31 August 2008

How yogis levitate

Now that you know, you can set this up in your own back yard to entertain neighbors and visitors... (credit here)

Some excitement at Denny's

MODESTO, Calif. - Police say a man tried to cut off his own arm at a restaurant in Modesto, Calif., because he thought he had injected air into a vein while shooting cocaine and feared he would die unless he took drastic action.

Authorities say 33-year-old Michael Lasiter rushed into the Denny's restaurant late Friday and started stabbing himself in one arm with a butter knife he grabbed from a table.

They say that when that knife didn't work Lasiter took a butcher knife from the kitchen and dug it into his arm…

Lasiter was taken to a hospital for treatment of severe cuts.

The Denny's closed for the night.

Frost on Mars

Now that the Phoenix lander has confirmed the presence of water on Mars, additional evidence continues to accumulate. The NASA photo above shows water frost on the ground.

I found this image at the new Wall Street Journal photoblog, which appears to be a good source for large-format photos of current events.

The Argo automobile - $295

This is another of the photos from Shorpy that you can enlarge (click on it) and explore. Some discussion at the link.

Anti-smoking ashtray

As an ex-smoker, I commend the variety of innovative products and programs available today to help people quit smoking. The ash receptacle above combines a chest radiograph with a repository for butts; one might quibble that the image seems to depict a bilateral pneumothorax, but the overall impression is nevertheless quite striking. Whether such items are efficacious or not is another matter, but one has to admire the inventiveness of the designer.

Philatelic puzzle answer

I almost forgot to post a followup to this item from last week. In July 1956 what was then East Germany created a stamp (on the left above) to commemorate the death of Robert Schumann. About 3 months later a replacement was issued. CGHill was correct in surmising that the reason for the reissue is that the first stamp featured an incorrect musical score - one written by Franz Schubert. Enough stamps were printed of each variety that they currently are considered philatelic oddities rather than rarities.

The curious case of General Stubblebine

This morning I was listening to a TED talk by Richard Dawkins ("The universe is queerer than we can suppose"); during his presentation he referred to Major General Albert Stubblebine. The anecdote is included in a book entitled "The Men Who Stare at Goats". Herewith a brief excerpt:
He stands up, moves out from behind his desk, and begins to walk.

I mean, he thinks, what is the atom mostly made up of anyway? Space!

He quickens his pace.

What am I mostly made up of? he thinks. Atoms!

He is almost at a jog now.

What is the wall mostly made up of? he thinks. Atoms! All I have to do is merge the spaces. The wall is an illusion…

Then General Stubblebine bangs his nose hard on the wall of his office.

Damn, he thinks.

General Stubblebine is confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall...

In the Special Forces Command Center, the general decides to start soft. "I'm coming down here with an idea," he begins.

The Special Forces commanders nod.

"If you have a unit operating outside the protection of mainline units, what happens if somebody gets hurt?" he says. "What happens if somebody gets wounded? How do you deal with that?"

He surveys the blank faces around the room.

"Psychic healing!" he says.

There is a silence...

General Stubblebine rifles through his bag and produces, with a flourish, bent cutlery.

"What if you could do this?" says General Stubblebine. "Would you be interested?"

There is a silence...

A portable fireplace

"...travelmate makes it possible to set up an individual, full-value fireplace and source of heat that really sets the mood, with no complications and wherever you want it, on the carpet, on the dining table... now the atmosphere of the fireside can be enjoyed anywhere.

the formal design as a stylized suitcase unmistakably conveys the notion that this is an item not bound to any fixed location. a cheerful fire blazing in the unit completes the concept of a fireplace that really wants to be free of its shackles..."
Somehow I find the idea of a fireplace that wants to be free of its shackles to be a bit unsettling...

Evangelical FAIL

In the video above, Stuart Shepard from James Dobson's Focus on the Family encouraged fellow evangelicals to pray for rain to interfere with the Democratic convention in Denver last week. He wanted torrential rain to fall on the stadium the night of Obama's historic speech.

"If God decides that rain of Biblical proportions would be a good and proper meteorological condition for that evening, then we'll see it, and we'll say that it is good..."

God apparently listened, made up His own mind, and decided to send a hurricane... during the Republican convention.

Flowers for Algernon ... as a blog

progris riport 1 - martch 5, 1965

Dr. Strauss says I shud rite down what I think and evrey thing that happins to me from now on, I dont know why but he says its importint so they will see if they will use me. I hope they use me. Miss Kinnian says maybe they can make me smart. I want to be smart. My name is Charlie Gordon. I am 37 years old. I have nuthing more to rite now so I will close for today.

Posted by Charlie Gordon 0 comments

A thread in Metafilter yesterday noted that the Flowers for Algernon for has been published online and formatted as a blog - which is of course ideally suited to the diary-like format of the original story.

This is a classic piece of sci-fi literature; it won the Hugo Award as the best short story of 1960. It is perhaps best known as the basis for the movie Charly, for which Cliff Robertson won the Best Actor Academy Award.

Here's the link. I've linked to the last page of the blog so you can read the story from the beginning by clicking on "newer posts" at the left of each page.

30 August 2008

The pigeon towers of Isfahan

This past week Metafilter had a thread about pigeon towers built during the Safavid dynasty. This link goes to a flash slideshow showing the intricate internal architecture.

The Isfahan pigeon towers predate the perhaps more familiar dovecotes of England and France, and whereas the purpose of the ones in Medieval Europe was to house birds used for food, those of Isfahan and other arid regions such as Egypt were designed to accumulate guano that could then subsequently be used as fertilizer.

The Wiki discussion of dovecotes is excellent, and this site has photos and discussion of the ones in Wales. Alternative terms include "columbaria" (a borrowing of the Latin/Roman term) and "culverhouse" from the Anglo-Saxon term for pigeons.

Image credit to Wiki commons.

Medvedev and Saakashvili discuss the Georgian war

I've added the Financial Times to my ever-growing list of websites to monitor, because I've been impressed by the quality of their journalism - not for financial matters in particular, but for world affairs in general.

Case in point - this week they have a column entitled "Why I had to recognise Georgia’s breakaway regions," written by Dmitri Medvedev:
After the collapse of communism… Georgia immediately stripped its “autonomous regions” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of their autonomy. Can you imagine what it was like for the Abkhaz people to have their university in Sukhumi closed down by the Tbilisi government on the grounds that they allegedly had no proper language or history or culture and so did not need a university?

Meanwhile, ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians… what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others…

This was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian territory. Our troops entered Georgia to destroy bases from which the attack was launched and then left…
Paired with that is another column, entitled "Moscow’s plan is to redraw the map of Europe," written by Mikheil Saakashvili:
Moscow is using its invasion, prepared over years, to rebuild its empire, seize greater control of Europe’s energy supplies and punish those who believed democracy could flourish on its borders...

Moscow says it invaded Georgia to protect its citizens in South Ossetia. Over the past five years it cynically laid the groundwork for this pretence, by illegally distributing passports in South Ossetia and Ab­khazia, “manufacturing” Russian citizens to protect. The cynicism of Russia’s concern for ethnic minorities can be expressed in one word: Chechnya...

The next step in Russia’s invasion script, of disinformation and annexation, is regime change. If Moscow can oust Georgia’s democratically elected government, it can then intimidate other democratic European governments...
I find it remarkable that the FT provides a forum at which the President of the Russian Federation and the President of Georgia publicly outline and try to justify their positions and the reasons for the conflict. These articles do not define who is right or wrong, but placing the dialogue on the internet for public consumption and discussion is an admirable use of the modern journalistic technology.

Child's retinoblastoma spotted in an email

Madeleine Robb, from Stretford, who has never met her pen pal, spotted a shadow behind one of Rowan Santos's eyes on pictures from her first birthday. She then e-mailed her mother Megan advising her to get medical help.

The two mothers became friends on an internet messageboard after their children were born on the same day. But when Mrs Robb saw the pictures she said she knew something was not right.

Megan Santos took her to the doctor the same day and her condition was diagnosed. The toddler will still lose her eye, but doctors have said her chances of survival are much greater thanks to the early diagnosis.

Text and image from Nothing to do with Arbroath.

Diagram of Diagrams candidates

The Bookseller awards the Diagram prize each year to the book with the most unusual title. This year they are asking the public to vote for the most unusual title from the winners over the past 30 years. Herewith some of the candidates:

1980: The Joy of Chickens
1984: The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History and Its Role in the World Today
1986: Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality
1988: Versailles: The View From Sweden
1989: How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art
1990: Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual
1992: How to Avoid Huge Ships
1993: American Bottom Archaeology
1995: Reusing Old Graves
1997: The Joy of Sex: Pocket Edition
2001: Butterworths Corporate Manslaughter Service
2002: Living With Crazy Buttocks
2003: The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories
2004: Bombproof Your Horse
2005: People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It
2006: The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification

A full list of the candidates is here, and you may vote at this link.

Golf joke

Recently I was asked to play in a golf tournament. At first I said, “Naaahhh! I already play 4 or 5 times a week.”

Then they said to me, “Come on, it’s for handicapped and blind kids.”

Then I thought……Hey, I could win this.

Found at Bits and Pieces.

You've probably seen this old joke...

...but there's probably someone you want to forward it to.

Found at Bits and Pieces.

The QI buzzers

Offered as an introduction to Stephen Fry's "QI" program. Alan Davies seems to always have the best buzzer.

For those interested in hearing examples of the program itself, try this segment on why there are no Alsatian dogs in the Spanish army, or browse others at THIS LINK. Found at Look At This.

Cat House on the Kings

A lady in California keeps about 600 cats on a 6-acre property. She's not the archetypal "hoarder" - these cats are well cared for and up for adoption. The video tells the story in about five minutes. Found at Look At This. Link to the project's website here.

How a dog laps water

This is a surprising slow-motion video. I've had a half-dozen dogs and have never noticed the unusual technique they use to get water into their mouth. It's not what you think.

For those in a hurry, just let the video load and then skip to the 2:30 mark to see the meat of the presentation. Found at Neatorama.

Let's give Tiana her 15 minutes of fame

Tiana Walton, 9, of Pye Corner Farm, Alvanley, is awaiting official confirmation that she is a record breaker for keeping snails on her face... On Thursday 25 garden snails clung to Tiana’s face, smashing Australian Liam Kenny’s record of 15.

Animal loving Tiana, who next week starts year five at Abbey Gate School, said: "I am not squeamish. It is relaxing but it feels a bit cold. They are quite smelly and you can see their big long eyes facing you.

"I might try a different one now, or I would like to go the Olympics and be a gymnast."
At the Arbroath link there's a link to a video, for which I unfortunately can't find embedding code. If the still image above intrigues you, you definitely ought to watch the 2-minute video.

Palin for Vice President

TYWKIWDBI enthusiastically supports the Palin candidacy for the Vice Presidency of the United States.

He has vast international experience, having travelled pole to pole and around the world. In recognition of his travels, he has two British trains (and an asteroid) named after him.

He has a practical knowledge of economic problems, as evidenced by his running of a cheese shop and selling Dead Parrots.

He knows how to deal with terrorists (the Spanish Inquisition) and has even tortured old ladies with comfy chairs.

And now he's scheduled to play the role of Don Quixote - a excellent preparation for the position of Commander-in-Chief.

About those chicken earlobes...

As I was getting ready to go to the Minnesota State Fair, I encountered a newspaper article reporting that the color of a chicken's egg can be predicted from the color of the chicken's earlobe.

This has to fit in the category of "you learn something every day," because I frankly didn't know chickens had earlobes. Ears, yes. But earlobes?

This anatomical drawing portrays the location of the earlobe, and as a bonus you can see the locations of the fluff, hock, hackle, and sickle. The embedded photo (credit to My Pet Chicken) shows a white patch just above the wattle at the location of the earlobe.

Regarding the color of eggs, the often interesting (and very professional) Colour Lovers blog has an article on the subject:
Pearly white, cream, yellow, brown, gray, blue, violet, green, olive. Chicken eggs are colorful even before they’re dyed and decorated for Easter celebrations. “The color of eggs comes exclusively from the pigment in the outer layer of the shell and may range from an almost pure white to a deep brown, with many shades in between. The only determinant of egg color is the breed of the chicken. . . ."

“All eggs are initially white, and shell color is the result of the pigments called porphyrins being deposited while the eggs are in the process of formation. In the case of the Rhode Island Red, the brown pigment protoporphyrin, derived from haemoglobin in the blood, is what gives the shell its light brown color. The Araucana produces a pigment called oocyanin, which is a product of bile formation, and results in blue or bluish-green eggs. Interestingly, the color goes right through the shell, making the eggs difficult to candle... during incubation.”

Interestingly, the light of the sun can fade the color of an egg’s shell, even before it has been laid. This is a phenomenon that especially affects free-range chickens in hotter climates.
Sunlight can fade an eggshell before it is laid? How? And underlying all of this is the interesting question of why chickens have earlobes - and more to the point, why people have them. What functional advantage did earlobes have during evolution to allow the structure to be preserved? I have four days worth of links to catch up on, so I'll have to defer investigation of this topic to someone else...

25 August 2008

Journal of the cybership TYWKIWDBI


August 25, 2008 (Terra norm)

Eight months into our maiden voyage, dual tragedy has struck. Our desktop HAL has become inaccessible, and attempts to employ the backup laptop reveal that batteries are nearly depleted, and some Nefarious Force has absconded with the A/C adaptor or rendered it invisible.

Laptop power fading fast. Sadly, returning from the State Fair, I was just about to report interesting observations about the earlobes of chickens.

"Scotty - can you get me any more power??"
"Nae, Cap'n. She's running on fumes!!!"

Will dispatch Exploration Team to nearest Urban Center to search for outdated iBook A/C adaptor. Memo to self: have expendable team member wear red shirt.

Captain signing off...

24 August 2008

A philatelic puzzle

No blogging today (State Fair time). In the meantime I wonder if anyone can guess why the DDR printed two stamps in 1956 to commemorate the centennial of Robert Schumann's death.

Answer here.

23 August 2008

Intriguing music on this tsunami video

The visual content appears to be related to the 2004 earthquake in the Indian Ocean that devastated Indonesia and Thailand; most of it has been shown in documentaries before, although the house exploding at 5:30 was new to me.

I'm blogging it now because of the ethereal vocal piece beginning 2 minutes into the video and lasting for the next four minutes; the music intrigues me, but it's not credited at the end.

TYWKIWDBI gets visitors every week from around the world. I wonder if anyone can offer suggestions re the source (or even the language) of the music beginning at the 2 minute mark. Thanks in advance.

Addendum: found it after some Googling. The song is "Gortoz a ran - J'attends" ("I await"). The lyrics are in Breton, sung by the composer Denez Prigent, with Lisa Gerrard, from his album "Irvi."

This symbol is now 50 years old

Originally designed in 1958, the "peace symbol" combines the semaphore signals for the letters "N" and "D," representing "nuclear disarmament." First popularized by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmement in Britain, it later became a generalized symbol for peace. Wikipedia offers the following re misinterpretations of the symbol:
…spurious alternative interpretations, ranging from… "The footprint of the American Chicken" … to a number of occult meanings, such as an upside down crucifix with the arms broken downward, suggesting the way that St. Peter was martyred… Others have claimed that the symbol resembles a medieval sign known as "Nero's Cross" that represents Satanism… As well, a commonly repeated conjecture during the 1960s was that it was an antichrist symbol... Gerald Holtom's explanation of the genesis of the symbol and his first drawings of it, however, do not support those interpretations… The peace symbol was also believed by some to represent a swept-wing bomber, the type that would be used to deliver a nuclear weapon. Ironically, a nearly identical symbol was used by the Nazi German 3rd Panzer Division during World War II.
Image credit to the Guardian's photoessay.

Why HAL sang "Daisy" as he/it was dying

As noted in the brief video above, it's because that was the first song ever "sung" by a computer voice. As noted here, from an MIT website,
"Mr. Stork played a recording that author Clarke heard at Bell Laboratories in 1962 of an ILLIAC computer singing "Daisy," which HAL sings in the movie (the voice was Canadian Shakespearean actor Douglass Rain). "It's amazing," Mr. Stork said. "In the film, it's sung in the same key."
A full recording of computer speech from 1963 is HERE. Thanks, Reddit.

If you Google "Niue..."

... the search engine adds a convenient map...

22 August 2008

The "Big Three" automakers want a bailout

After killing the electric car and pushing the largest possible vehicles on the American public for decades, GM, Ford, and Chrysler want the federal government (correction: American taxpayers) to provide them with $25 billion in low-interest loans so they can retool and refocus on smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles: "The federal government must be a strong partner in the investment in the advanced technologies..."

Good discussion at Reddit.

Behold the finger stretcher!

"Developed in America in 1910 to help pianists hit the sprawling notes demanded by the likes of Stravinsky and Debussy. Careful use was required: it is thought the composer Schumann destroyed his hands using an early version."

If you want to stretch your fingers, such devices are occasionally available on eBay. This one sold on the Spanish eBay site for 18.85 Euros.

Homeland Security phones hacked

WASHINGTON - A hacker broke into a Homeland Security Department telephone system over the weekend and racked up about $12,000 in calls to the Middle East and Asia.

The hacker made more than 400 calls on a Federal Emergency Management Agency voicemail system… FEMA is part of Homeland Security, which in 2003 put out a warning about this very vulnerability.

The voicemail system is new and recently was installed. It is a Private Branch Exchange, or PBX, a traditional corporate phone network that is used in thousands of companies and government offices. Many companies are moving to a higher tech version, known as Voice Over Internet Telephony.

This type of hacking is very low-tech and "old school”.... It was popular 10 to 15 years ago. Telecommunications security administrators now know to configure security settings, such as having individual users create unique passwords…

"In this case it's sort of embarrassing that it happened to FEMA themselves — FEMA being a child of DHS, with calls going to the Middle East..."

Argentine dog rescues abandoned baby

"An eight-year-old dog has touched the hearts of Argentines by saving the life of an abandoned baby, placing the girl safely alongside her own new puppies.

[The baby] was born prematurely to a 14-year-old girl in a shanty town outside the capital, Buenos Aires. The mother is said to have panicked and abandoned the baby in a field, surrounded by wooden boxes and rubbish.

Then along came La China, the dog which somehow picked up the baby and carried her 50m to place the baby alongside her own puppies. The dog's owner heard the child crying and found her covered with a rag.

The baby, weighing 4kg (8lb 13oz), had some slight injuries, but no bite marks. The owner called the police and the child is now being looked after by the authorities, while a decision is taken about her future. The frightened mother appeared shortly after her baby was found.

The Argentine media has descended on the shanty town, talking of "the Argentine Romulus and Remus", the founders of Rome, abandoned as babies and rescued by a wolf, nearly 3,000 years ago."

Athlete expelled from Olympics

A member of the U.S. Olympic diving team was disqualified from competition today when it was learned that he did not have a sufficiently compelling human storyline to exploit on the NBC telecast of the worldwide sporting event.

Tracy Klujian, the expelled diver, was not raised by a single mother, never had a career-threatening injury, and did not overcome a personal tragedy of any kind before making the Olympic diving team, U.S. Olympic officials revealed today.

"Had Tracy been involved in an organ donation, as either a donor or a recipient, that would have been acceptable to us," a diving team spokesman told reporters. "However, he was not."

According to sources close to the diving team, Mr. Klujian had concealed the fact that he comes from an intact middle-class family that never lost its home to a flood, tornado or typhoon. But what may have sealed Mr. Klujian's doom, sources said, was his utter lack of a gravely ill family member to win a medal for.

21 August 2008

Immense waves striking lighthouses

Reportedly filmed on the French Atlantic coast. Found at Dark Roasted Blend.

Ice Scream

credit here.

"Longest nose in history" (7 inches)

... belonged to Thomas Wedders, and 18th century Yorkshireman, according to Ripley's Believe it or Not.

Wisconsin's Criminal of the Day

Arrested at her home, handcuffed, and booked for having two library books that were way overdue.

One ironic aspect of this incident is that her two overdue books were Dan Brown's Angels and Demons and Janet Fitch's White Oleander. The former is one of the books that people most want to get rid of, and both books are grossly overrepresented in library inventories and thus wind up on the used-books-for-a-dollar shelves. Our library here in Wisconsin has 67 copies of Angels and Demons (with 2 "hold" requests), and 59 copies of White Oleander (with one "hold" request).

I suspect the librarians in Grafton wanted to make a public example of this scofflaw, but in terms of expenditure of public funds and use of law enforcement time, it's a waste of taxpayer dollars. Better to have just cancelled her card and written off the books.


Harry Potter as... non-erotic pornography??

At one point, Assistant Prosecutor Andrea Dean tried to argue that movies found in Perry’s home, like "Star Wars," the "Harry Potter" films and "Little House on the Prairie," constituted “non-erotic pornography.” Langford Morris ruled the videos irrelevant and refused to let the jury hear that argument.

Tropical storm Firefox hits Florida

Image credit here.

Knivsfla - remarkable farm location

You will need to click the image and enlarge to wallpaper size to see the farm buildings perched near the top of the cliff. Located in the Geirangerfjord.

The farm can only be reached by climbing 250m up a footpath, which in turn can only be reached by boat. Another 500m climb will take you to a pasture. The farm has been abandoned for the past century because of the risk of falling rocks.

Olympic trivia

  • 1900 Paris - Some unusual events were contested for the first and only time in the history of the Games. The equestrian high and long jumps, swimming obstacle race, two-day cricket and live pigeon shooting being foremost among them.
  • 1904 St. Louis - One of the most remarkable athletes was the American gymnast George Eyser, who won six medals even though his left leg was made of wood.
  • 1908 London - Despite international customs that encourage dipping the flag in respect to heads of state, since 1908 US flag bearers have not done so.
  • 1912 Stockholm - It was the last time that solid gold medals were awarded; modern medals are usually gold plated silver... A Greco-Roman Wrestling bout... lasted 11 hours and forty minutes—the world’s longest wrestling match.
  • 1932 Los Angeles - U.S. President Herbert Hoover did not attend the Games, becoming the first sitting head of government to not appear at an Olympics hosted in that country... Mahatma Gandhi took part in the games as a press reporter.
  • 1936 Berlin - [Jesse] Owens was able to freely use public transportation and enter bars and other public facilities without the difficulty he would face as a black man in the United States.
  • 1976 Montreal - [Japanese gymnast] Fujimoto broke his leg on the floor exercise, and due to the closeness in the overall standings with the USSR, he hid the extent of the injury. With a broken knee, Fujimoto was able to complete his event on the rings, performing a perfect triple somersault dismount, maintaining perfect posture. He scored a 9.7 thus securing gold for Japan.
Credit here, although I think much of the text was transcribed from Wikipedia.

Olympic logo designs, 1896 - 2012

An interesting presentation at Colourlovers, a website that focuses on design and color. Presented today to contrast the classic style London used in 1948 with the grotesque design and garish colors selected for 2012. I'm not the first to comment on the 2012 logo. This from Wiki:
Early public reaction to the logo, as measured by a poll on the BBC website, was largely negative: more than 80% of votes gave the logo the lowest possible rating... It was noted that the logo resembles an image of the cartoon character Lisa Simpson performing fellatio and others have complained that it looks like a distorted Swastika.

A segment of animated footage released at the same time as the logo was reported to trigger seizures in a small number of people with photosensitive epilepsy. The charity Epilepsy Action received telephone calls from people who had had seizures after watching the sequence on TV…
Apart from the design itself, the most notable fact is that this is the first time ever in the history of the Olympics that the logo will be produced in a variety of colors.

Why? Oh... maybe it has something to do with this: "Sponsors have also incorporated their company colours in the logo, notable examples include Lloyds TSB and Adidas."

20 August 2008

Unique Florida wildlife devastated by hurricane Fay

Free air guitars

An early Calvin and Hobbes strip

Does this sign insult old people?

"London pensioners groups called for the road sign depicting old people to be scrapped because it is insulting. Age Concern and Help the Aged said that the hunched figure with a walking stick, above, should be replaced with a new image... “The sign doesn’t represent older people as they are today. There should be a generic sign that is representative of all vulnerable pedestrians, regardless of age.”

But does it necessarily represent "old people?" The stick figures depict impaired ambulation, or perhaps general infirmity, but not necessarily old age...

Great attitude in a brave young woman

NEW YORK (AP) -- Christina Applegate is taking the long view of her battle with breast cancer... "I'm going to have cute boobs 'til I'm 90, so there's that... I'll have the best boobs in the nursing home. I'll be the envy of all the ladies around the bridge table."

The 36-year-old actress elected to remove both breasts even though the disease was contained in one breast. She said she is now cancer-free.

Applegate called the operation a logical decision. Her mother battled breast cancer, and she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

19 August 2008

Did John McCain cheat at Saddleback?

I wasn't going to blog this, because most TYWKIWDBI visitors probably don't care about the subject, but it's been nagging at me. Two incidents from the Saddleback event are troublesome.

John McCain was supposed to be in a closed room at the studio or church while Obama was being questioned, so that in his "cone of silence" he would not hear the questions ahead of time (both candidates were to be asked the same questions) and be able to prepare his responses. In point of fact, McCain was NOT sequestered. This is admitted by McCain's Campaign Manager, Rick Davis: "The fact is that during Senator Obama's segment at Saddleback last night, Senator McCain was in a motorcade to the event and then held in a green room with no broadcast feed...."

McCain was in a limosine in his motorcade while the event was being broadcast live on television and radio. He could have heard the questions, or he could have (truthfully) "not listened" but had one of his handlers hear the questions and tell him what they were.

When he got to the program and was asked about being in the "cone of silence," McCain joked he was trying to listen through the walls - an total obfuscation.

Yesterday I pointed out that during his interview with Pastor Warren, McCain asked about "getting back" to the question of Supreme Court justices, when in fact that topic had not yet come up.

This evening I found another disturbing aspect of the McCain interview. It's in the YouTube clip above. Barack Obama was asked these questions:



Now, here's a transcript from when the McCain interview came to the same topic:








Note - McCain answers the questions "YES. YES." -- BEFORE HEARING THE QUESTIONS. The Yes, Yes is accompanied by his hand thumping the table indicating two distinct answers. Perhaps he could guess a question was coming as to whether he supports merit pay for teachers. But two questions? I think he knew what the questions were going to be.

Swiss Army knife with flash drive

"The Swiss Memory USB is the perfect marriage of technology, practicality, materials, and quality design. It perfectly pulls together four important tools that no geek should ever be without (USB flash drive, LED light, Swiss Army knife, ballpoint pen). These functions have been skillfully integrated into this single super tool. Along with all these great features you also get the legendary construction quality and materials that Swiss Army knives have become famous for throughout the world. The USB flash drive portion of the knife can easily be removed, for safe airline travel (and successful passage thru security)."

(I initially thought this was a Photoshopped joke, but it appears to be real. You can buy one with 2 GB flash for $75 at ThinkGeek.)

The Chand Baori stepwell

An impressive architectural achievement, located near Jaipur India, and dating from the 9th century. Although called a "well," the structure seems to incorporate the principles of a cistern in collecting surface water or rainfall in addition to the groundwater. The Chand Baori one has fifteen levels of very steep steps (the rise-to-run proportions adding only 18" of width per 8' of drop).

More information about stepwells at Wiki, though the most detailed treatment is at this online book "Steps to Water." Click to enlarge images.

The map of "pop," "soda," and "coke"

"When on a hot summer’s day you buy a carbonated beverage to quench your thirst, how do you order it? Do you ask for a soda, a pop or something else? That question lay at the basis of an article in the Journal of English Linguistics (Soda or Pop?, #24, 1996) and of a map, showing the regional variation in American English of the names given to that type of drink...
  • coke: this generic term for soft drinks predominates throughout the South, New Mexico, central Indiana and in a few other single counties in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. ‘Coke’ obviously derives from Coca-Cola, the brand-name of the soft drink originally manufactured in Atlanta...
  • pop: dominates the Northwest, Great Plains and Midwest. The world ‘pop’ was introduced by Robert Southey, the British Poet Laureate (1774-1843), to whom we also owe the word ‘autobiography’, among others. In 1812, he wrote: A new manufactory of a nectar, between soda-water and ginger-beer, and called pop, because ‘pop goes the cork’ when it is drawn...
  • soda: prevalent in the Northeast, greater Miami, the area in Missouri and Illinois surrounding St Louis and parts of northern California. ‘Soda’ derives from ‘soda-water’ (also called club soda, carbonated or sparkling water or seltzer).... The fizziness of soda-water caused the term ‘soda’ to be associated with later, similarly carbonated soft drinks.
  • Other, lesser-used terms include ‘dope’ in the Carolinas and ‘tonic’ in and around Boston, both fading in popularity. Other generic terms for soft drinks outside the US include ‘pop’ (Canada), ‘mineral’ (Ireland), ‘soft drink’ (New Zealand and Australia). The term ‘soft drink’, finally, arose to contrast said beverages with hard (i.e. alcoholic) drinks.
Click to enlarge map and see data for the county where you grew up or where you live.

Image and text found at Strange Maps.

Watch for Bikes

Found at Reddit, where there is a discussion thread.

Saakashvili eats his tie - bizarre!

A 2-minute BBC News report about Georgia attacking South Ossetia and the Russians coming to their aid. The bizarre moment occurs at 1 minute into the report, when Georgian president Saakashvili is shown chewing on his tie. Presumably it's a reflection of nervous tension, sort of like trichotillomania, but it is certainly unsettling to see in a head of state...

A totally irreverent view of transsubstantiation

Since the basic principle of the eucharist is that the wafer and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ, it's theoretically possible to predict that given enough time, the entire mass of the earth would be comprised of Jesus. Using 2 grams per wafer and 10 grams per sip of wine, that length of time calculates to approximately 5 billion years. Food for thought, so to speak.

I'm not trying to offend anyone. Just offering this to show how the doctrines of one religion can be distorted by nonbelievers or those of another faith. Found at Kottke.

Puppy: "I want out"

Found at Popgive.

"Aeno expus updere"

Can you translate that Latin phrase?

Offered as Latin for "you'll never see a dead cat in a tree" at this Metafilter thread.

The burning of Johnson's Dictionary

I couldn't wait any longer. After blogging the Rowan Atkinson skit below, I had to look up some Blackadder episodes. There are hundreds of them at YouTube and Google Video.

One of my favorites sketches is from Blackadder the Third - the episode entitled "Ink and Incapability," in which Baldrick accidentally burns Samuel Johnson's famous Dictionary.

Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder), Hugh Laurie (as the Prince of Wales), Tony Robinson (Baldrick), and Robbie Coltrane guesting as Samuel Johnson. The clip embedded above is the longest segment I could find; it has Portugese subtitles, which I trust won't distract from the humor.

A comedy sketch about Shakespeare's editor

Performed by the incomparable combination of Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie. Found at the equally incomparable Growabrain.

This reminds me that I should blog some Blackadder videos (that will be fun to research...) The title should read "Edward deVere's editor" - but more on that some other time...

Breeding disease into dogs

That's the subject of a somewhat troubling BBC documentary. Deliberate incestual matings of mothers to sons and brothers to sisters can create "desirable" physical features but lethal genetic illnesses in breeds such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
The programme, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, says dogs suffering from genetic illness are not prevented from competing in dog shows and have gone on to win "best in breed", despite their poor health.

It says physical traits required by the Kennel Club's breed standards, such as short faces, wrinkling, screw-tails and dwarfism, have inherent health problems.

Other problems occur because of exaggerations bred into dogs by breeders trying to win rosettes, it adds.

The programme shows a prize-winning cavalier King Charles spaniel suffering from syringomyelia, a condition which occurs when a dog's skull is too small for its brain...

Scientists at Imperial College, London, recently found that pugs in the UK are so inbred that although there are 10,000 of them, it is the equivalent of just 50 distinct individuals...

(more at the link, with two news videos)

Kitesurfing tropical storm Fay

Candidate for a Darwin award. Brief video at this BBC link.

18 August 2008

Is this a new DaVinci drawing?

The Mail Online today featured a story on a drawing that may be attributable to Leonardo DaVinci. It was "commissioned by a female Italian aristocrat to show to potential suitors" in a sort of 15th-century equivalent of a Facebook page.
Known as Nuptial Portrait of a Young Woman, it was sold for £10,000 in 1998 after being attributed to a German artist.

However, experts say it is looking 'more and more like a Leonardo work'. This would push its value up as high as £100million...

Based on its style, the portrait is thought to date to between 1485 and 1490, when Da Vinci was living in Milan.

Mr Vezzosi believes it shows the Milanese aristocrat Bianca Maria Sforza shortly before her marriage to Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor.

However, he said the work needs further investigation before it is fully accepted as authentic.

If this happens, it will be the most important advance in Da Vinci studies since the Lady With An Ermine portrait was attributed to the artist in the 19th century.

Presurfer - a Recommended Blog

I'm starting a series of entries on blogs that I recommend to the TYWKIWDBI community.

The first one I'll feature is The Presurfer. Its mission statement is simply stated and not much different from that of TYWKIWDBI:
The Presurfer is Your Daily Dose of Diversion. A weblog about the weird, unusual, funny, strange and informative sites that can be found on the Internet.
The Presurfer was created by Gerard Vlemmings in the Netherlands in 2000. I discovered the site a couple years later when it began to receive awards and was featured in MacUser or MacWorld or MacSomething. I've visited on a daily basis for years.

The Presurfer's Technorati rating in the blogosphere is 6,360 (out of I think 12,000,000 blogs), which places him in the stratosphere of influence and prestige. By contrast, TYWKIWDBI is ranked at 490,000 or thereabouts.

I offer this recommendation not because I think my comments will improve his traffic (my 200 visitors/day will not impact his several thousand/day), but because if you like the content, tone, and attitude of TYWKIWDBI you will probably enjoy the Presurfer.

I'll offer other recommendations in the weeks/months to come. Those who want a head start can take a peek at Neatorama, J-Walk, and Nothing to do with Arbroath for starters.

Purple prose, Romance, vile puns et al...

"The pancake batter looked almost perfect, like the morning sun shining on the cream-colored bare shoulder of a gorgeous young blonde driving 30 miles over the speed limit down a rural Nebraska highway with the rental car's sunroof open, except it had a few lumps."

"Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner."

Jan Svenson, having changed his fortune in the annual "Scandinavian King of the Beach" in Santa Cruz with a bottle of black hair coloring and thus standing out in a sea of fair-haired rivals to win the coveted title, realized the ironic truth of the old adage "That in the kingdom of the blonde, the one dyed man is king."

There are certain people in the world who emanate an aura of well being -- they radiate sunshine, light up a room, bring out the best in others, and fill your half empty glass to overflowing - yes it was these very people thought Karl, as he sharpened his mirror-finished guthook knife, who were top of his list.

When he concentrated, his thick black eyebrows furrowed, looking not unlike a pair of Hypercompe scribonia caterpillars on a collision course over the bridge of his nose, but unlike them, his eyebrows would never evolve into giant leopard moths, and would find better places to hover after nightfall than around her 40-watt backporch light.

If those passages interest you, then you know it's time for the 2008 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest results. The website offers access to past winning entries. Thanks to Neatorama for the headsup on this link.

Multimillionaires... saving the planet?

Millionaires are purchasing entire ecosystems around the world and turning them into conservation areas…

'We have been buying all the land around us. We started with 110,000 acres and now we have 150,000,' he says. 'I want my children and grandchildren to remember me for making one more million? No! So I now have many projects like this.'

While yachts and jets marked the status of last century's super rich, today the stylish accessory for millionaires is their very own ecosystem.

From Patagonia to Montana, hundreds of thousands of acres are being bought by wealthy businessmen and placed in private charities, conservation trusts or handed over to governments as a gift…

'It is pretty hard for a country to turn down a gift of 300,000 hectares [740,000 acres],' says Douglas Tompkins, 65, the American-born founder of Esprit and The North Face… Then he read a book on deep ecology, the philosophy pioneered by Norwegian Arne Naess, who calls for a radical re-evaluation of man's relationship with the planet.

Tompkins was an instant convert. He sold his estate, the art and everything else, then moved to the remote wilds of Patagonia.

Since 1992, Tompkins has spent nearly £110m buying or organising the purchase of around 25 properties covering 2.2m acres in Chile and Argentina…

Dutch businessman Paul Fentener van Vlissingen, who died in 2006, was a leading figure in the movement. From his 82,000-acre estate in Scotland - which he proudly advertised as public lands - van Vlissingen managed supermarket chains, energy companies and investment trusts. His passion was Africa's beleaguered national parks.

In barely two years, Vlissingen poured millions of dollars into the then incomplete Marakele National Park in South Africa, a job that would have taken at least 10 years without his funding. Today Marakele is part of a far bigger park system and is a healthy home to African wildlife, including elephant, white and black rhinoceros, buffalo, hyena, cheetah, wild dog, giraffe and eland…

(more at the link)

Name that animal - round 14

Feeling invigorated after stumping everyone in round 13, I now offer a new puzzle - I think the first insect in this ongoing series. Two images. It looks like a wasp... but wait - look at those clasping forearms! Good luck with your Googling...

If you enjoy reading magazines...

... you might like the website Mygazines. It offers current (and past) editions of, oh perhaps a zillion different magazines, fulltext and with all illustrations (and advertisements). You're not reading the "online edition" - you're reading a photocopy of the print edition.

You can just browse the magazine online, or search their archives for magazine articles on poison ivy or computer viruses or skateboarding or whatever. An impressive resource to bookmark.

An Olympic competitor...

... or, TSA Employee of the Month?

(credit to Reddit)

Unwelcome to America

There's not much point in complaining about injustices against prisoners at Gitmo; they are, after all, by definition "enemy combatants."

Instead, read this transcript describing how visitors to the United States are treated at JFK airport. Regular visitors. Tourists. Tourists with darker skin color or history of travel to suspicious places.

This is from AlterNet, which I guess could be considered "fringe," but it's information that you won't find on mainstream news sites. I won't transcribe an excerpt here; it needs to be read in toto (takes 3 minutes).

It's not pleasant reading if you want to be proud of the United States.

A long (500+ comment) Reddit discussion is here.

The Fraser Illusion

The horizontal lines are parallel. Found in the Futility Closet.

A curious exchange during Saddleback

Many people watched or read about the interviews of Obama and McCain by the megachurch pastor Rick Warren this weekend. Political junkies are also aware that there are murmurs of cheating by McCain because he was not in a "cone of silence" which would theoretically have prevented him from hearing the questions ahead of time. McCain apparently was in his limosine on the way to the interview while Obama was being interviewed, so he potentially could have heard/seen the interview that was broadcase live on television, or he could have plausible deniability by not hearing/seeing anything by letting his handlers listen in an forewarn him of what the questions would be (they were to be the same for both candidates).

But we'll let that go. It's been hashed over even on the mainstream news networks and everywhere in the political blogosphere. I'd like to focus on one brief exchange that occurred during McCain's interview session, documented at the Pensito Review:

WARREN: OK, we don’t have to beleaguer on that one. Define marriage.

MCCAIN: A union — a union between man and woman, between one man and one woman. That’s my definition of marriage.

Could I — are we going to get back to the importance of Supreme Court Justices or should I mention –

WARREN: We will get to that.

MCCAIN: OK. All right. OK.

WARREN: You’re jumping ahead…


MCCAIN: When we speak of the issue of the rights to the unborn, we need to talk about judges. But, anyway, go ahead.

This is most curious. The Supreme Court had not been discussed with McCain. The words and topic had not come up during his maybe 10-minute session. (Here's the CNN transcript of both interviews.) According to a Townhall column, Warren says in an interview with Beliefnet that it's a "flat-out lie" that McCain cheated and knew the questions ahead of time.

There's no way to prove anything here. It's just, shall we say... curious that John McCain would ask:
MCCAIN: Could I — are we going to get back to the importance of Supreme Court Justices or should I mention –

WARREN: We will get to that.

MCCAIN: OK. All right. OK.

WARREN: You’re jumping ahead…
Judge for yourself.

The tyranny of homeowner associations

Jim Greenwood said he never dreamed his HOA would have a problem with his new Ford F-150 pickup. Then he received the first of three notices threatening him with fines.

"Mr. Greenwood, you're violating a subdivision rule that prohibits pickup trucks in your driveway," the notice reads.

Stonebriar HOA rules allow several luxury trucks on driveways, including the Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Avalanche, Honda Ridgeline and Lincoln Mark LT…

"The high-end vehicles that are allowed are plush with amenities and covers on the back. [They don’t] look like a pickup... [They are] fancier."

"Furthermore, one board member told my wife that if we don't like it, we can move."

"A Chevy Suburban can be in the driveway," Mr. Greenwood said. "If we had a big Hummer, that could be in the driveway. If we had a Lincoln Mark LT, that could be in the driveway. But a Ford F-150 can't.

"That doesn't make sense."

Another comedy gymnastics routine

The balance beam, performed by the same gymnast who was in the uneven parallel bars routine I blogged a couple days ago. There is also a floor exercise, not quite as funny.

17 August 2008

The Sonovox

Explained here.
Another early voice effect using the same principle of the throat as a filter was the Sonovox. Instead of a throat microphone modulating a guitar signal, it used small loudspeakers attached to the performer's throat.

It was used in films such as A Letter to Three Wives (1949), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), the voice of Casey Junior the train in Dumbo (1941) and The Reluctant Dragon (1941), the instruments in Rusty in Orchestraville, the piano in Sparky's Magic Piano, and the airplane in Whizzer The Talking Airplane (1947).

The Sonovox was also used in many radio station IDs produced by PAMS of Dallas and JAM Creative Productions. Lucille Ball made one of her earliest film appearances during the 1930s in a Pathé Newsreel demonstrating the Sonovox.
Found at Uncertain Times.

Homework for Grownups

English and science questions were in the Telegraph yesterday. Among the more interesting and/or difficult ones:

1. What do these words have in common? Chimney; different; justice; luggage; monster; month; orange; pint; pizza; hospital; dictionary; promise; purple; silver; value; wasp; obvious; circus; galaxy; almond

12. Underline the use of litotes in the following sentence: I was not overjoyed to hear that the light of my life, my innocent, fresh-faced 16-year-old daughter, was with child.

13. What is a hapax legomenon?

14. What is special about the following words: quack; bang; miaow; slither; click; slurp.

Answers at today's article, along with History, Classics and Home Economics questions.

Osaka baseball stadium...

... repurposed. Real, not Photoshopped (click to enlarge - yes, those are houses inside it).

Reddit discussion here. My favorite comment: "This would actually be a pretty good fortress in the event of zombie attack. Until supplies run out, of course."

What's going on with Spanish Olympians?

Am I just out of touch with current humor trends or perhaps have I become (shudder) "politically correct?"

Five days ago I panned the Spanish basketball team for apparently mocking stereotypical Oriental physiognomy. Now I read that "Spanish nationalist outrage has risen up at the foreign misinterpretations of this widely practiced gesture of eye-based friendship among Spanish athletic teams" and see the photo above of the Spanish Olympic tennis team posted at the Spanish Tennis Federation website.

Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson cast in butter

I think perhaps one has to be from the Midwest to truly appreciate the honor being accorded when one is cast or carved in butter for the state fair. This year the honoree at the Iowa State Fair is Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson. Her statue will share the spotlilght with the century-old tradition of a Butter Cow:
The Butter Cow starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and about 600 lbs. of low moisture, pure cream Iowa butter. Once inside the 40-degree cooler, layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges - measuring about 5-1/2-ft high and 8-ft long. Each year features one of the six major dairy breeds – Jersey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Holstein, Guernsey and Milking Shorthorn.

While a real dairy cow weighs more than 1,000 pounds, a 600-lb. butter cow would butter 19,200 slices of toast and take an average person two lifetimes to consume, according to sponsor Midwest Dairy Association. Much of the butter is recycled and reused for up to 10 years.
There is a nice, brief video along with more news details at this DesMoines Register link. The exhibit ends today; if you hurry over to the state fair, you can still see it... (Thanks to Neatorama for the headsup on this item)
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