29 September 2011

Is the world a wonderful place?

A Fry and Laurie exchange from Jeeves and Wooster.

From Dickens and Poe, via My Ear-Trumpet Has Been Struck by Lightning.

How to grow immense pumpkins

Excerpts from an article at the Telegraph:
The groundwork for a big pumpkin starts in February with a planting hole lavished with a minimum of one ton of well-rotted horse manure and the sourcing of “thoroughbred” seed from the internet. The best seed will cost from £5-£50 a pop...

As the plant grows, remove all but one pumpkin fruit so all the energy gathered by the leaves is focused on the development of one super-fruit....

When your chosen pumpkin reaches the size of a football, set the fruit on a 4in bed of straw to protect the skin from stones in the soil and spread the pumpkin’s weight as it swells...

Water is by far the most important influence on a potential prize-winner, accounting for a fluctuating 90 per cent of the weight. During dry weather, the leaves draw moisture out from the fruit to keep growing, which reduces the size of the pumpkin...

Early in the year, nitrogen-rich pelleted chicken manure is good for encouraging fast, leafy growth but when the days shorten, it’s time to switch to high-potash feeds to help fruit development. I use liquid tomato fertiliser – a can every other day...

Shade the skin with a screen during the day and keep it warm at night – it’s after dark that a pumpkin grows fastest. A polytunnel over the top is ideal, but if this is too high a price for pumpkin glory, second best are large, water-filled bottles placed around the fruit. These capture the warmth of the sun during the day and release it at night...

In honor of "Banned Book Week"

I've not read this book, but it sounds like it has an interesting plot (reminiscent of Never Let Me Go).  And an interesting reception by the public:
In 2009 the American Library Association (ALA) and the office for Intellectual Freedom named My Sister's Keeper the seventh most frequently challenged book in the US. Schools and Libraries attempted to ban the book for the following reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexual Explicity, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuitability to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence.
Via Libraryland.

The "Jayne Austen Book & Gun Club"

People having fun in a parade.

From Pages in Courier, via Look, even Ben's dancing!, via A Cream Tea and Loaded Mashed Potatoes, via My Ear-Trumpet Has Been Struck By Lightning.*

*(tumblrs tend to have such interesting names...)

Addendum:  Spellwight identified the paraders as participants in Dragon*Con.

Albino hummingbird

Photographed by teenager Marlin Shank at a park in Staunton, Virginia.  A large gallery of photos of the bird is posted at the website of Nature Friend magazine.  Via Neatorama.

You can buy this biscuit for about £1500 ($A2370)

But it won't taste good; it's old.  Very old.

The Sydney Morning Herald has the details.

Inkjet chip resetters

I knew that printers cheat you re ink usage, but I didn't know there was a workaround for the problem.  Here's a tip from Oregon Expat:
So, now we know we’re being scammed. And those of us with an environmental bent are also fairly pissed off about the waste. But what can we do, when the printer locks up due to the “out of ink” message?

We can reset the chip.

Ink cartridge chips are the latest tool used by printer manufacturers to make sure that customers can’t override the low ink warning. The tiny electronic chips monitor ink usage, or, in many cases, simply count pages. Once the predefined threshold of a chip is passed, it will lock up the printer. The warning cannot be overridden.

But it turns out that there is a whole community of irritated printer owners who do not like being scammed. They have started up companies catering to other irritated printer owners, and one of the things they do is take ink cartridges and reverse engineer the chips. Then they build inexpensive “chip resetters” that exist for one purpose only: to reset the chip’s page count or ink level to zero [zero "usage," presumably].
Details on how to do this are at the link.  You learn something every day.

The etymology of "coleslaw"

Coleslaw came to us from Dutch via American English.  Dutch kool means “cabbage” (cf. German Kohl, known to most as the family name of Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of Germany, 1982-1998), while Dutch sla is the common colloquial form of salade “salad.”  Thus, the etymon is koolsla

It is unclear why the second element of coleslaw rhymes with haw, paw, raw, rather than with spa.  Words like spa are rare in Modern English; outside baa-baa, blah-blah-blah, bah and their ilk they are exotic borrowings (ah sounds more natural in the unstressed syllables of names like Sarah, Hannah, and so forth, including Monty Python’s Peckinpah).  The change from ah to aw may have been the result of the word’s domestication.  Or do we owe the shape of the vowel to the Midwesterners, in whose speech Shaw is indistinguishable from Shah?
From the Oxford University Press blog.

28 September 2011

Underwater lion

Lost for 1,600 years, the royal quarters of Cleopatra were discovered off the shores of Alexandria. A team of marine archaeologists, led by Frenchman, Franck Goddio, began excavating the ancient city in 1998. Historians believe the site was submerged by earthquakes and tidal waves, yet, astonishingly, several artifacts remained largely intact.
Update 2012:  The image, found at All That Is Interesting*, via The Ancient World, is unfortunately NOT of the Egyptian find.  A hat tip to an anonymous  reader who identified it as Neptune Memorial Reef, an underwater mausoleum of sorts for cremains.
The Atlanta-based company, Eternal Reefs, combines an individual's cremated remains with “eco-friendly cast concrete” to form what the company calls “reef balls.” There are reef ball sites off the coast of Fort Meyers and Miami, as well as Ocean City, New Jersey and Charleston, South Carolina. Loved ones of the deceased gather for a reef casting ceremony and can return to the reef site to dive, fish or examine the structure from a glass bottom boat.
*of the other sunken cities listed in that post, the Yonaguni-Jima site is probably a natural (not a man-made) feature.

Is GM's OnStar inappropriately watching you ?

This item comes from the Lew Rockwell site, so some will automatically dismiss it as "conspiracy theory."  But the facts themselves seem to be solid; the debate will be over the implications...
I believe that GM’s long-term goal is to see to it that not only every GM vehicle is equipped with a “black box” (technically, an Event Data Recorder, or EDR) but that all vehicles are so equipped – and every single driver in the United States – possibly the world – monitored whenever he or she is operating a motor vehicle.

There is big money in it: Automated tickets, jacked-up insurance fees for “speeders” and seat belt scofflaws – as well as “marketing opportunities” for GM’s “partners,” whom GM will provide all sorts of juicy tidbits about your life to – including where and when you shop, so that they can “target” their advertising your way...

I test-drive new cars each week to review them for my weekly car column. Part of my test drive includes running the car at a good clip “up the mountain” – a series of S turns that takes you up about 1,600 feet in elevation over the course of about two miles. One week not too long ago I was testing a GM vehicle. I took it up the mountain at a good clip – faster than the posted speed limit, to be sure. This apparently alarmed OnStar because as I reached the final curve and straightened the car out, all of a sudden the stereo cut out and a loud female voice replaced Van Halen: “Are you in need of EMS?” This startled me for a moment. Then I realized what had happened. The creepy OnStar unit was triggered by my speed (and the rapid change in altitude). It assumed I had wrecked the car- even though I promise all four wheels never left the pavement and were entirely under my control at all times. And it decided I needed “help.” I didn’t, so thanked the operator for her concern but noted to myself that here was proof positive that OnStar is Watching You.

I didn’t ask to be watched. I don’t want to be watched...

Now comes evidence – in the form of OnStar’s latest Terms of Service – that my instinctive paranoia was well-founded about where all this is going.

The TOS announces that OnStar – that is, General Motors – will henceforth collect data about your driving habits “… for any purpose, at any time … .” Previously, OnStar only kept track of data relevant to an accident, in the event of an accident.

Now it will keep track of everything, all the time.

The TOS attempts to soothe the immediately obvious concerns any half-awake person might have after reading the above by going on to state that “… following collection of such location and speed information identifiable to your Vehicle, it is shared only on an anonymized basis.” Except, of course, that such data is essentially useless when anonymized...

And to whom will the data be provided? TOS says “public safety or traffic services.” Translation: Insurance cartels and cops...

GM also will “share” details about your personal life with its “partners” in order to “… allow us, and our affiliates, your Vehicle Maker, and Vehicle dealers, to offer you new or additional products or services; and for other purposes.”

All without your consent – indeed, against your express wishes.

You can’t say no to OnStar – unless you say no to GM, period – and don’t buy a GM vehicle.
If your GM vehicle has Onstar, the TOS explicitly states that it will continue to record and collect your data even after you cancel your service. The only way to be sure Onstar isn’t watching you is to physically disable the system on your own – by cutting wires or just smashing the infernal thing...

The worst part, though, is not the insolence of GM. It is the indifference of the public. I doubt most GM vehicle owners will even bother to read the latest TOS and the few that do either won’t comprehend or care what about what’s been put on the table.
Addendum: A hat tip to BJN, who found that as a result of recent bad publicity, GM is now revising the terms of service and at least will not continue to record data after the user cancels the service.

Janus meets Sonic the Hedgehog

Frank and Louie... has two mouths, two noses and three eyes. He turned 12 years old this month, setting the record for "longest surviving Janus cat," according to Guinness World Records. Frank and Louie has a case of craniofacial duplication, an extremely rare congenital condition... Frank and Louie was born on September 8, 1999 and was adopted by a woman who lives near Worcester, Massachusetts. Picture: REUTERS/David Niles
This was one of the Telegraph "pictures of the day."  The last time I posted a report about this anomaly was almost three years ago; this time I decided to read more about the biology involved.  These excerpts from the Wikipedia entry on diprosopus (literally "two" + "face"):
Although classically considered conjoined twinning (which it resembles), this anomaly is not normally due to the fusion or incomplete separation of two embryos. It is the result of a protein called sonic hedgehog homolog (SHH)...

Among other things, the SHH protein governs the width of facial features. In excess it leads to widening of facial features and to duplication of facial structures. The greater the widening, the more of the structures are duplicated, often in a mirror image form...

Most human infants with diprosopus are stillborn. Known instances of humans with diprosopus surviving for longer than minutes to hours past birth are very rare; only a few are recorded...
And a final tidbit for the "grammar Nazis."  Note this cat is named "Frank and Louie," so a grammatically correct sentence actually begins "Frank and Louie was born..."

Poor little girl

The one topic that I try to consciously avoid in TYWKIWDBI is "celebrity news."  I consider such material to be trivial and uninteresting.  Much or most of it is probably inaccurate as well, possibly including this item from e+  I'm posting this only because the content has implications for discussions of education and religion.
It was only a matter of time before Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes started ramping up daughter Suri's involvement with Tom's controversial belief system, Scientology, and last week, the five-year-old enrolled at a school which uses the teachings of the ‘cult's' founder, L Ron Hubbard, in its lessons.

The New Leadership Academy in chic Calabasas, California - a school established and funded by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who have never confirmed nor denied that they are Scientologists - boasts many Scientologist teachers, and uses a teaching system called ‘Study Technology', coupled with days of fasting and lessons far removed from traditional maths, science or languages...

"Instead of learning basic words and maths, Suri and the other children will learn how to rid themselves of engrams - that is, past memories that block learning and understanding," a former Scientologist told Woman's Day. Adding, "Everything is so different."

And Suri will also take lessons in learning to build and interact with robots, as robotics are considered a major part of the ‘religion'...

With one of the core Scientology beliefs centred around the idea that an alien galactic overlord called Xenu was responsible for creating humanity and the earth as we know it today, pupils at the New Leadership Academy are taught lessons to prepare them for eventual alien contact.

"The kids are on a special diet that includes low-carb lunches and even days of fasting," the ex-Scientologist told the magazine. "And the lessons are steps towards the eventual ‘revelation' that we are all descended from aliens."
More at the link.  Image credit WENN.

27 September 2011

Every picture tells a story

You will of course have noticed the piano bench embedded in the ceiling.

Frat party?  Tornado?  Vandalism?

None of the above.  The answer is at the Telegraph.

Photo credit Julio Cortez.

The U.S. state capitals

A supercut of movie scenes.   A little fudging in some instances, but the words are there.  I continue to wonder what databases people use to find these snippets of dialogue.

Via Neatorama and Laughing Squid.

Want something NEW for dinner?

Mrs. Damon Runyon (wife of the famous newspaperman/writer) recommended this combination of "premium frankfurters (simply simmer 5 to 8 minutes and serve immediately)" with creamed diced carrots in onion cups, parsley potatoes, citrus salad, and butterscotch pudding.

I need to be excused for a moment.

This ad reminded me of James Lileks' Regrettable Foods.  Found at Vintage Ads, via Sloth Unleashed.

Addendum:  As discussed in the comments to this post, here is a photo of lima beans in jello ("featured in Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, 1974"):

Music CDs are so yesterday...

Techland says "it's time to kiss them goodbye"...
It's not something you think about most days. In fact, it's almost taken for granted: The compact disc's days as a viable medium for music are nearly over...

Netflix recently hiked the price of its per-month combo streaming and DVD rental fee from $10 to $16. Consumers—mostly those with no sense of what they were (and still are) getting, value-wise—freaked out. But the writing's on the wall: DVD rentals are on the way out, unlimited streaming... is the way forward...

And as DVD demand bottoms out, so will optical-media manufacturing plants. It's the sort of inverse compound interest that piles up at the crossing of thresholds—never neat and tidy or precisely predictable in terms of timelines, but we're well past the event horizon here and simply waiting out the protracted death spin. 

In fact for some, the moment's already arrived. Auto manufacturer Ford admitted a few months ago that it would drop CD players from its fleet of vehicles entirely, switching over to—what else?—a USB-based audio interface. 
If you want to resell your CDs, it may be best to start now.  Remember what happened to the "value" of your old VCR tapes...

"Everybody out for a pass"

From today's Wall Street Journal online:
Buffalo may have won the early prize for the innovation of the year—one that is playing a leading role in the team's surprising early-season breakout. You can call it the "stack," the "bunch," or maybe even the "spread scrunch..."

For nearly the entire game Sunday, the Bills had four wide receivers on the field, and often used five. (A traditional NFL alignment consists of two wide receivers.) They also sometimes lined up their tight ends as wide receivers and flung their running backs off to the corners.

At first glance, these formations look much like the spread offense that's popular in college football. But in practical terms, they're not necessarily all that alike...

Essentially, the players are setting a pick, the way a basketball player might. Picks are normally against the rules in the NFL, but there is one loophole: When a pick happens because of the simple design of the passing routes, it's not illegal. 
When I was a kid playing touch football in the yard after school, the standard "play" was "everyone out for a pass." More re the NFL version at the link.

Photo credit nfl.com/rewind

"100% pure orange juice"

The phrasing on the label is clearly awkward (presumably they mean it's a mixture of orange juice concentrate and unconcentrated orange juice).  But as I pondered the photo, I also began to wonder whether the other phrase - "100% pure" - is grammatically correct or not.

My dictionary defines "pure" is defined as "free from anything of a different, inferior, or contaminating kind," unmodified, homogeneous, absolute, untainted, virgin, etc.  With that understanding, is "pure" an absolute term, like "unique," and is "100% pure" unnecessarily redundant?  Can something be 90% pure? 40% pure?

This is certainly not important.  It's the sort of stuff that English majors, wordfreaks, and copyeditors like to puzzle over. 

Found at Video Martyr, a blog featuring posts about ephemera and urban archaeology.

Addendum: And a hat tip to Max, who found this related item at Consumerist:
Even though it says "not from concentrate," it probably sat in a large vat for up to year with all the oxygen removed from it. This allows it to be preserved and dispensed all year-round. Taking out all the O2 also gets rid of all the flavor. So the juice makers have to add the flavors back in using preformulated recipes full of chemicals called "flavor packs."

"Rich people pay most of the taxes in this country"

From the Wall Street Journal:
We are often reminded these days that the top 1% of earners in America pay about 40% of the nations federal income taxes–nearly double the share they paid in 1980...

Republicans say the high share is due to our overly progressive tax structure and growing programs for the rest of the non-taxpaying Americans. Democrats, to the extent that they even concede the number, argue that it’s because the rich now make all the money.

Who’s right? An article in the Economist states the answer quite simply: “In America the income share of the rich has grown faster than the share of taxes paid.” Data from the Tax Foundation bears this out. Between 1987 and 2008, the share of income controlled by the top 1% grew to 20% from 12%. That signals a total share growth of 67%. During the same period, their share of taxes went to 28% from 24%, suggesting share growth of 17%. In other words, the top 1% share of income grew nearly five times faster than their share of taxes.

As The Economist points out, this same dynamic is true in much of the developed world, as globalization showers larger rewards on winners...

The reason behind the 40% number doesn’t answer the larger question of whether it’s “fair” to tax the rich more.


Via everywhere.

"The soldier lays a honey trap"

Modern readers of espionage novels (or viewers of such movies) will know the term "honeypot/honeytrap" as referring to a sexual seduction (also relevant to real life).  The term meant something quite different a century ago, as shown by this illustration from a 1916 book entitled "Europa's Fairy Tales."

The image accompanies "The Cinder-Maid" -
...when Cinder-Maid went to the ball the Prince would dance with none but her; and when midnight came round she fled as before. But the Prince, hoping to prevent her running away, had ordered the soldiers at the foot of the stair-case to pour out honey on the stairs so that her shoes would stick in it. But Cinder-Maid leaped from stair to stair and got away just in time, calling out as the soldiers tried to follow her...
They later try to trap her with tar (which also fails).  I also found it interesting that in this version of the Cinderella tale, when the wicked sisters can't get the shoes on their feet, they cut off their toes and heels (!!!) -
And when the herald came to the house of Cinder-Maid's father the eldest of her two step-sisters tried on the golden shoe. But it was much too small for her, as it was for every other lady that had tried it up to that time; but she went up into her room and with a sharp knife cut off one of her toes and part of her heel, and then fitted her foot into the shoe...
The Prince discovers the deception -
And the Prince looked down and saw the blood streaming from her shoe and then he knew that this was not his true bride, and he rode back to the house of Cinder-Maid's father; and then the second sister tried her chance; but when she found that her foot wouldn't fit the shoe she did the same as her sister...
This is a nice reminder that modern versions of fairy tales have been extensively modified (read "cleaned up"/Bowdlerized) from their original content.

If you like fairy tales, this is an excellent book.  Be sure to take read the informative end notes as well. 

"Fall asleep an hundred years"

This interesting illustration is reportedly from this book, although I couldn't locate it there.

Via A Polar Bear's Tale.

"Tofu" license plate banned

Whitney Calk innocently (or perhaps not) requested a vanity license plate from the state of Tennessee, one that read “ILVTOFU.” But her personalized plate reflecting her fondness for bean curds was rejected on the grounds of "vulgarity.” 
Via Language Log, which offers this interesting additional info:
Little did those who protest that their request for an ILVTOFU vanity plate has no sexual implications realize that in China, the homeland of tofu, this seemingly innocuous comestible has definite erotic connotations in certain circumstances.

Chī dòufu 吃豆腐 may mean simply "eat tofu," but it often is used to refer to a man flirting or taking liberties with a woman. Mó (mó) dòufu 摩(磨)豆腐 literally means "rub / scrape / stroke (grind) tofu," but it may also signify touching a woman's breasts or other sensitive parts, and frequently is used to signify mutual clitoral stimulation by lesbians.

The horror of Cordyceps

Last year I wrote a post about Cordyceps (including a video narrated by David Attenborough).  The fungus fascinates me.
This Carolina leaf-roller (Camptonotus carolinensis) has succumbed to an infection by a species of Cordyceps, a genus of entomopathogenic fungi. Cordyceps are well-known for inducing changes in insect behaviour, making them climb plants before they die. When the fruiting bodies burst forth from the insect, this high position helps spread the fungal spores to new victims.
Photo by myriorama, via Electric Orchids and Titam et le Sirop d'Erable.

26 September 2011

Keep calm and carry on

In November of 1965, during the game between Northfield Mount Hermon School and Deerfield Academy, Silliman Hall on the NMH campus caught fire. Even as Silliman Hall burned, the game went on.
Story at The Whig, via Black at WTF.

The government did NOT purchase $16 muffins

Just as you can't "unsee" something, once something gets into the blogosphere, it probably will never leave.  Such will be the case with the story that circulated earlier this week; here's the report via the Washington Post:
Where does a muffin cost more than $16?
At a government conference, it turns out.

They may run just over $2 at your average coffee shop, but the Justice Department paid seven to eight times as much at a gathering it held at the Capital Hilton in Washington. And on Tuesday, the muffins seemed well on their way to joining the Pentagon’s $600 toilet seat as symbols of wasteful spending...

The reaction was blistering — and bipartisan. “Sixteen-dollar muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change,’’ said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing. People are outraged, and rightly so.’’
People would be right to be outraged - if the story were true.  I was going to blog it too, but was too busy and just bookmarked it.  By the time I got back to it yesterday, I had found a followup article in Mother Jones indicating that there were no $16 muffins:
Is it really true? So I went to the DOJ Inspector General's website, got the report, and searched for "muffin." The following paragraph looks fairly impenetrable, but go ahead and plow through it anyway:
Considering the EOIR reported that at least 534 people received refreshments at its 2009 Legal Training Conference in Washington, D.C., it spent an average of $14.74 per attendee per day on food and beverages—just above the $14.72 JMD limit for refreshments. We credit the EOIR for implementing the following controls to reduce food and beverage costs: (1) it provided just refreshments and not full meals, (2) it ordered fewer refreshments than the total number of reported attendees, and (3) it received 15 gallons of coffee, 30 gallons of iced tea, and 200 pieces of fruit for free. However, many individual food and beverage items listed on conference invoices and paid by the EOIR were very costly. The EOIR spent $4,200 on 250 muffins and $2,880 on 300 cookies and brownies. By itemizing these costs, we determined that, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each.
So did DOJ really pay $16 for muffins? Of course not. In fact, it's obvious that someone quite carefully calculated the amount they were allowed to spend and then gave the hotel a budget. The hotel agreed, but for some reason decided to divide up the charges into just a few categories instead of writing a detailed invoice for every single piece of food they provided. 
I also went to the pdf at the link, and I agree that the "muffin number" is a misinterpretation of the data.  You could also infer that from the aggregate cost of $14.74 per person per day for food; if the muffins were $16, then each conference attendant received only a muffin a day.

Kudos to Kevin Drum at Mother Jones for tracking down the source data.

Now we have to find something else to be outraged about.

Hummingbird smuggler caught with his pants down

Found at this link; I've been unable to extract any further details or source information from the site or from a TinEye image search.

I'm totally not sympathetic to wildlife smugglers, but one has to cringe when noting the placement of the contraband and all those pointy little beaks...

Addendum of apparently related info from finchwench
In 2010, French customs officers at the Rochambeau airport in Cayenne, French Guiana after noticing some suspicious bulges, conducted an intimate pat-down of a Dutch tourist and found some tiny parcels in some very personal space.

The guy with his shorts full of hummingbirds was reported to be a repeat offender; he was allegedly intercepted at the same airport with an accomplice and a cargo of 53 hummingbirds two years prior to this photographed encounter. I was unable to find record of the convict’s previous offence, but in the 2010 incident, he was fined €6000. The value of his catch was estimated to be between €10,400 and €13,200...
She reports that "the story precipitated from a private e-mail, sent by a customs officer, that was forwarded to some online orchid forum and a Yahoo! group (both in French language), and that was a year ago. Now, there are various "news" reports about this, not only in English, in which details of the story are misreported (e.g. The Daily Mail, AOL)."

Two types of YouTube comments, illustrated

Credit to joeythehobo for the screencap.

Anonymous (the movie)

A hat tip to Bub for alerting me to the upcoming (October 28) release of the movie "Anonymous." Those of you who are long-time readers of this blog may remember or have surmised that I am a proponent of the proposition that Edward de Vere was the true author of the works attributed to the "shakspere" guy in Stratford.

The movie is directed by Roland Emmerich (Stargate, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), who has said this re its development:
It's three characters. It's like Ben Jonson, who was a playwright then. William Shakespeare who was an actor. It's like the 17th Earl of Oxford who is the true author of all these plays. We see how, through these three people, it happens that all of these plays get credited to Shakespeare. I kind of found it as too much like Amadeus to me. It was about jealousy, about genius against end, so I proposed to make this a movie about political things, which is about succession. Succession, the monarchy, was absolute monarchy, and the most important political thing was who would be the next king. Then we incorporated that idea into that story line. It has all the elements of a Shakespeare play. It's about kings, queens, and princes. It's about illegitimate children, it's about incest, it's about all of these elements which Shakespeare plays have. And it's overall a tragedy. 
I suspect it will be a little "over the top," but perhaps it will introduce more of the general public to the doubts surrounding the Stratford man's authorship.

More about the Shakespeare authorship question some other time. Those who are interested in literature and history will be well rewarded by scanning this Wikipedia article on the Oxfordian theory, and then visiting the website of the Shakespeare-Oxford Society.

24 September 2011

Tortoise skeleton

A really fascinating construction, when you think about it.

Image from Biomedical Ephemera, via A London Salmagundi.

"As it turns out..."

All of the Dilbert cartoons are here.

The inside of a bagworm's bag

I've posted before about the interesting biology of bagworms, but wanted to add these beautiful photos of the larger ones seen in Arizona. 

Photo credit to Brigette Zacharczenko, whose Caterpillarblog is a must vist for anyone with an interest in lepidoptera.

Eumorpha typhon

One of the large, beautiful, sphinx moth caterpillars.

From the Caterpillarblog.

"Johnson Circles"

If three hula hoops cover a common point, then a fourth hoop will cover their remaining intersections.

Found in the Futility Closet.  There is an explanation at Wolfram Mathworld.

Nationwide "nerd search" underway

As reported at Scientific American:
The latest in a series of castings I’ve seen this fall is a new competition-style game show that claims to define a new generation of nerdiness. ‘KING OF THE NERDS’ will aim to showcase the scientific passions and knowledge of contestants (men AND women) as they compete for cash prizes. The show comes from the producers of some massively successful game-show formats like Mythbusters and Amazing Race...

The show is looking for mathematicians, biologists, chemists, physicists, programmers, inventors, puzzle-masters, engineers, gamers, comic book fanatics, movie buffs, trekkies, techies, mensa members, chess masters and any other kind of intellectual-based geeks for contestants.  If you are a contender you’ll be asked to submit an audition video, and from there if you are selected you’ll be flown to LA to participate in the game (the search is nationwide).
It sounds like they want to emulate the outstanding UK program "Mastermind."

Sclerotic rings

I had never heard of these until today.
Sclerotic rings are rings of bone found in the eyes of several groups of vertebrate animals, except for mammals and crocodilians. They can be made up of single bones or small bones together. They are believed to have a role in supporting the eye, especially in animals whose eyes are not spherical, or which live underwater. Fossil sclerotic rings are known for a variety of extinct animals, including ichthyosaurs, pterosaurs, and dinosaurs, but are often not preserved.
A third image at Wikipedia illustrates that these rings were actually inside the eye, not just around the eye.   The top skull is from a leaf-tailed gecko, and the lower skeleton is of the appropriately named opthalmosaurus.

You learn something every day.

Via Scientific Illustration.

Stair safety rules

This isn't exactly "real."  It apparently comes from a book entitled "Sideways Stories from Wayside School."

But go ahead and post this sign at your school or place of work.

An 80' sailboat passes under a 65' bridge

The balls [apparently containing two tons of water] get swung out with an initial turn to port or stbd. The tendency then is for the roll to continue by itself, but is controlled by letting the bags out slowly with a line made off to each bag and running through necessary tackle to a cockpit winch.
Via Within the crainium.

"Supercommittee" members and defense spending

From an article at Salon:
Arizona's Republican Sen. Jon Kyl wasted little time. A member of the bipartisan congressional "supercommittee" charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions, he did his best to forestall even discussion of cuts to the Pentagon's budget. "When we had our first meeting the chairman asked, 'Well, what do we think about defense spending?' and I said, 'I'm off of the committee if we're gonna talk about further defense spending [cuts],'" he told the audience at a recent forum sponsored by several conservative think tanks...

The Senate minority whip may be the most outspoken member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction when it comes to the military budget, but the Democrats currently considering whether to cut the deficit via reductions in defense spending or programs like Medicare and Medicaid have received far more money from Pentagon contractors than Kyl or any of their Republican colleagues on the panel, according to an investigation by Alternet, with assistance from the Brave New Foundation and Salon.com.

Since 2007, Democrats on the supercommittee have received more than $1 million in defense industry donations, while contributions to the Republicans added up to only $321,000...

At the moment, before the panel makes any decisions, the Department of Defense faces a likely "cut" of around $350 billion in funds over the next decade under a plan proposed by the White House that became part of the debt ceiling agreement. However, as Salon contributor Winslow Wheeler and others have pointed out, those "cuts" are reductions in future spending increases -- not actual budget cuts in any normal sense...

For many years, top defense firms have divided work on weapons systems across multiple states in order to exert influence over Congress. The supercommittee is far from immune. As the Associated Press recently reported, the "six Republicans and six Democrats represent states where the biggest military contractors -- Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. -- build missiles, aircraft, jet fighters and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers."..

No member of the supercommittee, and no lawmaker in all of Washington, D.C., received more donations from Boeing than co-chair Patty Murray. Of the $3.2 million that the missile-maker dispersed to lawmakers in 2009-2010, the Washington Democrat received $85,860. That sum was $20,000 more than was donated to the next two largest congressional recipients of Boeing money combined, according to data from the Sunlight Foundation.

An analysis by Alternet further found that more than one-third of Murray's top 100 donors during the 2010 cycle were defense contractors that collectively signed $57.5 billion worth of deals with the Pentagon last year...

In addition to continued high levels of U.S. defense spending even in the event of sequestration, the Pentagon has, for the last year, also taken substantive countermeasures to shield its key contractors from future financial peril, including trips to Wall Street to lobby investors to bolster weapons-makers and brokering deals with Persian Gulf states to keep assembly lines active and coffers full.
Much more at the link.

100 years of style and dance

This video is probably not a "TYWK," because it has been posted so many places (2 million YouTube hits), but it's so well done that I thought I'd best add it to the blog here as well. 

Re "buying on the dips"

Some objective data on that advice, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
When the market is tanking, the bulls like to remind investors to "buy on the dips." But this strategy doesn't work as well as logic might suggest. Sure, it makes intuitive sense. The whole point of investing, after all, is to buy low and sell high. When prices take a sudden drop, the market gives you an immediate opportunity to buy low. Why not take it?..

Start with trying to define it. What is a "dip"? Is it a 2% decline in the value of a market index, or 5% or even more? Does a dip occur in a day, a week or longer? Because investors appear to go by gut instinct—if the market goes down enough to feel scary, that is a "dip"—the lack of a consistent definition makes it hard to determine whether buying on the dips is effective...

23 September 2011

A postulated functional utility for wrinkled fingers

From Brain, Behavior, and Evolution, a suggestion that the wrinkles induced in fingers by water serve a function similar to that of rain treads on vehicular tires.
Here we provide evidence that, rather than being an accidental side effect of wetness, wet-induced wrinkles have been selected to enhance grip in wet conditions. We show that their morphology has the signature properties of drainage networks, enabling efficient removal of water from the gripped surface..

One can immediately see that they possess the signature structure of drainage networks on convex promontories... Namely, the channel-like wrinkle depressions tend to be disconnected from one another and diverge away from one another as they get more distant from the ‘peak’ near the fingertip; the divides (or borders between the channels) are connected, forming a tree with its root near the fingertip...

Wet-induced wrinkle treads, on the other hand, are pliable, and the act of pressing a finger tip down on a wet surface ‘squeezes’ the fluid out from under the finger through the channels, and upon completion of this single pulsatile flow the entire finger’s skin contacts the surface. In addition to wet-induced finger wrinkles having the signature morphology of drainage networks, the time scale at which they appear (around 5 min) [Cales and Weber, 1997] is plausibly appropriate for natural wet conditions; it is fast enough to be relevant for dew or rainy conditions but not so quick that casual contact with water (like when eating fruit) will elicit it.
Via Metafilter.


1960 photo by Nikolas Kozlovskiy, via First Time User.

Extracting visual images from the human brain

From research done at UC Berkeley:
Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and computational models, UC Berkeley researchers have succeeded in decoding and reconstructing people’s dynamic visual experiences – in this case, watching Hollywood movie trailers.
The primary link is too busy to access this morning, but this explanation is offered at the YouTube site:
The left clip is a segment of the movie that the subject viewed while in the magnet. The right clip shows the reconstruction of this movie from brain activity measured using fMRI. The reconstruction was obtained using only each subject's brain activity and a library of 18 million seconds of random YouTube video. (In brief, the algorithm processes each of the 18 million clips through the brain model, and identifies the clips that would have produced brain activity as similar to the measured brain activity as possible. The clips used to fit the model, those used to test the model and those used to reconstruct the stimulus were entirely separate.) Brain activity was sampled every one second, and each one-second section of the viewed movie was reconstructed separately.  
Via Neatorama.

Why hard-boiled eggs are more difficult to peel

I've noticed this recently; I used to hard-boil eggs, then crack them and remove the shell in 5-6 pieces.  Now it typically involves  pick-pick-picking at little fragments and pockmarking the egg in the process.  Here's an explanation from an old Wired Science article:
The best guarantee of easy peeling is to use old eggs!” wrote Harold McGee, in his monster 800-page tome, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. “Difficult peeling is characteristic of fresh eggs with a relatively low albumen pH, which somehow causes the albumen to adhere to the inner shell membrane more strongly than it coheres to itself.”

McGee also suggests an easy cooking chemistry solution. “If you end up with a carton of very fresh eggs and need to cook them right away, you can add a half teaspoon of baking soda to a quart of water to make the cooking water alkaline (though this intensifies the sulfury flavor),” he wrote...

A 1998 report by the agency found that big consolidated chicken egg facilities, which wash and package the eggs on-site instead of sending them to a separate processing location, could reduce the time from farm to store from 100 hours to 53 hours. And, according to Cal-Maine’s SEC filings, the industry continues to centralize, squeezing out the old facilities in favor of the new ones.

22 September 2011


Fernando Cruz Vega, a three-year-old boy who was born without arms, draws in a room at the shanty town of Libertad in Comas, Lima, Peru. Deysi Vega, Fernando's mother, has travelled from Mollobamba in the jungles of Peru to Lima to seek medical help and rehabilitation therapies for her son.
For more pix/info re amelia and phocomelia, enter the term in this blog's search box in the right sidebar.

Photo credit REUTERS/Mariana Bazo, via the Telegraph.

"I should like to bury something precious..."

I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.
Sebastian Flyte, Brideshead Revisited
I like the idea (if I were sure I could remember where I buried them...)

Via Camille reads...

Seeking advice re a "flapper dress"

I've recently been busy helping my mother move from a condo unit in Minnesota to an apartment near our home.  In the process we weeded through a 20+ year accumulation of clothes, books, memorabilia, and other odds and ends. 

One item that came to light during this process is a sheath-style evening dress in what I would term a "flapper" style from the 1920s, because it's covered with bangles -
and tassels -
My mother in the 1920s was the antithesis of the flapper girl; during that decade she was working on a farm driving a team of horses to cultivate corn.  So the dress must have been acquired many years later, presumably from an estate sale of DPT*.

This will probably be donated to a charity, but we're wondering whether this is an original dress, or a more modern reproduction.  Here's the label, which didn't generate any useful hits for me on a web search (not could I find any exact copies of the dress itself.)  However, over the years I've realized that the readers of this blog have an immensely wide range of expertise, so I'll throw the photos out and see if anyone can offer an informed opinion re this fashion item.

*"dead people's things"

Triple dead heat

A 1946 photo by Athol Smith, apparently taken in Austalia.  An interesting sports rarity (although I do see other examples documented at Google Images).

Addendum:  James of Bayswater identifies the event:
It was the 1956 Hotham Handicap run at Flemington - one of the principal lead up races to the Melbourne Cup and one only two triple dead heats recorded in Australia.
Source unknown; found at First Time User.

Some elementary schools now "outsource recess"

From the [Mpls/St. Paul] StarTribune:
In an effort to improve playground programs and safety, St. Paul is hiring a private company to supervise recess at seven elementary schools.

The district Tuesday night approved paying Playworks, a national nonprofit, $178,500, or $25,500 per school for a full-time staff member who will chaperone recess, teach children conflict-resolution skills and build a "junior coach" team. Playworks, a 15-year-old nonprofit with programs at 250 schools in 30 cities, actually charges $60,000 per school, but the company has helped the schools get grants and donations to offset more than half the cost.

In addition to monitoring play at recess, Playworks also helps create an after-school program or help with an existing one, as well as jump-start basketball and volleyball leagues for schools. "It's a proven program in a large number of urban areas... There have been far fewer incidents coming out of recess. It's going very well for us. It's certainly an effective and efficient use of our dollars."
When I was in elementary school, recess consisted of us kids being released onto an asphalt parking lot to blow off energy on our own.  That was where I was first threatened with bodily harm by another fifth-grader if I did a certain thing again ("thanks, John (who has undoubtedly forgotten all about this) for teaching me a valuable life lesson...").

Re the financial aspects and rationale for outsourcing this activity, I'm at a loss and have no background to offer commentary.  Those of you in the education field, please feel free to chime in.

The future of ketchup packets (on the left)

Some people rip off the corner of the packet with their teeth. Others, while driving, squirt the ketchup directly into their mouth, then add fries. Some forgo fries at the drive-through all together to keep from creating a mess in the car.

After observing these and other "compensating behaviors," H. J. Heinz Co. says it spent three years developing a better ketchup packet. Heinz says the new "Dip and Squeeze" packets will begin replacing the traditional rectangular ketchup packets later this year...

As the name promises, "Dip and Squeeze" ketchup can be squeezed out through one end or the lid can be peeled back for dipping. The red, bottle-shaped packets hold three times the ketchup as traditional packets. The new containers are more expensive than the old sleeves, but Heinz hopes customers learn not to grab more than one or two.

To develop the new packet, Heinz staffers sat behind one-way, mirrored glass, watching consumers in 20 fake minivan interiors putting ketchup on fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets...
Heinz believes traditional ketchup packets are so annoying that they stop people from ordering fries at drive-thrus.
More at the Wall Street Journal.  I guess Heinz' staff/management should be commended for their innovation, but personally it bothers me that this is being done to make it easier for people to eat while driving a car.

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody."

Warren, after explaining some of the reasons for the nation’s deep fiscal hole, pointed to a more sensible approach to economic policy in general. “I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,’” she said. “No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
I'm impressed by what I've read/heard about Elizabeth Warren. I'd appreciate feedback (positive or negative) re her in the comments. 

Via Political Animal and The Street.


The common name for four species of Australasian possum.  Not to be confused with couscous.

A 1954 photo by the curiously named Axel Poignant, via First Time User.

20 September 2011

Music as treatment for depression

From Scientific American, reporting on presentations from the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience:
Classical music as antidepressant.  This study comes out of Alzahra University, in Tehran, where a group of researchers, noting that music therapy has already been shown to reduce pain, improve sleep quality, and improve mood in cancer patients underoing therapy and multiple sclerosis patients, wondered if music might alleviate depression as well. It does. They took 56 depressed subjects, had them listen to Beethoven's 3d and 5th piano sonatas for 15 minutes twice a week in a clean, otherwise quiet room -- and saw their depression scores on the standard Beck Depression Scale go up signficantly.
I have no idea how valid those data are, but just in case, I've embedded a particularly interesting graphical presentation of the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
Following the first four bars, Beethoven uses imitations and sequences to expand the theme, these pithy imitations tumbling over each other with such rhythmic regularity that they appear to form a single, flowing melody. Shortly after, a very short fortissimo bridge, played by the horns, takes place before a second theme is introduced. This second theme is in E flat major, the relative major, and it is more lyrical, written piano and featuring the four-note motif in the string accompaniment. The codetta is again based on the four-note motif. The development section follows, using modulation, sequences and imitation, and including the bridge. During the recapitulation, there is a brief solo passage for oboe in quasi-improvisatory style, and the movement ends with a massive coda.

Another rich congressman complains about proposed tax hikes

From Think Progress, which has a video of the interview:
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) appeared on MSNBC with Chris Jansing this morning to attack President Obama’s new deficit reduction plan, which includes some tax increases on the wealthy. Taking up the typical GOP talking point, Fleming said raising taxes on wealthy “job creators” is a terrible idea that kills jobs because many of these people are small business owners who pay taxes through personal income rates...

Fleming responded by saying that while his businesses made $6.3 million last year, after you “pay 500 employees, you pay rent, you pay equipment, and food,” his profits “a mere fraction of that” — “by the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over.” ..

And how hard does the congressman work to make the equivalent of eight median household incomes? Fleming told the Wall Street Journal that “he spends very little time on day-to-day management, though he weighs in on broad strategy decisions.” “I monitor the reports. I’m certainly in communication with the managers,” he told the paper. 
Via Reddit, where the economics are parsed, and it is noted that he is the owner of 33 Subway shops.

David Attenborough: creationism should NOT be taught in schools

The naturalist joined three Nobel laureates, the atheist Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists in calling on the government to tackle the "threat" of creationism... In a statement on a new campaign website, the 30 scientists and campaign groups including the British Science Association demanded creationism and "intelligent design" be banned outright...

Speaking ahead of the launch today he said: "Evolution is an extremely powerful idea that lies at the heart of biology. "At the same time, it's a sufficiently simple concept that there's no good reason why it should be left out of the primary curriculum. If creationism is discussed, it should be made clear to pupils that it is not accepted by the scientific community."

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said: "... the threat of creationism and ‘intelligent design’ being taught as science is real and ongoing, particularly as more and more schools are opened up to be run by religious fundamentalists. It has never been more urgent for concrete steps to be taken to ensure that all state schools teach evolution, and not creationism, and we urge the Government to implement the simple and sensible measures suggested in this new statement." 
More at The Telegraph.  Photo:  REX.

Word for the day: bokeh

The word is Japanese in origin and literally means a haze or a blur... You have probably guessed by now that it is all about focus. Yes, but of course there is a little more to it than that. Who exactly coined the word in terms of photography and for the English speaking world (not to mention the added h) is hotly debated but the forerunner is one Mike Johnston who used to edit the Photo Techniques magazine. Boke had been in use in photographic circles from the mid nineteen nineties. The word with the added letter has been seen in print since at least the turn of the new century.

However, bokeh is not just science and mechanics – it is also about aesthetics. Bokeh is defined by many not so much in terms of how blurred the background (or indeed foreground) is but how pleasing the overall effect of the blur is... The quality of an image can be enhanced with bokeh as it makes the subject of the photograph leap out of the picture and forces the human eye (with its focus on everything) to concentrate on that part of the photograph – indeed, that which the photographer wishes them to look at. Bokeh is hugely important for macrophotographers to capture and emphasize the detail of the tiny object being captured.
Text from Kuriositas (via The Presurfer), where there is an explanation of the photographic principles and techniques involved.  My photos are of a bleeding heart flower and a mayfly (the latter enlarges with a click).

The Wikipedia article on the subject includes a reference to "bokode" - a data tag that holds thousands of times more info than a normal barcode, can be read from 13 feet away by a camera, and can be covered up for security.
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