22 December 2011

It's been a long journey...

Several weeks ago, after enjoying some takeout Chinese food, I found the message above inside a fortune cookie.  The aphorism (attributed to Lao Tsu in the 6th century B.C.) was particularly meaningful to me, because on December 22, 2007 I used that phrase as the introduction to my first post on TYWKIWDBI.

So today is our fourth blogiversary.  I find it particularly ironic that I started this blog as a way to save time ("Gee, instead of emailing stuff I find to my friends, I can just post it in a blog and they can read it whenever they want; that would save me a lot of time.")  Let this serve as a warning to those of you who are incipient bloggers - the process expands to fill all the time allotted to it and more.

Today I'm going to celebrate the occasion by taking time off - probably a week.  I have family activities to attend to, a deskful of end-of-the-year paperwork to organize, and some other hobbies that have been neglected.  And a DVD of Civilization IV Gold that has been staring at me...

Those who are dismayed at not having new TYWK-type material to peruse this week should take advantage of the right sidebar, where you can pick a category to consume, or better yet go to the archive and select a month before you discovered this blog, and work your way backward from there.  Some of the old links will have undergone linkrot, but most are still good, and the material is for the most part equivalent to what I've posted recently.

Additional questions from the 107th annual King Williams College General Knowledge Quiz

Last week I posted three sets of questions from this storied annual quiz.  Readers here solved about 3/4 of them.  Here are an additional four sets of questions of varying degrees of complexity -

1. In the year 1911
1. What disaster befell the Asch building ?
2. What was removed from the Salon Carré ?
3. Whose stencilled letters included A, B, C, D, O & L?
4. Where were the twin clocks started at George’s crowning moment ?
5. Who wrote of a multitalented peer and the Warden’s grand-daughter ?
6. Who explained how the squaws caused pallor in the Jesuit Preachers ?
7. Who shot to fame during a performance of the Tale of Tsar Sultan ?
8. Who took pole position ahead of British opposition ?
9. Who silently portrayed Marguerite Gauthier ?
10. Who agreed to receive £400 per annum ?

1. Who found a cut above in coping with melancholy ?
2. Which of Bolingbroke’s nephews was the celebrated patron of early exploration ?
3. Who wrote about a harpsichordist and a pioneer aviator and won gold in Stockholm ?
4. Who, by virtue of his marriage, was required to expel all Jews who failed to convert to ‘New Christians’ ?
5. Who allied his army with that of the deposed Sultan, but died in his attempt to conquer the Moorish infidels ?
6. Which theologian, although numerically misplaced, was an authority on both ophthalmology and gynaecology ?
7. Who had the captain of the Concepción decapitated, then drawn and quartered, for mutiny at Puerto San Julian ?
8. Whose support of Pedro in his tussle with his brother necessitated escape in a wine barrel ?
9. Who, as Queen dowager of one country, became regent in the country of her birth ?
10. Who disobeyed his Prime Minister and surrendered on 19 December ?

1. Who took on three regencies ?
2. Which consort outlived the King by 61 years ?
3. Who steered behind the umbrella on Lake Maggiore ?
4. Who received details of the School of Pain from her invalid cousin ?
5. Whose love for one was like the foliage in the woods, but for the other resembled the eternal rocks beneath ?
6. Whose love letter included the words “I wode you war wythe me now that you mouthe se wat pane I take yn wruteg to you” ?
7. What request received the response “what, in the midst of the street?” ?
8. Whose canine collection included items about clouds and sky ?
9. Whose dancing is likened to a jelly on a plate ?
10. Who recently excluded obedience ?

17. Which character rhymed:
1. tussle and muscle ?
2. knowledge, he and apology ?
3. Chamberlain and moral stain ?
4. kindred soul and sausage-roll ?
5. everybody earns and income-tax returns ?
6. wrote of Queen Anne and Sodor and Am ?
7. Parliamentary hive and or Conservative ?
8. been acuter and simple pewter ?
9. lots o’news and hypoteneuse ?
10. Horace and Morris ?

As always, discerning the underlying "theme" of each set will help solve the more difficult ones.  Feel free to offer answers and ideas in the Comments, but unlike last week and unlike last year, I'm not going to be curating the comments - I have family matters to attend to instead.

Those who really enjoy the challenge of this quiz can find the full set of 180 questions at the website of King Williams College, along with the questions - and answers - from the four previous years.  Or you can view them in today's Guardian.

p.s. - Fletcher, if you're reading this, set #3 is perfect for you and the readers of your blog. 
Photo:  stained glass window from KWC on the Isle of Man, credit Don McPhee, via The Guardian.

21 December 2011

The "talking dog" - YouTube's top video for 2011

I must have blogged this before, but can't find it.  In any case it's worth a repost.  Enjoy.

Via The Guardian, which has links to the other 9 top videos of the year.

Perfect camouflage

This is a lined leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus lineatus) from Madagascar.  It looks for all the world like a model of a gecko carved from wood.  That's the camouflage it has evolved to survive in a bamboo forest.  Very cool.

Photo credit: David d'O, via Electric Orchids.

Source of the bluestones

According to Wired Science, geologists in Great Britain have used petrographic techniques to establish with reasonable certainty the exact source of the bluestones used to construct the inner circle at Stonehenge.
They found the culprit on a 65-metre-long outcropping called Craig Rhos-y-Felin, near Pont Saeson in north Pembrokeshire. It lies approximately 160 miles from the Stonehenge site.

The question remains though, as to how neolithic people transported huge chunks of rock from Wales to Wiltshire, some 5,000 years ago. Some historians reckon that these stone age builders quarried the stones in Pembrokeshire and brought them over to England, while others argue that giant glacial shifts moved the stones, hundreds of thousands of years earlier.

Trailer for the upcoming Hobbit movie

Hammocks, barbecues, and vomiting-sticks

Smithsonian has an article on the history and legacy of the Taino (the inhabitants of Hispaniola who greeted Columbus on his arrival).
If you have ever paddled a canoe, napped in a hammock, savored a barbecue, smoked tobacco or tracked a hurricane across Cuba, you have paid tribute to the Taíno, the Indians who invented those words...
The object in the embedded photo?  That's a Taino vomiting stick carved from a manatee bone, and decorated with a bat.  They used it to "cleanse" themselves before partaking of hallucinogenic drugs.  Which I suppose makes it a fore-runner of the modern tongue blade.

Regarding the "fluidity" of window glass

It's not a fluid.  Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics debunks the myth that because glass is an amorphous solid, over a prolonged period of time it can behave as a slowly-moving fluid.
The observation that old panes of glass tend to be thicker at the bottom is usually used as evidence that glass flows over the centuries, but this assumes that the glass was flat to begin with. However, glassblowers at the time usually made panes by spinning molten glass to create a round, mostly even flat, which was then cut to fit. Although spinning made the glass mostly flat, the edges of the disc tended to be thinner. When installed, the glass was typically placed thicker side down for stability purposes. One researcher even calculated the time period necessary for glass to flow and deform at ordinary temperatures as 10^32 years—longer than the age of the universe. 
The most extensive discussion I've found of this subject is at this link.

Photo - 12th century window at Chateau de Beynac.  Credit Vincent van der Pas.

It takes a biting and keeps on writing

In the 1960s, television commercials for Timex watches featured John Cameron Swayze reporting that the watch "takes a licking and keeps on ticking."  The commercials showed the watch being subjected to a variety of abuses.

At the right is a worthy counterpart.  This felt-tip pen was removed via fiberoptic gastroscopy from the stomach of a 76-year-old woman.  It had been in her stomach for 25 years, but after removal it was still functional.  It makes one wonder whether she was achlorhydric, but the report at the British Medical Journal does not comment on the acidity of her stomach (CT scan at the link).  Via Neatorama

And for you young whippersnappers who don't remember the early years of television, here's a sample Timex commercial.  Notice that it's two minutes long.

How to prune a Christmas tree

An educational video about the tools and techniques for pruning some of the standard species of Christmas trees.  Appears to be an older video, but it's probably not out of date in terms of botanical information.

A hat tip to rip122 for the link.

20 December 2011

Why cookies and crackers have tiny holes

A column at The Atlantic provides a history of the Oreo cookie, which will mark its 100th anniversary this coming year.  Lots of info there re the design and history, including this interesting morsel:
The practice of punching holes in biscuits is known as "docking," and has been done by bakers for centuries in order to prevent uneven puffiness and promote flat crispness. According to British cookery writer Elizabeth David, a pre-mechanization docker was "a dangerous-looking utensil consisting of sharp heavy spikes driven into a bun-shaped piece of wood."
The etymology of the word docking appears to be unknown:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary... the origin of this word as it relates to biscuit-making is unknown. The first use of this term in print is dated 1840. In 1875 "The biscuit was then docked, that is, pierced with holes by an instrument adapted to the purpose...A stamping or docking frame..."
The image at the top is a painting of "An hexagonal ship's biscuit, painted with a picture of a warship within a lifebelt inscribed 'H.M.S. LANCASTER'," via the National Maritime Museum.  Beneath that is the modern custard cream.

Egypt's cultural history is burning

Egyptian protesters try to salvage valuable books and documents from the Egyptian Scientific Complex... 
Photo: Nasser Nasser / AP 

Egyptian book restoration officials classify burnt and damaged books which were saved from the research center... Photo: Amr Nabil / AP

Photos and excerpts from the AP story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
CAIRO (AP) — Volunteers in white lab coats, surgical gloves and masks stood on the back of a pickup truck Monday along the banks of the Nile River in Cairo, rummaging through stacks of rare 200-year-old manuscripts that were little more than charcoal debris. The volunteers, ranging from academic experts to appalled citizens, have spent the past two days trying to salvage what's left of some 192,000 books, journals and writings, casualties of Egypt's latest bout of violence.

Institute d'Egypte, a research center set up by Napoleon Bonaparte during France's invasion in the late 18th century, caught fire during clashes between protesters and Egypt's military over the weekend. It was home to a treasure trove of writings, most notably the handwritten 24-volume Description de l'Egypte, which began during the 1798-1801 French occupation.

The compilation, which includes 20 years of observations by more than 150 French scholars and scientists, was one of the most comprehensive descriptions of Egypt's monuments, its ancient civilization and contemporary life at the time.

The Description of Egypt is likely burned beyond repair. Its home, the two-story historic institute near Tahrir Square, is now in danger of collapsing after the roof caved in...
At a news conference Monday, a general from the country's ruling military council said an investigation was under way to find who set the building on fire. State television aired images of men in plainclothes burning the building and dancing around the fire Saturday afternoon. Protesters also took advantage of the fire, using the institute's grounds to hurl firebombs and rocks at soldiers atop surrounding buildings.
We know what will follow.  The protesters will blame the military, the military will blame the protesters, and the truth will never be known.  But we all know that incidents like this are often covers for rampant theft and looting.  Personally, I have no doubt that a lot of valuable books, maps, and manuscripts will be finding their way into private collections.

The discussion thread at Reddit raises a number of crucial points, including the extremely complex question of repatriating archaeological artifacts to their original locations, and digitizing historic material before the items are lost.

Israel's other demographic problem

The Palestinian situation gets all the international press coverage, but an article in The National Interest suggests that the demographics of the ultraorthodox population represents an equally troublesome "time bomb."
A recent report compiled by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics makes some projections looking out nearly fifty years, to 2059. The report separates out for the first time in any such official public reckoning the growth of the ultra-Orthodox population, which has a significantly higher birth rate than other Israeli Jews. The ultra-Orthodox currently make up about ten percent of Israeli society but by 2059 are projected to constitute over thirty percent.

The disproportionate growth of the Haredim, as the ultra-Orthodox are also called, has severe implications for Israeli society and the Israeli economy. About 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work for a living. They spend their time in religious study at yeshivas while they and their fast-growing families subsist on government stipends. This already constitutes a major burden on the remainder of Israelis and is a contributor to the economic discomfort that stimulated widespread demonstrations earlier this year... The ultra-Orthodox also are not subject to the same military service requirements as other Israeli Jews, constituting another area where the burden is all the greater on the others. Then there is the effect on social mores and freedoms. The growing influence of the ultra-Orthodox has already raised issues regarding the status and liberties of Israeli women. A further expansion of that influence will make Israel an ever more illiberal place.

Clearly these trends present Israel with a very serious challenge to its vitality and even to its survival as a society recognizable and acceptable to most of its current citizens. A major question is whether the privileges and influence of the Haredim can be curbed before they become so large a proportion of the population that curbing is no longer politically thinkable... When an ultra-Orthodox rabbi suggested last year that full-time, government-financed religious study should be reserved only for exceptionally promising scholars who are groomed to be rabbis or religious judges and that other ultra-Orthodox men should “go out and earn a living,” he was so vehemently denounced by his own political party, the ultra-Orthodox Shas, that he had to be assigned a bodyguard.
More at the link, via The Daily Dish.

Woman who saved benefits is convicted of fraud

A story from Plymouth, England -
A mentally-ill woman who saved some of her benefits as a nest-egg for her old age has been convicted of benefit fraud. Had Pauline Ford, 58, spent the money on anything at all, she would have committed no offence. But because she lived frugally and saved for a rainy day, while continuing to claim benefits, she has been hit with a double punishment. She has been forced to repay more than £28,000 and received a suspended prison sentence.

Jo Martin, prosecuting, told Plymouth Crown Court that prior to 2005, Ford received incapacity benefit and disabled living allowance, neither of which were means-tested, and housing and council tax benefits, which were. In 2005, she applied for housing and council tax benefits without declaring that she had saved around £15,000-£16,000 from her previous benefits. In 2008, she applied for income support – another means-tested benefit – but failed to declare that she had by now saved £21,000, which she had invested in a Nationwide fixed bond.

...claimants were entitled to hold savings of £3,000 to £16,000, but received lower benefits on a sliding scale.

Ali Rafati, for Ford, said his client had a learning disability and had been admitted to mental health units for up to three months at a time. He said: "Miss Ford became very worried about how she would cope in old age. "For many years she has been living on a shoestring in a rusty mobile home with her 15 year-old dog, saving money for her old age...

Mr Rafati added: "She has now paid back £6,000 more than she saved.
This story presents a variety of social, economic, and moral considerations to ponder.  I'll offer it without comment.  Some additional details at the Plymouth Herald, via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

Christmas tree 1955 - updated

As one comment at Shorpy indicated, this tree wasn't "scrawny" in 1955 - this was a standard configuration in the era before trees were groomed in the field by mechanical pruners. The current generation of trees are remarkably dense and attractive, but the ornaments tend to rest on the branches rather than hang from them.

(From December 2008.  Reposted because a tree that I transplanted into our woods 6-7 years ago is now this same size and has about this shape.  In semi-shady woods I think vertical growth is more advantageous than thickening for young trees that want to capture more of the available light.  I place a string of solar-powered Christmas lights on the tree "for the critters" (enough sunlight penetrates the woods in winter to power the setup, but the solar collector can't be stuck in the ground - it has to be a couple feet up to avoid being covered by snow).

Reposted again from 2011 to add the following: 

The predictable reasons for the changes are discussed at the Washington Post.

19 December 2011

Marilyn Monroe's remarkable body

Not what you're thinking.  And not the hips.   What was truly remarkable about her (and many of her contemporaries) was her small waist.

Herewith some excerpts from an essay at Bloomberg by Virginia Postrel, offering her observations following the public showing and auction of Debbie Reynolds' collection of Hollywood costumes and memorabilia.
Monroe was, in fact, teeny-tiny...

The auction’s top-ticket item was Monroe’s famous white halter dress from “The Seven Year Itch,” the one that billowed up as the subway passed... Monroe’s costume was displayed on a mannequin that had been carved down from a standard size 2 to accommodate the tiny waist. Even then, the zipper could not entirely close...

In fact, the average waist measurement of the four Monroe dresses was a mere 22 inches, according to Lisa Urban, the Hollywood consultant who dressed the mannequins and took measurements for me. Even Monroe’s bust was a modest 34 inches...

The other actresses’ costumes provided further context. “It’s like half a person,” marveled a visitor at the sight of Claudette Colbert’s gold-lame “Cleopatra” gown (waist 18 inches)...

At my request, Urban took waist measurements on garments worn by 16 different stars, from Mary Pickford in 1929 (20 inches) to Barbra Streisand in 1969 (24 inches). The thickest waist she found was Mae West’s 26 inches in “Myra Breckinridge,” when the actress was 77 years old...
And I always leave more at the link.

Addendum:  Postrel provided specific data in a post at Deep Glamour.

Quotes from Christopher Hitchens

Selected from a larger collection assembled at 22 Words.
  • The finest fury is the most controlled.
  • Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens.
  • I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.
  • Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.
  • The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.
  • We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
  • Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.
  • Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.

Real honey

Previous posts here have addressed the problems with the smuggling of tainted honey and the possibly ominous implications of ultrafiltered honey.  After writing that last post, we decided to see if a better honey could be found locally.

The embedded photos show our success in that regard.  It did not require a visit to Whole Foods.  A perusal of the shelves of a local supermarket (Woodmans in our case) yielded a locally-grown product with the proper credentials. 

The local beekeepers are clearly aware of the considerations we mentioned in the previous posts, because they have specifically indicated on the labels that the honey is not filtered except for gross particulates and is not watered down with high fructose corn syrup.

I'm not trying to promote this specific product, because obviously your success will depend on what's available in your area.  But I can say that our family has purchased its last "plastic bear."  Next summer when we go to the farmers' market for produce, we'll see what other local honeys might be available.

Addendum: A hat tip to Dora for this comment:
Rebuttal article by NPR titled "Relax Folks. It Really Is Honey After All."  Saying, basically, that the worries are unfounded, the ultrafiltration is to help keep honey from going solid, and that Chinese honey isn't dangerous, just much cheaper than that grown in the US. Worth a read. 
One sentence caught my eye:
Food Safety News is published by a lawyer who represents plaintiffs in lawsuits against food manufacturers and processors.
Re the rest, I recommend reading the NPR link - and the comments at that link.

18 December 2011

A sixteenth-century I.O.U.

Archaeology explains the use of a "tally stick."
Imagine going to the local store in Wittenberg, Germany, in the midsixteenth century and not having enough cash to pay for the pig you wanted to roast for dinner. You might have to borrow some money and, in order to record your debt, the person making the loan would use a tally stick like this one. The stick was notched in the presence of both the lender and the borrower and then split in two, so that each person retained half. According to Andreas Hille, the state archaeologist responsible for Wittenberg, the contours of the stick and the distinct split guaranteed that only these two particular halves could be fit back together—insurance against anyone trying to cheat by adding more notches. When the borrower was ready to repay his debt, the two halves were put back together. The stick was then thrown away or destroyed.

Coriolanus (2012) and 58 other trailers

Trailers for 59 movies due to be released next year have been posted in a thread at Reddit.  I didn't have time to look at many, but thought Coriolanus was worth an embed (it reminds me of Ian McKellen's 1995 portrayal of Richard III).

"The Woman in Black" might be good.  Please leave a note in the comments if you find other trailers you think are worth a peek.

Forgotten victims of the recession

From the StarTribune:
From the Twin Cities to Tower, the northeastern Minnesota community where four horses were found dead on a dilapidated farm in March, horses have fallen victim to changing economics and rural demographics. Hay and fuel prices are up, interest in 4-H activities is diminishing and the role of horses in plowing fields is virtually gone.

While horse neglect usually runs in cycles dependent on economics, said University of Minnesota veterinarian Dr. Krishona Martinson, this is the first period she can recall in which 300 to 400 Minnesota horses have been found malnourished for several years in a row...

"You can sell off beef, dairy or swine, but not horses," Martinson said, noting that the federal government stopped funding USDA inspectors for horse-slaughter facilities, essentially banning horsemeat from being processed in the United States since 2009. "The extreme drought in Texas has forced a spike in hay prices," Martinson said. "Unlike five years ago, there are more unwanted horses than ever. It's devastating."..

It costs up to $4,000 a year to maintain a horse, said Keith Streff, chief investigator for the Animal Humane Society. Streff, who investigated the Dokken and Hanson horse pens, says that for many economically challenged horse owners, caring for an elderly horse "is like being saddled with a 1,000-pound feral cat...
Additional grim details at the link.

Photo credit David Joles, StarTribune.

Cherry blossoms as a marker of climate change

Via Wired Science, a graph of long-term climate data:

In Japan, cherry blossom festivals are an ancient and wildly popular tradition, featuring days-long celebrations carefully timed to coincide with peak flowering. The festivals are so prominent in Japanese culture that their collective descriptions in diaries, literature and administrative records have been turned into a six-century-long record of blossoming dates and locations across the islands.

Because the trees blossom at certain temperatures, scientists can infer historical weather information, and ultimately climate trends, from these dates. Few other historical climate records contain such fine-grained detail.
The top row shows dates of full flowering, from the 11th century until now (lower number = closer to Jan 1).  Bottom graph is mean March temps derived from flowering dates.

"Element array, my dear Watson"

Those of you who have been reading this blog since last year know that one of the things I love about this season is the arrival of the King William's College "Christmas Quiz" (the "General Knowledge Paper").  At the link is the background about the quiz, which hasn't been posted at the school's website yet, or online at The Guardian, but was printed in the paper edition of The Guardian this week.

Here's the fifth set of ten questions.  I've given you a hint re the "theme" for this set.

5. What: 
1. Brings light?
2. Is named for its inactivity ?
3. Has a malodorous tetroxide ?
4. Has a particularly frustrating resistance to corrosion ?
5. Skärgård settlement has shared its name with four examples ?
6. Was named as the daughter of 4, but only shed its alternative name in 1949 ?
7. Was alleged by some to be a pun on its discoverer’s name ?
8. Sounds like some sort of hobgoblin ?
9. Was identified in Lochaber ?
10. Quite simply stinks ?

And here's one more set, which might be misleadingly introduced as "Alimentary, my dear Watson" -

6. What: 
1. Is a deadly oxymoron ?
2. Has insecticide properties ?
3. Could be a cheap form of confectionary ?
4. Grotesque body has achieved a girth of 64 inches ?
5. Two names, applied to a firelighter suggest muscle relaxation and recall kitchen negligence ?
6. Better known as one of Rainier’s features, is the most common source of what favourite hallucinogen ?
7. Sinister form of headgear probably accounted for a Holy Roman Emperor ?
8. Parasite is nominally associated with Iscariot ?
9. Precious stone is deceitful ?
10. Is also a lamellibranch ?

There are 16 more sets of ten questions - most of them much harder than these.  Have a go at these in the Comments if you wish.  I'll withhold the answers for now.

Addendum Dec 18 - Most of these have been solved (see Comments), so I'm adding the fourth set of questions (remember all are related by some common "theme"):

4. Which tale or tales: 
1. Is all about Hester's badge of shame ?
2. Investigates the murder of Robert Ablett ?
3. Describes Lamb's problems in the Banda Orientál ?
4. Relates the heroic story of the survivor from Charybdis ?
5. Describes the criminal activities of Alex, Dim, Georgie and Pete ?
6. Describes a prize fight between the gamekeeper and the coxswain at the Dripping Pan ?
7. Considers the murder of an expat philanderer in east Africa ?
8. Tells of how Dick and the outlaw dress up as friars ?
9. Are set in the moorlands above Tweedsmuir ?
10. Reveals the ghost of a don at All Saints ?

(For this last group, I could have said "A lemon tree, my dear Watson," but that is so tangential that it might mislead people.)

Final addendum - Congratulations to readers of this blog, who correctly answered about 75% of these questions over the past several days.  But now I have to make a change.  The Guardian will shortly be posting the complete quiz, and then thousands of people will be searching the web looking for clues.  It would spoil their fun to find this link with all the answers in the Comments.  So tonight I've deleted all the comments and have closed this post to further comments.  

17 December 2011

Andrew Sullivan endorses Ron Paul

Some excerpts from a longer essay full of cautions and caveats, by long-time conservative Andrew Sullivan:
What we are talking about here is who to support in a primary dominated by extremes, resentment, absence of ideas and Obama-hatred.

And I see in Paul none of the resentment that burns in Gingrich or the fakeness that defines Romney or the fascistic strains in Perry's buffoonery. He has yet to show the Obama-derangement of his peers, even though he differs with him. He has now gone through two primary elections without compromising an inch of his character or his philosophy... When he answers a question, you can see that he is genuinely listening to it and responding - rather than searching, Bachmann-like, for the one-liner to rouse the base. He is, in other words, a decent fellow, and that's an adjective I don't use lightly. We need more decency among Republicans.

And on some core issues, he is right. He is right that spending - especially on entitlements and defense - is way out of control. Unlike his peers, he had the balls to say so when Bush and Cheney were wrecking the country's finances, and rendering us close to helpless when the Great Recession came bearing down. Alas, he lacks the kind of skills at compromise, moderation and restraint that once defined conservatism...

What Paul understands - and it's why he has so much young support - is that the world has changed. Seeking global hegemony in a world of growing regional powers among developing nations is a fool's game, destined to provoke as much backlash as lash, and financially disastrous as every failed empire in history has shown.

We do not need tens of thousands of troops in Europe. We do not need to prevent China's rise, but to accommodate it as prudently as possible. We do need to get out of the Middle East to the maximum extent and return our relationship with Israel to one between individual nations, with different interests and common ideals, not some divine compact between two Zions. We do need a lighter, more focused, more lethal war against Jihadism - but this cannot ever again mean occupying countries we do not understand and cannot control. I suspect every other Republican would launch a war against Iran. Paul wouldn't. That alone makes a vote for him worthwhile...

Just as vitally, no other Republican (or Democrat) would end the war on drugs, one of the most counter-productive, authoritarian campaigns against individual liberty this country has known since Prohibition.

He could also begin to unwind the imperial presidency. We would no longer go to war without a full Congressional vote and approval. Torture would not return under Paul...

But Paul's libertarianism may be the next best thing available in the GOP. It would ensure real pressure to make real cuts in entitlements and defense; it would extricate America from the religious wars of the Middle East, where we do not belong. It would challenge the statist, liberal and progressive delusion that for every problem there is a solution, let alone a solution devised by government. As part of offering the world a decent, tolerant conservatism, these instincts are welcome. As an antidote - and a very strong one - to the fiscal recklessness and lawless belligerence of Bush-Cheney, it is hard to beat. The Tea Party, for all their flaws, are right about spending and the crony capitalism it foments. So is Paul.

I regard this primary campaign as the beginning of a process to save conservatism from itself.
More at the link.

Helicopters never hover in the movies

I don't mean "never" in the literal sense; I used the word in the title to emphasize my utter frustration with scenes like the one above that opens the movie "The Thing."

I watched the movie last night and enjoyed it, but in this scene I counted I think four passes by the helicopter pilot, who swoops down on the dog - and then zooms a quarter mile past it and has to make a wide loop to turn around.  Meanwhile the passenger fires off eleven shots with a rifle at a black dog on a white background without even grazing it.  Later in the scene there are several more "swoops" and more shots, and a "thermite grenade" misses by about a hundred yards.

I "know" why the pilot doesn't hover over the dog, of course.  Kill the dog, and there's no movie.  But it is so logically inconsistent that I want to scream at the scriptwriters.  I've seen the same helicopter misuse in an old James Bond movie and I think a handful of other action/adventure movies (you guys can probably remember specific ones).

This was an excellent movie, but c'mon... I can only suspend disbelief for so long.

Addendum:  It's also true in the opening scene of A View to a Kill.

"We found each other in the cosmos"

Carl Sagan was Jewish by birth, but a nonbeliever in practice, although he denied being a frank atheist:
"An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid."  In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, "I'm agnostic." 
Here is a very touching comment by his wife Ann Druyan:
When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me - it still sometimes happens - and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don't ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous - not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous and so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it's much more meaningful…

The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don't think I'll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.
Via a Reddit thread on the death of Christopher Hitchens.

Don't park near tall structures after an ice storm

Beneath a 1600' television tower in the aftermath of a 2007 ice storm in Oklahoma. 

Burma and world geopolitics

Most Americans never think of Burma (Myanmar).  When they do, it would typically be only in association with the travails of Aung San Suu Kyi.  But a short essay at the Oxford University Press calls Burma "America's Next Frontier."  Here's why:
Among the numerous bold moves President Sein has made since assuming his new role in the fragile nation, arguably the most shocking has been the discontinuation of the controversial $3.6 billion Myitsone dam, a project funded by eager Chinese investors to generate electricity for millions of Chinese. What’s more, the West, most notably the United States, has seen this move by President Sein as a clear sign that his country's relations with the Chinese are turning sour. This is one of the reasons the Americans recently sent Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the first American official to visit the country in fifty years, to speak with President Sein about a host of issues ranging from the severing of ties with North Korea to prolonged relief on economic sanctions girding the people of Burma. As America embarks on a new season of brinkmanship with the Burmese government, it is eminently important to understand the reasons why we are now so eager to embrace the new government while also studying the global implications of Burma turning a shoulder to their neighbors from the East, the Chinese.
As China expands its regional influence and develops a blue-water navy, Myanmar provides access to the Bay of Bengal and supplements other available port facilities for the Chinese in the Indian Ocean in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka – called a “string of [Chinese] pearls.” Although the southern reaches of Myanmar are at the extreme western end of the Straits of Malacca, the free use of these straits are critical strategic concerns to China, Japan, Korea, and the United States
More at the link and in the cited book.

"Bad Lip Reading" presents Newt Gingrich

Via The Pajama Pundit - an excellent political commentary blog.

The "ovarian lottery." Brooklyn, N.Y., 1947

I was one year old when this photo was taken, so that little kid in the window and I are contemporaries.  Our lives have been quite different.

Warren Buffett referred to that situation as the "ovarian lottery."  It's the single most important thing in your entire life.

Photo by Jack Lessinger, via First Time User.

A "cold air funnel" is different from a tornado

It is technically a tornado if/when it touches the ground, but it forms differently and has milder implications. You'll want to use the slider to skip through this video from Minnesota, which could have been edited, but at least the longer runtime shows how slowly cold air funnels evolve.  There are many similar videos on YouTube and a brief explanation at Wikipedia.

You can't afford this

And for reasons that have never been explained, Santa Claus only brings expensive gifts to rich people.

15 December 2011

"Two Little Men"

Orchids photographed by Ana Retamero Olmos.  A winning entry in the GDT- European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 competition.
These two little pink men arm in arm are actually the flower heads of the Mediterranean orchid Orchis italica. The English name "naked man orchid" describes the shapes of the blossoms very well indeed. After I took some photographs of the whole plant, I kept going into more and more detail until I finally found these two blossoms. I placed them in the centre and tried to arrange the surrounding flowers in a way that would make them appear like mythical creatures flying around the pair.
From the photographer's blogOther winning entries in the competition.

Just a two-headed albino snake

Each step in the little snake’s development has been watched by the world-wide media. Her birth on the weekend of Halloween, then all-important first meal (and subsequent digestion) during Thanksgiving week captured the imagination of the herpetological community worldwide.
Additional details and photos at the St. Augustine Politics Examiner.  Here's a video -

Novels with 'related' titles

In the past decade, 26 novels have been titled with a variant of "The X's Daughter."  Here's are some examples:

The Jailbird’s Daughter, by Irene Carr (2005)
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards (2005)
The Preacher’s Daughter, by Beverley Lewis (2005)
The Abortionist’s Daughter, by Elisabeth Hyde (2006)
The Alchemist’s Daughter, by Katherine McMahon (2006)
The Tailor’s Daughter, by Maggie Bennett (2006)
The Admiral’s Daughter, by Julian Stockwin (2007)
The Gravedigger’s Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates (2007)
The Officer’s Daughter, by Zina Rohan (2007)
The Pirate’s Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson (2007)
The Apothecary’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen (2008)
The Cabalist’s Daughter, by Yori Yanover (2008)
The Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent (2008)
The Bishop’s Daughter, by Tiffany Warren (2009)
The Calligrapher’s Daughter, by Eugenia Kim (2009)
The Frontiersman’s Daughter, by Laura Frantz (2009)
The Glass Painter’s Daughter, by Rachel Hore (2009)

The rest of the entries are listed at eu.than.asia, where the suggestion is offered that this trend was triggered by the success of Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter in 2001.

Half dachshund, half golden retriever

A Reddit thread discusses this dog with unusual mixed breeding and whether he is adopting this curious posture in order to relieve lower back pain.


I happened to hear part of Dick Cheney's interview in which he criticized the Obama administration for not attacking Iran in an effort to destroy the drone which we had been using to spy on them.

Rachel Maddow notes that only one of the current Republican presidential candidates doesn't want to start another war.  I will concede that she is a spokesperson for the liberal left, but I cannot see the logic or justification of launching a military attack inside another country's borders as these people suggest. 

Caviar for Midwestern locavores

Available from Lake Superior, as explained in the StarTribune:
The roe sacs of [lake herring] hold rosy orange eggs which, when salted, become the Swedish delicacy known as löjrom, or herring caviar. The delicately textured roe may be the most local and economical caviar you've never tasted.

During the late autumn herring spawn, Dockside Fish Market, on the shores of Lake Superior in Grand Marais, processes about 60,000 pounds of herring roe into caviar. Most of that caviar is enjoyed beyond U.S. borders, with the vast majority of it exported to Scandinavian countries, where löjrom has long been a favorite...

Although there was a sharp decline in Lake Superior's herring population in the early 1970s, which lasted through the mid-'80s, its herring population is now strong. The caviar will continue to be a sustainable indulgence because of limits on the state's commercial fisherman licenses for Lake Superior's North Shore, as well as quotas, including one on roe harvest.

Brink agrees that herring caviar has a definite brininess. Because of that salty flavor, the caviar makes an excellent topping for baked potatoes. In Sweden, the caviar is often paired with baked potato wedges.

Disdain for "the commercialization of Christmas"

From Real Life Adventures.

14 December 2011

Care to look over Isaac Newton's shoulder ?

One of the items in Cambridge University's digital library is a notebook that belonged to Isaac Newton when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College.
It includes many notes from his studies and, increasingly, his own explorations into mathematics, physics and metaphysics. It was judged 'Not fit to be printed' by Newton's executor and was presented to the Library by the fifth Earl of Portsmouth in 1872.
I clicked through about 50 of several hundred pages, and then selected samples of his notes in Greek, Latin and English to embed above.  I would be interested if anyone can tell me what he is diagramming on the page below [see Addendum]:

One of the marvelous things about the cyberworld we live in is that you can get up in the morning, sit down at your desk, and casually browse through Isaac Newton's personal notebook.

Addendum:  Hat tips to islenskr, Kniffler, and Talon Sensei for deciphering the diagram.  Here are their explanations:
It appears to be a tree diagram form of the Great Chain of Being.

The bottom split is Corporia vs Incorporia, leading to Corpus (material) and Spiritus (ethereal). I can't make out all the words on the second split, but the right hand side leads to Orbes Celestes. The left is "corrupted" something, i.e. terrestrial matter.

The next split is life from non-life, the right hand branches leads out to mineralia and simplex(?). Then plants split off, as insensitive life.

Then the top is animals, both Rational, (i.e. humans, male and female), and Irrational/Brute (everything else). The non-human animals are split into Aquatic, Volatile (flying), Reptilia, and Bestia. 
It is a diagram that classifies the universe into categories. Reading from the root upwards, you have Substance -> Corporeal -> Body or Non-Corporeal -> Spirit, then following the Corporeal line, the next branch is animate or inanimate. Inanimate terminates in Mineralia (minerals) and Elementum (elements). The animate branch continues to the next split of sensitive and insensitive. The insensitive ends in plants. The sensitive branch continues through animal and splits at rational and irrational. The irrational branch goes through beasts (brutu) and ends in beasts, fish and two others. The rational branch goes through Man (homo) and splits into male (masculine) and female (feminine).
I suppose this would fall in the category of the "metaphysics" part of his notebook.

Is Flattr a useful blog micropayment method ?

Most bloggers dream of generating some income from their work, but most of the mechanisms for doing so are either cumbersome or intrusive.  I once told myself that if I reached the point where Blogger (my host) charged me for storing the images, I would add a "tip jar" to the site to cover those expenses - but to date I've only used about half of my available image-storage space, so that justification hasn't arisen.  And I looked at Amazon's "affiliate" program, especially since I occasionally review books, but decided it probably wouldn't be worthwhile.

Recently, I've read about a new platform called Flattr.  Here's a summary from Huffington Post:
What it is: Flattr allows you to donate tiny amounts of money to a blogger, filmmaker, photographer or any other content creator without having to type in your credit card information each time. The service also enables users to give mobile micro-donations to things in the real world.

How it works: Once you sign up for Flattr, you must deposit a minimum of $3 each month into your Flattr account. Over the next month, you can "flattr" certain web pages (blog posts, videos, images, etc.) that use the service simply by clicking the page's Flattr widget. Each time you flattr something, your monthly budget is divvied up between the sites you've flattr'd. The more sites you flattr, the smaller each donation becomes. And if you don't flattr at all in a given month, your monthly budget is donated to charity. 
The Forbes magazine website offered these thoughts:
Launched in August and based in Malmo, Sweden, Flattr has 50,000 registered users. Sunde hopes to have a million by this time next year. A handful are making a steady income from it. Tim Pritlove, who blogs and podcasts from Berlin, Germany about technology and personal media, makes about 1,000 euros per month from Flattr, depending on his output. Pritlove is an outlier. Online technology magazine TechDirt had only 6 Flattrs on a recent popular post that had 250 comments and 47 tweets.
There's further discussion at The Economist and at Neatorama.  I've not noticed a lot of Flattr buttons at sites I usually visit, and I'm a bit put off by the company's 10%-off-the-top management fee (which theoretically might decline if they scale up the system) and apparently an annual registration fee to embed the button

This blog has lots of readers in Europe; do you guys make use of Flattr?  Is it really user-friendly and practical?  Unless I receive advice otherwise, I'm planning to give this a pass as well.

Denisovan genes as markers of migration

There's too much to cover here in a short post, but I'll sketch what I understand as the basics.  Denisovans were ?pre-humans/proto-humans of the genus Homo who died out as a species.  They were genetically distinct from us, but some of their genes are present in modern humans.  The distribution of those genes today is not random, as shown by the figure above.
“We haven’t been a very exclusive species, with a very narrow origin,” said Martin Jacobsson. Interbreeding with other members of the human family tree “is not a unique event. It’s a more complex story than we thought before.”

In a study published Oct. 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jacobsson and co-author Pontus Skoglund searched through 1,500 human genome scans from around the world for genes found in Denisovans but not chimpanzees or Neanderthals.

While the previous finding of Denisovan inheritance involved analysis of ultra-high-resolution human genome scans, of which only a few exist, Jacobsson used low-resolution scans. These are more commonly available and allowed the researchers to detect Denisovan signals in genomes from mainland southeast Asia. A signal also appeared in South America, but Jacobsson said that’s probably a false positive.
I'm interested in the South American hits because of my belief in early colonization of the Americas from Oceania.  I believe there's good evidence that the chickens in Chile and Peru came from Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.

Further information at Ars Technica, via Right-reading.

Sports figures wax eloquent

"We're optimistic that this injury will not preclude Patrick from missing a large amount of time."
    — Warriors GM Chris Mullin on an injury to draft pick Patrick O'Bryant 

"I'm going to turn this team around 360 degrees!"
    — Jason Kidd

"He fuels the fire that he brings to the table, and as players we all respect that and feed off it."
    — Quarterback Jake Plummer about his coach, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/25/02

"It was definitely motivation. I have to put my head back to the grindstone and keep grinding."
    — Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper on being benched, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21/02

Additional examples at rightreading's Away with Words

Addendum:  A hat tip to Elly for this additional example -

Juan Rincon (Twins pitcher), after giving up four runs in a third of an inning in Minnesota's 6--5 loss to the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Division Series: "Nobody wants to be in my pants right now."

Honoring Clara Darden, fiber artist

Last summer Harvard Magazine featured a brief biography of a remarkable artist.
In American history, no class of person remains more obscure than indigenous women. Darden was most likely born in 1829 or 1830, and seems to have spent her entire life on the Chitimacha reservation at Charenton, in the isolated bayous west of New Orleans. She saw considerable change during her lifetime. Her people had adapted to the way of life of their neighbors, French-speaking Acadians (Cajuns), who had encroached on Indian land since their expulsion from Canada in the 1750s and ’60s. The Chitimacha labored in sugar plantations in the summer, kept market gardens, harvested swamp cypress timber, and wove baskets...

Darden was the sole surviving Chitimacha practitioner of the intricate double-weave technique producing a basket in two continuous layers of river cane, one inside the other... Darden and her students had woven no fewer than 72 baskets, which were shown to acclaim at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904...

The design of Darden’s baskets—red, black, and plain splints, plaited diagonally—is strikingly similar to the oldest known Cherokee basket, sent to Britain in 1725 and now in the British Museum. The Cherokee and the Chitimacha are among the heirs to the Mississippian urban cultures disrupted by diseases brought by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, so their basketry practices may have had a common origin...

Transmitted through practice, the designs were committed to each weaver’s memory... The pattern names, such as “Alligator Guts,” “Worm Tracks,” and “Blackbirds’ Eyes,” enhance the baskets’ association with the natural world of forest, swamp, and bayou.

Traces of river-cane baskets from as early as the third millennium b.c. have been excavated within 30 miles of Charenton. Rectangular, lidded river-cane baskets were discovered in the Spiro Mound in Oklahoma, a site used between a.d. 850 and 1450... All we can be sure of is that Darden and her students, followed now by her descendents—contemporary weavers Melissa, Scarlett, and John Paul Darden—have handed down these rich tokens of a sophisticated tradition of both thought and practice.
Shown above: Clara Darden circa 1900 (Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 2004.24.26766B.) and her "worm tracks" pattern. Further information (and photos of an additional dozen patterns) at Harvard Magazine.

(reposted from 2010 in response to a reader's recent comment)

How instant soup can burn toddlers

Most people are familiar with the incidents of spilled coffee burning the laps of automobile drivers.  An equivalent problem occurs when small children tip over containers of microwaved noodle soup.  NPR has the story:
These soups are dangerous because of the way the cups are designed. The cups are tall, lightweight, and have an unstable base that makes them tip over easily. At Garner's unit, the most common cases are small children, often toddlers, accidentally tipping the cup over on to themselves.
Noodle soup is strangely perfect for delivering a serious burn. The sticky noodles cling to the skin, which leads to deeper, more severe burns, according to a study published in 2007. The study showed that hospital stays for upper body noodle-soup burns are more than twice as long as scalds from hot liquids alone. Garner says that about one in five children he sees with the burns end up needing surgery, and these patients can face permanent scarring and limited mobility in their joints.
If you have such soups in your home, it's important to understand that the shape of the cup strongly influences the propensity of the container to tip over.  Further details at the link.

Face tracking in nightclubs

CNN Money has posted a series of articles about face tracking technology.  One innovative use is to determine which local bar offers you the best opportunity for hooking up:
Using facial detection sensors and software, a company called SceneTap is trying to help bar- and club-goers find the right late-night scene before they leave home.

The system relies on multiple Intel AIM Suite sensors set up in an establishment, which detect faces in the bar and make inferences about their gender and age. That demographic data is then compiled and posted to SceneTap's smartphone app in real time.

The company says its goal is to help the nightlife industry optimize business. It's not interested in recognizing people in clubs, and the company insists its software isn't set up to do that. It doesn't store images or track individuals...

"There's a decal right in the front entrance essentially giving consumers an opt-out choice... If you don't want to walk in, that's completely your choice."
Other articles in the series discuss face tracking as it applies to security and advertising, and the attendant privacy concerns - just click "back" and "next" at the source link.
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