31 May 2011

Chief Raoni cries

There were several reports this past week of environmental advocates being murdered in (I think) Brazil, and photos of greatly accelerated cutting of the rain forests because of the use of newer equipment.  Then I saw this -
"The chief Raoni cries when he learns that Brazilian president Dilma released the beginning of construction of the hydroelectric plant of Belo Monte, even after tens of thousands of letters and emails addressed to her and which were ignored as the more than 600 000 signatures. That is, the death sentence of the peoples of Great Bend of the Xingu river is enacted. Belo Monte will inundate at least 400,000 hectares of forest, an area bigger than the Panama Canal, thus expelling 40,000 indigenous and local populations and destroying habitat valuable for many species - all to produce electricity at a high social, economic and environmental cost, which could easily be generated with greater investments in energy efficiency."
Text and image from Etcetera, via Opiate of Them Asses and Reddit, which has a discussion thread on this rather complex subject.

"I'm proposing to make my school a prison"

A only-slightly-tongue-in-cheek suggestion by Nathan Bootz, superintendent of public schools in Ithaca, Michigan.
Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!
His full, open letter to the governor of Michigan is here.  Via Daily Kos.

Douglas as a lady's name

Lady Douglas (or alternatively, Douglass) Sheffield is most widely known as the mother of Robert Dudley, styled Earl of Warwick, the illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Some information from Wikipedia:
Douglas is a Scottish and English masculine given name which originated from the surname Douglas. Although today the name is almost exclusively given to boys, it was used as girls name in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the north of England... Linguistically, Douglas is derived from the Gaelic elements: dubh, meaning "dark, black"; and glas, meaning "stream" (also a derivative of glas, meaning "grey").
I suspect there will be some readers of this blog named Douglas who will be surprised to read that women used to be named Douglas (just as I was a bit startled to realize that a very famous politician's mother's first name was Stanley).

Female Egyptian protestors forced to have "virginity checks"

Via CNN and other sources today, the revolting news that a senior Egyptian general admits so-called "virginity checks" (presumably, forcible examination of the hymen) were performed on women arrested in at least one demonstration this spring. Previously, military authorities denied it. Now, an Egyptian general who asked not to be identified defends the practice—wait for it—as a protective measure for the women's own good...

The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn't later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities.
"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said. "None of them were (virgins)."
...and if you're not a virgin, it's not rape, anyway. But more to the point: these so-called "virginity checks" are nothing less than a form of rape.

And a personal observation? My god, but these women out at the protests in Egypt, knowing that these are the sort of barbaric risks they face, are strong, strong human beings.
Text source BoingBoing. Photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Igor, come

The source appears to be Caption Time! at the LA Times/Blog in 2009.  It's unclear what genius came up with that marvelous caption.


30 May 2011

Boo !!

Meet Bernie the kangaroo joey, who was resuscitated by wildlife rescuer, Lisa Milligan, after she found him abandoned and apparently lifeless by the side of the road in Melbourne, Australia.

Photo creditAlex Coppel/Newspix/Rex Features, via The Telegraph.

Vermont leads the way toward single-payer health care

Excerpts from an article in the Burlington Free Press:
Three second-year medical students wearing white jackets stood on the edge of a crowd of more than 200 people who had come to watch Gov. Peter Shumlin sign a law that puts Vermont on the road toward a consolidated health care system, publicly financed and covering all Vermont residents.

“We were really involved in trying to pass this bill,” Therese Ray said. “There is a lot of support among medical students across the country.”..

“We gather here today to sign into the law the first single-payer health care system in America,” Shumlin said. He acknowledged the work that remains to turn the intention set out in the bill into reality... Under the new law, the state won’t jump to a government-financed system soon. It’s likely to be five years before such a change could take place. Instead, the law sets in motion dozens of studies intended to inform decision-makers that include the Legislature and a new regulatory board to be formed later this year.

It’s all the yet-to-be answered questions and the powerful board the law establishes that worry Patricia McDonald, chairwoman of the Vermont Republican Party. She stood near the medical students, but without their enthusiasm for the occasion.

“I haven’t heard anything that would change my mind,” McDonald said following the 50 minutes of speeches that preceded the signing of the bill. “If anything, we are just as strong in our concern about the details.”

Seafood fraud

"Seafood fraud" is a "bait and switch" that's worth knowing about.  It's recently been discussed in the New York Times and at Huffington Post, but both are just citing reports from a nonprofit group called Oceana, which has an excellent pdf on the subject:

Here are some excerpts from Oceana's website.
Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, today launched its new campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. At the press briefing, Oceana and other experts explained how seafood fraud can come in many different forms – from mislabeling fish and falsifying documents to adding too much ice to packaging – and how it hurts our oceans, wallets and health...

The report found that while 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, only two percent is currently inspected and less than 0.001 percent specifically for fraud. In fact, recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available...
Seafood fraud can directly threaten human health. Swapping one fish species for another that may be riddled with contaminants, toxins or allergens can make people sick.
Seafood fraud creates a market for illegal fishing by making it easy to launder illegally caught seafood products through the U.S. market. This undermines conservation efforts to prevent overfishing and accidental capture of at-risk species and hurts honest fishermen.
Consumers obviously can't DNA-test their purchases, but one tip offered is to favor purchasing filets with head and scales in place, rather than fish which has been "processed", where the identity can be disguised at any point in the chain.

The pdf highlighted and linked above is excellent.  Start with that source if this topic interests you at all.  A hat tip to the "crazy cat lady" for the heads-up on this.

"Watch that first step..."

Hold on to your chair, then click photo - twice - to enlarge.

This is Solvayhütte (more photos here), and is discussed at Reddit, where note is made of the door that swings outward, which reminded me of the brief scene in (I think) Men in Black II, where a woman knocks on Tommy Lee Jones' door...

I don't like ice cream trucks

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of ice cream truck season.  When I say I dread their arrival, it may me sound like a curmudgeonly old man yelling "stay off my lawn" to neighborhood kids, but that's not the case.  What I don't like is that the trucks play only one (short) melody that repeats endlessly at a loud enough volume that it can be heard ~5 blocks away.  This means if I'm doing yard or garden chores, I have to listen to this melody several hundred times as the truck cruises - slowly - through the adjacent subdivision and ours.
Today, the most popular ice cream truck song in the country is a half-minute loop of “The Entertainer,” according to Mark Nichols of Nichols Electronics, the Minnesota company that makes most of the nation’s ice cream truck sound systems. His father started the firm in 1957 after inventing a transistorized replacement for the clockwork-style machine that used to be the norm.

“The technology has changed, but the songs have hardly changed at all in a century,” Nichols said. “They’re all old, all simple and all in the public domain. We go out of our way to avoid violating anybody’s copyright.”

Also echoing around American cul-de-sacs each summer, he said, are “Turkey in the Straw,” “Sailing, Sailing,” “Little Brown Jug” and “Camptown Races.”
This video captures the same song our local truck plays - "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin - which is a nice enough melody, but maddening enough under these circumstances to make me want to throw things at the truck.

Grumble, grumble...

U.S. postal service "near collapse"

Excerpts from a long article at Bloomberg Business Week:

The problems of the USPS are just as big. It relies on first-class mail to fund most of its operations, but first-class mail volume is steadily declining—in 2005 it fell below junk mail for the first time. This was a significant milestone. The USPS needs three pieces of junk mail to replace the profit of a vanished stamp-bearing letter.

During the real estate boom, a surge in junk mail papered over the unraveling of the postal service's longtime business plan. Banks flooded mailboxes with subprime mortgage offers and credit-card come-ons. Then came the recession. Total mail volume plunged 20 percent from 2006 to 2010. 

Since 2007 the USPS has been unable to cover its annual budget, 80 percent of which goes to salaries and benefits. In contrast, 43 percent of FedEx's budget and 61 percent of United Parcel Service's  pay go to employee-related expenses. Perhaps it's not surprising that the postal service's two primary rivals are more nimble. According to SJ Consulting Group, the USPS has more than a 15 percent share of the American express and ground-shipping market. FedEx has 32 percent, UPS 53 percent.

The USPS has stayed afloat by borrowing $12 billion from the U.S. Treasury. This year it will reach its statutory debt limit. After that, insolvency looms. 
More at the link.  Via Neatorama, where several salient points are made in the comment thread, particulary whether it should be run as a self-supporting business, or whether it is a service deserving of government support.  Your viewpoint may depend on your political leanings...

29 May 2011

How the "penny farthing" got its name

I never knew this until reading about it in an awesome post at Poemas del rio Wang about the history of early bicycles -
The Michaux bicycle, whose name in France was velocipède, while in the USA the eloquent boneshaker, was further improved in by Eugène Meyer in France and James Starley in Britain. As a result, by the 1870s they created the well-known velocipede which had wire-spoke tension wheels instead of wooden spokes, and pneumatic rubber tires instead of iron, and whose front wheel was much higher, for the sake of speed, than the rear ones, and so it is called “penny-farthing” in the literature on after the proportion of the contemporary British coins. Starley’s nephew, John Kemp Starley will be the one who in 1885 would create the prototype of a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven cycle with two similar-sized wheels, known as „safety bicycle”, thus reaching the height of the knowledge of the Knights of the Sun and the Moon – but this is already another story.
Much MUCH more at the link with lots and LOTS of interesting photos.  A must read for bicycle enthusiasts.

Accidental "fro"

A wordless national anthem

A trivia question for you: what national anthem has no official words?  Hint: they were deleted after someone's death in 1975.  Answer below the fold:

Sundial snail

This little critter has the interesting name Architectonica perspectiva.  The body is apparently striped to match the shell.  More info here.

Photo credit: Annelise Fleddum, University of Oslo.  Via animals, animals, animals.

Arctic reindeer can detect ultraviolet wavelengths

Excepts from an article posted at the BBC:
Arctic reindeer can see beyond the "visible" light spectrum into the ultra-violet region, according to new research by an international team. They say tests on reindeer showed that the animal does respond to UV stimuli, unlike humans.

The ability might enable them to pick out food and predators in the "UV-rich" Arctic atmosphere, and to retain visibility in low light...

Lichen, on which the animal feeds, would appear black to reindeer eyes, they say, because it absorbs UV light. The animal's traditional predator, wolves, would also appear darker against the snow, as their fur absorbs UV light. Urine in the snow would also be more discernable in UV vision, which might alert reindeer to the scent of predators or other reindeer...

Professor Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University London, who has explored the UV capabilities of bees, said the study showed what we call the "visible" spectrum did not apply to most of the animal kingdom. "It's further evidence that UV sensitivity across animals is the rule rather than the exception, and that humans and some other mammals are actually a minority in not having UV sensitivity," he said.
The research has been published in The Journal of Experimental Biology (which also has an article showing that cockroaches employ a "tripod" gait, keeping three legs in contact with the surface while moving.

Surviving the economic downturn

One of this week's cartoons at The New Yorker.

Ian Fleming first editions

Via Book Oasis.

And a question from a reader of this blog:
"I notice that to read the titles on the spines I have to tilt my head to the left, rather than to the right. All the books on my bookshelf require that I tilt my head to the right. Is this a standard difference between British and American books?"

Remember, the earth rotates, not the stars

This video, by bulletpeople, adjusts the time-lapse images to keep the stars fixed, thus showing the earth's rotation during the available darkness.

Via Neatorama.

Silkworm caterpillar

A tropical species, Arsenura batesii, photographed in Ecuador. 

Photo credit ggalice, via animals, animals, animals.

Marriage trends in the United States (1960-2010)

"I looked through the full 2010 The State of Our Unions report. This graph, showing the percent of those aged 15 or older who were married from 1960-2009, shows that marriage has become less common for both men and women, Blacks and Whites (based on U.S. Census Data).

Of course, this is in large part because people in the U.S. are getting married later; not only do we not really expect a 15-year-old to be married, we’d be rather horrified if they were. If we look only at adults aged 35-44, we do see a significant decrease in marriage between 1960 and 2009, but still, about 2/3 were married":

Found at Sociological Images, where there are also graphs regarding divorce and cohabitation.

A "glis" (primitive ice skate)

From the collections of the Memory of the Netherlands, this bone converted to an ice skate is dated to approximately 1100-1550 A.D. (via A London Salmagundi).

While looking for more information, I found this (at The Virtual Ice Skates Museum):
There is a written 'description of the most noble city of London', drawn up in Latin and published in 1180, which was translated by Stow, a London chronicler, into English in the 16th century. The account was written by a man named Fitzstephen, who, at that time, was secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Beckett, and reads as follows: "(...) when the great fenne or moore (which watereth the walles of the citie on the North side) is frozen, many young men play upon the yce, some striding as wide as they may, doe slide swiftly (...) some tye bones to their feete, and under their heeles, and shoving themselves by a little picked staffe, doe slide as swiftly as birde flyeth in the aire, or an arrow out of a crossbow. Sometime two runne together with poles, and hitting one the other, eyther one or both doe fall, not without hurt; some break their armes, some their legs, but youth desirous of glorie, in this sort exerciseth it selfe against time of warre (...)". From this description it appears that it is likely that in the 12th century ice skates with metal blades did not yet exist.

In the 19th century, when archaeology became a science, these bones were found at several places in Europe when making excavations. Generally they concern bones out of the legs of cattle like horses, cows and sheep. They were made suitable for gliding by flattening one side and drilling holes athwart for fastening them with laces. Further research has made clear that the use of bones as gliders under sledges and feet in northern Europe has been wide spread.
And this from a more recent era:
Though the enemy could iron their boots and thus walk on the slippery surface they had few chances against the defenders that moved around at great speed on their ice skates. The picture shows that regiments were drilled to move on frozen water, here on the River Merwede before the city of Dordrecht. 
And finally, the word "glis" for the skate is not to be confused with glis glis, which is an edible dormouse.

Snow frogs

I had heard of ice worms before, but not "snow frogs."  Frogs are capable of freezing solid, but for an ectothermic animal to be physically active on an ice field is still quite remarkable.  The story is at National Geographic.

28 May 2011

The sieve as a symbol of virginity

Quentin Metsys Elizabeth I The Sieve Portrait c. 1583

The rationale for the symbolism would not be intuitive to the modern viewer, and has nothing to do with the hymen.  Here's an explanation from Chris Skidmore's Death and the Virgin Queen:
In a series of pictures of Elizabeth, known as the "Sieve" portraits, painted between 1579 and 1583, Elizabeth is depicted holding a sieve, a symbol of her virginity.  This referred to the story of Tuccia, a Vestal Virgin at Rome, who when she was accused of breaking her vow of virginity, proved herself by filling a sieve from the waters of the River Tiber and carrying it back to the temple of Vesta without spilling a drop.
You learn something every day.  More re the book later.

Image via Document.No.

Tornado vs. car

Tornado wins.

Recently we posted something about the relative merits of staying in a vehicle during a tornado vs. leaving the car to crouch in a ditch.  The car would have airbags, but remember those deploy only once, so if the car is tumbled by the wind...

And this photo doesn't show the whole car:  "The engine was behind me."

Credit: RM at Facebook, via Paul Douglas' On Weather blog.

"Assume every moose is a serial killer"

The embedded image is tongue-iin-cheek, but the warning is real:
Caren della Cioppa remembers the thundering roar of hooves behind her, just before a cow moose slammed her to the ground as she cleared a trail on her Alaska property.

The massive animal – her newborn twin calves nowhere to be seen – pounced again, stomping on the fallen woman before tearing into the woods. Della Cioppa could barely breathe as she punched 911 on her cell phone.

State troopers had just arrived when the enraged moose stormed back, jumped over della Cioppa, and charged toward the two officers, who opened fire...

Jessy Coltrane, an Anchorage-area state wildlife biologist, said moose are not predators and charge only when they feel threatened or their personal space is trespassed. But that distance that can vary widely from moose to moose, Coltrane said.

"The best practice around moose is to go away around a moose. Assume every moose is a serial killer standing in the middle of the trail with a loaded gun," said Coltrane, urging people to treat them with more respect.
While researching this post, I discovered that Wikipedia has a list of fictional deer, moose and reindeer (see how many you can name before clicking the link).

There is only one political party in the U.S.

In a matter of just 3 years, we have gone from a Republican president invoking "national security" to criticize Democrat Senators for arguing against the "Patriot" Act, to a Democrat president invoking "national security" to criticize Republican Senators for arguing against the "Patriot" Act. 

Quote via Reddit.

"Michele Bachmann is the female candidate for people who find Sarah Palin too intellectual."

Quote by Bill Maher, via Daily Kos.  Here are excerpts from "Why Palin is good for Bachmann," from the Washington Post:
While Bachmann is often seen as Palin Lite, keen political observers note that she’s better on her feet, a sharper speaker and, when you drill down to it, has a more attractive profile.

Bachmann also has the luxury of building her own brand over the next few months. And because we know she can raise money and attract attention, that image will be presented for the American people to make a decision about her.

Basically: If Bachmann can come off as a more serious, more reasoned and smarter politician than Palin, she could help herself immensely in the actual presidential race, not the fantasy sweepstakes currently occuring among Republican candidates. And Palin’s bus tour gives Bachmann a chance to effectively draw that contrast.


And sad.

Not that long ago...

Things like this were happening when I was a child. 

Via Reddit, where note is made of how people were thinner then (and protest signs had proper spelling.  And better fonts...)

27 May 2011

Social unrest in Plaça Catalunya (Barcelona) today

This video link was emailed to me this morning from my cousin in Barcelona, who offers these comments:
Here is a video recorded in downtown Barcelona this morning, where a group of people have been protesting 24/7 for two weeks now. There is no context to the video so you can make of it what you want. One report said that the police were trying to open up a space to get their vehicle out of the square. What is not in doubt is the level of tension between the cops and the protesters. Deep down, the majority of both feel hatred towards one another. It's like our union workers and the owners of the private school where I work. Both sides are constantly focused on provoking the other so as to gain more support from the rest of us. Politicians and party reps are always doing the same. My take is that things are getting nastier here. Perhaps it's an extension of what's been happening elsewhere around the world.
This blog gets over a hundred visits a month from residents of Barcelona. Can anyone offer additional insight into the reasons for the demonstration?

26 May 2011

An interesting photo from NASA

I'll put the description below the fold to allow your imagination more leeway...

Man stalked by bear

One interesting comment at YouTube: "You go downhill because bears have a tough time going down hills. They can't distribute their weight fast enough so they go slowly. Never go up a hill because they have all that power in their hind legs, if you have to do exactly what this guy did."*

Although I bet this guy went downhill because that's where his camp (?car) was.

*Myth.  See comment by JDJarvis.

"I like church. I also like going to the cabin."

A protestant pastor in Minnesota has come up with an interesting solution to the problem of congregations vanishing on summer weekends.  He's moved the day of worship to Wednesday:
DULUTH, Minn. - For hundreds of years, people have gone to church services on Sundays. But at one church in Duluth this summer, Sunday will not be the day to congregate and celebrate the Lord.

Instead, that day will be Wednesday.

"You've got to do something bold and different once in a while," said the Rev. Peter Bagley, who has been the pastor at United Protestant Church for more than nine years.

It started with one member of the congregation who reportedly said, "I like church. I also like going to the cabin."

That sentiment, plus an annual decrease in summer church attendance, got others thinking — until they had a revelation.

"Our solution is to have our regular worship service at a time when our disciples can attend," Bagley said. "While some churches will add a Saturday night service, we have decided to take what may seem to be a very unusual step and move the whole service to another day and time."
He was able to find some Biblical justification for this:
According to Romans 14:5-6, he said, "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it."
Those of you who are "not from around here" may not appreciate the magnitude of the migration that occurs on summer weekends.  Hundreds of thousands of cars exit the cities and head up or out to the lake every weekend.  Kudos to this pastor for being innovative.

Story from the StarTribune.

"...those big red R's and L's on fence post and telephone pole..."

A curious passage from Sinclair Lewis' novel Free Air:
She rarely lost her way.  She was guided by the friendly trail signs -- those big red R's and L's on fence post and telephone pole, magically telling the way from the Mississippi to the Pacific. (p.69)
The story involves a young woman's drive from Minnesota to Seattle in 1919.  I'm puzzled by the reference in the text to those letters on fence posts (which aren't mentioned again and are not important to the plot, but piqued my curiosity).

At first I thought the reference was to geology survey markers, like the "brass cap" above that I photographed in the woods in northern Minnesota, but those markers are driven into the ground; sometimes signs are posted on trees noting the location of nearby markers, but they don't fit Lewis' description.

Then I thought perhaps the reference was to railroad signage, which could be mounted on nearby telephone poles, but he also mentions fence posts.  And how to these letters "tell the way" across the western states?

I'm at a loss.  There's some historical trivia here which may or may not still exist.  I'll throw this out for readers, to see if anyone has seen (or knows of) such signs.

Addendum - A hat tip to charles for suggesting the Lincoln Highway:
In 1914, Effie Gladding wrote Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway about her travel adventures on the road with her husband Thomas. Subsequently, Gladding wrote the foreword to the Lincoln Highway Association's first road guide, directing it to women motorists. Her 1914 book was the first full-size hardback book to discuss transcontinental travel, as well as the first to mention the Lincoln Highway:

We were now to traverse the Lincoln Highway and were to be guided by the red, white, and blue marks: sometimes painted on telephone poles; sometimes put up by way of advertisement over garage doors or swinging on hotel signboards; sometimes painted on little stakes, like croquet goals, scattered along over the great spaces of the desert. We learned to love the red, white, and blue, and the familiar big L which told us that we were on the right road.
That should take care of the "L." Still working on the "R", and I'll see if I can find some pix.

Found one.  From Nebraska, presumably restored, dated 1920:

Why is airline luggage being fed into a garbage truck ?

The answer is at Nothing To Do With Arbroath.  Passengers on the plane, including those filming this, must have been astonished to see this happening.

"The secret world of child brides"

Excerpts from a sometimes-difficult-to-read [I've inserted a jump break and continued the post "below the fold"] article at National Geographic:
Because the wedding was illegal and a secret, except to the invited guests, and because marriage rites in Rajasthan are often conducted late at night, it was well into the afternoon before the three girl brides in this dry farm settlement in the north of India began to prepare themselves for their sacred vows. They squatted side by side on the dirt, a crowd of village women holding sari cloth around them as a makeshift curtain, and poured soapy water from a metal pan over their heads. Two of the brides, the sisters Radha and Gora, were 15 and 13, old enough to understand what was happening. The third, their niece Rajani, was 5. She wore a pink T-shirt with a butterfly design on the shoulder. A grown-up helped her pull it off to bathe...

Patriot Act renewal inserted into "Small Business Bill"

Senator Rand Paul (R- KY) stunned everyone yesterday when he announced that he intended to filibuster the planned four year extension of the Patriot Act if the Congress did not agree to debate possible amendments.

The suggestion that the extension should be debated fueled considerable opposition, particularly from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – CA), who insisted it would be a “huge mistake” to debate the bill and might threaten national security.

Fortunately for Sen. Feinstein, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – NV) sprang into action, and found a way to prevent any such debate from taking place. Instead of passing the Patriot Act the Senate has now slipped the entire extension into a “small business bill” which cannot be filibustered.

The Patriot Act provisions are scheduled to expire at the end of the week, but are expected to be rubber stamped by Congress, barring any unforseen inconveniences, like a public debate of the controversial provisions.
From Antiwar.com, via Reddit.

Faraday waves generated by an alligator's scutes

I would advise locating your mute button before watching the video, in order to avoid the inane chatter that accompanies the interesting video.  Here's some better info:
Faraday waves, also known as Faraday ripples, named after Michael Faraday, are nonlinear standing waves that appear on liquids enclosed by a vibrating receptacle. When the vibration frequency exceeds a critical value, the flat hydrostatic surface becomes unstable...

If a layer of liquid is placed on top of a vertically oscillating piston, a pattern of standing waves appears which oscillates at half the driving frequency... The waves can take the form of stripes, close-packed hexagons, or even squares or quasiperiodic patterns. Faraday waves are commonly observed as fine stripes on the surface of wine in a wineglass that is ringing like a bell. Faraday waves also explain the 'fountain' phenomenon on a singing bowl.
And, as a bonus: "Alligators are the only non-avian species shown to have one-way breathing":
"...we show that air flows unidirectionally through parabronchi in the lungs of the American alligator, an amphibious ectotherm without air sacs, which suggests that this pattern dates back to the basal archosaurs of the Triassic and may have been present in their nondinosaur descendants (phytosaurs, aetosaurs, rauisuchians, crocodylomorphs, and pterosaurs) as well as in dinosaurs."
Two things I didn't know in one article; this is a good morning.

Via Wired Science, which has some explanation re the generation of the Faraday waves -
Three centimeters is also almost exactly one-third the distance between the rough protrusions, or scutes, on the creature’s back. “We think that the shape of their scutes helps them create these waves..."

Legally mononymous people

My post about Cher last week prompted Swift Loris to post a reminder comment that Cher is "mononymous."  So of course I had to look up to see who else might be considered mononymous.  There is a LONG list of one-word stage names at Wikipedia (most of them not from the U.S.), and a much shorter list of people who are legally mononymous, either by birth custom (Japanese and Indonesian royalty) or by court order:
  • Akihito (born 1933), Japanese emperor
  • Cher (born 1946 Cherilyn Sarkisian), American singer
  • Michiko (born 1934 Michiko Shōda), Japanese empress consort
  • Hirohito (born 1901), Japanese emperor
  • Prince (born 1958 Prince Rogers Nelson), American musician
  • Sukarno (born 1901), Indonesian president
  • Suharto (born 1921), Indonesian president
  • Teller (born 1948 Raymond Joseph Teller), American magician

Before and after a tornado

NPR has an interactive photo where you can drag a slider back and forth to compare the area around Joplin High School before and after the tornado.  It looks like nature took a giant Brillo pad and scrubbed the area with it.

The embeds above are obviously screencaps.  More impressive at the link.  Hat tip: DubyaD.

Air(borne) guitar

The top photo is self-explanatory.  I've appended the bottom one for contrast/comparison.  It's NOT tornado damage:
A Roma boy walked through rubbish behind houses in a settlement in Kosice, Slovakia, Wednesday.
Credit Petr Josek/Reuters, via the Wall Street Journal.

The legendary Cliff Young

Every year, Australia hosts an 875-kilometer endurance racing from Sydney to Melbourne -- considered to be the world’s longest and toughest ultra-marathon. It’s a long, tough race that takes five days and normally participated by world-class athletes who train specially for the event...

In 1983, these top class runners were in for a surprise. On the day of the race, a guy named Cliff Young showed up. At first, no one cared about him since everybody thought he was there to watch the event. After all, he was 61 years old, showed up in overalls and galoshes over his work boots...

“See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn’t afford horses or four wheel drives, and the whole time I was growing up... whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 head, and we have 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I’d catch them..."

When the marathon started, the pros left Cliff behind... The crowds smiled because he didn’t even run correctly. Instead of running, he appeared to run leisurely, shuffling like an amateur...

Apparently, Cliff did not stop after the first day. Although he was still far behind the world-class athletes, he kept on running. He even had the time to wave to spectators who watched the event by the highways.

When he got to a town called Albury he was asked about his tactics for the rest of the race. He said he would run through to the finish, and he did.

He kept running. Every night he got just a little bit closer to the leading pack. By the last night, he passed all of the world-class athletes. By the last day, he was way in front of them. Not only did he run the Melbourne to Sydney race at age 61, without dying; he won first place, breaking the race record by 9 hours and became a national hero!...
Further details at NewHeavenNewEarth.  There are also tribute pages at The Age and Ultra Legends.  Photo credit Sydney Morning Herald obituary notice ("Cliff is survived by his six brothers and sisters Anne, 85, Helen, 83, Margaret, 79, Barry 77, Eunice 75 and Sid 73.  "He is the first of us to go, but then he was always on the go," Mrs Simmonds said.")

Clash of cultures

Via Reddit, where there is a discussion thread.

Wildlife also suffers from tornadoes

At the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, avian nursery coordinator Jessika Madison helped feed the nine blue heron chicks that were orphaned by the Tornado that hit Minneapolis on Sunday. The chicks have to be fed live minnows every 30/45 minutes...
As many as 180 great blue herons were killed, injured or are missing after Sunday's tornado that struck north Minneapolis. The birds were nesting on an island in the Mississippi River near North Mississippi Regional Park. The island had been home to three dozen heron nests, each of which would likely have held three eggs or hatchlings and would have been tended by a pair of adult herons.

All of those nests were destroyed by the storm and only a few of the estimated 50 trees remain standing on the island. Adult herons were seen flying circles around the mangled island or sitting on broken trees.
Further details (and more photos) at the StarTribune.

Addendum:  Additional photos and commentary at Birdchick.com. (Hat tip to Heather).

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii [I'm impressed at the large head/beak on the small chick]

24 May 2011

Pygmy seahorse

Photo by Vickie Coker, via Wired Science.

Here's how to make liquid carbon dioxide at home

We get some dry ice to use every Halloween. I'm tempted...

Via Swans on Tea.

Some movie theaters misuse 3-D lenses on 2-D films

I'm not eager to see 3-D movies, but if I go to see a conventional 2-D movie, I sure don't want them projecting it through a 3-D lens.  Excerpts from a Boston.com article:
Why, then, do so many of the movies look so terrible? This particular night “Limitless,’’ “Win Win,’’ and “Source Code’’ all seemed strikingly dim and drained of colors. “Jane Eyre,’’ a film shot using candles and other available light, appeared to be playing in a crypt. A visit to the Regal Fenway two weeks later turned up similar issues: “Water for Elephants’’ and “Madea’s Big Happy Family’’ were playing in brightly lit 35mm prints and, across the hall, in drastically darker digital versions.

The uniting factor is a fleet of 4K digital projectors made by Sony — or, rather, the 3-D lenses that many theater managers have made a practice of leaving on the projectors when playing a 2-D film...

A description of the problem comes from one of several Boston-area projectionists who spoke anonymously due to concerns about his job. We’ll call him Deep Focus. He explains that for 3-D showings a special lens is installed in front of a Sony digital projector that rapidly alternates the two polarized images needed for the 3-D effect to work.

“When you’re running a 2-D film, that polarization device has to be taken out of the image path. If they’re not doing that, it’s crazy, because you’ve got a big polarizer that absorbs 50 percent of the light.’’

They’re not doing that, and there’s an easy way to tell. If you’re in a theater playing a digital print (the marquee at the ticket booth should have a “D’’ next to the film’s name), look back at the projection booth.

If you see two beams of light, one stacked on top of the other, that’s a Sony with the 3-D lens still in place. If there’s a single beam, it’s either a Sony with the 3-D lens removed or a different brand of digital projector, such as Christie or Barco.

The difference can be extreme. Chapin Cutler, a cofounder of the high-end specialty projection company Boston Light & Sound, estimates that a film projected through a Sony with the 3-D lens in place and other adjustments not made can be as much as 85 percent darker than a properly projected film...

So why aren’t theater personnel simply removing the 3-D lenses? The answer is that it takes time, it costs money, and it requires technical know-how above the level of the average multiplex employee...
Don't be afraid to walk out of a theater if this happens to you. And request your money back.

Via Miss Cellania's Miss C Recommends blog.

Addendum: Here is Roger Ebert's post on the subject, entitled "The Dying of the Light." (Hat tip to jaundicedi for spotting it).

Disposing of metallic sodium

I was reminded of this old video yesterday, and decided it was worth a separate post.  Some of you will remember, as I do, seeing this effect (on a milligram scale) in a high-school chemistry laboratory.

Vuvuzelas may enhance the spread of disease

As reported by the BBC's Health News:
A short burst on the instrument creates a spittle shower similar to a sneeze, travelling at a four million droplets a second, a PLoS One journal study shows...

Her team investigated the vuvuzela hazard using a laser device to measure how many droplets were produced by eight volunteers using the horns. On average, 658,000 lung particles, or aerosols, per litre of air were expelled from the instruments. The droplets shot into the air at the rate of four million per second.

In comparison, when the volunteers were asked to shout, they produced only 3,700 particles per litre at a rate of 7,000 per second.
The risk would apply only to diseases spread by droplet nuclei (the classic example being tuberculosis).

Tornado trend lines

Data from NOAA, via Paul Douglas' On Weather blog.

Rental car driving restriction

Contaminants can move UP a flowing stream of water

An interesting observation has been posted in MIT's Technology Review - that contaminants in water (or other liquids) can move against the dominant flow by using countercurrents, and can even traverse small waterfalls.  The discovery came through classic serendipity:
While pouring the hot water onto the [herb] leaves, Ernesto Althsuler and buddies at the University of Havana in Cuba, noticed a puzzling phenomenon. They found that, sometimes, the leaves would somehow travel upstream and end up contaminating the upstream container of pure water.

Being diligent physicists, they decided to investigate. They found that the leaves (and also chalk powder) were able to navigate upstream if the waterfall was less than about a centimetre in height. "For distances of the order of 1 cm or less, some of the floating particles eventually start to "climb up the stream"," they say.
Details at the link.  It has potential implications for "chemical, medical, pharmaceutical and industrial processes."

Via Swans on Tea.

Anyone with experience/advice re "oil extractor pumps" ?

This weekend I managed to change the oil in my lawnmower, and have been pondering trying to change the oil in our car, but I'm not eager to crawl underneath the vehicle to access the drain plug.

I've discovered that several companies make devices similar to the one shown - a vacuum pump that pulls the old oil up through the dipstick tube.  I browsed a couple automotive forums, where I saw comments pro and con.  The device apparently can't get out the last remnants of the old oil at the bottom of the system, but it seems to me that replacing 90% of the oil would be useful, and the old stuff would be diluted with the new and be replaced the next time.  But some commenters said there's a "sludge" and metallic grit that has to be drained downward by gravity.  Others noted that the oil filter still has to be changed via access under the car. 

Has anyone used something like this?  Is it worth the $50 expense?

23 May 2011

Greek bronze figure of a horse

From the Geometric Period, circa 8th century B.C.
...of Corinthian type, of stylized attenuated form standing on an openwork rectangular base, with crested mane, long forward-pointing ears, and cylindrical muzzle; height 5 3/4 in. 14.6 cm. Estimate 150,000—250,000 USD. Lot Sold 842,500 US. 
Photo: Sotheby's.  Found at Les cahiers d'Alain Truong, via The Ancient World.

(I have to admit the first couple times I viewed this photo, I saw a horse with it's neck extended and mouth wide open.  It wasn't until I read the description that I realized the nose/mouth is presented as a cylinder and the upper part of the head is the ears/mane presumably.  Viewed either way, it's still a striking image.  And crafted in the 8th centurty B.C....)

Addendum: 032125 knew of another strikingly similar example, from the same period, in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A knife that injects compressed gas into the victim

Designed for underwater use:
This weapon injects a freezing cold ball of compressed gas, approximately the size of a basketball, at 800psi nearly instantly. The effects of this injection will drop many of the world's largest land predators. The effects of the compressed gas not only cause over-inflation during ascent when used underwater, but also freezes all tissues and organs surrounding the point of injection on land or at sea. When used underwater, the injected gas carries the predator to the surface BEFORE blood is released into the water. Thus giving the diver added protection by diverting other potential predators to the surface. 
More info here, video here, via.

When sea lions want salmon for lunch

A dilemma for various special interest groups on the Northwest coast, as sea lions have moved up the Columbia River. Excerpts from a WSJ article:
The sea lions are feasting on this area's choicest runs of salmon, steelhead trout and sturgeon, and during the last decade have been taking thousands of fish every spring. The burning issue: should anything be done to keep the enormous beasts from turning Bonneville Dam into a buffet? And, if so, should lethal removal be one of the options?...

Sea lions used to be rare this far inland, scientists say. Generally they prey on fish either in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean, or at the mouth of the Columbia. The number of fish taken upriver here has been rising—to nearly 8,000 last year, or almost eight times the 2002 total—out of a annual total migration of about 300,000 Chinook salmon, the main species during the months sea lions arrive...

The Humane Society, along with the Wild Fish Conservancy, a co-litigant in Friday's filing, says sea lions have consumed an average of 2.5% of Columbia River salmon in recent years, while at the same time commercial and sport fishermen have taken up to 17% of recent salmon runs...

The legal stalemate is matched by an ethical one: which species is under a greater threat, sea lion or salmon? Recently, both the fish and the marine mammals seemed on the verge of extinction. Today both seem on their way to recovery.
There's a similar article in the New York Times, and the Anchorage Daily News offers these comments:
The issue is an example of the delicate work involved in trying to manage animal populations. In this case, both the salmon and sea lions are protected by the federal government -- the salmon by the Endangered Species Act, and the sea lions by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

As a result, the federal government goes to great lengths to try to protect both. Under normal conditions, killing a sea lion is a serious crime, punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000...

Like everything to do with salmon in the Pacific Northwest, it's complicated. And it's hard to grasp how one thing makes a difference in the system."
Photo: Associated Press.

"Distressed Property Index" x 5 years

The "housing crisis" has really fallen out of the headlines in America's short-attention-span news cycle, replaced by Bin Laden, flooding, sports, the Arab Spring, presidential candidates, and everything else.

But it hasn't gone away.  The graph above shows the number of distressed properties in Dane County, Wisconsin.  It's worth noting that Dane County (Madison and suburbs) has NOT been one of the premier crisis points, like Las Vegas, Florida cities, California suburbs, etc.  Madison is a comfortable, university-based mid-sized metropolis with a diverse economic base.

But look at the "distressed property" trend for the past 5 years.  Distressed properties are those (mostly homes, I think) that are in foreclosure or are being sold by the owner of the mortgage (bank, credit union), typically at prices well below "market value."

At the left side of the graph (January 2006), fewer than 5% of homes were "distressed" - now it's over 30%, and has been for five months.  Imagine a third of homes in a metropolitan area being sold by desperate mortgage owners.  Now imagine trying to sell your own home in such an environment.

Reportedly, fewer and fewer additional homes are being added to this mess, but obviously it's going to be many years before supply and demand come back into balance and prices return to even 2006 levels.

Additional information at the Wisconsin State Journal.

Whip spider

Heterophrynus sp., Guyanese rainforest.

Photo from Artour a's Flickr photostream, via Found here.

The essence of fascism

"Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power.

"The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking in 1938.

Discussed in a Reddit thread.

100 pianists playing 50 pianos in concert

At least one hopes "in concert," because otherwise it would be quite a cacophony.
"Lang lang Inspires" at the Royal Festival Hall in London culminates in a massed piano concert, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang performing alongside 100 young British pianists on 50 Steinway grand pianos.
I looked for a YouTube video this morning and didn't find one.

Addednum:  Anon found the video here.

Photo credit: Eddie Mulholland.

Metal floating on water

Probably everyone who has been to a beach has seen grains of sand floating on water, demonstrating how surface tension can override density.  The photographer here has illustrated the phenomenon by placing a grille in front of the light source to show the curvature of the water surface.  Nicely done.

Image credit Robert Anderson, via BBC News and Scipsy.

Subliminal message in a Dove advertisement ?

If you look at the background panels, the message is that Dove makes your skin smoother.  Viewing the models, the message might be that Dove makes you a) thinner, or b) whiter.

Via Reddit.

The voting public viewed as "employees" of government

An unfortunate analogy offered by the curent governor of Florida:
“I understand there’s people that like things and don’t like things,” Scott said. “It’s really no different than in business. Because in business everyone doesn’t agree with everything you do. All your employees won’t say, ‘Oh yeah, I think you should exactly do this instead of that.’”
One supposes that the comparison came to mind because prior to being elected governor, Rick Scott was CEO of a hospital corporation.  The difference now, of course, is that the public are not like employees of the government - rather, the governor and state officials are employees of the public.

22 May 2011

Sunday smörgåsbord

Police in London pulled a headless body from a river.  It was badly decomposed and riddled with maggots.  Following standard protocol, they then called in a medic to confirm that the person was dead.

A bill before the legislature of the state of Vermont would establish single-payer health care for residents of the state.  IBM is lobbying in opposition to the bill.  This op-ed piece speculates about the reasons for their opposition and its implications.

The Congressional Record is not a verbatim transcript of proceedings in our government.  In point of fact, Senators can delete comments they regret having made, and can add material they never said.

Google Blacklist is a list of words that Google Instant won't "autofill" when you begin entering the term in the search box.  Most of them are sexual terms.

BP "scored a nearly $10 billion dollar credit on their 2010 federal tax return, by writing off their "losses" incurred from the tragedy."

Since Paul Ryan is often in the news now, this Wisconsin Magazine article from 2010 provides some extensive background information on him.

Should animals participate in a "Pet Passover?"  Is it lighthearted humor, or is it intrinsically offensive?

US Representative Danny Rehberg (R-MT), whose net worth is $31,000,000 and is the 14th richest member of the House, said at a town hall that he's "struggling" like everybody else and that he's "cash poor."

A photoessay on London's underground Post Office Railway.

Gold mines in Wales provided the material for the ring in the recent royal wedding, and for previous rings worn by members of the British monarchy.

Bin Laden's will stipulates that his children must not join al-Qaida.

The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains is breaking records. "So much snow has fallen this year that in the month of April the 16 foot tall gage used to measure water content was covered by snow. They had to add an extension to continue measuring for the rest of the season."

A gallery of photos celebrates the 190th birthday of The Guardian.

A column at Salon provides an interesting history of tequila, which surprisingly dates to the arrival of Filipino sailors aboard Chinese merchant ships.

A Michigan woman declared herself a candidate for a local school board.  One vote would have been sufficient to get her the seat.  She got no votes.  She didn't bother to vote for herself...

Infanticide was common in the Roman empire.  Archaeological digs are now revealing the bodies.

Medical bills are the most common cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States - and most of those declaring bankruptcy have medical insurance.

A list of 100 opening lines from books

Deadspin offers "Everything You Wanted To Know About Porn, Weed, And Toilets In Afghanistan, Courtesy A Platoon Leader."

A medical condition I had never heard of: aquagenic urticaria (itching in response to contact with water).

'Tis not the season yet, but here is a Flickr collection of toy and Christmas catalogues from the 1970s to the 1990s.  You can look up what your parents didn't give you.

The embedded photos were taken recently in the woodland garden behind our house.  Bleeding hearts at the top, trillium below that, and then a view of the ferns, hosta, bluebells, and vinca.  And that's where I'm heading now, because it's a beautiful spring day in the Midwest.  Bye...
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