31 January 2009

Crank shaft of the Titanic

Obviously at the factory, but still impressive. Image found at Pixdaus, original credit unknown.

Krispy Kreme stops giving cops free doughnuts

A Brisbane police officer got into a holy row with Krispy Kreme staff, demanding to be served free doughnuts.

Shocked customers looked on as the officer argued with staff for several minutes in a bid to get his freebies, before finally storming off - empty handed and non-cinnamon-fingered.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," a witness said. "He was quite rude, insisting his doughnuts should be free. He was so greedy for the doughnuts. I thought, 'you swine, get your money out and pay for them like everyone else'."

As the icing on the cake, Krispy Kreme has now decided to stop supplying Brisbane police with leftover doughnuts.

Before the incident, officers had been regularly popping in to collect free boxes of leftover doughnuts at the store in nearby Albert St at the end of the day.

A police source said the officer had become confused and thought the free doughnut arrangement applied at all times. "Everyone's a bit annoyed because they were a nice treat at the end of the day with a coffee," he said.

It is believed the Krispy Kreme store now gives the leftover doughnuts to the homeless instead.

(The picture is an unrelated stock photo, source unknown)

How the Cash4Gold ripoff works

Anyone who has watched late-nite television has seen these advertisements. There's a detailed explanation, with example, at this link. Excerpt:
With these prices, Brent's booty was worth $198. He had $110 worth of 14 K gold plus $88 worth of 10 K gold.

Brent had initially noted prices on the Cash4Gold site as:
$15 per DWT for 14K gold.
$13 per DWT for 10K gold...

The offer check from Cash4Gold arrived, for $60!

Brent called Cash4Gold and immediately and asked for his stuff back. They made a new offer on the phone: $178!
Additional comments from the Reddit thread:

The other thing you need to realize is that the "offer" is not on the table for long. I believe it was 10 days from the time they print the offer check. No response means they just keep your gold, melt it down, and you're SOL. That means from the time they print the check until the time they receive your returned check rejecting their payment must be less than 10 days. When my check arrived in the mail, it was 7 days old (which meant I had to mail the check and have it back to their mailbox in 3 days).

Cash4Gold (and also GoldPaq, for that matter) make a very specific offer, and they deliver on it. It's an offer ridiculously tilted in their favor, designed to take advantage of ignorance, but none the less, they deliver exactly what they promise. And that makes it not a scam. Very probably unethical, but not actually fraudulent. And that is, I think, an important distinction to keep in mind.

They take advantage of ignorant people and convince them to sell a valuable commodity for a fraction of what it's really worth. But the fact is, a valid, 100% legal trade transaction is conducted with no false representations. The offer is made, the customers are free to take it or leave it, and the company honors their wishes.

The real scam here is they are not required to keep records of the gold - like a pawn shop is required to do. The net result has been a huge spike in home break-ins that are quick and dangerous if someone is home, with the thieves targeting gold that can now be converted quickly to cash - without having to fence it to a pawn...one group of that they caught confessed to police that this is the new way to fence stolen gold.

Addendum: The J-Walk blog has a better write-up on this subject, with additional links.

Everyone is searching for Rodney Stanger

Found at Arbroath.

Monster truck crushes rally promoter

I want to be careful how I handle this item, because I don't want to make light of a death, nor to cast aspersions on truck-related events. But the irony is so strong that it hurts.

Last week a 6-year-old child was killed in Tacoma, Washington when a piece of debris flew off a spinning monster truck and hit the child. This week a different rally was held in Madison, Wisconsin, where the promoter for this one, George Eisenhart, was interviewed by a local television station regarding the safety of his shows:
"This is our 16th year," Eisenhart told CNN affiliate WKOW. "I wish I had a big piece of wood to knock on right now, but we have not had an incident besides a gal slipping in the aisleway at another location."
Eisenhart was killed two days later when one of the monster trucks ran over him.

The CNN video above depicts how the incident happened, but stops a second before the fatal occurrence.

There are no rattlesnakes in Australia

Earlier this morning I showed a photo of a snake eating a rattlesnake, and suggested that it probably occurred in Australia. Within minutes I received the comment that I've incorporated into the title above.

Aussies were "early adopters" of TYWKIWDBI within weeks of my starting this blog, and are third (after Canada and the U.K.) in visitors here, so I want to be sure not to offend their sensibilities by impugning the benign nature of the country. Thus, a correction here rather than as a hidden footnote at the original post

After a quick internet search, I have to agree that there appear to be no rattlesnakes in Australia. There is, however, a Rattlesnake Island (off the coast of Queensland). I would therefore conclude that there once used to be rattlesnakes in Australia, but that they were killed off by the carnivorous drop bears.

Haida chief's tomb

Description by Edward S. Curtis: The remains of the chief rest in a niche cut into the top of the transverse beam. This tomb is of unusual form, and must have been erected at enormous cost to the dead man's family.
Found in the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress while looking for something else. I've never before seen a tomb even vaguely resembling the one depicted in this image. Will return to this subject later.

Obama accepting lobbyists in his administration

President Obama promised during his campaign that lobbyists "won't find a job in my White House." So far, though, at least a dozen former lobbyists have found top jobs in his administration...

Obama aides did not challenge the the list..., but they stressed that former lobbyists comprise a fraction of the more than 8,000 employees who will be hired…

[A] recent presidential executive order forbids executive branch employees from working in an agency, or on a program, for which they have lobbied in the last two years.

Yet in the past few days, a number of exceptions have been granted, with the administration conceding at least two waivers and that a handful of other appointees will recuse themselves from dealing with matters on which they lobbied within the two-year window.

“It would be more honest if they admitted they made a mistake and came up with a narrower rule,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Obviously, they can’t live with the rule, which is why they keep waving the magic wand and making exceptions. They’re saying one thing and doing another. It’s why the public is skeptical about politicians.”
I’ll concede two points up front – first, that not all campaign promises can necessarily be kept. Lots of things are said in a year-long campaign, and some ideas become impractical or impossible later. But statements of principle are another matter. If important principles are compromised, then the administration in power is not the one the majority voted for. And I’ll concede that former lobbyists may be among the most knowledgeable and experienced persons in their field of the expertise, and may have the best qualifications for the government job.

That said, these appointments (or nominations) still leave a bad taste. Yes, these are a “fraction” of the 8,000 that will be hired, but note that these are top positions – the Attorney General, the Secretary of Agriculture, for cryin’ out loud. The Obama team may be strict about enforcing “no lobbying” to the minor functionaries, but when it comes to the top spots they “give a pass” to the big boys. It’s the same favoritism that allows the Treasury nominee to have avoided paying taxes. One form of justice for the powerful, something else for the rest of us.

There’s a lot to be proud of in these first weeks of the Obama administration, but hints of a return to “politics as usual” or the absence of moral hazard are worrisome. We’ll keep watching…

How Southern belles used to get dressed

An illustration of "crinoline." Whenever I've read that word, I've always assumed the reference was to the fabric - a stiff fabric "with a weft of horse-hair and a warp of cotton or linen thread." Further reading of the Wiki entry reveals that the "crinoline" can also refer to the steel structure underneath the skirt.

The Wiki entry explains all, and leads to related links for the farthingale (Queen Elizabeth I), the pannier (Marie Antoinette), and the more familiar bustle (your grandmother).

"Crinoline" etymology from a combination of the Latin/French words for horse "crinis/crin" + linen "linum/lin."

(Image credit to e-l-i-s-e. Wikipedia calls the sequence of five photos from which this is taken a "caricature," without further explication.)

Davos - blame cast on "the system," not themselves

At least with regard to finance and business, the consensus seems to be clear: Success is the work of Great Men and Great Women, while failure can be pinned on the system...

At a CNBC event yesterday, groups of 10 to 12 people sat at tables and mooted three questions: Which policy assumption failed? Which regulatory failure proved to be the largest systemic shock? And which market failure proved most damaging? The answers were obvious: poor regulation of the shadow banking system, mispricing of risk, the failure of models. But there was very little talk about the people who helped design and justify the systems, the mispricing, and the models. At one point, someone in the crowd stood up and said: "It's intriguing nobody is to blame. In other industries, there are consequences if you make toxic products that hurt people. Policy makers need to make it clear that there are serious consequences for that type of behavior."

The dismissal of human agency is ironic, but also predictable. Just as financial markets in the United States privatize profits and socialize losses, Davos and other conferences like this privatize success (by chalking it up to individuals) and socialize failure (by blaming it on large systemic problems).

Why you shouldn't drive over a mattress

The metal springs and framework of this one are wrapped around the driveshaft of a truck. At the link and at the Reddit discussion are anecdotal reports of fires starting after such an event, when the fabric portion of the mattress remains in contact with the catalytic converter.

Buddy Holly's "Tour from Hell"

Tonight, January 31, is the 50th anniversary of "The Night The Music Almost Died." That's the interesting viewpoint offered by Pamela Huey, a staff writer for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.

A few days from now, thousands of blogs will feature stories about the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly. Ms. Huey's article explains that the reason he and the others were on the plane was that they had just experienced a hellish winter bus tour of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Herewith some excerpts:
...the little-known story of the bus breakdown and the rest of the grueling tour is worth telling to understand why Holly chartered the airplane at Mason City two nights later...

The midwinter tour was particularly difficult for Texans Holly and his reconstituted Crickets, and for [Richie] Valens, a Southern California boy who hadn't taken a winter coat... General Artists Corp. had organized the tour with no thought to geographic sanity...

Griggs estimates they had five different buses before driving into Clear Lake -- "reconditioned school buses, not good enough for school kids." There were no roadies to set up and pack up, and only icy two-lane highways to get from town to town...

"We had started up this incline, it was snowing real bad, and the bus just started going slower and slower, and the lights got dimmer and dimmer, and all of a sudden the bus stopped," Allsup recalls. "The driver said, 'The bus is frozen.' ... It was so cold, and we were just sitting there right in the middle of the road. Everybody started thinking we were about to freeze to death."

Dion's Belmonts started lighting newspapers to generate some warmth. Holly drummer Carl Bunch was in pain and having difficulty moving his legs. Allsup looked at Bunch's feet; they had turned brown...

Holly historian Griggs thinks the Wisconsin bus breakdown was the last straw: "Buddy had his mind made up then. He thought, 'I don't want to go another 400 miles on this bus.'"

Much more at the link for the lengthy Star Tribune writeup. Newspaper story links tend to have short cyberlives because they don't archive them for long for nonsubscribers, so if the link is dead and you want to read the story, Google the author's name and a relevant quote; the story will undoubtedly be picked up elsewhere.

At the top, a video of Buddy Holly and the Crickets appearing on the Arthur Murray Dance Party on December 29, 1957, introduced by Kathryn Murray. Crash image credit to Hulton Archive, Getty Images; it's amazing how small and forlorn that plane wreckage looks against the fence of that farm field. More photos and brief newsreel footage of the crash site are here at YouTube.

Snake eats rattlesnake

From a sequence of seven photos; the fifth shows the rattles on the victim. Looks like a black snake, though one comment suggested it is an "Eastern indigo."

Here's another sequence of photos from NSW in which a brown snake was swallowed by a red belly black snake, then turned around inside the black snake and slithered back out the mouth to freedom!

Almost an ouroboros - but not quite.

Addendum: Anonymous provided the following info: "It is a Texas Indigo and a Western Diamondback. The pictures were taken on the King Ranch in South Texas."

A story about working on Sunday

I promise I am not making this up...

My daughter, taking a break from her pursuit of a graduate degree, is a server at the Chili's a few miles down from our house. Like many others her age she is already pretty critical of the church and its obvious hypocrisies. Her cynicism, that to say, is neither atypcial nor incomprehensible. Nor does this kind of thing help--her or others.

A group of six church-goers came in last night after their evening services and sat down, not in her area but in another server's. When the girl came to greet them and take their drink order, one of them said, "We want to tell you up front that we will not be tipping you tonight because..."

Are you ready?

"...we do not believe in people working on Sunday."

The girl was taken full-aback, stammered out something that sounded like "I wouldn't have to work on Sunday if so many church people didn't come in," or some such. She was furious. So was the manager of the restaurant whom she summoned to deal with them. I think he should have tossed the people out on their...uh...Bibles. To his credit, and demonstrating something like agape all around, he did say to them, "Well, we don't believe in making our people work for nothing, so I will be serving you tonight." And he did. God bless him.

(full credit - and more discussion - at the link)

29 January 2009

"You don't see a house cross a lake very often"

A 60-ton house moves across frozen White Bear Lake nearby in Minnesota, undoubtedly thoroughly impressing regional fishermen sitting in their ice houses. Local news video here.

Interesting American demographics

Fewer Americans than ever before are moving from state to state. That's the surprising finding of a recent Pew Research Center survey. And it's not just the current recession; this is a steady trend dating back essentially for the past 60 years (and undoubtedly before that). The data is discussed at the link (though not the reason for the blip in the early 1980s).

The bottom graph, from the same study, shows that over half of Americans have never lived outside their current state. I've lived in eight different states, so I must be way out on the tail end of the curve.

Finally, if you go to their interactive map (and click the tabs), you can see data for each state, including inmigration and outmigration and net migration over several time periods. Interesting data.

(found at Metafilter)

Neonazis are stupid

Found at Reddit; image credit here.

Strictly speaking...

...rattlesnakes, cobra snakes, pit vipers, mambas, etc. are venomous, not poisonous. Plants, chemicals, and gases may be poisonous, but you can swallow snake venom without adverse consequences. Only after injection (envenomation) does it become toxic and potentially lethal.

That's a subtle grammatical difference I hadn't paid attention to in the past; I just went back through TYWKIWDBI to correct several such errors.

Of additional interest, as I looked up the etymologies I discovered that "venom" traces back through ME "venim" to OF and eventually to the Latin "venemum," referring not just to a poison (!) but to a "love-potion" because it is related to "ven(us)".

(Green mamba credit here)

Why "brown fat" may be good for you

When it comes to our food, we are used to thinking about “good fat” and “bad fat.” Unsaturated fat… promotes health and keeps cholesterol in check; saturated fat… is less healthy and should be consumed with caution; and trans fat… is practically poison, clogging the arteries and contributing to hypertension and heart disease.

But the body, too, has good fat and bad fat… When most of us think of fat tissue, what we really have in mind is white fat, which stores excess calories and tends to accumulate with too much food and too little physical activity…

Brown fat, on the other hand, is “metabolically hyperactive…” Instead of socking away stored energy for later use, brown-fat cells burn energy. With one of the highest rates of oxidative metabolism of any kind of cell in the body, and a very high density of mitochondria, “brown fat is the superathlete of mitochondrial biology…” It is the sheer density of mitochondria—the cellular powerhouses that convert glucose (blood sugar) into a form of chemical energy that the body can use—that gives these cells their brown color…

Infants have a significant amount of brown fat; it generates body heat. The medical community had long recognized this thermogenic function and wished for a way to harness it, in adults, to burn off excess calories as heat…
Recent studies have shown that some brown fat cells can persist in the body until adulthood. Researchers are now trying to stimulate these brown fat cells to proliferate as an adjunct method for weight control. Details at the link.

(The photomicrograph shows small brown-fat cells interspersed among larger white-fat cells.)

This is a "pole fitness demonstration"

Education bosses invited pole dancing company The Art of Dance to South Devon College in Paignton to give two demonstrations as part of their Be Healthy Week.

A packed crowd of around 1,000 teenage students, aged 14 to 19, watched the first display performed by company boss Sam Remmer in the main public area of the college...

The college has refused to comment on the issue, vice principal Pat Denham did say there was a "pole fitness demonstration but no pole dancing" and the college had received no "official" complaints.

Mrs Remmer said unless people are educated in the differences between modern fitness pole dancing and lap dancing then "negative stereotypes will not go away".

She said pole dancing is appropriate for young teenagers at school as it is a mix of dance moves and gymnastics and is excellent for fitness...

"If anything my classes empower women and therefore encourage them to be in control of their bodies."

After writing this, I discovered that "pole fitness" really is viewed differently from pole dancing, with thousands of YouTube entries. Here is a video of the finalists in a competition from the Netherlands. You learn something every day.

The back of Mt. Rushmore

Found here.

Frozen body found in abandoned building

The image above sort of tells the story. But The Detroit News tells it in more detail.

WTF license plates in North Carolina

In June, the Division of Motor Vehicles in North Carolina notified approximately 9,000 drivers that the letter combination on their plates was potentially offensive. The same combination of letters was on the DMV's website on a sample personalized plate.
The "WTF-5505" used on the Web site's sample plate was the first random letter combination available when DMV switched from blue- to red-lettered plates, officials said. DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell received a sample plate WTF-5506 to use as a prop for news stories about the switch.
Officials have offered to replace such license plates for free. The Harper's index for July 2008 indicates that only 92 drivers have asked for replacement plates.

According to the freedictionary, the acronym WTF can stand for...Wednesday Thursday Friday, Women's Track and Field, Williamstown Theatre Festival, World Trade Federation, Wild Turkey Federation, Wireless Telecommunications Facilities, Weekly Top Five, World Tennis Federation, Wisconsin Test Facility, and Watergate Task Force.

A flame in microgravity

In the year 2000 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States discovered that gravity plays an indirect role in flame formation and composition. The common distribution of a flame under normal gravity conditions depends on convection, as soot tends to rise to the top of a flame (such as in a candle in normal gravity conditions), making it yellow. In microgravity or zero gravity environment, such as on a circular orbit , convection no longer occurs and the flame becomes spherical, with a tendency to become bluer and more efficient. There are several possible explanations for this difference, of which the most likely is the hypothesis that the temperature is sufficiently evenly distributed that soot is not formed and complete combustion occurs. Experiments by NASA reveal that diffusion flames in microgravity allow more soot to be completely oxidized after they are produced than do diffusion flames on Earth, because of a series of mechanisms that behave differently in microgravity when compared to normal gravity conditions. These discoveries have potential applications in applied science and industry, especially concerning fuel efficiency. (all text and image credit to Wikipedia)

"Things We Don't Need" shopping list reminder

When I go to the grocery store I'll get some mayonaisse, mustard, ranch dressing, and ... wait a minute... never mind...

(Image credit here, found at Reddit)

28 January 2009

Images from Der Spiegel's "Year in Pictures"

March 25, 2008 A wounded man confronts the soldiers who have shot three rockets into his home. The man is from the isle of Anjouan in the Comoros, the island nation in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique. The soldiers are from the Comoros and Tanzania, on behalf of the African Union. The setting is the battle in early March 2008 to wrest back control of the islands from Mohamed Bacar, a renegade leader and former president who had proclaimed himself leader of the nation.

July 9, 2008 Some fish really suck: Here, Balloon lumpfish (Eumicrotremus pacificus) cling to a balloon at the Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium in Tokyo. Ventral sucker disks allow the deep-sea fish to cling to rocks.

October 14, 2008 Younger victims of the drought in Indonesia: Children bathe in waste water in Jakarta.

About 40 more pictures at this link.

Scott Adams puts his cat down

Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip. He began a blog on typepad about two years ago, then moved it to the dilbert.com website.

Today's blog entry is particularly sad. In it he details the putting down of his 19-year-old tuxedo cat Sarah. Here are some excerpts:
In the past month she had been letting me know the end was approaching. Maybe it was the way she moved or just some sort of animal ESP. I just knew. And so I spent as much time as I could with her, extra petting, in just the ways she trained me. Recent visits to the vet confirmed that there was no cure for old. We tried to enjoy the time we had...

I opted for the injection, and hoped for the best. Sarah still had some fight left in her, as we learned minutes ago while the vet checked her vitals. But somehow she knew this was different. She knew it was time. After 19 years of fighting veterinarians, she let the vet shave her leg without the least resistance. And in so doing, she told me I made the right decision. I looked in her eyes as the life drained out of them. I was devastated.

But today I am happy, even more than usual. I think about how much Sarah enriched my life and I am grateful. I think about how much I learned from my relationship with her, and even from her passing, and I am thankful for it all. Today everyone in my life seems more precious. I'll always carry Sarah with me, and I know I am better for it.
The full blog post is here. You should read it if you have ever had to put a pet down. It reminded me of a similar essay written years ago by Harlan Ellison entitled I think "Don't Leave Me With Strangers," about his need to put down his pet dog Ahbhu. I can't find that essay online, but here is an excerpt from notes I have stored on my hard drive:
At first they thought it was just old age . . . that they could pull him through. But finally they took X-rays and saw the cancer had taken hold in his stomach and liver.
I put off the day as much as I could. Somehow I just couldn't conceive of a world that didn't have him in it. But yesterday I went to the vet's office and signed the euthanasia papers.
“I'd like to spend a little time with him, before,” I said.
They brought him in and put him on the stainless steel examination table. He had grown so thin. He'd always had a pot-belly and it was gone. The muscles in his hind legs were weak, flaccid. He came to me and put his head into the hollow of my armpit. He was trembling violently...

I cried and my eyes closed as my nose swelled with the crying, and he buried his head in my arms because we hadn't done much crying at one another. I was ashamed of myself not to be taking it as well as he was.
“I got to, pup, because you're in pain and you can't eat. I got to.” But he didn't want to know that.
The vet came in, then. He was a nice guy and he asked me if I wanted to go away and just let it be done.
Then Ahbhu came up out of there and looked at me...

Ahbhu looked at me and I know he was just a dog, but if he could have spoken with human tongue he could not have said more eloquently than he did with a look, don't leave me with strangers.
So I held him as they laid him down and the vet slipped the lanyard up around his right foreleg and drew it tight to bulge the vein, and I held his head and he turned it away from me as the needle went in.
Out of fairness to the author, I'll stop there; you should be able to find the full essay at the library (I think it was in Deathbird Stories). Or perhaps someone who knows of an online source can post a link. It's a heart-wrenching and unforgettable essay, and a perfect companion piece to Scott Adams' blog post today.

Upcoming Queue - a new feature at Neatorama

This past September I wrote an entry about Neatorama as one of my highly recommended blogs. It's worth revisiting the topic now, in part because TYWKIWDBI has so many more visitors, but in particular because Neatorama has a new feature that may be of interest to those who maintain blogs of your own.

The new feature is called "Upcoming Queue." It provides a venue through which anyone can write a blog post in a simple format - either straightforward text with a small thumbnail, or using an embedded YouTube video. You then credit the original source (including any "via") and the entry will be posted in the queue. Neatorama visitors vote submitted material up or down; those rated highest (or those favored by the editorial staff) are moved to the front page of Neatorama. The FAQ are here.

It's easy; I've posted several items from TYWKIWDBI there today. But note you don't even have to have a blog to write something there. If you find an interesting item at an obscure website that others may not notice, or if you write something that others might be interested in, you can just post it at Neatorama and see what the community thinks.

How lobbyists advise clients about Washington politicians

From a video recording of a July meeting in London between Stephen Payne and Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov. Payne is president of the lobbying firm Worldwide Strategic Partners. Dosmukhamedov, a.k.a. Eric Dos, is a former politician who is currently in exile from Kazakhstan... Dosmukhamedov posed as a representative of a former president of Kyrgyzstan who was ousted from power three years ago…

Stephen Payne: Who does he want to meet in Washington?

Dos: Well, of course, the president, Vice President Cheney…

Payne: Sure, that can be worked out… The family, children, whatever, should probably look at making a contribution to the Bush Library… Not a huge amount but enough to show they’re serious. Maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars… The main thing is that he comes and he’s well received, he meets with high-level people in the administration, and, most important, the administration makes positive statements, like, This guy wasn’t so bad; many people have done worse. Those kinds of statements from people in the administration, maybe Senator Biden on the Democratic side. Is he interested in going back and running for president?

Dos: Yes.

Payne: Okay. See, I understand what he wants. He basically wants vindication from the United States... I’ll come up with the exact budget, but it will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush Library

(As far as I know there was no evidence that any American politician asked for money, but this is how the lobbyist told the applicant to proceed. The videorecording from which this text was taken was part of a undercover sting arranged by the Sunday Times of London. After the video was made public, Payne resigned as a member of the advisory council to the Department of Homeland Security. More details at the Harper's Magazine link. )

Using microchips to combat cactus thieves

Passive integrated transponders will be injected into some saguaro cacti in Saguaro National Park. These are the same microchips that have been used to tag domestic dogs and cats.
The park began looking into the chips after 17 saguaros were stolen in January 2007, the second such theft in recent years… The devices are about the size of a grain of rice and are injected with a hypodermic needle…

The program could include spot checks at nurseries, which sometimes buy from thieves who forge removal permits for the protected plants…Chips would be put only in small cactuses near roads - the ones thieves target. "They're looking at saguaros that are generally 4 to 7 feet, something a couple guys could manhandle into a pickup truck.”

Because the chips are passive - they have no batteries or moving parts - they could last more than 100 years…

The chips cost about $4.50 each, and chip readers cost about $600 for handheld models and $2,500 for larger, more accurate ones.
Cactus theft can be highly lucrative. Presumably sophisticated criminals will get their own chip readers, but the program may deter amateur thieves.

Link found at J-Walk.

Suffragettes run wild, vandalize Kew Gardens

While searching Flickr for garden photos to counter a winter's gloom, I encountered the above rather startling image, labelled "Tea House, Kew Gardens, destroyed by suffragettes."

The discussion thread at Flickr provided useful background, including a link to this 1913 London Today news item:
7th March 1913: Suffragettes jailed for Kew Gardens blaze

Two women were sent to jail for an arson attack which destroyed the tea pavilion at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, west London.

Lilian Lenton and Olive Wharry, Suffragettes linked to the Women's Social and Political Union, had been arrested nearby on the night of the fire.

Found guilty, they were sentenced to 18 months imprisonment at the Old Bailey in central London.

Both were sent to Holloway prison in north London to serve out their sentences but immediately went on hunger strike, saying that they would not eat until they were released.

Lenton was quickly freed after she became seriously ill following an attempt by the prison authorities to force-feed her.

After a 32-day hunger strike, which she apparently managed to keep a secret from the guards, Wharry was also released.

For me the photo and story are reminders of how we often reflexly oversimply historical events. Over the years, I've seen hundreds of photos depicting well-dressed matronly ladies patiently displaying protest signs; the one above provides a different perspective and brings out the passion felt by some participants of the era.

1926 "snowmobile" could pull a 20-ton load

In the 1920s, Fordson tractors were converted to winter use by adding screw propulsion via large cylinders. The result was a "snowmobile" - dubbed the Snow Motor or Snow Devil. The 11-minute (silent) video shows impressive performance, and not just "for its time." The last portion of the video shows the screw propulsion mounted on an automobile rather than a tractor.

Found at Live Leak, via Reddit discussion board.

Comparing prison sentences

You know the first story. Here are the details of the latter one:
Roy Brown, 54, robbed the Capital One bank in Shreveport, Louisiana in December 2007. He approached the teller with one of his hands under his jacket and told her that it was a robbery.

The teller handed Brown three stacks of bill but he only took a single $100 bill and returned the remaining money back to her. He said that he was homeless and hungry and left the bank.

The next day he surrendered to the police voluntarily and told them that his mother didn’t raise him that way.

Brown told the police he needed the money to stay at the detox center and had no other place to stay and was hungry.

In Caddo District Court, he pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison for first degree robbery..
Click to enlarge image (credit here).

Body modification...

...is something I truly don't understand. Image found here.

Addendum: credit to Monique for adding this link on eyebrow removal in the comments section.

27 January 2009

The Year of the Ox begins

A woman burns incense and prays for good fortune at the Baiyun Temple in Beijing on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year January 26, 2009. (JASON LEE/Reuters)

Fireworks to celebrate the Chinese New Year light up the sky above Beijing, China on January 26, 2009. Chinese welcomed the arrival of the Year of the Ox with raucous celebrations on Sunday despite gloom about the economy, setting off firecrackers in the streets and sending fireworks into the sky. (REUTERS/Reinhard Krause)

A performer smokes a cigarette during a break from a show celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year at a temple fair in Beijing January 24, 2009. (REUTERS/Christina Hu)

A man prepares fireworks at a temple to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Hefei, Anhui province, China on January 26, 2009. (REUTERS/Jianan Yu)

A visitor uses a mobile phone to take photographs of a giant lantern in the shape of an ox in Tianjin Municipality, China on January 23, 2009. (REUTERS/Vincent Du)
Chinese New Year photos found in a marvelous 35-image photoessay at Boston.com. Blogged for Dave and Lan, who are just back from their sabbatical in Wuhan. (Click images to enlarge).

Clamshell cutters

Note the packaging. (It's a real product, not a joke)

Annular eclipse - different from a total eclipse

Yesterday, a few lucky people saw a "ring of fire." That's a name for the central view of an annular eclipse of the sun by the moon. At the peak of this eclipse, the middle of the sun will appear to be missing and the dark moon will appear to be surrounded by the bright sun...

An annular eclipse occurs instead of a total eclipse when the moon is on the far part of its elliptical orbit around the earth. The next annular eclipse of the sun will take place in 2010 January, although a total solar eclipse will occur this July. Pictured above, a spectacular annular eclipse was photographed behind palm trees on 1992 January.
Image credit to APOD. Found at the always-interesting Uncertain Times.

Tempête sur la pointe de Bretagne

See also this link.

Floor of St. George's Hall, Liverpool

A cleaner prepared the rarely seen Minton tiled floor of the of the grand St. George’s Hall Tuesday in Liverpool, England. The exquisite floor, which is usually covered for protection, has been unveiled to allow the public a glimpse of the 30,000 handmade mosaic tiles. The Minton covering was laid in 1852, and depicts dolphins, tritons and sea nymphs. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) (click photo to enlarge)

Cultures merging across millennia

An indigenous person shot video at the SOS Amazon event Tuesday in Belem, Brazil. The event is meant to bring attention to saving the Amazon forest. (Vanderlei Almeida/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Time lapse of baby playing with toys

Four hours play compressed to 2 minutes. Notes at eBay from the parents indicate that the child was not ignored during this time; the parental interactions were just edited out of the video.

Gynandromorph cardinal... maybe

This is a gynandromorph cardinal, half male and half female... a genetic abnormality that happens when the sex chromosomes (Z and W in birds) do not separate normally during early embryonic development. Credit for this find goes to Bob Motz and the photos were taken by Jim Frink. (via Kottke)
Addendum: Discussion elsewhere indicates some of these bicolor cardinals may not be gynandromorphs, but rather partially leucistic birds (via i am the finch wench).

The obedience of children

Credit here, via.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Photo taken from the top of Cypress Mountain 01/21/09. Credit here. Click to enlarge

David Attenborough receives creationist hate mail

During an interview regarding his latest documentary on Charles Darwin, David Attenborough revealed that he has been receiving hate mail from creationists, who tell him to "burn in Hell and good riddance."

The reason for their anger is apparently because he doesn't give "credit" to God.
"They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."

Did Goya paint "The Colossus"? Does it matter?

The giant, fierce figure of The Colossus as he rises above a fleeing crowd of people, carts and animals is one of Spanish artist Francisco de Goya's most dramatic and famous pictures – at least it was until yesterday, when Madrid's Prado museum declared he had not painted it.

The museum has said the giant - whose clenched fist is seen as a symbol of Spanish resistance to Napoleon's army during the Peninsular wars - would continue to hang in its place but confirmed that a plaque attributing the painting to Goya would be changed.

Experts at the museum now believe The Colossus was painted by one of Goya's assistants, whose initials may appear in a corner of the canvas.

The final decision to remove Goya's name from the painting followed a lengthy study by the Prado expert Manuela Mena, which the museum published yesterday...

Mena said X-rays of the picture had allowed her to spot significant differences between this and other Goya works.

Not least of these was the discovery of the top half of the faded initials "AJ", scribbled in the bottom left-hand corner, which she said may point to it being the work of one of his assistants, Asensio Juliá...

The Prado's expert, however, also claimed the quality of The Colossus was far below that of Goya's other masterpieces.

"Seen in the right light, the poverty of the technique, of its light and colour, along with the considerable difference between The Colossus and his other masterworks, become clear," she said in the study.

Mena said doubts about the picture's authenticity began to surface when restoration work began more than a decade ago. Restorers discovered then that the quality of the materials used was not up to Goya's normal standards.

See also this editorial.

The final list of "1000 novels everyone must read"

The Guardian has been running a series of articles about the thousand novels they recommend everyone should read. Obviously a project like this has to be done a little tongue-in-cheek, but their rationale regarding the selection process is here.

The novels have previously been listed in seven categories. Now they have published a single list of the titles (by category, alphabetically by author). By their calculations, if one started at age 8 and read 13 novels a year, one would finish at age 85.

To the best of my memory I've read 8 in their "Comedy" list, 15 of "Family and Self," 19 of "Love," 23 of "State of the Nation" and 23 of "War and Travel," 34 in the "Crime" list, and 37 of the "Science Fiction and Fantasy." (If movies counted, the total would be twice that).

That's 159 down, 840 to go (because I'll never get past the first chapter of "Ulysses.") Based on my age and a 30-year expected lifespan, I'll need to read 28 per year. That's doable. Assuming I don't spend so much time blogging. Or play Civilization III so much. Or get started with "Spore." Decisions, decisions...

"How the mighty have fallen"

The Bay of Biscay windstorm that crossed France this past week took down a 223-year-old beech tree planted in 1786 to honor Marie Antoinette.

Since my summer hobby is working and exploring woods, I see lots of treefalls. What never fails to impress me is the shallow root system of even the largest mature specimens. Many people have a mistaken preconception that tall trees have deep roots, but in fact there are few species (typically desert ones) that have anything approaching a taproot. There is no advantage to a tree to send deep roots, since all the nutrition and water rests in the top few inches of the soil.

Giant trees are typically brought down not by wind alone, but by winds that follow soaking rains that loosen the topsoil. Another prominent factor is the susceptibility of isolated trees planted in the center of parks and lawns, where there no other trees to block the wind or provide lateral support when the top sways.

Impressive size, majesty, and dominance can all be toppled when there is a shallow root system and inadequate lateral support. It's a principle that can be applied equally to people, economic pyramids, nations and empires.

(image credit Remy de la Mauviniere, Associated Press)

Supernatural dyslexia? An image of DOG appears...

Several years ago, a Colorado family had to put down their chocolate lab Fletcher; they placed his ashes in the back yard. Recently while getting ready to fire up the backyard grill for a barbecue, they noticed an image on the grill cover (top photo).

The image looks like the head of a dog, and, in fact, remarkably like the profile of Fletcher. The image was created by water dripping down from the patio cover onto the dirt on the grill cover. It's just a coincidence that it looks like a dog.

And the smaller image to the right of the dog - it looks like a fish jumping out of the water. Fletcher used to love to go fly fishing with the family.

There's a video of a local news report at the link. (via J-Walk)

A letter written by the father of John Wilkes Booth...

...threatened to assassinate President Andrew Jackson!
Dismissed for 175 years as a fake, a letter threatening the assassination of President Andrew Jackson has been found to be authentic...

The letter, which addressed Old Hickory as "You damn'd old Scoundrel," demanded that Jackson pardon two prisoners named De Ruiz and De Soto who had been sentenced to death for piracy in a high-profile trial of the day...

Pardon the pirates, the letter writer demanded, or "I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping."

America's seventh president had become accustomed to threats, according to Robert V. Remini, author of the biography "Andrew Jackson" and history professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"It wasn't a crime to threaten the life of the president back in Jackson's time," Remini said.

His motive for penning the threat was probably intrigue over the piracy trial, Feller concluded.

"He's interested in the same way you and I were interested in the O.J. Simpson trial," Feller said.

The story of their investigation will be featured this summer on PBS' "History Detectives."

A sexually deceptive orchid...

"...so convincing that male wasps will mate with it to the point of ejaculation."

After reading that in Harper's Magazine ("Findings" section, Sept '08), I Googled the relevant terms and found that this has been known for a century, and there's an abundance of such reports, most of them originating from Australia.

Some orchids can imitate the olfactory cues used by males to locate females, including producing pollinator-specific sex pheromones. As the pollinator approaches the orchid, he is again deceived by the coloration or shape of the blossom.

Now here's the even-more-interesting part: "Because unfertilized female wasps can produce sons but not daughters, the orchids on which the wasps waste their sperm will eventually create a larger population of male wasps to pollinate them."

Excellent discussion here and here with photos. Here is an abstract of the original research, which was done on Australian tongue orchids (Cryptostylis species). Curious to know what they looked like, I searched Google images and found the photos above at this link.

Remember, to a male wasp, these orchids look and smell like female wasps. What they look like to you is not relevant here.

Shaun Micallef tilted room comedy sketch

Last spring, when TYWKIWDBI was in its "infancy," the first non-U.S. visitors were from Australia. In honor of their arrival, I blogged this brief comedy bit by Shaun Micallef. I had occasion to watch it again tonight and decided it deserves to move to the top of the blog. Enjoy.

26 January 2009

"Perfect Balance" online puzzle game

The reason I blogged so few items today is that I encountered this challenging and addictive game. The images above are screencaps. The game is at this link (click on the blue "Harmony" button to start the first level).

You are given an assemblage of geometric shapes which you must then balance on a provided base. The puzzles do not have unique, single solutions; any arrangement you can make that balances the pieces will move you to the next level.

The game controls are simple. Click once to "pick up" the object, use the "a" or "d" key to rotate the object while you are holding it, and then click again to set it down.

There are 40 puzzles in the "Harmony" level; when you finish those, there are 40 more in the second "Inferno" level. The puzzles do not necessarily get harder as you move through the sequences. There is no penalty for a collapsing structure - just click reset and try again - and there are no time limitations (I spent hours getting through the 80 puzzles).

If you decide to play, you will almost certainly want to use the index screen to mute the annoying background "music" and the sound effects. Also, be aware that the objects have "weight" proportional to their size, and there is a small amount of "friction" on sloped surfaces. The objects also develop momentum, so don't drop them from a height; there is also a kinetic component in that you can place an object, and, as the structure tilts, place another object to block or counterbalance the first one.

If you're at work when you read this, don't get started on the puzzles. The American economy is already in the dumps; I don't want to be blamed for making it worse.

There are no "tricks." It's all basic, elementary physics.

You may or may not find that reassuring.

Jane Eyre's secret staircase found

Charlotte Bronte is believed to have based the deranged character Mrs Rochester, who was locked away at Thornfield Hall, on a story she heard while visiting a country mansion in 1839.

The house, Norton Conyers, [is] near Ripon, North Yorks... Only the grand rooms are on show but now the owners have discovered a hidden staircase linking the first floor directly to the attic, just as the novelist described.

Norton Conyers dates from the Middle Ages and the family of the current occupiers, Sir James and Lady Graham, have lived there since 1624...

They lifted floorboards in the attic above and discovered the top of a narrow flight of 13 steps. Lady Graham said: "We were hoping to find the Norton Conyers' treasure. That's another family story about a hoard of gold and jewels supposedly hidden during the Civil War. But all we found was lots of woodworm, some old nails and a collar stud."

At the bottom of the steps was a door, fitted with a spring to ensure that it always closed after use. Sir James said: "The stairs are only just wide enough for one person. They are hidden within the thickness of the panelled wall. There is no way you could tell there was anything behind it. The door at the bottom would have been visible originally, certainly at the time Charlotte Bronte visited..."

Lady Graham said: "It is such a sad room, it has such a tragic feel about it. It is very awkward to reach. It is north-facing with a small gable window. Most people don't want to stay there. It's creepy.

Image credit to a remarkable publication - Secret Chambers and Hiding Places: Historic, Romantic, & Legendary Stories & Traditions About Hiding-Holes, Secret Chambers, Etc. - a full-text, fully illustrated e-book available at Project Gutenberg.

RSPCA seizes obese dogs

Early 2008, an RSPCA inspector called at Miss Davidson's home in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, after an anonymous phone call about the animals. The official carried out an assessment of the dogs, Rocky and Chubby, and said they were overweight. The inspector gave advice on how their weight could be reduced.

Miss Davidson, who works for Hertfordshire social services and who has owned dogs for more than 20 years, followed the instructions and managed to bring down their weight. However, she had to cancel three vets appointments to have her pets weighed, after her mother fell ill and she had to care for her.

After the missed appointments, an RSPCA inspector returned to her house in October while Miss Davidson was at work. The inspector asked her partner, Terry Shadbolt, for permission to take the animals to the vets [to get weighed].

"Following an examination of the animals, the independent vet contacted the police, who after viewing the dogs and listening to the veterinary advice, made the decision to seize the animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The organisation has not allowed Marie Davidson, 48, to see her animals, or even told her where they have been kept for the past three months.

The only correspondence she has had from the society has been two letters, both received in the last fortnight – one to say that its investigation is continuing and another detailing its complaints procedure.

When the dogs, who are three and half years old, were initially inspected, Rocky weighed 73kg and Chubby 60kg, according to Miss Davidson. According to the RSPCA, when they were taken, Rocky weighed 63kg and Chubby 52kg. The organisation says a healthy Labrador should weigh no more than 34kg.

If Miss Davidson is prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act she faces a fine, a ban on keeping animals, or even a jail term. If she is not, and the dogs are returned, she could be asked to reimburse the RSPCA for the cost of keeping them in kennels.
I understand that overfeeding animals can be considered a form of abuse, but in this case the organization's response seems to me to be deceptive and unnecessarily heavy-handed, so I'm on the lady's side. Found at Nothing to do with Arbroath.
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