a power grab for something that doesn't belong to it, or to have one so duplicitous that it concocts a bunch of transparently phoney stories to justify the action.

Dock-diving dog at Woofstock

The Woofstock festival is an event in Toronto for dogs and their owners. One of the events is the "Dock Dogs" competition, where dogs run the length of a dock and jump into water. In the sequence embedded above, a border collie changes his mind or miscalculates the length of the dock. Blogged for the expression in the fourth photo. (Click to enlarge) Priceless.

Herbicide in fertilizer killing crops

This happened in Britain, but the principles involved are scary.
"Gardeners have been warned not to eat home-grown vegetables contaminated by a powerful new herbicide that is destroying gardens and allotments across the UK.

The Royal Horticultural Society has been inundated with calls from concerned gardeners who have seen potatoes, beans, peas, carrots and salad vegetables wither or become grossly deformed... The affected gardens and allotments have been contaminated by manure originating from farms where the hormone-based herbicide aminopyralid has been sprayed on fields...

He said the company was unable to advise gardeners that it was 'safe' to consume vegetables that had come into contact with the manure because of pesticide regulations. 'All we can say is that the trace levels of aminopyralid that are likely to be in these crops are of such low levels that they are unlikely to cause a problem to human health.'"

Here's the scary part. It wasn't that the herbicide contaminated the fertilizer during manufacture or distribution. The herbicide, aminopyralid, was applied the previous year to grass (to kill thistles etc), the grass was used for silage during the winter, and after the manure of the cattle and horses matured it was mulched into vegetable gardens.

So this weedkiller passed through the animals and persisted for a year before eventually causing withered and deformed veggies. I agree with the gardeners - something this toxic should not be entering the food chain.

More details at the link.

Advertisement for Bic razor

Link for 24 interesting ads found at the Presurfer.

A flash game that calculates your "brain age"

It doesn't embed, so to play the game you need to click on THIS LINK.

The game will flash a sequence of numbers on the screen - very briefly. Then the numbers are replaced with circles. You then click the circles in the same sequence as the numbers. It appears to be a test of short-term memory. I supposedly have a "brain age" of 23.

Update: Redone Oct 2009 - brain age 20.
Update: Redone Aug 2010 - brain age 20.

29 June 2008

Search and seizure of laptop computers

WASHINGTON -- Bill Hogan was returning home to the U.S. from Germany in February when a customs agent at Dulles International Airport pulled him aside. He could reenter the country, she told him. But his laptop couldn't.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents said he had been chosen for "random inspection of electronic media," and kept his computer for about two weeks...

Authorities need a search warrant to get at a computer in a person's home and reasonable suspicion of illegal activity to search a laptop in other places. But the rules change at border crossings.

Courts consistently have ruled that there's no need for warrants or suspicions when a person is seeking to enter the country -- agents can search belongings, including computer gear, for any reason...
Our national security paranoia nightmare continues. Those who travel with a computer or PDA may want to read more about this at the original latimes website, or read about coping strategies at this computer security article. Found at J-Walk.

How car rental companies get scammed

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Crooks have come up with a new scam to get out of paying for gas, and it's costing truck rental companies thousands of dollars.

Crooks reportedly rent U-Haul trucks then, when the time comes to return the truck, top off the tank with water instead of gas, wrecking the engine...

Some scammers get away with it because the trucks are often handed over to the next customer very quickly. But water in the gas tank eventually brings the trucks to a sputtering stop.

"It can cost up to $2,000 each time it happens..."

Found at J-Walk, where a reader appended this comment:
I worked at an Avis rent-a-car when I was in college and we had similar problems; especially when the new model cars were bought from the car dealerships each year. The crooks would rent the cars for a day or two and then take to a chop-shop where they'd remove the brand new parts like carburetors, alternators, batteries, tires, mufflers etc. and then exchange for older parts that still functioned but were worn out.

Then the renter would bring the car back to the lot. Since the cars still functioned for a long time afterwards and then they were rented to others, the thefts would go unnoticed because there was no way to track who exactly was stealing the parts.

28 June 2008


I wouldn't normally use TYWKIWDBI to review current movies (especially movies I haven't seen yet), but there is a flurry of activity on "the internets" about a new Pixar release entitled WALL•E.

At the movie review site Metacritic it currently rates 93; only about a dozen movies have ever been rated higher. Rotten Tomatoes lists it at 96%. Here's the Gizmodo summary:
The first 40 minutes or so of Wall-E are almost completely without dialogue. Instead, the story is told visually, as we see Wall-E, the abandoned garbage bot, puttering around a staggeringly rendered post-apocalyptic Earth. He goes around doing his job, as he has for the past 700 years, compacting trash into cubes and stacking them into immense towers. On the side, he collects remnants of humanity to keep for his own amusement. Zippo lighters, Rubik's Cubes, Christmas lights: these are what Wall-E surrounds himself with. Because he's so alone (except for a little cockroach), these dirty, abandoned objects are his companions, his contact with humanity.
There film offers not-too-subtle commentary on the theme of humans destroying the planet, and as Slate notes:
After seven centuries in a corporate-controlled pleasure dome in space, all earthlings have become obese, infantile consumers who spend their days immobile in hovering lounge chairs, staring at ads on computer screens—in other words, Americans.
With the result that some critics are calling the movie insulting to its consumer audience because the theme is "anti-fat." The Wiki summary is HERE. And the trailer is accessible through this Disney site. I love the music of the "teaser trailer" (not the regular trailer), which uses the theme from "Brazil."

Oh - about that "dot" in the title, between "Wall" and "E." That's not a dash or a hyphen (which wouldn't be grammatically appropriate - even though that's what most of the reviewers are using in their writeups). That's an interpunct. What's an interpunct? Funny you should ask...

Interpunct illustrated and explained

"An interpunct ( · ) is a small dot used for interword separation in ancient Latin script, being perhaps the first consistent visual representation of word boundaries in written language. The dot is vertically centered, e.g. "DONA·EIS·REQVIEM", and is therefore also called a middle dot or centered dot. In addition to the round dot form, inscriptions sometimes use a small equilateral triangle for the interpunct, pointing either up or down. Such triangles can be found on inscriptions on buildings in the twentieth century. Ancient Greek, by contrast, had not developed interpuncts; all the letters ran together…The use of spaces for word separation didn't appear until much later, some time between 600 and 800 AD."

Much more at the Wiki link re its use in other languages, computer code, etc. Upper image credit to jrwebbe's Flickr photostream. Lower image credit to Painintheenglish.com, where in the discussion it was noted that the use of the interpunct for this NYC railway sign makes it easier for the reader to see Prince St. rather than "Princest" with perhaps the intention of avoiding any hint of an offensive word...

Four-legged fish found...

...in fossil form, of course. As reported by the BBC:

According to lead author, Professor Per Ahlberg, from Uppsala University, Sweden, this creature had the head of a tetrapod, an animal adapted to live on land. The body, though, was fish-like but with four primitive flippers.

"From a distance, it would have looked like an alligator. But closer up, you would have noticed a real tail fin at the back end, a gill flap at the side of the head; also lines of pores snaking across head and body...

...the creature had primitive feet - but with a high number of digits. "You would have seven, eight, maybe even nine toes per foot, rather than five or so which you would expect to find in modern day animals."

Unfortunately for Ventastega, a multitude of toes does not inevitably lead to evolutionary success. It eventually died out.
And this part must make the work fascinating:

Scientists are delighted with the quality of these Latvian fossils, saying they are really well preserved. Professor Ahlberg believes it is due to some of the geological characteristics of the area.

"This region has had a very quiet geological history since that time, and as a result the rocks have not been folded or squashed up to form mountains.

"We still find sediments not yet properly turned to rock. These fossils were found in compact, wet sand. It's not sandstone, it's sand; you dig it with a breadknife.

"Once you take it back to the lab very carefully, you can remove the remainder of the sand with brushes and needles. These fossils are fragile but superbly preserved. They are actually three dimensional, not flat. It makes it very easy to interpret the skeleton."

27 June 2008

Truthful corporate motto

"That should do the trick..."

Pepto-Bismol ads

The "cat with no face"

"A cat who became disfigured after losing her face in a road accident is working to help humans come to terms with their own disabilities. Chase was left without a nose, eyelids and skin on her cheeks after being hit by a car as a kitten.

Plastic surgeons were unable to rebuild her features and were pessimistic about finding her new owner, until one of the vet technicians who had helped treat her offered to take her home.

Chase, who requires daily drops to keep her eyes moist, now works at a “therapy cat” touring schools and hospitals, helping boost the confidence of people with disfigurements..."

Credit to the Telegraph (U.K.) via Nothing to do with Arbroath. Chase has a blog at THIS LINK. It's quite a coincidence that the accident and adoption occurred in Lexington, Kentucky, which is where my wife and I lived when we adopted Jasmine, a kitten whose tail was amputated after being traumatized in a car accident.

Relevance of Olympic start gun technology

"Current start-gun technology gives athletes on the inside lanes an unfair advantage right off the blocks.

Sound from the starter's gun is known to take longer to reach athletes who start from the outside lanes than their competitors on the inside. Now a new study suggests that competitors nearest the gun have another advantage – the loudness of the bang shocks them into starting more quickly.

Together, these extra boosts may amount to more than a tenth of a second in some races, which is easily enough to make the difference between gold and silver.

It can take 150 milliseconds longer for sound to travel from the starter's gun to runners in the outside lanes in races such as the 4 x 100 metre relay, where the runners' starting positions are staggered.

At both the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the 2004 Athens games, runners in the outside lanes of relay races were slower out of the blocks than runners on inner lanes..."
It's incredible that the competition has reached levels where the speed of sound may influence the outcome.

"A Day in the LIfe" explained

The video embedded above appears to be a companion piece to the one I blogged earlier on "Strawberry Fields Forever." Much of the information, plus a lot more, is available at the Wiki discussion of this song, but there you don't get to hear the music...

notes from Wiki: "Due to the multiple takes required to perfect the orchestral cacophony and the final chord, as well as their considerable procrastination in composing the song, the total duration of time spent recording "A Day in the Life" was 34 hours. In contrast, the Beatles' earliest work, their first album "Please Please Me" was recorded in its entirety in only 10 hours."

"Immediately following the dying moments of the crashing piano chord is a tone too high-pitched for most human ears to hear, but audible to dogs and other animals and most younger listeners. Lennon's alleged intention in inserting the high tone was to irritate the listener's dog..."

Robbing trucks while they are moving

"A gang of thieves have been arrested after staging a series of daring "action film" break-ins on lorries while they travelled at up to 60mph on the German autobahn.

Two vehicles from the gang, who were all Romanian, approached the target lorry with their headlights off. With the lorry driver unaware of their presence, one car took up position blocking off lanes to other traffic.

The other vehicle sped to the rear bumper of the lorry, where a gang member climbed out onto its bonnet. Wielding a pair of bolt cutters, police said, he sliced through padlocks, forced open the truck's rear door and clambered inside.

Once there, the robber passed back boxes containing laptops and electronic equipment to an accomplice also balancing on the bonnet of the gang's car..."

The American Museum of Natural History

The museum's website has a new collection of about 1,000 photos illustrating the history of the museum, such as the one above of blind children studying a hippopotamus. Included are images of the famous dioramas and their creation, the use of the museum for education, and the techniques used for creating the exhibits. Good browsing material for those who like natural history museums.

Kill switches in future war and crime

Interesting article in Wired about the proliferation of "kill switches" in electronic devices:
“OnStar will soon include the ability for the police to shut off your engine remotely. Buses are getting the same capability, in case terrorists want to re-enact the movie Speed. The Pentagon wants a kill switch installed on airplanes, and is worried about potential enemies installing kill switches on their own equipment.

Microsoft is doing some of the most creative thinking along these lines, with something it's calling "Digital Manners Policies." According to its patent application, DMP-enabled devices would accept broadcast "orders" limiting capabilities. Cellphones could be remotely set to vibrate mode in restaurants and concert halls, and be turned off on airplanes and in hospitals. Cameras could be prohibited from taking pictures in locker rooms and museums, and recording equipment could be disabled in theaters. Professors finally could prevent students from texting one another during class.

The possibilities are endless, and very dangerous. Making this work involves building a nearly flawless hierarchical system of authority. That's a difficult security problem even in its simplest form. Distributing that system among a variety of different devices -- computers, phones, PDAs, cameras, recorders -- with different firmware and manufacturers, is even more difficult. Not to mention delegating different levels of authority to various agencies, enterprises, industries and individuals, and then enforcing the necessary safeguards.

Once we go down this path -- giving one device authority over other devices -- the security problems start piling up. Who has the authority to limit functionality of my devices, and how do they get that authority? What prevents them from abusing that power? Do I get the ability to override their limitations? In what circumstances, and how? Can they override my override?...”

Putting Nemo in captivity

"...since the film's release in 2003, the population of clownfish in the wild has been on the decline and it may be put on the endangered list."

I can't vouch for the veracity of that statement, but the deep irony of course is that the theme of the "Finding Nemo" movie was that of freeing Nemo from the captivity of a fishbowl...

26 June 2008

Rabbit vs. snake

Rabbit (apparently from Caerbannog) wins.

Surprising political development

Puppy with wheels

"Hope, the appropriately named two-legged Maltese puppy gets around by using a specially-designed device which features wheels from a model aeroplane...

The beloved pooch was born with only two legs and has small wriggling nubs where her front legs should be.

At first Hope moved around by hopping but experts said her her natural mode of moving eventually would damage her bones and spine.

The wheeled device was created by orthotist David Turnbill free of charge with makeshift shoulder joints connected to model airplane wheels..."

More pictures and a delightful video at this Daily Mail link.

Australia edges out U.S. for world #1 ranking

"Australia is now the world’s fattest nation, with 26% of adults labeled obese, a new report said Friday. The report, titled ‘‘Australia’s Future Fat Bomb’’ was undertaken by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, and revealed that some 4 million Australian adults are now classified as obese. The alarming new figures mean the nation has officially overtaken the United States, which has a 25% obesity rate.

In all, there are currently 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world, a number that is expected to grow by 40% over the next decade, according to the World Health Organization."

A frightening Gallup poll result...

PRINCETON, NJ -- There is a significant political divide in beliefs about the origin of human beings, with 60% of Republicans saying humans were created in their present form by God 10,000 years ago, a belief shared by only 40% of independents and 38% of Democrats.

Gallup has been asking this three-part question about the origin of humans since 1982. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the results for the broad sample of adult Americans show very little change over the years.

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 8-11, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

25 June 2008

Steampunk internet - in 1934

"In 1934, [Paul] Otlet sketched out plans for a global network of computers (or “electric telescopes,” as he called them) that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a “réseau,” which might be translated as “network” — or arguably, “web.”

Historians typically trace the origins of the World Wide Web through a lineage of Anglo-American inventors like Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson. But more than half a century before Tim Berners-Lee released the first Web browser in 1991, Otlet (pronounced ot-LAY) described a networked world where “anyone in his armchair would be able to contemplate the whole of creation.”

Although Otlet’s proto-Web relied on a patchwork of analog technologies like index cards and telegraph machines, it nonetheless anticipated the hyperlinked structure of today’s Web. “This was a Steampunk version of hypertext,” said Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired, who is writing a book about the future of technology...

In 1895, he met a kindred spirit in the future Nobel Prize winner Henri La Fontaine, who joined him in planning to create a master bibliography of all the world’s published knowledge... The two men set out to collect data on every book ever published, along with a vast collection of magazine and journal articles, photographs, posters and all kinds of ephemera — like pamphlets — that libraries typically ignored. Using 3 by 5 index cards (then the state of the art in storage technology), they went on to create a vast paper database with more than 12 million individual entries..."

(read the rest of the interesting story at THIS LINK)

Watch out for the Lunchbox Police

"Parents cleaning out their child's lunchbox at the end of the school day could be in for a nasty surprise — a scolding note from teacher alongside the half-eaten sandwiches and empty crisp packets.

The School Food Trust wants teachers to send out warning letters to parents who fail to comply with school healthy-eating policies. And in advice that could be seen as patronising, the government-funded body suggests further that they send congratulatory letters to those who pack healthy lunches for their children...

In guidance sent as an example to head teachers and governors, the trust lists the foods pupils should not take to school: crisps, chocolate bars, chocolate-coated biscuits and sweets...

If a child regularly brings a packed lunch that does not conform to the policy, then the school will contact the parents to discuss this...”
From the Times (U.K.) via Arbroath. And note that it's not just obesity that the British government is battling against with this policy:
“If urgent action is not taken, the Government risks losing this key opportunity to fight obesity and climate change by changing young people's eating habits..."

Panoramic view of Paris at night

A 360-degree panoramic view, with limited vertical range, but sufficient to provide pleasant memories for John and Melanie, who are at the moment enjoying a honeymoon in Paris.

Don't bother clicking on the image above; to see the panorama, go to the image at the host website.

Ignore that sixth foot...

"The sixth "foot", which was discovered June 18, 2008 on Tyee Spit near Campbell River on Vancouver Island, was a hoax. The hoax was a "skeletonized animal paw" was put in a sock and shoe and then stuffed with dried seaweed. The hoax has been called "senseless and thoughtless", "despicable", and "reprehensible". Police have begun an investigation into the hoax, and an arrest could result in charges of public mischief."

and this is interesting: "The Strait of Georgia also happens to be the location of project VENUS, a facility used to study underwater body decomposition, among other things."

From the new Wiki entry now devoted to this subject.

If I want to travel to Australia...

...Google maps says that it will be a little under 10,000 miles, and that it will take me... 41 days, 22 hours!

Apparently that's because of step 24.... (Click to enlarge to see why it takes so long.) (Credit for idea to Reddit)

Is the semicolon an endangered symbol?

According to the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves [an excellent book, by the way, which I recommend to all who love the English language], the semicolon was first used by Aldus Manutius in the 15th century (illustration at left; image credit to Auburn University).

Now, 500 years later, an article in Slate raises concerns about the imminent death of this punctuation mark: "A 1995 study tallying punctuation in period texts found a stunning drop in semicolon usage between the 18th and 19th centuries, from 68.1 semicolons per thousand words to just 17.7."

A steep drop in semicolon usage in the mid-19th century has been attributed to the advent of the telegraph - the "Victorian internet" - because punctuation marks were billed at the same rate as words. The 20th century has seen a shift toward more concise writing, culminating in the travesty of text messaging.

I'm a great fan of the semicolon (even though Kurt Vonnegut would say that all it shows is that I went to college), so before it disappears I'll offer this little tidbit from the 1737 guide Bibliotheca Technologica which explains how the semicolon is used to guide cadence during speech: "The comma (,) which stops the voice while you tell [count] one. The Semicolon (;) pauseth while you tell two. The Colon (:) while you tell three; and then period, or full stop (.) while you tell four."

24 June 2008

Do bilingual people switch personalities?

Research done at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee suggests that when people are bilingual and bicultural, they may (unconsciously) switch personalities as they switch languages.
"They found significant changes in self perception or "frame-shifting" in bicultural participants -- women who participate in both Latino and Anglo culture.

"Language can be a cue that activates different culture-specific frames," the researchers said in a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

While frame-shifting has been studied before, they said this research found that people who are bicultural switched frames more quickly and easily than people who are bilingual but living in one culture.

The researchers said the women classified themselves as more assertive when they spoke Spanish than when they spoke English.

"In the Spanish-language sessions, informants perceived females as more self-sufficient and extroverted," they said.

In one of the studies, a group of bilingual U.S. Hispanic women viewed advertisements that featured women in different scenarios. The participants saw the ads in one language - English or Spanish - and then, six months later, they viewed the same ads in the other language.

Their perceptions of themselves and of the women in the ads shifted depending on the language."

Perhaps of interest to cousin Karl(os) in Barcelona and to the other dozen bilingual members of my family...

Blackwater and the AK-47s

"The private military company Blackwater has found an unusual way to skirt federal laws that prohibit private parties from buying automatic weapons. Blackwater bought 17 Romanian AK-47s and 17 Bushmasters, gave ownership of the guns to the Camden County sheriff and keeps most of the guns at Blackwater's armory in Moyock.

Tiny Camden County -- population 9,271 -- is one of the most peaceful in North Carolina. In the last 10 years, there have been two murders, three robberies and seven rapes reported. The sheriff has just 19 deputies.

Sheriff Tony Perry said his department has never used the 17 AK-47s outside of shooting practice at Blackwater. None of his 19 deputies are qualified to use the AK-47s, Perry said, and his department's need for automatic weapons is "very minimal."

Did Camden County need more automatic weapons than deputies?

The AK-47 would be a poor choice of weapon for a SWAT team, said John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, the national organization of SWAT officers. As a combat weapon, the AK-47 is too large and powerful for SWAT teams, Gnagey said. It is rugged but relatively inaccurate..."

Trojan horse date pinpointed

"Poor men, what terror is this that overwhelms you so? Night shrouds your heads, your faces, down to your knees - cries of mourning are bursting into fire - cheeks rivering tears - the walls and the handsome crossbeams dripping dank with blood! Ghosts, look, thronging the entrance, thronging the court, go trooping down to the realm of death and darkness! The sun is blotted out of the sky - look there - a lethal mist spreads all across the earth!" - Homer (translation by Robert Fagles).
"The team combed through the Odyssey to find astronomical references that could be precisely identified as occurring on specific days throughout Odysseus's journey. Then, they aligned each of those dates with the date of Odysseus's return, the same day he murders the suitors...

The day of the slaughter [of the suitors by Odysseus] is, as Homer writes more than once, also a new moon (a prerequisite for a total eclipse). Six days before the slaughter, Venus is visible and high in the sky. Twenty-nine days before, two constellations - the Pleiades and Boötes - are simultaneously visible at sunset...

They looked to see whether there was any date within 100 years of the fall of Troy that would fit the pattern of the astronomical timeline. There was only one: April 16, 1178 BC, the same day that astronomers had calculated the occurrence of a total solar eclipse..."

Credit for image and text to the Telegraph (U.K.)

Fighting dental plaque in the 17th century

Last month I blogged an entry about a combination toothpick and earwax spoon. Today Neatorama provides some additional information about the use of the instrument for dental hygiene:

Ear pickers, though not all of silver, were used by all levels of society in medieval and post-medieval England. As was the fashion for many of these tools, this one is double-ended. The pointed end was used to clean teeth and nails, and the spoon-shaped end was used to remove earwax. The 17th-century English knew about plaque, which they called “scale” or “surf,” and they were encouraged by their doctors to scrape their teeth frequently. They also knew that a buildup of earwax could cause deafness. As gross as that may seem to us today, the earwax was often saved and used for coating sewing thread to make it stronger and easier to use.

23 June 2008

R2D2 and C3PO in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Image above said to be a still from the movie; apparently not 'shopped, because I found this from a Reddit discussion:
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Well of Souls has hieroglyphic engravings of R2-D2 and C-3PO on a wall. They appear in the scene in which Indiana and Sallah remove the Ark of the Covenant. They are on a post to the right of the two.
  • At the beginning of Raiders, Jock's airplane has the registration number "OB-CPO", which refers to the Obi-Wan Kenobi and C-3PO characters from the Star Wars films.
  • In Raiders, Jones confronts Rene Belloq and the Nazis in a canyon. This is the same location which was used previously while filming some of the Tatooine scenes in A New Hope.
  • The club in which Willie Scott sings in the beginning of Temple of Doom is called "Club Obi-Wan", which was named for the Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi.
  • The "failing-engine" sound effect heard on the plane near the beginning of Temple of Doom was originally used in The Empire Strikes Back when the Millennium Falcon fails to start up.
  • Indiana Jones's name came from Indiana, a dog of Lucas's who was also the inspiration for Chewbacca.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, towards the end of the movie, Indiana remarks, "I have a bad feeling about this..." a classic Star Wars line.

Sneakers for Guide Horses

If you have a miniature horse who serves as a guide horse and spends time indoors, you may want to get some sneakers for the horse.

How to eat a pomegranate

Simple when you know that some parts sink and some parts float.

al-Jazeera cable news debate in Vermont

The English al-Jazeera news channel, headquartered in Qatar, is, with the BBC World and CNN International, one of the three largest English-language news channels in the world, reaching over 100 million households.

However, it is generally not available (except via satellite) in the United States, because cable companies refuse to include it. One exception is the cable company in Burlington, Vermont, which is owned by the community itself. Now some people are demanding that al-Jazeera be dropped from the cable menu. Burlington has been holding public debates and discussions on the topic, and so far the preponderance of opinion is to retain the channel.

Embedded above is a television report on the controversy in Burlington - as covered by al-Jazeera itself.

(credit to Neatorama)

A goat tower

Self-explanatory, I should think. If you need more info, go to Wiki (image credit).

Kentucky turtle man

In memory of a state where I used to live, a portrait of one of the people still living there. This is Ernie "I try not to smile, ’cause I got my teeth knocked out by a chainsaw" Brown, Jr.

I'm not making fun of him; he's just catching his own food, with the permission of the people who own the various ponds. Nothing wrong with that.

Found at Neatorama, via Miss Cellania.

Outstanding baseball catch by ballgirl

I have studiously avoided posting sports items in this blog because there is no end to them and because they are readily available on other websites. But this one stunned me this morning. Not because it's a girl - just because of the athleticism of the catch...

If you're impressed by the video, you need to READ THIS LINK.

Rube Goldberg apparatuses

I don't know the backstory as to whether this video is a compilation of entries in a competition or perhaps part of an advertising promotion (the repetitive musical ditty makes me favor the latter). The result is 9 minutes of clever adaptations of mechanics, using not only the conventional marbles on ramps and dominoes toppling one another, but springs and books and hammers, and weight-powered fans, and on and on and on.

The music accompanying the video is somewhat annoying; there's a similar (but not identical video at THIS LINK that mutes out the repetitive portion of the music.

22 June 2008

Facial prostheses as badges of courage

The image above was posted at Flickr, with an explanatory story at opheliaswims. Found at an estate sale, it is a latex prosthesis for someone who presumably had a deforming facial injury or illness - somewhat reminiscent of the famous mask for the Broadway version of Phantom of the Opera.

When I saw this image, I was reminded of a National Geographic story that ran last February, describing the "Tin Noses Shop" in London that created facial prostheses for soldiers returning from WWI. The topography of the war - trenches from which one had to poke one's head out to locate the enemy - resulted in an enormous number of disfiguring lesions. The London General Hospital recruited not just physicians and surgeons, but artists and technicians who created masks that allowed returning soldiers to reenter the public sphere with greater dignity. The article is worth a read, and there is an accompanying photo gallery illustrating the professionalism of the work.

Gregorian chants for cheese

Bosses at a school for dairy farmers say a chart-topping monks' chant has turned their cheese into a prize winner.

The 'Chant - Music of Paradise' album, which reached the top 10 in Britain, is played over and over again to two and a half tonnes cheese as it matures in cellars at the school in Graz-Altgrottenhof, Austria.

"Cheese matures with the help of micro-organisms which I am sure also feel vibes. The music is very simple and I think that is what helps," said head teacher Erich Kerngast.

Since serenading their product with the monks' chants, the school has won a string of prizes for its Grottenhofer Auslese cheese. "We put in a Dolby Surround hi-fi system worth £1,600 and have been playing the Gregorian chant in there over and over again…"

Name that animal - round 7

This cute little fellow is not wearing stockings, and the image has not been 'shopped. Have a go.

(answer/followup here)

Name that animal - round 6 remarkable answer

There have been no suggestions on the previous entry, and I'm afraid some TYWKIWDBI regulars may be lying awake at night worrying about it, so I'll finish it off now and move on to another one. I've inserted the image again, this time with the caption - but more explanation is needed to understand how immensely interesting it is.
"It is a sphere composed of a few hundred stones cemented together, on top of which there are seven or eight sturdy spikes, each a cairn of stones, larger ones at the base, smallest at the tip creating a sharp point. At the bottom of the sphere there is a large circular hole ornamented with a pleated collar of particles too small to be distinguishable from the cement that binds them. The diameter of the whole dwelling, for that is what it is, is about 150 thousandths of a millimetre. Smaller than the punctuation mark at the end of this sentence. It is the portable home of Difflugia coronata, a species of amoeba. An amoeba, as you very likely know, is a single celled organism. The one cell does everything. It feeds, excretes, moves and reproduces and, in this species, it also builds a home. The cell has no nervous system at all, let alone a brain."
So, this is a portable home, created by a creature (an amoeba). In that regard, it is similar in concept to the creations of bagworm moth caterpillars or caddisfly larvae. The former are typically seen in my part of the U.S. hanging from evergreen trees, and the cases of the latter are visible on the sandy bottoms of slow-moving streams, where they look like little sticks moving against the current.

But think about this some more. This was BUILT by the animal. By an AMOEBA. An amoeba that is a ONE-CELLED CREATURE. I spent most of my professional life working with biological systems, and I can only conceive of one-celled creatures as being mindless; there cannot be a brain - by definition. So how does it "know" how to build something? Do the mitochondria "think"?? Do cell membranes or the Golgi apparatus make decisions about what piece of rock to stick on to the surface of the cell. Nonsense. That can't happen. And yet there the thing is - a tenth of a millimeter in size, defying all my logical reasoning. I cannot wrap my mind around this.

Credit for image and text to an interesting book I read last month: "Built by Animals: the natural history of animal architecture." Mike Hansell. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Absinthe lollipops

Presurfer reported today that a U.S. firm is now marketing absinthe lollipops whose thujone content is within approved limits. I checked the candymaker's website; they only make one other item - lollipops flavored like bacon...

Absinthe itself has a colorful and storied history, well documented at the old reliable Wikipedia, from whence I culled the following tidbits:

“Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe is not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a liquor…

... no evidence has shown it to be any more dangerous than ordinary liquor. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, had been much exaggerated..

Traditionally, absinthe is poured into a glass over which a specially designed slotted spoon is placed. A sugar cube is then deposited in the bowl of the spoon. Ice-cold water is poured or dripped over the sugar until the drink is diluted to a ratio between 3:1 and 5:1. During this process, the components that are not soluble in water, mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise, come out of solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche…

There’s much more at the Wiki link, especially re the history of absinthe, the types and brands available, its role in cultural and artistic matters, and controversies regarding its safety. There’s a separate link re the paraphernalia (spoon, carafe, glass etc) traditionally associated with the drink.

Re the lollipop, I tried to track down the etymology of the word. All the sources say it's related to the use of "lolly" to refer to the tongue, but why that association should exist is not clear, even in the OED. Perhaps because the tongue is prominent when the "la-la-la" sound is made...?

Nontransitive dice

Mark the faces of three dice as follows:

  • Die A: 2, 2, 4, 4, 9, 9
  • Die B: 1, 1, 6, 6, 8, 8
  • Die C: 3, 3, 5, 5, 7, 7

Remarkably, you'll find that Die A tends to beat Die B, Die B beats Die C, … and Die C beats Die A.

(Found at Futility Closet

This is perfectly true, and is explained at the Wikipedia page on
nontransitive dice. For the mathematically challenged, another way to understand it is that these dice are the numerical equivalent of Rock, Paper, Scissors - where each one beats one of the other in a neverending circle.

Long odds

Playing whist at a Suffolk club in January 1998, Hazel Ruffles shuffled the deck and dealt a full suit to each player.

The odds of this happening are 2,235,197,406,895,366,368,301,599,999 to 1.

(found at Futility Closet)

Hakani - a deeply troubling video

I've been debating with myself all day whether or not to blog this topic; finally decided to do so and let readers decide for themselves whether and how much to pursue the topic.

"Hakani" is listed at their website as "the internet preview of a docudrama movie," with the subtitle "Buried alive - a survivor's story." The topic is infanticide, with a focus on the live burial of children by aboriginal peoples of the Amazon, using the story of a girl named Hakani who was rescued and survived.

The most convenient way to approach this subject is through the Wikipedia entry for infanticide, which provides the historical background and describes methods ranging from ritual religious sacrifice to passive neglect/exposure to violent murder. The reasons for the practice might be as apparently innocuous as a twin birth or breech presentation, but more commonly a misformed newborn (who might be unable to work and thus a burden), for gender preferences, to accompany the death of the mother, or for population conrol in the face of limited resources.

I had been familiar with infanticide from my archaeology reading, especially re the child mummies found on the mountaintops of the Andes, but I was frankly unprepared for the video at the Hakani website (which I couldn't download, but which I found reproduced at YouTube.) Because it is so deeply disturbing, I've elected not to embed it above so that no one will view it by accident; the image above is a still image from the Hakani website. If you want to view the image, go to the YouTube link - but read my cautionary comments below first.

The video depicts the burial - while alive - of small children. To my eyes it appears to be a dramatic reconstruction of events rather than the filming of an original event, but that such incidents occur seems to be inarguable, and inevitably raises a host of questions regarding intervention by persons from other cultures.

With regard to the motivation of the creators of the movie, it appears to be associated with a Christian missionary group. The extent to which that influences their depiction of events is unclear, but should be considered.

Some who read this blog entry will want to pursue the subject and go on to view the video at the YouTube link; most should be satisfied with a brief acquaintance with the subject, and move onward to the cute guinea pig portrayed below. In closing I can't resist the wry observation that a video depicting infanticide carries a warning to viewers that it may be NSFW... because of nudity!

Guinea pig stegosaurus

21 June 2008

The mind reels...

Click to enlarge the image. This is a schematic diagram of the relationship of platforms, escalators, etc in the Shibuya train station in Tokyo.

"We've destroyed more bridges than a nearsighted dentist!"

In October of 2006, Anne Greer took her father, Charles Gaal, 90, to dentist Dr. Wesley Meyers for implants to secure his dentures.

During the procedure Meyers dropped a medical screwdriver down her father's throat; it took a colonoscopy to have the screwdriver removed from his large intestine.

Then, in May of 2007, despite his daughter's concerns, Gaal returned for implants and Meyers dropped a torque wrench down Gaal's throat.

The 90-year-old was hospitalized for 50 days and died from complications.

Meyers was fined $17,000 and advised not to perform dental implants until he completes more training.

(Title unrelated; I believe it's a quote from an old episode of The Goon Show, if I remember correctly - that was a long time ago...)

World cement production

Click image to enlarge, if the implications are not obvious at low magnification. This is a graph that should knock your socks off. Based on data from the USGS, it depicts billions of metric tons of cement produced by each country.

"Cement is mainly used to make concrete, and is sort of the "active ingredient" in concrete - it is combined with sand and gravel in roughly fixed proportions. So cement production can be considered a rough proxy for the total amount of construction going on in a country."

Graph and text from The Oil Drum, which to my knowledge is the single best website for threaded discussions of energy issues, especially petroleum-based energy, but also other energy-based industries. The people who post and discuss seem to be mostly technology professions, so it's heavy with data to substantiate assertions. Worth a visit if those general topics interest you.

"Ditch Day" at Cal Tech

"Ditch Day" at Cal Tech is the day seniors must leave campus and underclassmen, known as "wimps," try to break into their room. Wimps broke into a senior's room and were dissatisfied with the food and liquor that he had left for them. So they disassembled his Porsche and reassembled it in his room.

Another senior returned to find his entire floor covered with a weather balloon filled with water and with no drain valve.

Protection is done by placing a "stack" on the door; the ultimate brute-force stack was by a senior who ran a framework of four-by-four timbers the length of the room bracing the door and windows. He latched the door shut with a vertical post of steel and wood secured by electromagnetically driven pins. The window was covered by a sandwich of plywood steel armor plate, fiberglass insulation and expensive university-owned cabinet doors, which, if they were destroyed, the wimps would have to pay for. If the wimps penetrated the wood and armor plate, glass insulation would foul any drills or saw blades. The wimps got in by drilling through the four-inch concrete ceiling in back of the light fixtures. They artfully scented the room with 10 bags of steer manure.

(source lost)

How fashion trends develop

When Edward the VII could no longer button the bottom button of his waistcoat, elegant men in British society left their bottom buttons undone as a courtesy.

The other, even more important fashion he started, also by accident, was the crease in trousers; his trousers went into a shop after an accident on a trip, and the only ones his size had been stacked so strangely that folds ran down the front of each leg.

(found in an old issue of Punch)

20 June 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Yesterday Kottke had an interesting post entitled "Younger than we used to be," prompted by the release (six months from now) of a new Brad Pitt/Cate Blanchett movie. The trailer for the movie is HERE - it looks to be a superb movie, and I highly recommend viewing the trailer, especially if you have a widescreen monitor.

The movie is based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which postulates that a person could be born elderly, then get younger as time passes. That, in turn, had been inspired by a remark from Mark Twain, with echoes reportedly back to Greek mythology (unspecified - anyone know?).

Other relevant items - Bob Dylan's lyric "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now," and Merlin's backward aging in The Sword and The Stone.

I'll close with this poignant excerpt found by Shaun Inman in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five:
"When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating day and night, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody again."

Now, before you move on to the half-shorn sheep and the belligerent 'roo, watch the trailer ; it's less than 2 minutes long and worth that much of your time (click on 480P, 720P, 1080P depending on the size your computer can handle - bigger is better)

A half-shorn sheep


Does anyone read license agreements?

This is in Apple's iTunes End User License Agreement:
“Licensee also agrees that Licensee will not use the Apple Software for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, missiles, or chemical or biological weapons.”
Original credit to New Scientist, which offers this additional observation:
"The iTunes EULA demonstrates that there are interesting things to be found buried deep within all of that legalese. Just ask Doug Heckman, a man who decided to read a PC Pitstop program EULA before he installed the software. That agreement included a clause offering 'financial compensation' to licensees who read the license agreement. Heckman emailed PC Pitstop and was promptly rewarded with a cheque for $1000."

Here's something you don't see every day...

A robot that goes around looking for something to hit with its drumsticks. Not unlike a small child (except you can turn it off...)

Credit to Lets Make Robots!

Is "bespoke" a word that is "moving on" ??

“A group of Savile Row tailors have lost their fight to stop the term "bespoke" from being used by menswear retailers to sell suits which have not been made entirely by hand…

The word was coined by tailors on Savile Row, London, in the 17th century and referred to a suit which was hand-crafted from a single bolt of cloth without the use of a pre-existing pattern.

Clients would have numerous fittings for the outfit, which would be hand-stitched and finished to the highest standard. These creations have long been synonymous with the best of British craftsmanship and even the simplest of bespoke suits can fetch £5,000.

However, Savile Row institutions… are concerned that the term "bespoke" is being used by some retailers for suits which are just made-to-measure… For the bargain price of £495 consumers were promised the choice of the finest Italian fabrics. But after an initial fitting session in London, the fabric was sent to Germany to be cut and sewn mostly by machine.

Although this is not strictly bespoke in the old-fashioned sense, the ASA has ruled that the historic term has moved on…”

Credit to Nothing To Do With Arbroath. Interestingly I discovered this morning that "bespoke" was not listed in the original OED, except as a past tense of "bespeak." It wasn't until the supplement was printed that "bespoke" appears, still as a ppl of "bespeak," but with the definition "Of goods: Ordered to be made, as distinguished from Ready-made. Also said of a tradesman who makes goods to order."

Of additional interest, here are the original definitions of "bespeak" -
1) To call out, exclaim, complain
2) To speak up, or out, to exclaim...
3) To speak against, charge, accuse...
4) To speak about, discuss, advise...
5) To speak for; to arrange for, engage beforehand: to 'order' (goods)
6) To speak to, to address...
7) To speak of, to indicate...

So, depending on how one interprets "for" the third and fifth definitions would appear to make "bespeak" a contranym - re which a separate post would be in order when I get some free time.

A statue honoring the enema

"The sculptor, Svetlana Avakina, said she had designed the monument with "irony and humour" in mind and was inspired by the works of Italian Renaissance painter, Alessandro Botticelli."

Botticelli is probably rolling in his grave right now, but it's actually refreshing to see a community (a Russian spa resort) confront one of the realities of life in an open and good-humored fashion. More details at the link.

"Thought showers" -- ???

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in Kent has banned the term “brainstorming” – and replaced it with “thought showers”. Bosses fear the phrase to describe idea sessions may offend epileptics or the mentally ill.

Staff have been sent memos about the change – and even sent on training courses.

But charities representing epileptics have branded the move political correctness gone mad...

(Credit to Nothing to do with Arbroath)

19 June 2008

Water ice found on Mars

"There is water ice on Mars within reach of the Mars Phoenix Lander, NASA scientists announced Thursday.

Photographic evidence settles the debate over the nature of the white material seen in photographs sent back by the craft. As seen in lower left of this image, chunks of the ice sublimed (changed directly from solid to gas) over the course of four days, after the lander's digging exposed them.

The samples are being examined for traces of organic molecules, among other substances, but the lander does not have instruments that could directly detect life." (Text from Wired.)

Here's the report from NASA: "June 19, 2008 -- Dice-size crumbs of bright material have vanished from inside a trench where they were photographed by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander four days ago, convincing scientists that the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it... The chunks were left at the bottom of a trench informally called "Dodo-Goldilocks" when Phoenix's Robotic Arm enlarged that trench on June 15, during the 20th Martian day, or sol, since landing. Several were gone when Phoenix looked at the trench early today, on Sol 24."

Update June 24: found a better image at the BBC - a dual photo with this caption: "Tiny clumps of material which can be made out in the bottom left of the Dodo-Goldilocks trench on 15 June (left) are gone by 19 June (right)"
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