31 December 2010

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man".  Some of the lyrics were indeed "collected" rather than composed by the poet; the ballad "Old Long Syne" printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns' later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same "old song". It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself...

Most common use of the song involves only the first verse and the chorus. The last lines of both of these are often sung with the extra words "For the sake of" or "And days of", rather than Burns' simpler lines. This allows one note for each word, rather than the slight melisma required to fit Burns' original words to the melody...
Lyrics and text from Wikipedia (where's there's also a useful "English translation".)

Sweden's ancient history

Top to bottom:
Rune stone, Herstadberg, Östergötland, Sweden. Three girls beside a rune stone (Ög 46) in Herrstaberg. The inscription says: "Vibern raised this stone in memory of Solva, his brother."

Uppsala Mounds, Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala), Uppland, Sweden. Excavation in 1874 of one of Uppsala Mounds - the Western Mound. A shaft was dug down to the bottom of the mound and a burnt burial site was uncovered. The three burial mounds, dated to ca. 475-550 AD, are also called the Kings' Mounds.

One of two dolmens, Snarringe, Skåne, Sweden. Man beside one of two dolmens at Snarringe hamlet. It could be from about 3500 BC.
These and many more photos of ancient monuments are assembled in a Flickr photostream of the Swedish National Heritage Board.


Esperanza, a fluffy white shepherd mix, was discovered on a wilderness reserve near Red Deer in Central Alberta by animal rescue worker Criss Gerwing earlier this month, according to the Free Press. Esperanza had reportedly been hit by a car and her leg was badly broken.

When Gerwing approached the friendly pooch, this exceptional mother led her straight to a den where she was nursing a very unusual litter. "I cried because she was in such bad condition with her leg, but she was obviously nursing her puppies and this kitten," Gerwing told reporters...
The rest of the story is at PawNation and the Winnipeg Free Press.  Incredible that she could ambulate with the fracture shown on the x-ray.  Story worthwhile (but mute button recommended).

Tycho Brahe's artificial nose

I've written three posts this year re Tycho Brahe (here, here, and here). In view of the post above this one, I just wanted to insert a note here re Brahe's nose - something I learned from the book Heavenly Intrigue (re which more later...):
[After the swordfight sliced away the bridge of his nose]... Brahe escaped serious infection and, after his recovery, had a resplendent prosthesis made of gold and silver alloy, which he wore for important occasions, employing a lighter, copper-based nosepiece for general use.  Had he desired to hide his deformity more effectively, he could have had a more convincingly flesh-colored piece fashioned from wax.  It was characteristic of his larger-than-life personality, however, that he did not."
Image source.

Marriage proposal on the Weather Channel

[December 30, 2009] "Weather Channel viewers were given a treat when a weather woman sharing the New Year's Eve forecast was proposed to by her boyfriend on the air. There's something very sweet about this that brought us to the brink of tears.  Enjoy."

Credit.  Reposted for 2010.


Photographed at Honey Creek State Natural Area, May 2008.  Posted for Andrew and others who miss the old header photo.  Click for slightly larger version.

30 December 2010

India seen from space

This image is often claimed to have been taken during the annual festival of light, but it's actually a composite created by NOAA.

Via La Muse Verte.

Sunset is not when you think it is

Stephen Fry explains.

Via Videosift.

Design fiddling underway...

As promised/warned, I've started the process of updating and customizing the template for this blog. I've gotten the wider central column that I wanted. I still need to change the header photo so it isn't so intrusive, and I need a more neutral background for the text rather than this glaring white.

I've enlarged some of the photos on the recent posts to test the design. For the most part I like the images bigger - it may even save some "clicking to magnify" that was previously necessary. I'm also discovering that bigger is not always better, and that some photos don't benefit from a larger format; I may revert to more laterally-embedded smaller photos when the content is not crucial.

The bigger photos are also going to necessitate a bit more scrolling by visitors, which may be somewhat annoying.  I'll wait and see.   I think the text font is still o.k.  The highlight colors may need some tweaking.

I won't be able to go back over the entire blog and adjust the photo sizes, which apparently has to be done manually. There are over 7,500 old posts, so that's not a practical use of my time.

Addendum: Header photo removed. It was pretty, but took up too much space and delayed getting to the content of the blog. This new format is starting to look strangely familiar.

More fiddling tomorrow.

29 December 2010

Illuminated Gospel

Royal Collection curator Deborah Clarke held the Lorsch Gospels, which went on display Tuesday, with gloved hands. Pope Benedict gave the manuscript to Queen Elizabeth during a recent visit to the United Kingdom. (PA Photos/Landov)
Via the WSJ.

Two of the hardest questions on the KWC quiz...

... are the ones highlighted above.  Speculation re Harry Potter wizards has led nowhere.  I wondered about British golfer Justin Rose, but he appears not to have a "Wizard" nickname.  If any TYWKIWDBI readers have suggestions, I would welcome hearing them.

Addendum:  A big hat tip to "Numerophile" who found the answer to #3:
Eileen Nearne, codename Agent Rose, was a wartime radio operator in the Wizard network in France. She died on 2 September in Torquay. 
The answer to 18-4 remains totally obscure. 

Second addendum:  Willofgod suggests "Angie Bowness. Sir Clive Sinclair married the beauty queen after 417 day engagment."  I've seen this argued at another board, where they are trying to get confirmation on the 417 day period.  Daily Mail story here.

Third addendum:  The best answer seems to have been found by Robert Iain and Wireman:
"George John Patrick Dominic Townshend, 7th Marquess Townshend, succeeded to his peerage on 17 Nov 1921. On 2 March 2009, he became the longest ever holder of a peerage, surpassing the 13th Lord Sinclair (see below). He died on 23 April 2010, having held the peerage for 88 years, 157 days.

From March 2, 2009 to April 23, 2010 is... 417 days.
(Previous post re the KWC quiz here).

Before workplace safety and child labor laws...

Diana “Baby Peggy” Cary, age 5, in Darling of New York (1923, dir. King Baggot)
“[While filming a fire sequence for Darling of New York], King Baggot and my father walked me through the set and showed me how the crew had lined the windows and the only door with sawdust soaked in kerosene, which would be set afire for the scene. I was warned it would only be “one take” as the set would be completely burned. I was shown the two different windows in the kitchen which would be ablaze when the camera rolled. I was to look at them but turn away and run to the door. It would not be torched by the crew, Baggot said, and I was to escape immediately through that door.

But when filming began and I reached the door I found the crew had mistakenly set it ablaze. The door knob was already too hot to touch. But the camera, Baggot, and my father, shooting from a distance through the window above the kitchen sink, could not see the flames. I knew I could not spoil the scene by explaining the situation to them. So while they kept shouting at me to “GO OUT THE DOOR!” I ran back to the sink and the window above it, which was not burning as fiercely as was the door. Moving fast I clambered through the burning open window and gave the camera an unexpected close up of me escaping through the flames!
Credit to Starts Thursday (which has much more info re the child actress), via Old Hollywood.

The woes of hybrid cars

Since spring, irate owners of hybrid Civics have been venting their frustration on the web. Some describe how their cars’ battery can suddenly die while trying to overtake or labour up a hill. Others talk of leaving their car with the battery fully charged, only to return an hour or two later to find it flat...

Honda’s answer has been to issue a couple of software patches that make the Civic’s battery work less energetically, and its petrol engine harder still. However, after having the fix downloaded, many owners claim not only that their cars have lost power, but also that their fuel economy has fallen from about 45mpg (5.2L/100km) on the highway to around 33mpg—little better than a non-hybrid version of the same model, which costs $5,000 less. Some have asked, unsuccessfully, to have the old software re-installed. Others have threatened to sue, and had their pricey batteries quietly replaced.

The surprise in all this is that the batteries conking out are the reliable old nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) variety—not the more powerful but finicky lithium-ion versions being adopted in the latest generation of electric cars and plug-in hybrids...

The best guess about what is happening is that it has something to do with the way the batteries are charged and discharged during use...
More at The Economist for those interested or affected.


A colorized scanning EM of a nerve broken open to reveal the vesicles containing the neurotransmitters.

Image credit to NIH, via Curiosity/Discovery, via Sloth Unleashed.

The frequency of heavy snowfall

The annual average number of snowstorms with a 6 inch (15.2 cm) or greater accumulation, from the years 1901 - 2001. A value of 0.1 means an average of one 6+ inch snowstorm every ten years. Image credit: Changnon, S.A., D. Changnon, and T.R. Karl, 2006, Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States, J. Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 45, 8, pp. 1141-1155, DOI: 10.1175/JAM2395.1.
It's interesting to see how many of the big snowfalls are mediated by lake effect and of course by altitude.

Via Wunderblog and Paul Douglas On Weather.

"...coming to you live."

Large corporations masquerade as small businesses

A column at Counterpunch cites the example of California's wine industry:
These activities are capital-intensive. For those with enough pre-existing wealth to shoulder the heavy up-front costs, the profits can be enormous... ownership of the industry has grown increasingly concentrated. Most vineyard acreage in the region is ruled by a small collection of massive multi-national corporate conglomerates, which typically boast annual revenues greater than a billion dollars.

To hear the patriarchs of the wine industry tell it, by contrast, the typical area wine-making operation is a “bucolic,” family-owned business...

In reality, while there remain some area vineyards that possibly fit the Wine Commission web site characterization, a huge portion of Mendo's vineyard acreage is owned by corporate conglomerates that belong to the billion-dollar-a-year set. Most of the other wine-grape plantations are remotely controlled by decidedly non-local corporations with revenues of at least $50 million a year...

Over the years, wine industry robber-baron Jess Jackson has gone to perhaps the most absurd lengths of all to garb his company in a rustic wine-maker mystique. The company no longer refers to itself as Kendall-Jackson, but rather as Jackson Family Wines... “Little Guy” Jackson landed in the upper half of Fortune magazine's 2003 ranking of the world's 500 richest people, with personal wealth of $1.8 billion...

More to the point, the profits generated by local vineyards accrue almost entirely to the wine industry big boys. Just seven global wine conglomerates purchase the vast majority of wine grapes grown in the United States. The majority of these are grown in California. These companies produce 82 percent of all wine sold throughout the country. The majority of these enormous companies are integrated with other units of Big Alcohol; namely, spirits and beer.

The upshot? Regardless of who runs the actual grape production side, it's the large multi-nationals that ultimately reap the benefits of the local wine-growing economy – just as with virtually every other sector of America's agribusiness enterprise – at the expense of just about everyone and everything else...

As Wendell Berry has written regarding the corporate agribusiness model in general, “To put the bounty and health of our land, our only commonwealth, into the hands of people who do not live on it and share its fate will always be an error. Whatever determines the fortune of the land determines also the fortune of the people. If history has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that.”
More at the link, and more articles coming on this topic.

A (complex) map of American dialects

Click - twice - for bigger and bigger.

I was born in East Midland, grew up in Western North, went to school in Eastern New England and Lowland South, and then worked in Inland South and Central Midland before retiring to Inland North.  Whew.

Via Metafilter.


Via Camille Reads.

Democracy - Hungarian style

...in the last few months, Hungary has provided Europe with another example of how fragile democracy can be—even in a place where it works...  Hungary is now cursed with a leader who is too popular—or, anyway, has too large a majority—and can change laws to keep himself in power without any violence at all.

Indeed, when the authors of the U.S. Constitution worried about the "tyranny of the majority," they might have had Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, in mind. Orban is no rogue. He is a former anti-Communist activist who has been prime minister before, and his center-right party, Fidesz, controls two-thirds of the Hungarian parliament for a good reason. For the previous eight years, the country had been run by one of the most incompetent governments in Europe. Hungary's Socialists ran up debt, evaded reforms, and squirreled away money in foreign bank accounts. At one point the former Socialist prime minister told colleagues he had "lied" to the voters and that only "divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy, and hundreds of tricks" had kept the country afloat during his years in office. After a tape of that speech became public, there were riots in Budapest. In April, Hungary's voters threw him out.

But victory wasn't enough for Orban, who used his years out of power to plot his revenge against the journalists who didn't support him, against the chattering classes who didn't vote for him, and, above all, against his corrupt and incompetent opponents. Since taking office less than a year ago, he has appointed a council to rewrite the constitution, deprived the national audit office of funding, and stripped powers from the supreme court.

More recently, his parliament passed a set of laws governing the media. It's hard to say how they will work, given how vaguely they are written, but that is precisely the point: A new, state-run media council, composed entirely of Fidesz appointees, now has the right to impose fines of up to $1 million for journalism it considers "unbalanced," whatever that means. The council is also tasked with protecting "human dignity," whatever that means. The law seems to aim to control not just Hungarian media but media available to Hungarians on the Internet or anywhere—a task that is impossible, as one watchdog points out, but that will require the creation of a massive system of surveillance and control anyway. There is even a government-mandated cap on "crime-related news," which cannot take up more than 20 percent of airtime—though the law does not define "crime" or state whether it includes government corruption...
The rest of the story is at Slate.

Addendum:  mborsik, one of the readers of this blog, has offered a more sanguine viewpoint of the political situation in Hungary:
As a hungarian voter and a regular reader of your blog, I can only say that western media is once again massively overreacting, and paints a far more negative picture of our conservative prime minister and his government then he deserves, just like they did between 1998 and 2002, the only period since 1990 in which the Orbán-lead country outperformed its neighbours and developed in a way our country supposed to be developing. The very same media which now bashes Mr. Orbán because of the new press legislation (of which the most element had been in place since 1996 btw), the planned change of the constitution (for which it has every democratic right at this majority, and this in fact was one of the main points of the ex-communist socialists in the campaign, so voters knew what they were voting for), and for all the other similarly semi-correct charges, the very same media had no concerns during the last 8 years, characterised by illegal police brutality against peaceful protesters resulting in several people losing their eyes and braking their bones, illegal arrestments and inprisonment, a never before seen level of immoral corruption, a complete devastation of our country's economy resulting in a bailout package from IMF, and so on. Sure, there are quite a few things this government does not right, but what's now happening is ridiculous, and the main reason behind it is that they want to put the country under more pressure before the upcoming takeover of the EU-Presidency. Apparently, they are doing it very effectively. 
TYWKIWDBI gets almost 400 visits a month from Hungarian readers (see map), so if others want to chime in in the Comments section, please feel free to do so, and I may include some of the thoughts as additional appendices.

Second addendum: I just received the following comments from Hungarian journalist and TYWKIWDBI reader Mesterszakács, who believes mborsik (above) is wrong, because...
1. There is a constant opression over the Hungarian media by the actual goverment. This "center-right" party is the same immoral group as the center-left MSZP was for 8 years.

2. The corruption and Goebbels-like propaganda was never so obvious like this days.

3. The "peaceful protesters" attacked and robbed the building of the state television, and they attacked the police during the riots of October 2008.

4. The western media is NOT "massively overreacting" this law - it's ridiculous to judge newspapers like The Times, Le Monde, or Der Spiegel.  
Sensing that this may become a long - and likely acrimonious - debate, rather than append additional comments to this original post, I will leave them in the Comments section to be read by those interested in this subject matter.   I would like to remind future commenters of the longstanding policy of this blog: you are welcome to speak freely on the TOPIC, but if you include "ad hominem" attacks (personal insults against the other commenters), then I will delete those comments.

Bohemian Rhapsody arranged for four violins

Excellent.  I had this posted even before finishing listening to it on the other tab.  Performed by Joe Edmonds -
"Used GarageBand after recording to tinker with volume, add some pizzicato, and double the bottom part in a lower octave."
Via 22 Words.

28 December 2010

Solanum mammosum

Explained at Kuriositas.

The contents of an "owl pellet"

I sometimes see these while hiking.  A post this week at Naturespeak reminds me that I need to take the time to dissect one sometime. 

For those who don't go out walking, or live in urban areas, owl pellets are available for purchase at sites that provide educational materials.  They make interesting gifts for children with inquisitive minds.  (I should have mentioned this before Christmas...)

The secret names of plants and herbs

Many people do not realize that when the witches in Macbeth prepare their brew...
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble...

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witch's mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab.
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron...
... the recipe they are reciting should not be taken literally.  In that era plants typically had "secret names" which constituted part of the arcane knowledge base of the herbalist and alchemist. "Eye of newt" was mustard seed, "Serpent's tongue" was the violet, many of the "fingers" were digitalis (foxglove) blossoms.

Witches Lore has a compilation of several hundred of these, which I can't seem to transcribe here because of the columnar formatting.  Those interested can browse the list at this link.

The pythons of Bangkok

The contents of a "wunderkammer"

I've lost my links leading up to this set of seven photos, so I'm not even sure to whom this "cabinet of curiosities" belonged.  Embedded above:  his/her collection of corals, insects, and critters in alcohol.

Cinematic product placement, 1951

A hat tip to Peter Osgood, who posted the following item at a board discussing the King William's College quiz:
In John Huston's The African Queen (1951), Gordon's was the brand of choice for Charlie Allnut, the hard-drinking riverboat captain, played by Humphrey Bogart.  The Gordon's label is clearly shown in a pivotal scene in which Katharine Hepburn's teetotaling character, Rose Sayer, tosses crates of the beverage into the river.  The appearance of Gordon's gin in The African Queen is frequently cited as one of the first examples of movie product placement.
Photo from Poster Art.  It looks more like a publicity still than a movie screencap.

80% of U.S. antibiotics are used in animals

From a report at Wired, citing the Center for a Livable Future, which used data from the FDA:
Most important to note: Most of the drugs used in animal agriculture and in human medicine are functionally identical. That’s one reason why the overuse of antibiotics in animals is such a concern: When organisms become resistant on the farm to drugs used on livestock, they are becoming resistant to the exact same drugs used in humans. (One major drug category used in animals, ionophores, do not have a direct human analog...)

The next battle, which industry has already begun, is defining what non-therapeutic use will constitute. Producers are already claiming that the use of antibiotics for growth promotion has decreased, maintaining current low-dose usage is aimed at disease prevention. Regardless, all low-dose usage of antibiotics can lead to a significant increase in antibiotic resistance.
Additional data and discussion at the links.

27 December 2010

"The Gift" - by Carl Erik Rinsch

A short (5-minute) video described as "a futuristic action thriller which involves a robotic manservant on the run from the Russian police."
...the release of the short film has spawned a bidding war between several big Hollywood movie studios, including Warner Bros and Fox. Everyone wants to turn the short film into a feature... Rinsch is currently developing a remake of Creature From The Black Lagoon and is in preproduction on an epic period samurai film titled 47 Ronin to star Keanu Reeves...
Warning: brief violence, but most of you won't want this to end..

It won a Grand Prix award at Cannes.
In this sci-fi thriller, Podarok introduces us to a dystopian future. It’s a winter’s day in Moscow, but the familiar landscape is not all it seems. The traditional backdrop is balanced by the technological hints to the future on show. An experienced KGB Agent is on his way to deliver a special gift. Expressionless and giving the aura of emptiness the lone man makes his way across the city. As the secret of the gift is unveiled to the receiver, the desire for the object becomes evident. The agent must have it. Even at the cost of a man’s life. A high-octane chase through Moscow ensues as the dead man’s robotic butler tries to rescue the precious gift. It must not be left in the wrong hands.

Walnut Sphinx caterpillar can "whistle"

It appears to be expelling air through its spiracles when threatened.

Credit Jayne Yack, via Live Science.

Long woolies - 1913 Sears catalogue

Via Centuries of Advice and Advertisements.

Hidden door

Very cool.  Found at Librarianista.

"Security theater" at airport documented by pilot

Attorney Don Werno, who represents the pilot, says he believes the TSA was sending a message that "you've angered us by telling the truth and by showing America that there are major security problems despite the fact that we've spent billions of dollars allegedly to improve airline safety."
Via BoingBoing.

This pulp art painting sold for $143,000

From a recent sale at Heritage Auction Galleries:

HUGH JOSEPH WARD (American, 1909-1945)
The Evil Flame, Spicy Mystery Stories pulp cover, August 1936
Oil on canvas
28.5 x 19.5 in.
Signed lower right

This is not only the most important Ward pulp cover we've ever offered -- it's one of the absolute best pulp covers that exists, by any artist. Iconic is the adjective that best sums up the entire over-the-top approach that pulps are now celebrated for. As pulp art historian Robert Lesser so vividly recounted about the Ward approach in his book, Pulp Art, Gramercy Books, 1997, "One day in April 1942 Mayor la Guardia spied an unusual Spicy mystery on the newsstand and exploded in instant rage. He ruled on the spot: 'No more Spicy pulps in this city.' H. J. Ward was the cover artist and it was one of his most daring: sexual tension, violence in action, a beautiful woman, all painted with aggressive brushwork to create a cover that couldn't fail to catch the eye."

Via Accidental Mysteries.

Tower of barrels

I encountered the 1924 photo above at Accidental Mysteries and initially assumed that it was an altered photo from the pre-Photoshop era, similar to the "giant vegetables" sometimes seen on postcards from that era.  But after some searching I found a similar photo dated 1929 in the files at Getty Images:
The caption there says " Prohibition: A tower built with barrels of alcohol, which should be destroyed later. Photograph. 1929. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)."

What a waste of good oak.

Seagull fashion accessories

Late 19th-century accessories for the fashion-conscious Victorian lady.

Found at Ye Olde Fashion, via Fuck Yeah, Victorians!

What was Jesus' last name?

Something I'd never thought of, until I read this column at Slate:
Many people shared the name. Christ's given name, commonly Romanized as Yeshua, was quite common in first-century Galilee. (Jesus comes from the transliteration of Yeshua into Greek and then English.) Archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of 71 Yeshuas from the period of Jesus' death. The name also appears 30 times in the Old Testament in reference to four separate characters...

So why do we call the Hebrew hero of Jericho Joshua and the Christian Messiah Jesus? Because the New Testament was originally written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic. Greeks did not use the sound sh, so the evangelists substituted an S sound. Then, to make it a masculine name, they added another S sound at the end. The earliest written version of the name Jesus is Romanized today as Iesous. (Thus the crucifix inscription INRI: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum," or "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.")...

In contrast, the Old Testament was translated directly from the original Hebrew into English, rather than via Greek. So anyone named Yehoshua or Yeshua in the Old Testament became Joshua in English...

What was Jesus' last name? It wasn't Christ. Contemporaries would have called him Yeshua Bar Yehosef or Yeshua Nasraya. (That's "Jesus, son of Joseph" or "Jesus of Nazareth.") Galileans distinguished themselves from others with the same first name by adding either "son of" and their father's name, or their birthplace. People who knew Jesus would not have called him Christ, which is the translation of a Greek word meaning "anointed one."
More at the Slate link.

Omagh, Northern Ireland, 1998

The photo was taken seconds before a Republican bomb, stashed in the trunk of the red car, went off killing twenty nine including many of those pictured. The camera was later retrieved from the rubble.
Found at Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog, which has lots of interesting material.

Aristotle's classical four elements

Via Palahniuk & Chocolate.

"Don't ever tell me I'm wrong..."

Via Reddit.

The dark side of Christmas greenery products

One of the first posts I wrote for TYWKIWDBI when I started the blog in December 2007 was a piece about "Balsam bough thieves" (content below).  This week I notice that PBS has addressed basically the same problem with a short video, which I've embedded above.  Here's the summary from PBS Newshour:
It's a familiar sight this time of year; the live Christmas wreath on a door or a bit of holiday-themed greenery on a table. Those products are a big business in the Pacific Northwest, where forests are harvested for greenery, boughs, moss, ferns and other plants for holiday and other gift giving.
Our PBS colleagues at KCTS in Seattle reported recently on the seamier side of this industry, which involves forest product smuggling in Washington State. Lesley McClurg looked into how illegal harvesting of forests harm businesses and workers in the short term and the environment in the long term.
And here's a repost of my 2007 item:

One of the classic sensual pleasures of the holiday season is the scent of balsam permeating a home or place of business. Balsam trees, wreaths, and swags are used to decorate living rooms, doors, windows, and mantelpieces. In doing so, we probably never question where the balsam comes from; if we give it any thought, we assume it is harvested from commercial tree farms or represents a reuse of forestry waste products.

This fall I visited a lot (in a platted subdivision) where I’ve been clearing brush in preparation for building, and encountered two young men with a pickup truck. I thought they were hunters, but when I greeted them and saw no guns they told me they were searching for “balsam balls” (which I interpreted as “witches brooms”). I told them they were on private property, and cordially suggested that in the future they make use of a plat book to ascertain which properties were public and private. They indicated that they would continue searching, but wouldn’t disturb anything near the driveway, and they headed into the woods.

When I returned the next day I was shocked by the devastation they had wrought on the property. About a dozen balsam trees - all within a few yards of the driveway - had been stripped of branches. After a moment’s reflection I realized that they had been hunting “balsam boughs” for the holiday decoration trade.

Perhaps more disappointing than the theft itself was the technique they had used:

This wasn’t a matter of pruning a few branches from each tree; rather, the trunks had been stripped bare to the height reachable by a grown man wielding a lopper. Each of these trees is now essentially standing deadwood. And this from two young men whose heritage should reflect a deep respect for the natural environment.

The Minnesota DNR reported in 2004 that approximately 4000 tons of balsam boughs are harvested annually from our forests, each ton yielding roughly 400 wreaths; the state’s balsam bough industry had annual retail sales in 2004 topping $20 million. The vast majority of this trade is managed well, with bough-collecting permits obtained at state, tribal or county offices, depending on where the worker plans to gather material. As my experience shows, there are at least a few “rogue” workers who respect neither private property rights nor the environment.

Update 2009:  Originally posted in December 2007.  I've subsequently barricaded the driveway of my lot, but on other private lots in the woods I've seen the "topping" of large balsams to create Christmas trees - sawing off the top 6-8 feet of a 20 foot tree.

Holiday greetings from TYWKIWDBI

It's a bit late to wish readers here a Merry Christmas, but I do want to offer season's greetings to everyone.

I also need to append a brief, probably unnecessary, cautionary note.  Instead of blogging this coming week, I'm going to take some time to try to revise the master template for the blog.  I've wanted for a long time to widen the central column so that it's not always necessary to click the images to appreciate them.  Kevin has done this successfully at Nothing to do with Arbroath, so I'm encouraged by his results, and I've been assured by various people that "nothing can go wrong" and that the process will not jeopardize the content already posted.   If I did lose all 7,500 old posts, I think I would probably hang up my blogging hat for good.

At the very least, the blog may "look funny" for a while, because I will surely lose the logo photo and I'll probably tweak the color scheme and such to see what is most visually appealing and most readable.

Fingers crossed...

23 December 2010

King William's College "Christmas Quiz" 2010

For over a century, students at King William's College on the Isle of Man have been given a quiz (formally the "General Knowledge Paper") just before the Christmas holidays:
Up until 1999, pupils at King William's College would sit the paper unseen on the last day of term before the Christmas holidays. The questions are very hard and often cryptic, and pupils got hardly any questions right first time: five percent was considered a good score! During the Christmas holidays, pupils tried to find the answers to the harder questions by consulting reference books or asking clever relatives. When they returned to school in the New Year, they took the test again, under exam conditions and without the aid of notes.
The quiz is now voluntary for the students, but has spread worldwide via publication in The Guardian.  It is, as noted above, inhumanly difficult, requiring impossible amounts of knowledge of trivia and/or extraordinary computer search skills -
A Latin phrase is always printed at the top of the quiz: “Scire ubi aliquid invenire possis
ea demum maxima pars eruditionis est”.  Freely translated, this means "the greatest part of knowledge is knowing where to find something."
The best way to approach the quiz is as part of a group, many of which will form on the internet in the weeks ahead.

I'm not going to reproduce the entire quiz here.  Those who want to tackle the project can download the quiz from the King William's College website, or view the questions where they were printed in The Guardian this morning.

To give everyone a taste of the quiz, here is the sixth set of 10 questions:

1 What was updated by HG Wells?
2 What might be perceived as an apiary?
3 Which island is doubly recognised on 198?
4 Who left great designs in the Gulf and New South Wales?
5 Who, aided by wizardry, cuckolded his rival by impersonating him?
6 Who, being the son of Suzanne, changed his name through the benevolence of her friend Miguel?
7 What did hateful and rough weeds lose apart from beauty?
8 What was the native city of a unique pontiff?
9 What can be used instead of mahogany?
10 Who recruited Hare for Dad's Army?

Each set of ten questions has a "theme."  I"ll give you a hint that for this sixth set above, the theme is that every answer begins with the same pair of letters.  Partial answer in the Comments.

Update:  ALL the answers are now in the Comments.  Hat tips to BJN, Lene Taylor, and Greg.

If you really thrive on intellectual challenges like this, the King William's College website posts the quizzes and the answers for the past three years.

22 December 2010

How Oregon may be setting a new paradigm for collegiate football

Excerpts from an interesting article in the New York Times.
[Head coach Chip] Kelly has transformed football into an aerobic sport. This style is particularly of the moment because it is apparent that football, at least in the short term, will become less violent. Kelly’s teams have found a new way to intimidate, one that does not involve high-speed collisions and head injuries...

His teams usually gather steam as the game progresses and draw their confidence from knowing that the other team will wear down. Oregon’s second-to-last touchdown in what would become a 53-16 rout of Washington came on the fifth play of a 1 minute 8 second drive — meaning they ran plays off about every 13 seconds. (That included the time it took to run the plays.) Its final touchdown, a 30-yard sprint to the end zone by a reserve running back, came on the last of nine consecutive rushing plays. It commenced five seconds after the completion of the previous play...

In Kelly’s offense, the point of a play sometimes seems to be just to get it over with, line up and run another... “Obviously, all of our plays are designed to gain yards,” Gary Campbell, Oregon’s running-backs coach, explained. “But our guys understand the cumulative effect of running them really fast.”

College-football offenses have become more wide open in recent years, but the highest-scoring attacks tend to rely mainly on the forward pass. They are aerial circuses, like Texas Tech under former Coach Mike Leach, whose celebrated spread offense from 2000 to 2009 was so pass-first that his quarterback, in 2003, averaged about 60 pass attempts and 486 passing yards per game. By contrast, Oregon was leading the nation in scoring through 10 games this season with an attack almost evenly split between passing and rushing attempts. The run plays — because receivers are not spread all over the field at the end of a play — allow the Ducks to scramble back to the line of scrimmage and quickly snap the ball again. And Oregon sequences its plays and formations in such a way that it can push the tempo even after pass attempts. The running-backs coach, Gary Campbell, told me that if a receiver on the right side of a formation is sent on a crossing pattern to the other side of the field, Oregon coaches have already planned a formation for the next play that keeps him on the side of the field where he finished...

“What Oregon’s doing will take the evolution of football to a whole different level,” Brian Baldinger, a former player for several pro teams and now an analyst with the N.F.L. Network, told me. “Nobody in the whole history of football can snap off plays as quickly as this team does. Other teams can’t condition for it. It’s a great equalizer. If you’ve got a 350-pound guy, I don’t care how good he is, you’ve got to get him off the field. He can’t keep up...

The first challenge of Kelly’s offense, Bellotti told me, was to put in a communications system... When Oregon is on offense, coaches on the sideline give hand signals. The backup quarterback flips a series of cardboard signs, each of them with four pictures or words on them. Some of the pictures include a tiger, a jack-o’-lantern, a jet taking off and a shamrock... Coaches on the other sideline may be able to decode the signals. But the signs change weekly, and with Oregon running plays so quickly, they would have just seconds to communicate what’s coming to their players...

What Oregon’s innovative offense is really about is conditioning, repetitions in practice, precision and, most of all, agreement on the core mission — to go fast. Any team with a nimble, quick-thinking quarterback and an assortment of quick skill players could do it. And Baldinger believes many will. “It’s going to be copied, from high schools up through major colleges and all the way up to the N.F.L.,” he said. “If they manage to win the national championship, you’re really going to see a lot of it.”
Mark your calendar for January 10, when this Oregon team takes on Auburn for the national title.

The image (Egyptian Ka statue of Horawibra), found at The Ancient World, is obviously unrelated, but this time of the year, reminders of football seem to be everywhere.

Sir David Frost interviews Julian Assange

A truly professional interview by a senior journalist.  Several points I found of interest. 

1)  When asked if the U.S. was the "leading target" for WikiLeaks, Assange said not really, that the idea was to target the most closed and corrupt governments, which is not the U.S. - but that in practice as the dominant empire in the world with connections to all other governments it becomes de facto an important source of information.  And as the largest security state in the world (security budget = total budget rest of world combined), it generates lots of secrets, and because it is now conducting two unpopular wars, that generates lots of dissenters who choose to leak secrets.

2)  He notes that WikiLeaks is source-driven and dependent on material submitted to it.  When asked re China he said they are now getting material from China.  None from N. Korea yet, for obvious reasons, but they are getting material about N. Korea.

3)  Beginning at about the 17:30 mark, he comments about the situation in Sweden, especially re Sweden/U.S. government relations and how that may be affecting his prosecution and possible extradition.  WikiLeaks leaked revelations re U.S. and Sweden sharing information, a behavior that may have been contrary to the Swedish constitution.

WikiLeaks Task Force acronym: W.T.F.

Officially, the panel is called the WikiLeaks Task Force. But at CIA headquarters, it's mainly known by its all-too-apt acronym: W.T.F.  (source)

U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan

Now it’s true that when candidate Barack Obama vowed, “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” he was talking about Iraq. In July 2008 he suggested that he would send two more brigades — about 8000 troops — to Afghanistan. He has far exceeded that, and we can only wonder whether the voters who responded to his antiwar message anticipated that he would increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by almost as much as he reduced the number in Iraq.
Text and image from the Cato Institute (Wikipedia profile), via The Daily Dish.

State and city government budget woes and municipal bond risks

Excerpts from a column at the 60 Minutes page of CBS News:
By now, just about everyone in the country is aware of the federal deficit problem, but you should know that there is another financial crisis looming involving state and local governments...

The states have been getting by on billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, but the day of reckoning is at hand. The debt crisis is already making Wall Street nervous, and some believe that it could derail the recovery, cost a million public employees their jobs and require another big bailout package that no one in Washington wants to talk about...

California, which faces a $19 billion budget deficit next year, has a credit rating approaching junk status... Arizona is so desperate it sold off the state capitol, Supreme Court building and legislative chambers to a group of investors and now leases the buildings from their new owner...

And nowhere has the reckoning been as bad as it is in Illinois, a state that spends twice much as it collects in taxes and is unable to pay its bills... "It's fair to say that there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people waiting to be paid by the state," Hynes said.  Asked how these people are getting by considering they're not getting paid by the state, Hynes said, "Well, that's the tragedy. People borrow money. They borrow in order to get by until the state pays them. They're subsidizing the state...

Not all of the problems that Illinois and other states are facing right now can be traced to the recession. But the precipitous drop in tax revenues did expose decades of financial irresponsibility, reckless spending, unrealistic benefit packages for public employees, and the use of political gimmicks to cover up hidden deficits. It's forcing state governors and the public to confront some harsh realities...

Long term, the situation is much, much worse.

"Okay. Let's talk about the pension obligations. Forty-six billion unfunded liability for pensions? Sixty-six billion unfunded for healthcare liability?" ... I think the general public thinks, 'I can't believe anybody gets a pension anymore. I've got a 401(k). It got killed in the stock market. I don't know what I'm gonna do for my retirement. I can't believe people get a pension anymore.'

Governors of cash-strapped states are beginning to cajole or bully public employee unions into making concessions on what are considered to be gold-plated retirement and health care packages, which are now collectively underfunded to the tune of $1 trillion...

"There's not a doubt in my mind that you will see a spate of municipal bond defaults," Whitney predicted.

Asked how many is a "spate," Whitney said, "You could see 50 sizeable defaults. Fifty to 100 sizeable defaults. More. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of defaults."

No one is talking about it now, but the big test will come this spring. That's when $160 billion in federal stimulus money, that has helped states and local governments limp through the great recession, will run out.

The states are going to need some more cash and will almost certainly ask for another bailout. Only this time there are no guarantees that Washington will ride to the rescue.
The full report is at the link, which I would consider interesting reading for any of you who have investments in municipal bonds or related bond funds - especially if those bond funds specialize in single-state obligations.

n.b. - the Whitney cited in this post is Meredith Whitney, a banking analyst who contributes to CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg News.  Here is her Wikipedia biographic sketch.  She is also cited (though perhaps not the source of the data) in this Yahoo Finance column about 16 U.S. cities that could face bankruptcy this year.

Perhaps relevant is a Business Insider column which counters Whitney's claims by noting that the servicing of municipal debt is just a small part of a state's budget, so default on such obligations would not be logical -
“The tax- supported debt of an average state is equal to just 3 percent - 4 percent of personal income, and local debt roughly 3 percent - 5 percent of property value. Debt service is generally less than 10 percent of a state or local government’s budget, and in many cases much less.”
Addendum: Another relevant article on the subject is this one at Slate.

21 December 2010

Monarchs filmed at their Mexican winter refuge

An excerpt from the National Geographic series "Great Migrations."

Nonsuicidal man saved from not committing suicide

The story comes from the Mail Online, so perhaps needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but pending any corrections or retractions, here's how the story stands now:
Mark Moody was talking on his mobile phone and enjoying a smoke on the ledge when two policemen asked if he was trying to kill himself, even though he was just 12ft from the ground...

An indignant Mr Moody refused to let the police into his flat but they apparently forced their way in anyway and allegedly dragged him out of the window sill and threw him on his front before handcuffing him.

The trial lawyer from New York was then taken to a psychiatric hospital, where medics immediately realised the error and apologised...

Mr Moody had been smoking away on the window of his Peck Slip home on a warm August day when he caught the attention of the two policemen.

One allegedly asked: 'Are you about to commit suicide?'

Mr Moody replied sarcastically: 'If I was going to commit suicide, this would be a pretty dumb place to. If I jumped from here, I'd just sprain my ankle.'

He explained that he did not want to get smoke in the apartment...
More at the link, via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

Jasper Morello and the Lost Airship

This 26-minute Australian animated short film is one of four parts of The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, nominated for an Academy Award in 2006. 
The short films are set in a world styled after mid-Victorian England with Steampunk style, iron dirigibles and steam powered computers, where giant mechanical airships are the main mode of transport. The characters are animated in the style of Wayang (Indonesian shadow puppets) best described as silhouettes.
I haven't had time to watch it yet; just storing it here for future viewing.

Congressional seat changes based on new 2010 census results

More data and analysis will undoubtedly be forthcoming in the weeks ahead, but the map above shows the expected changes in seats in the House of Representatives.  Looks like gains for the historically "red" states and losses by the "blue" ones.  Source.

Julia butterfly

Perched on the tendril of a Passiflora plant, the egg of the Julia heliconian butterfly may be safe from hungry ants. This species lays its eggs almost exclusively on this plant's twisted vines.
And here's the butterfly:
Upper photo credit Martin Oeggerli, National Geographic.  Lower photo credit me.

They shoot pets, don't they?

From an article at Audubon Magazine about the increasing popularity of "canned hunts."
In most canned hunts tame or semi-tame game species, reared in captivity, are placed in enclosures of varying sizes, and the gate is opened for the client, who has been issued a guarantee of success. Canned hunts are great for folks on tight schedules or who lack energy or outdoor skills. Microchip transponder implants for game not immediately visible are available for the proprietor whose clients are on really tight schedules. And because trophies are plied with drugs, minerals, vitamins, specially processed feeds, and sometimes growth hormones, they are way bigger than anything available in the wild. Often the animals have names, and you pay in advance for the one you’d like to kill, selecting your trophy from a photo or directly from its cage. For example, Rachel, Bathsheba, Paul, John, and Matthew were pet African lions that would stroll over and lick their keepers’ hands before they were shot in Texas...

There have been major changes in canned hunts since I last wrote about them 19 years ago. For one thing, they’re vastly more popular... One of the club’s most prominent members is rock star Ted Nugent, who runs his own canned-hunt operation in Jackson, Michigan. Five of Nugent’s kills have made it into the club record book, including a feral boar he shot during a canned hunt in Texas and a bison he shot on, of all places, Alaska’s Kodiak Island, where they’re being raised to be crossed with cattle for “beefalo.” “Lunatic fringe” is how Nugent describes people who think canned hunts “degrade the heritage of American hunting.”

Another big change in canned hunting since 1992 has been the composition of its critics, which now include more fair-chase hunters. Because the general public has scant understanding of canned hunting, it frequently doesn’t differentiate it from real hunting. “If we don’t protect our image, we may not have a heritage,” says the Colorado Wildlife Federation’s treasurer and board member, Kent Ingram, a leader in the recent well-fought but failed battle to ban canned hunts in the state.

He reports that he was informed by a Denver taxidermist that half the elk coming in to be mounted had tattooed lips, which identify captives. Ingram also said he had reliable information that one canned-hunt customer had flown into Colorado and paid $40,000 to kill a Minnesota-raised bull that had been trucked in for the one-day shoot...

Not all product is shot. What’s considered “best” for canned-hunt production is sold to other breeders. Russell Bellar of Peru, Indiana, paid $100,000 for Xfactor, a yearling whitetail with a freakishly large rack. Some bucks are plied with antler-growing concoctions and as they age are kept on life support with meds and surgeries. Their function is to produce semen for other breeders who buy it for as much as $28,000 per standard unit, or “straw.” A prime buck might produce 500 straws a year. And there’s additional income from photographers who sell phony wildlife images to outdoor magazines and calendar publishers. Old, decrepit males with waning semen and antler potential are sold to canned-hunt operations as shooters...

Finally, there’s the disease issue. Game farms and the canned-hunting operations they supply are spreading bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, chronic wasting disease (the wildlife version of mad cow), and brain worm (carried by white-tailed deer and fatal to ungulates that didn’t evolve with it, such as moose, elk, caribou, and pronghorn). So far the worst epidemics have been in Canada, but they apparently were touched off by animals imported from the United States...

So terse and tight is the prose of Montana’s fair-chase hunters that they were able to pack everything I’ve been trying to say in this column into a single sentence. Maybe you’ll read that sentence this month on one of their trucks, if you venture into Montana’s wild, beautiful deer and elk country, because MADCOW adopted it for a slogan during its ballot-initiative campaign. It goes like this: “Real Hunters Don’t Shoot Pets.”
More at the link, via The Daily Dish.

Leonardo da Vinci's bicycle

The photo above depicts a modern model based on the drawing (inset below left), in Milan's Codex Atlanticus, which contains the drawings of da Vinci.
[Augusto Marioni] published his discovery in 1974 in a paper delivered precisely in Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo. Subsequently the bicycle of Leonardo run a brilliant career, it has been also modeled in life size for the Florentine exhibition in honor of the millennium traveling all over the world. Its only fault was the impossibility of being steered. Apparently this minor problem did not excite the master.

It was only in 1997 that Dr. Hans-Erhard Lessing pointed out in a detailed study that the design was a forgery, and a quite recent one at that, drawn into the codex (!) after its restoration in the 60s, more precisely between 1967 and 1974. No trace of it can be seen on the photos made before and during the restoration, only some circles and lines appear through from the other side of the page, and these were complemented into a bike by the forger.
There's more on this subject at Poemas del rio Wang.

Muslim students find acceptance at Catholic colleges

Excerpts from an article in the Washington Post:
In the past few years, enrollment of Muslim students such as Shabnan has spiked at Catholic campuses across the country. Last year, Catholic colleges had an even higher percentage of Muslim students than the average four-year institution in the United States, according to the Higher Education Research Institute. The influx has astonished and sometimes befuddled administrators. Some Catholic campuses are creating prayer rooms for new Muslim students and hiring Islamic chaplains to minister to them. Others are unsure how to adapt...

Muslim students say they enroll at Catholic schools for many of the same reasons as their classmates: attractive campuses, appealing professors and academic programs that fit their interests. But there is also a spiritual attraction to the values that overlap the two faiths.

"Because it is an overtly religious place, it's not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority," said Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf. "They have the same values we do."

Georgetown University, whose Muslim student numbers have also been climbing, has a prayer room, student association and an entire center devoted to Muslim-Christian understanding, and the school hired a full-time Muslim chaplain in 1999. Catholic administrators at colleges that have added similar features say they haven't perceived the efforts as a challenge to their religious identity.

"We're not going to take down the cross or change our name. We're proud of who we are," said Marco Masini, associate vice president of student life at Benedictine University in Illinois. "Hospitality is a part of the Benedictine philosophy, so it's important we welcome individuals of all faiths."

Basiri said his Islamic faith has grown and matured in the past four years while studying in buildings named after Catholic leaders, in classrooms adorned with crucifixes, and with classmates often named after saints.

"The face of my prophet and my God has changed," he said. "It is even more beautiful now."
More at the link.
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