31 July 2010

How to end the wars

A hat tip to The Frustrated Teacher for finding this.

Olympic sports

A graphic from the BBC shows which sports and disciplines have taken place at each of the 26 Olympic games. I'll bet not many people would be able to name the four that have been in all 26 games.

Totally bogus products receive "Energy Star" certification

This story was reported by Popular Mechanics several months ago.  The EPA gave their seal of approval to 15 out of 20 bogus products.
To perform this investigation, the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) March 26, 2010, report states that it "used four bogus manufacturing firms and fictitious individuals to apply for Energy Star partnership." All four qualified.

The Feather-Duster Fly-Strip Air Freshener

Ostensibly an indoor air purifier, this item is actually a standard space heater spangled in strips of flypaper, with a feather duster perched up top.

The product was submitted without a standard safety file number from the Underwriters' Laboratories. Plus, the product's website did not include a disclaimer required for Energy Star certification. Last but not least, the garish photo submitted with the product's application portrays what is clearly a feather duster rigged to space heater. Nevertheless, these obstacles proved surmountable—the product was approved in 11 days and became listed on the Energy Star website.
More at the link, including the "gasoline-powered alarm clock"

What is this musical instrument?

Is it some type of piano or clavichord?  It doesn't extend deep enough to be a piano, and then it seems to have a vertical component that appears to have the structure of a harp (?).

Found at Antique Memes, via Couleurs.

Addendum: Keeping up the tradition at TYWKIWDBI of no question of mine going unanswered, Anonymous replied in less than ten minutes with the answer and a link to a discussion at BoingBoing (where there is also a series of rather rancorous comments regarding the correct terminology for the instrument) - harp-piano, claviharp, harpsichord, clavichord, clavicytherum...

Addendum 2:  I've subsequently found a photo of a "19th century clavichord" which appears roughly similar in shape.

"Major Slut Spill in California"

From the Onion News Network: "Clean-up crews are hard at work after a VH1 bus carrying reality show contestants overturned, spilling 2,000 pounds of highly concentrated slut."

Safe for work except for one word at the end.  Juvenile humor - you'll know whether you want to watch it or not.

Via Videosift.

$20 billion "to air-condition the desert" in Afghanistan and Iraq

The data comes from Public Radio International's The World.   The concern is that about a thousand American servicement have been killed (by IEDs etc) while transporting fuel to aircondition the tents at the forward operating bases.  The cooling is necessary not just for human comfort, but for the operation of computer equipment.
Steve Anderson is a retired Brigadier General who was General David Petraeus’s chief logistician in Iraq. He says the Pentagon should find ways to make structures at FOBs and other military compounds more energy efficient, not only to save money and be greener, but also, to save lives.
$20 billion.  Annually.  To air-condition tents and temporary structures.

The annual budget for NASA is only $18 billion.

Cute little baby tarantulas

Credit to Tunedbeat (who referred to them as "eggs with legs"), via Electric Orchids.

The word "refudiate" has been (mis)used before

Some have observed that Palin isn't the first to invent the word refudiate. Patrick Galvin of Politico notes a couple of recent uses, such as Sen. Mike DeWine's statement on "Fox & Friends" in 2006: "I think anyone that is associated with him campaigning needs to refudiate these comments."

Even earlier is this glaring example [above] that I found in the Atlanta Constitution of June 21, 1925... the hurried headline writer must have mashed up refute with repudiate, just as Palin would 85 years later.
Found at Language Log.  I agree with this observation by "Otter" in the comments:
It's not Palin's grasp of English that interests me, it's her reaction to a mistake. That headline writer must have been embarrassed by the error, while Palin is proud of hers.

Like Bush, when she's wrong, she doubles down. That would be a worrying trait no matter how admirable her grammar.

Carnivorous caterpillar

The species is not identified in this brief video, but its body habitus is that of an "inchworm," so it's a moth caterpillar - probably Eupithecia:
At least 6 of Hawaii’s described Eupithecia species are raptorially carnivorous, only 2 are known to feed predominantly on plant material, especially Metrosideros flowers. A diet including protein-rich flower pollen and a defensive behavior of snapping may have preadapted Hawaii’s ancestral Eupithecia for a shift to predation. Severe barriers to dispersal of mantids and other continental insect predators into Hawaii resulted in an environment favoring behavioral and consequent morphological adaptations that produced these singular insects, which can be commonly called the grappling inchworms.
I was puzzled by the phrase "raptorially carnivorous," until the term was repeated later:
They have raptorial claws adapted for grabbing struggling prey, and long thin appendages on the tip of their abdomens which probably work somewhat like the trigger hairs in Venus fly-traps.
And this is interesting -
Interestingly, some are host plant specific, even though they do not eat the plant, because they look so much like that particular plant and it gives them a great advantage in disguise. Some are even specific to the part of the plant on which they rest. One Eupithecia is specific to the green, living fronds of the native Hawaiian fern known as uluhe, and it is the perfect green to match their color. Another dark brown species is always found on the mats of dead fronds underlying the green, living part of the plant.
They seem to handle parasitic wasps with ease:
Almost no parasitoids have been reared from Eupithecia caterpillars. It certainly seems likely that Eupithecia may be rarely parasitized because it is difficult for a parasitic wasp to sneak up on it and lay an egg without being caught. Here is a brief video showing lightning-fast E. orichloris capturing a parasitic wasp (and releasing it – apparently they are not very tasty).

Very impressive!!

To my knowledge, there is only one butterfly (the Harvester) that has a carnivorous larva - it feeds on wooly aphids.

Via Neatorama and Videosift.

Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia

A very modern-looking young lady for ~100 years ago.
Viktoria Luise Adelheid Mathilde Charlotte "was the only daughter and the seventh child of William II, German Emperor and Empress Augusta Victoria. She was their last surviving child. Princess Victoria Louise is the maternal grandmother of Queen Sophie of Spain and the former King Constantine II of the Hellenes."
Found at for the love of history!, via My Ear-Trumpet Has Been Struck by Lightning.

Are money market mutual funds in danger?

I know nothing re the reliability or possible biases of the source - just ran across this article while browsing the financial links:
Both the SEC and the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets (the Plunge Protection Team) are considering whether Money Market Funds should be forced away from their stable $1.00 value method of maintaining money market share prices. A move by regulators forcing money market funds away from the maintenance of the $1.00 price would cause huge hiccups in the  industry and perhaps result in the end of the industry. At a minimum, it would cause huge withdrawals...

At Crane’s Money Fund Symposium, Paul Schott Stevens, President and CEO of the Investment Company Institute spoke about the problems that a move away from $1.00 pricing would mean:
..money market funds remain firmly opposed to proposals that would force them to abandon their stable per-share value. And we are not alone in that stance. America’s businesses, along with state and local governments, are rallying in opposition to any suggestion that regulators would force money market funds off their stable $1.00 net asset value.

The idea of floating these funds’ value is likely to be discussed in the President’s Working Group report, whenever it may be issued. And it’s still in the air at the SEC, which is contemplating a “round two” rulemaking to address any lingering issues in money market funds and Rule 2a-7...

In the last several weeks, groups representing state and local governments have come out squarely in opposition to forcing money market funds to float. The National Association of State Treasurers; the Government Finance Officers Association; and the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers – all have voiced their support for the ability of funds to operate with a stable NAV...

More than 40 companies – many of them household names – have signed on to this letter or others urging the President’s Working Group to drop the idea of floating NAVs.

These organizations and others have emphasized that it is vital to preserve the essential, defining characteristic of money market funds – because they all recognize the highly important role that these funds play in our markets and our economy...

A retail investor expects that $1 put into a money market fund will count for $1 when writing a check or making a withdrawal. If money market funds cannot provide that, retail investors will have no alternative but to use bank accounts – by no means an ideal substitute.

30 July 2010

Introducing a new sidebar widget - NeatoHub

Last September I announced that I was beginning an affiliation with Neatorama which involved my authoring articles for that website.  The relationship has worked out quite nicely; my productivity there has been modest (about 250 items, which is about one/day), and despite the fears of some readers here that such involvement might diminish TYWKIWDBI, I don't believe my participation there has hurt this blog.  I have posted some of my better material at Neatorama, but to compensate for that I've created a subcategory here with links to all of my Neatorama posts, so it just takes a click and a few extra milliseconds for visitors here to access the material.

During this past year Neatorama has also evolved; in addition to some cosmetic layout changes, the most striking innovation has been the addition of a subset of internal blogs, called Neatoblogs.  The Upcoming Queue was the first, arising in January of 2009 and discussed in the time in a post here.  They have subsequently added four more subblogs:

NeatoBambino - baby, toddler, and child-related posts
NeatoGeek - self-explanatory
Art Blog - presents the work of independent artists, and
Spotlight - uses large-format photos to highlight selected topics.

The next step in the evolution of Neatorama has just been put into effect; it involves the linking of a group of compatible external blogs.  I'm pleased to report that TYWKIWDBI has been chosen to be part of that family.  Note the quality of the other blogs that have been invited to take part:

VideoSift - selected videos, with (unlike YouTube) intelligent commentary.
Geeks Are Sexy - multiauthor blog providing tech news and related whimsy.
Miss Cellania - multi-award-winning humor site.
Nerd Approved - gadgets and toys for nerds.
Random Good Stuff -  hi-tech and low-tech items for geeks and nongeeks.
Presurfer - Gerald Vlemmings' blog will be ten years old next month; a classic, and one of the role-models upon which TYWKIWDBI was based.

The interface for linking is clean and simple.  About midway down the right sidebar of TYWKIWDBI (below the categories, above the blogroll - which I note needs updating...) is a set of thumbnail images with brief titles.  A click on any of those will take you to the NeatoHub, with the item you selected at the top of a list of posts; you can then click through to the full post at the hosting blog, or select another item from the menu.

Over the years I've been blogging I've been asked to join a number of link-sharing projects.  I've always declined, in part because as a noncommercial blog the "traffic" here is largely irrelevant to me (except that more readers provides a broader and deeper base of expertise in the comments).  My other reason was that most link-sharing schemes involved marginal-quality material, whereas for this one the blogs are top-notch, and the authors will be selecting their better material to link at the Hub.  I also find the interface to be nonintrusive.

Please feel free to browse the Hub, and if you have any comments for its improvement, just append them here, and I'll pass the suggestions along to the admins.

Addendum Aug 16:  Many more sites have been added to the Hub, including the following -


I don't have time right now to post those sites as clickable links.  If you want to explore, either use the samples in my right sidebar, or go to the Hub itself.

27 July 2010

The marriage of Queen Victoria

When I posted the article about the purple wedding dress, Darryl Moland noted that the tradition of the white wedding dress began with Victoria.  Today I ran across this 1840 painting by George Hayter of Victoria's wedding at Dark Silence in Suburbia, via Fuck Yeah, Victorians!

Got any £1 coins? They may be counterfeit.

...new figures indicated there were £41 million fake £1 coins in Britain – one in every 36 in circulation. This is a record level and suggests that the proportion of counterfeit coins had tripled in the last decade...

Scrapping the £1 coin would be very expensive for the Government as well as major upheaval for consumers. However, other countries have been forced to take similar action when counterfeits became too prevalent. The 5 rand coin in 2004 was reissued after taxi-drivers and shopkeepers in South Africa started to refuse to accept them. Fakes were just 2 per cent of all coins, compared with 2.81 per cent with the British £1.

Experts said it was becoming increasingly difficult for shoppers in Britain to spot a fake. The only time they usually notice is when they are rejected by a parking meter or vending machine, which contain devices to monitor whether the metal composition of the coins is correct. However, at least half the fakes are now so good they pass these tests...
Of course, if coins had any intrinsic metallic value, this wouldn't be such a problem...

More at The Telegraph.

Competing against a superorganism

"The numbers are just incredible," says Mike Rust, a professor of entomology at the University of California at Riverside. "We'll do population surveys at night. We'll go to a house and put out ten sugar-water stations around the house and another ten around the property. In the morning, the sugar water will be gone, and we'll have counted six hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand ants. And that's in a night."

Wilson's book proposes that what an ant colony possesses is a kind of accumulated intelligence, the result of individual ants carrying out specialized tasks and giving one another constant feedback about what they find as they do so. Well, once they start accumulating in your house in sufficient numbers, you get a chance to see that accumulated intelligence at work. You get a chance to find out what it wants. And what you find out — what the accumulated intelligence of the colony eventually tells you — is that it wants what you want. You find out that you, an organism, are competing for your house with a superorganism that knows how to do nothing but compete. You are not only competing in the most basic evolutionary sense; you are competing with a purely adaptive intelligence, and so you are competing with the force of evolution itself...

"One time I left a warm computer battery on the floor," Suiter says. "When I came back, I thought it was covered in cotton. But it was covered in Argentine ants. The white stuff was the larvae. There were five thousand larvae on the battery and another five thousand ants. They'd moved the whole brood to the battery, literally overnight. But this is not unusual. When my printer is warm, ants crawl in and out of it. Basically, whole colonies come through the walls."

"One day my wife called me," Rust says. "She said, 'They're in the freezer.' I went home, and there they were. There were two hundred thousand Argentine ants at the bottom of the freezer, frozen to death. I have no idea what they were doing there, but we took pictures."

...when we came back from summer vacation two Augusts ago and decided to grill outside on the Weber. I lit the fire and went inside to prepare the meat. My daughter stayed outside, and so when I heard the words "Emergency! Emergency!" I went running and was grateful to find that she hadn't caught fire. She was, however, pointing at the Weber and saying, "Ants, Daddy — ants!" I looked and said that I didn't see any. The Weber was enameled black, as always. Then the enamel began to seethe, and began to break up, like some experiment in the disassociation of matter. There had been tens of thousands of ants in the bed of soggy ash at the bottom of the grill, and when I lit the coals, they covered the cover, until that got too hot, and the whole scene was like a myrmicine version of the Hindenburg disaster, with cooking ants spilling off the top of the Weber and their horrible glittering larvae streaming through the slots at the bottom, while my daughter ran around screaming the one word that described what she saw...
From a long essay at Esquire, via Metafilter.

See also Leiningen Versus the Ants, by Carl Stephenson.

The devastation caused by bottom trawling

Detail from Landsat satellite image, Gulf of Mexico, taken on 10/24/99. Individual vessels can be seen as bright spots at end of sediment trails. Other bright spots are fixed oil and gas production platforms. One sediment trail can be traced for 27 km. Credit: SkyTruth
For over two years I've been meaning to write a post decrying the use of "bottom trawling" as a fishing technique.  In 2008 I bookmarked an article at LiveScience (via), which included the photo above showing the effects visible from satellite imaging:
As nets are dragged across the seafloor, they can crush coral reefs, drag boulders across the bottom, and trap fish and animals not intended to be caught, called bycatch. All this activity stirs up sediments from the seafloor, which create the persistent plumes in the wake of the fishing ships.
Watling and his colleagues say that the plumes visible in satellite images are likely just the "tip of the iceberg" as most trawling is in waters that are deep enough that the plume remains hidden by the water above.
Tonight I discovered that the deleterious effects of bottom trawling were first noted (and first protested) in... 1376!  This text comes from a petition to King Edward III:
“The commons petition the King, complaining that where in creeks and havens of the sea there used to be plenteous fishing, to the profit of the Kingdom, certain fishermen, for several years past have subtily contrived an instrument called the “wondyrechaun” made in the manner of an oyster dredge, but which is considerably longer, upon which instrument is attached a net so close meshed that no fish, be it ever so small which enters therein can escape, but must stay and be taken.

And that the great and long iron of the wondyrechaun runs so heavily and hardly over the ground when fishing that it destroys the flowers of the land below water there, and also the spat of oysters, mussels and other fish upon which the great fish are accustomed to be fed and nourished. By which instrument in many places, the fishermen take such quantity of small fish that they do not know what to do with them; and that they feed and fat their pigs with them, to the great damage of the commons of the realm and the destruction of the fisheries, and they pray for a remedy.”
More at Southern Fried Science, via Neatorama's Upcoming Queue.

The Battle of Baltimore

[During the bombing of Fort McHenry] The barrage was so intense that, on average, a bomb a minute thundered out of the British barrels for hour after hour. Hoping for a combination of luck and calculation, the crews measured lengths of fuses expected to ignite the power while the shells were still airborne. A perfectly timed explosion would rip the shell casing apart a few yards above ground, spraying deadly shrapnel in every direction…

The stream of explosives created an awesome sight. Observers clearly saw the trail of sparks from burning fuses stuffed inside the streaking shells. Men, women, and children crammed the roofs of houses to see what one spectator described as “the most awful spectacle of shot and shells and rockets shooting and bursting through the air.”

The night sky lit up with such a brilliance of bursting shells and fleeting rockets that observers gasped at its peculiar beauty. (208-9)
Excerpts from The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814, by Anthony S. Pitch, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1998.

Image source.

Looting in wartime America

With relief, Tingey found his own home still standing, but only, he learned, because [Brit. Rear Adm.] Cockburn had declared private property sacred. Local mobs, however, had already broken in and run off with some of the contents… Tingey’s departure set off a new flurry of looting by people living close to the navy yard. He was the last figure of authority blocking their way. They set to with crazed abandon, swarming into homes, scurrying from cellars to attic, and snatching anything that could be carried away, even ripping fixtures off the walls and tearing locks out of the doors… (p. 135)

(British officer) “We have not come here for the purpose of plunder, but to destroy all public property. If anything of the kind [theft] should take place again, such as you have just witnessed, I have to request that your citizens will assemble, seize the villains without delay, and conduct them to headquarters. Depend upon it, Sir, they will be punished.” The [British] soldier was set on his stolen horse and escorted up to Capitol Hill… On the way he tried to escape several times, but his luck had run out. After being paraded at headquarters, he was summarily shot. (p. 137)

The morning after the British left the capital, hordes of citizens swarmed over the remains of the President’s House, the Capitol, and the navy yard… Without any means of law enforcement, the city was open to looters and thieves. Like vultures, they descended on the open ruins to pick and pluck at random… Unchecked, they violated the sanctity of private homes, snatching and hoarding items of value and even of worthless sentiment. (p. 150)
Excerpts from The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814, by Anthony S. Pitch, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1998.

Paisley "afternoon" dress, 1855

Found at Defunct Fashion, via.

And it fits Laver's Law of Fashionable Clothing:

26 July 2010

A Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis) in Wisconsin

This evening I happened to glance out the front door of our house and saw a butterfly with which I was totally unfamiliar.  It was so far out of my comfort zone that I assumed it must be a dayflying moth, but when I got my binoculars I could see it had obvious butterfly antennae, so I grabbed my camera and headed out the door.

The butterfly was nectaring on a large stand of catnip (Nepeta cataria) right next to our front door.  Photography was difficult because it rested on individual blossoms only for a few seconds before moving to another, so it was difficult to capture good images.  It wasn't afraid of me; a few times I was able to get the lens within about 3" with a macro setting, but I had to snap blindly.  During the 5-10 minutes it spent nectaring I fired off about 25 photos, fully half of which were out of focus. 
And the more I watched and photographed, the more I was convinced that this was a butterfly I had never seen.  There are several blackish-brown butterflies in this region, but the white stripe along the hindwing was unmistakeable - and totally unfamiliar.
The frustration with digital cameras is that the autofocus feature doesn't necessarily chose the element in the field that is of the most interest, and in situations like this with a moving butterfly there is totally no time to adjust a manual focus mode.  This third photo is in better focus, but is shot slightly from above, so the body shape is a bit foreshortened.  (All these pix enlarge with a click)

When the little fellow left, I went in and checked my standard book reference (Butterflies of the North Woods, by Larry Weber).  It wasn't in there.  Double-checked.  Not there - and not even in the appendix listing "rare strays to the North Woods."

I finally found the answer at Mike Reese's Wisconsin Butterflies website, where there was a page devoted to the Funereal Duskywing.  It is described as a "very rare stray" to Wisconsin, only seen in this state five times - one of which was ten days ago in Milwaukee.
Perhaps the most definitive site on the web is Butterflies and Moths of North America.  Their distribution map of documented records for Erynnis funeralis shows that this member of the Skipper family is widely distributed in the American Southwest.  There are other duskywings with white stripes along the hindwing (False Duskywing, Mournful Duskywing, and Pacuvius Duskywing, so I'll need to submit this sighting for verification.

After discovering how rare this sighting was, I went back to the front steps and sat there with my camera and a thick novel and a glass of sangria and waited until dark for it to return, without any success.  You can bet that tomorrow afternoon/evening I'll be out there again hoping to get some better pictures.  Stay tuned.

Reminds me of our educational system...

The Maldives are NOT sinking

The Maldives have become a symbol of the dangers of global warming, amid fears the low-lying nation could disappear as a result of rising sea levels. But one team of scientists believes the truth is more complicated. The Maldives coral islands, they postulate, may be growing with the rising waters...

The geomorphologists compared old aerial photographs taken in World War II with current satellite images. To their surprise, they found that most of the atolls they were studying had either grown or remained unchanged in the last few decades, even though the sea level has already risen by 12 centimeters (about 5 inches).

As soon as it was published, the study became ammunition in the political battle over global warming. Climate activists questioned its conclusions, which would normally be welcomed as good news. Skeptics of anthropogenic climate change, on the other hand, seized upon the study as evidence that all the excitement over global warming is completely unnecessary.
More discussion and explanation at Der Spiegel.

Video xray of a caterpillar on a treadmill

Biologists at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences studying crawling caterpillars have reported a unique "two-body" system of locomotion that has not previously been reported in any animal.

In an article published online July 22 in the journal Current Biology, the Tufts-led team reported that the gut of the crawling tobacco hawkmoth caterpillar (Manduca sexta) moves forward independently of and in advance of the surrounding body wall and legs, rather than moving along with them. Collaborating with Tufts were researchers from Virginia Tech and Argonne National Laboratory.

This informational video demonstrates the discovery, using synchrotron-sourced, phase-contrast, X-ray imaging to show how the gut is propelled forward in advance of the rest of the body during crawling.
I ran across some discussion of this research elsewhere today (lost the link); apparently it has some non-entomological implications re the design of robots. Other than that, it's interesting or not depending on whether you are interested in caterpillars.

Conference room assassination technique

(2) Opens fire on first subject to react. Swings across group toward center of mass. Times burst to empty magazine at end of swing.

(1) Covers group to prevent individual dangerous reactions, if necessary, fires individual bursts of 3 rounds.
From "A Study of Assassination," a declassified CIA manual.

No monsters here...

25 July 2010

What should be done with the last roll of Kodachrome film?

That was the question facing Kodak when they decided to discontinue producing the iconic film.  NPR has the story:
[Photojournalist Steve] McCurry snapped a picture that ended up on the cover of National Geographic's June 1985 issue. "The Afghan Girl" became one of the magazine's most widely recognized photographs — and one of the century's most iconic. To get that shot, McCurry used a type of film that has become iconic in its own right: Kodachrome.

The film, known for its rich saturation and archival durability of its slides, was discontinued last year to the dismay of photographers worldwide. But Kodak gave the last roll ever produced to McCurry. He has just processed that coveted roll at Dwayne's Photo Service in Parsons, Kan. — the last remaining location that processes the once-popular slide film.

What's on that landmark roll of film is still under wraps. It will be the subject of an upcoming documentary by National Geographic.
More at the link.  (And if you have any more Kodachrome film, get it processed by December 30).

Child's bicycle embedded in a house

A child's bicycle is shown, impaled into the side of a home after a tornado hit part of Millbury, Ohio on Sunday, June 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

If you have time, look at some of the other impressive storm-related photos at The Big Picture.

World record Flugtag distance

90,000 people gathered in St. Paul this week for a Flugtag during which a new world record was set for longest distance achieved.
Dozens of the 37 teams crashed into the Mississippi just a few feet from the launching platform, and none came close to the flight made by Williams' team.

Then again, not everyone was trying to set a world record. One after another, crafts built like hamburgers, Zambonis and baseball bats all crashed into the river. The crowd roared with approval for their efforts.

"We had good control of the aircraft," pilot Rachel Norman said. "We had an elevator that moved, and so when I pulled the stick back, we could actually control where the nose was at instead of just pitching the nose down and trying to shift our weight."

The craft, designed by a team of aeronautical engineers, began its flight perched on top of a large metal tower that the team pushed off the platform to give it extra altitude. Norman herself gave the team an advantage over the competition: She's a licensed pilot.
The StarTribune story has a two-minute video showing multiple crashes.  The video embedded above shows only the record flight.

Wooden peg = "treenail" = "trunnel"

I encountered "treenail" (also "trenail") for the first time in a report from Rhode Island about old wooden ships eroding out of seaside sand dunes:
Seaweed drapes much of the eroded woodwork — timbers nine inches square extending from keel to gunwale and still covered in part by strakes, wooden planks that run from stem to stern. Here and there a green stain betrays the occasional metal pin, perhaps of copper, but the hull is held together mostly by wooden pegs...

They’re called treenails, pronounced “trunnels,” said D.K. “Kathy” Abbass, founder and director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project.

Abbass said that method of ship construction dates back centuries, but maritime traditions die hard.

“Wooden pegs don’t really help” in determining the age of the ship, she said. They only began falling out of fashion in the last century. She said the yacht Coronet, which is being restored by the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, is built treenail-fashion.
Via Professor Hex.

"Swan-upping" and the "Swan With Two Nicks"

There is an annual event on the River Thames called "swan-upping," which consists of taking the mute swans and cygnets from the river and marking them.
The census — it takes five days — is operated by the Swan Marker and the Swan Uppers of two of the ancient trade guilds of London, the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery companies. The census is said to date from the twelfth century, at a time when the sovereign claimed ownership of all swans (they were valuable birds that were served up at banquets and feasts).

These days, royal ownership is claimed only on the Thames and some tributaries and — you may be pleased to learn — the Queen doesn’t actually eat any of her swans. The birds used to be tagged by nicks on their beaks — which is why the Swan Marker has that name — but these days are ringed on their legs.

Two nicks put on a swan’s bill at the time of swan-upping signified that it was owned by the Vintners, hence the connection with pubs. The link has often puzzled people. Down the centuries several such pubs changed their names to Swan With Two Necks, in the toponymic equivalent of popular etymology.
Photo credit.

"... leave nothing for posterity to do but to roll in luxury and decay in sensuality"

"... an interest in the enemy's staying alive"

‘Whoever lives for the sake of combating an enemy has an interest in the enemy’s staying alive.’ 
– Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Vancouver in the fog

Found at snuh, which has lots of interesting atmospheric images.

Origin of the word "taxi"

The German name of Taxameter, at first adopted in Britain, was taken from Taxe, a charge or levy. After the device became common in Paris..., the French created the term taximètre for it, from taxe, a tariff...

Partly in consequence of patriotic feelings, coupled with anti-German sentiment..., the French term proved popular. In the Anglicised spelling taximeter it was used in a London newspaper in 1898 even before the metropolitan meters, of the German type, had gone into operation. Taximeter soon permanently replaced the German name.

These early devices were, of course, fitted to horse-drawn hansom cabs or growlers (so called because of the noise their iron-hooped wheels made on London cobbles). There was some argument over what to call these new metered vehicles. While the official designation for any vehicle plying for hire was hackney carriage, everybody called them cabs (a short form of cabriolet, the French name for a light horse-drawn two-wheeled vehicle that had been indirectly borrowed from the Latin word for goat because of its bounding motion). A metered hire vehicle was clearly enough a taximeter cab, but this was too unwieldy for daily use.

Motorised vehicles began to appear in substantial numbers during the first decade of the new century, all being fitted with meters from the outset. In March 1907, the Daily Chronicle remarked that “Every journalist ... has his idea of what the vehicle should be called” and went on to list motor-cab, taxi-cab, and taximo among the options touted... By November 1907 the Daily Mail had begun to refer to a “taxi”, in inverted commas as befitted a colloquial term not yet admitted to the standard lexicon. In February 1908, the Daily Chronicle noted that the issue had been resolved: “Within the past few months the ‘taxi’ has been the name given to the motor-cab.” Since then, of course, it has spread greatly, though never ousting cab from the language.

That isn’t the whole story. Of the words on the list that the Daily Chronicle produced in March 1907, one other did well, though not so much in the UK. Taxicab is on record from as early as December 1907 in New York and it has survived in the US.
Found at World Wide Words, where there are additional details.

"I wouldn't worry about that"

I've posted this in the category "English language" rather than in "humor," because the cartoon made me rethink the use of the title phrase.

The full phrase is, of course, "I wouldn't worry about that IF I WERE YOU."  But it is often - perhaps typically - shortened to "I wouldn't worry about that."  Which, taken literally, means something quite different, and which can properly be used in the sense that Dilbert's boss uses it.  I'll have to try this...

Stephen Fry discusses atheism

...and I love how when people watch I don’t know, David Attenborough or Discovery Planet type thing you know where you see the absolute phenomenal majesty and complexity and bewildering beauty of nature and you stare at it and then… and somebody next to you goes, “And how can you say there is no God?” “Look at that.” And then five minutes later you’re looking at the lifecycle of a parasitic worm whose job is to bury itself in the eyeball of a little lamb and eat the eyeball from inside while the lamb dies in horrible agony and then you turn to them and say, “Yeah, where is your God now?” You know I mean you got… You can’t just say there is a God because well, the world is beautiful. You have to account for bone cancer in children. You have to account for the fact that almost all animals in the wild live under stress with not enough to eat and will die violent and bloody deaths. There is not any way that you can just choose the nice bits and say that means there is a God and ignore the true fact of what nature is...

...perhaps the greatest insult to humanism is this idea that mankind needs a god in order to have a moral framework. There is a very clear way of demonstrating logically how absurd that is because the warrant for that logical framework, for that moral framework that comes from God is always tested against man’s own morals and it’s a complicated argument, but I mean that’s, you know it’s the standard one which is pretty unanswerable, but the idea that we don’t know right from wrong, but we have to take it from words put down in a book two, three, four, five, six thousand years ago and dictated to rather hotheaded neurotic desert tribes is just insulting. It’s just no, I mean you know if there were a God he would want us to be better spirited than to take his word for everything. Wouldn’t he? If he gave us free will would he really want us to say, “No, I have to abide by everything that’s written in this book, all the laws of circumcision and of eating and of… and what to do with menstruating women?” I mean, “I’m going to obey those written down there.” “I won’t think for myself because that’s not required of me.” Come on. It’s just not good enough and you know I have no quarrel with individuals who wish… who are devout and who have faith. I don’t want to mock them. I really don’t, but damned if I’m going to be told by them what to do with my body or damned if I’m going to have the extraordinary battles won by enlightenment over the past 400 years, to have those battles abdicated by a new dark ages...
Excerpted from the full interview at Big Think.

"Dirce" (1897) and "Nero's Torches" (1897)

Two paintings by Polish artist Henryk Siemiradzki (1843-1902).  You can read about Dirce's death at Wikipedia, and you can figure out the torches once you click/enlarge the image...

Via Fantasy Ink.

Famous books are being re-edited for today's youth

By substituting modern terms for outdated ones, children will no longer be challenged to learn new words...
Farewell to the awful swotters, dirty tinkers and jolly japes: Enid Blyton's language is being dragged out of the 1940s by her publisher in an attempt to give her books greater appeal for today's children.

Starting next month with 10 Famous Five novels, Hodder is "sensitively and carefully" revising Blyton's text after research with children and parents showed that the author's old-fashioned language and dated expressions were preventing young readers from enjoying the stories. The narrative of the novels will remain the same, but expressions such as "mercy me!" have been changed to "oh no!", "fellow" to "old man" and "it's all very peculiar" to "it's all very strange".

Other changes include "housemistress" becoming "teacher", "awful swotter" becoming "bookworm", "mother and father" becoming "mum and dad", "school tunic" becoming "uniform" and Dick's comment that "she must be jolly lonely all by herself" being changed to "she must get lonely all by herself"...

Tony Summerfield, who runs the Enid Blyton Society, said he was "thoroughly against unnecessary changes just for the sake of it, from adults who underestimate the intelligence of children"...

Bestselling children's author Andy Briggs, who is writing a children's series bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan into the 21st century, approved of the changes. "It's an unfortunate necessity," he said. "The classic books we were brought up on – the Famous Five, Tarzan, Sherlock Homes – need to be updated. Language just changes, it evolves, and the problem is if we don't evolve with it, then the new generation of kids is not going to have anything to relate to. When these books were published, 'jeepers' and 'golly gosh' was modern slang. It makes perfect sense to update the language."
I disagree.

Mantis in fossil amber

An outstanding specimen, posted at Minerals and Fossils.

Sunday smörgåsbord

(I wonder whether anyone else reading this blog will remember the names of Charlie Boone and Roger Erickson at WCCO radio)

James Joyce's Ulysses is summarized in cartoon on one page at "Ulysses for Dummies'

Add Caravaggio's name to the list of painters whose death may in part have been caused by (or accelerated by) lead poisoning.

Getty Images is now purchasing photographs from Flickr users.

Harbour seals reportedly use their whiskers as vibration sensors to detect the presence and direction of movement of fish.

Newsweek has published its list of America's top 1,600 high schools.

Mental Floss asks a logical question:  Why does bottled water have an expiration date?

In June, earthquake activity was increasing in Iceland volcano Eyjafjallajökull's bigger neighbor, Mýrdalsjökull.

A French prisoner killed his cellmate and ate his cellmate's lung (he fried it with onions, if you really want to know). 

The US Supreme Court has ruled that Monsanto can sell genetically modified seeds before safety tests on them are completed.

A laser pointer is attached to the collar of a dachshund.  Video at the link.

Australian men have been shooting one another with air rifles "to see if it hurts."  Alcohol is presumed to have affected the decision-making.

In Oklahoma "Police tasered an 86-year-old disabled grandma in her bed and stepped on her oxygen hose until she couldn't breathe, after her grandson called 911 seeking medical assistance."

The highest score ever recorded in soccer was 149-0, consisting of 149 own goals.

Discovery News has photos of a 112-year-old wreck of a wooden steamship found on the floor of Lake Superior; the cold water has preserved everything.

King Tut may have been a sickler.

23 July 2010

The world's smallest flowering plants

Each green dot is a separate plant.
Duckweeds are the minute plant that can be found growing in large numbers on many still bodies of water. The main body of the plant is a flattened, often oval thallus (not a leaf but rather a highly reduced and fused leaf and stem). In three of the recognised genera of duckweeds, Lemna, Spirodela and Landoltia (the 'Lemneae'), one or more short roots emerge from one end of the thallus (the proximal end). In the other two genera, Wolffia and Wolffiella (the Wolffieae), the thallus lack roots...

The entire plant is generally less than five millimetres (the size reached by Landoltia punctata) while Wolffia individuals are less than half a millimetre long when mature...

The flowers of duckweed are correspondingly tiny and many species produce them only rarely...
More details at Catalogue of Organisms, via Fresh Photons.

Google Images has a new format

Embedded above is the first of about a dozen pages showing the result of searching Google Images for "TYWKIWBI."  The search algorithm is the same, in that the retrieval is not necessarily of images posted on this blog, but rather of images from pages containing the word TYWKIWDBI.

What has changed is the format of the presentation.  In the past, images were shown with a url and a notation re figure size; now that information is in the background and only appears when you mouse over the image.  I like the new view much better, though I understand some do not.
You can also search by type of image ("face" above), with clip art and line drawing as other subtypes.  finally, you can sort by the dominant color and/or by size of image.
These are the "red" "medium size" images associated with TYWKIWDBI.

Tree canopy height

Using NASA satellite data, scientists have produced a first-of-its kind map that details the height of the world’s forests. Although there are other local- and regional-scale forest canopy maps, the new map is the first that spans the entire globe based on one uniform method...

The new map shows the world’s tallest forests clustered in the Pacific Northwest of North America and portions of Southeast Asia, while shorter forests are found in broad swaths across northern Canada and Eurasia. The map depicts average height over 5 square kilometers (1.9 square miles) regions), not the maximum heights that any one tree or small patch of trees might attain.

Temperate conifer forests -- which are extremely moist and contain massive trees such as Douglas fir, western hemlock, redwoods, and sequoias--have the tallest canopies, soaring easily above 40 meters (131 feet). In contrast, boreal forests dominated by spruce, fir, pine, and larch had canopies typically less than 20 meters (66 feet). Relatively undisturbed areas in tropical rain forests were about 25 meters (82 feet), roughly the same height as the oak, beeches, and birches of temperate broadleaf forests common in Europe and much of the United States...

Lefsky used data from a laser technology called LIDAR that’s capable of capturing vertical slices of surface features. It measures forest canopy height by shooting pulses of light at the surface and observing how much longer it takes for light to bounce back from the ground surface than from the top of the canopy. Since LIDAR can penetrate the top layer of forest canopy, it provides a fully-textured snapshot of the vertical structure of a forest -- something that no other scientific instrument can offer.
LIDAR is fantastic; I'll post later on its use for archeological discovery and mapping.  The map embedded above, from the NASA website, depicts the data for the United States.  A world map is also available.

Via Found Here.

An early Jeopardy! episode

1974, with Art Fleming as host.

Sea slug (Glaucus atlanticus)

Very, very cool looking.  And a tough dude - it eats Portugese Men-of-War:
G. atlanticus preys on other larger pelagic organisms: the dangerously venomous Portuguese Man o' War Physalia physalis... G. atlanticus is able to feed on P. physalis due to its immunity to the venomous nematocysts. The blue sea slug will consume the entire organism and appears to select and store the most venomous nematocysts for their own use. The venom is collected in specialized sacs (cnidosacs), on the tip of their cerata, the thin feather-like "fingers" on its body.  Because Glaucus stores the venom, it can produce a more powerful and deadly sting than the Man o' War upon which it feeds.
Which is why you shouldn't hold it on your hand for a photo...

More at the Sea Slug Forum.  Via Reddit.

"Urban Woods"

In downtown Amsterdam, a "woods" is created by placing mirrors around a tree.  The illusion looks more like an orchard than a woods, and once several people step inside, well...
Kind of sad that something like this is necessary.  I guess it's more of an art installation than a return-to-nature vehicle.

Source, via Neatorama.

A boy is watching a 9/11 video? Get off the plane!

Two Air Canada passengers were pulled from their Orlando-bound flight before takeoff from Toronto's Pearson Airport after another passenger spotted them watching video of the 9/11 terror attacks...

[A] passenger alerted the flight crew after spotting the young boy watching video on his iPod of the planes smashing into the World Trade Centre...

"Other passengers and our crew became concerned," Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told the Sun Wednesday. "The passengers were deplaned and following an investigation allowed to travel [the next] morning.

Biodegradable burial urns

Chinese soldiers buried 280 biodegradable urns during a collective eco-burial ceremony at the cemetery of Tianjin on Tuesday. The patented urns in China are designed to help protect the environment amid overcrowding in China’s cemeteries. (Stephen Shaver/UPI)

Ratings agencies refuse to rate collateralized asset securities

I just found this today and haven't tracked it any further than the link:
The Three Big Ratings Agencies (hereinafter, TBRA) are refusing to rate asset backed bonds due to the stepped up regulations of the financial reform package. This is ground-shattering news that already demonstrates the effectiveness of the new legislation. I'm going to tell you why.

Now, if you listen to CNBC or NPR's Marketplace, this is meant to be a Very Troubling Development. You see, according to existing securities regulations, you can't sell asset backed bonds without a ratings agency stamp on it that tells buyers the TBRA's "opinion" of their risk. That's a principle of transparency. You need an "objective" third party assessment of the risk for such bonds. If one of the TBRA doesn't rate the bond, you can't sell it. So, the bond market for asset backed bonds is at a dead stop: no ratings, no sales. Full stop.

So, what's the NEW problem? The financial legislation just signed into law makes the TBRA's liable for the opinion they give on a bond. If, for example, they give a bond a very strong rating (AAA, say), and the bond turns out to be junk, and it turns out that the ratings agency was negligent in its assessment, it can be sued by the bondholders. This has sent shockwaves through the financial set, but not only because it exposes the ratings agency and forces them to be honest in their assessment of the bonds. Rather, it pinpoints the precise pressure zone in the whole asset backed securities market and forces changes all the way down the line. They are screaming bloody murder and essentially blackmailing the government precisely because the new law cascades throughout the system...
More at the link, and a discussion thread at Reddit.

The "Road to Hogwarts"

It's not unusual for Google Maps to generate some weird images, but this one is pretty spectacular (and clever named at the source posting.  Apparently an agricultural property has been undergoing development; the Google image for the top half is pre-development, stitched to a newer image on the lower half.

Or else you do drive up that road to get to Hogwarts...

Newt Gingrich re the proposed New York mosque

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over. 
There may be valid reasons for opposing the construction of the mosque, but retribution for religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia is not one of them.  The best rebuttal I have read was in Matthew Yglesias' blog yesterday:
...it is absolutely crucial that we bend over backwards—as even George W Bush tended to recognize—to avoid framing 9/11 as part and parcel of some broad American conflict with Muslim peoples or the Islamic religion. Our framing is that America is a diverse, pluralistic, free, and open society...  Our theory is that liberalism is an political system that can accommodate a wide array of people and faiths. To abandon that theory is as repugnant as it is foolish.
If Orthodox Jews spit on Christians in Jerusalem, should Conservative Christians retaliate by spitting on Jews at Wall Street? What utter rubbish.

Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Red cage fungus looks like a buckyball

Phallaceae > Colus sp (Crabpot Stinkhorn).  Also known as Red Basket or Cage Fungi.  The Phallaceae, or stinkhorns, are a family of basidiomycetes which produce a foul-scented, phallus-shaped mushroom.
Photo credit to Patchouli Patch, via electric orchids.
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