31 October 2011

Seashells as Halloween treats ? - update with data

Several years ago I disposed of some geodes and agates by distributing them to children on Halloween.  This year I'm going to try something else.  While exploring a local hobby/craft shop, I saw the basket above on sale for $8, and wondered if the kids in our neighborhood would like something like these in lieu of the traditional candy.

Unwrapping the basket revealed the not-surprising fact that while the shells near the top were generally large and attractive, those underneath tended to be conventional and rather plain bivalves.  Still, there were a lot of shells - in addition to about a hundred clam-like bivalves, there were about 40 other attractive or interesting ones, which would bring the cost per shell down to the 20c range, in keeping with the cost of conventional candy.

Now the question will be whether the children will accept these or not.  We plan to offer them a choice between sweets (we give out bagged chips) and shells.  And I'll need to make sure the littlest kids understand that the shells are not edible.

This should be interesting.  I'll give a followup a week from now.

O.K.  - I know some of you are losing sleep wondering how this experiment would turn out.  Here are the totals.  76 trick-or-treaters from 5-8 p.m.  43 chose bags of chips (Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, SunChips,  and Lay's potato chips).  33 chose seashells. 

The first five kids to the door chose seashells, and about a half-hour after trick-or-treating started, a mommy from next door showed up smiling, reported that her kid had come home, handed her a shell, and told her "Mom, put this in a safe place," and then headed out the door again.

There was an obvious bias toward big shells.  You can offer kids the most remarkably patterned olives and cowries, but if there is a big ordinary shell next to it, they will choose the big shell every time.  During the early part of the evening, the big shells went fast. The chips took the lead when the big shells were gone.

There was an apparent "leadership" bias.  If the first kid of a group chose chips, the little kids with him tended to pick chips too.  But if he said "Seashells - cool!" then the other kids in the group tended to take shells as well.

There was no obvious age stratification.  I had thought a priori that little kids and teenagers would take chips,  but there were teenagers who walked away from the door waving their shells yelling "I got seashells at Halloween!"

It was an interesting experiment.  We're toying with the idea of adding peacock or turkey feathers as choices next year.

Note:  this study was conducted in Wisconsin, which is about as far from the ocean as you can get in the U.S.  Those of you in coastal communities would probably have to offer cowpies or something equally exotic to elicit a similar response.  :.)

Addendum:  Experiment repeated in 2012.  This year 30 out of 69 trick-or-treaters chose seashells.  That was exactly the same percentage as last year (44%, 33/76 last year).  Not the same kids (though several came to the door this year hoping for seashells).

Addendum 2:  For 2013 we repeated the seashell distribution, with consistently favorable results.   Given a choice between a seashell and a small bag of Fritos/Doritos/etc, the majority of the kids chose shells, often running back to the street holding the shell aloft in triumph to show their parents.

Addendum 3:  In 2015, 23 children chose bags of hips and 39 chose a seashell.

Addendum 4:  Trick-or-treat resumed in 2022 after a couple years of Covid.  This year 41 kids chose shells, while only 11 opted for chips (typically the youngest).  After we finish using up the last shells we have, we're going to discontinue the option, because of our doubts that these shells are sustainably harvested.  Will look for other items to give away.  Two bird nests were popular years ago.  Maybe agates in the future.  Or some of my old comic books.

"Think fast !"

A driver survived having his car skewered by hundreds of steel bars in Taizhou, eastern China's Zhejiang Province. Yang Junsheng, 24, was driving at around 60km/h when he smashed into a truck carrying a full load of steel bars. At the moment of impact the bars shot backward, smashing through Yang's window screen. He says: "My mind was very clear at that second, and I immediately leaned down to the passenger seat...
Photo credit Quirky China News / Rex Features 

See also The end cap on a highway guard rail and Cringeworthy.

This is actually not a math question

It's a logic question (and there's no correct answer).  Posted and discussed at Reddit, via Neatorama.

"Dear American high school math teachers..."

An "open letter"-type post* at Reddit, where the discussion thread is not particularly encouraging.

* with admittedly a variety of grammatical errors, but this comes from a math teacher (which may raise an entirely different question...)

Halloween makeup. And a story. And a turnip.

Nicely done, and doesn't look too complicated, though I'm not sure what you would use to stick the zipper on. Posted at Reddit by YouHadMeAtBacon.

Here's a Halloween-type story from a time when potter's fields were placed near quaking bogs and other untillable land:
A Waukesha County woman recalled that in the 19th century a shortcut ran from her grandmother's farm across the local potter's field. As she and her young cousins walked down the path among the graves in single file, "the springy nature of the ground caused the nearby crosses and boards to move to and fro, or up and down. Then someone became frightened and the entire little party began to hurry, and to run.

"Now, as they ran faster and faster, all of the grave markers appeared to be moving. It was as if the dead were trying to arise from their graves and pursue the intruders. Of course, the children never halted until in their mad flight they had scaled the fence at the other side of the cemetery."
And researching that story, I discover that untillable land is part and parcel of the very term "potter's field"-
The expression derives from the Bible, referring to a field used for the extraction of potter's clay, which was useless for agriculture but could be used as a burial site.
Sometimes you learn something even when you're not trying to.

And finally this image of a "traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o'-lantern":

- made from a turnip in the early 19th century (photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland.)
While turnips have always been used in Ireland, lanterns in Scotland were originally fashioned from the thick stem of a cabbage plant, and were called "kail-runt torches". It was not until 1837 that jack-o'-lantern appeared as a term for a carved vegetable lantern... The term jack-o'-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern, with the earliest known use in the 1660s in East Anglia; and later, meaning an ignis fatuus or will-o'-the-wisp.

30 October 2011

Sunday smörgåsbord

I use linkdumps occasionally to thin out the bookmarks.  Here are the items that I don't have the time or energy to work into full posts.

A gif of a turtle coming out of the water to eat a pigeon.

And photos of a heron eating a rabbit.

All of the polar bears in the world today appear to be descendants of a single female brown bear that lived in Ireland.

A new book about milk has information about human mothers suckling various animals, and human babies being suckled by animals.  Goats reportedly would seek out a specific human baby to give suck to.  And one modern study suggests babies prefer the milk of a mother who has recently eaten garlic.

Snails can survive passage through a bird's digestive tract.

A striking graphic shows the size of the United States' debt.

A graphic article in the Guardian details the startling extent and brutality of the rape of men.

An article at Scientific American suggests that salt has been unfairly demonized as a health risk.

"My cat is a jerk" is a blog whose title is self-explanatory.

Medicare will pay for Provenge, "an expensive and newly approved therapeutic prostate cancer vaccine... for men with metastatic prostate cancer... [it] costs $93,000 per patient and extends survival by about four months on average..."

Nothing is ever actually thrown "away."  As arctic ice melts, it is releasing toxins from previous eras, including pesticides such as DDT.

Hungary is trying to get rid of all of Monsanto's GMO products.

The economic downturn has hit the Shriners, who will no longer provide free health care; they will now be billing insurance companies and charging copays.

A nicely-done detailed listing of "the essential Cary Grant movies."

Winning entries from the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

An interesting video documentary about the bricks of St. Louis, and why some people are stealing them.

Some gravel roads in North Dakota are covered with the mineral erionite.  It is fibrous, and behaves like asbestos when inhaled into the lower respiratory tract.  Villages in Turkey where the mineral is common have experienced epidemics of cancer.

Jon Stewart lacerates those who "play the victim card."

A teacher wonders why wars tend to be the focal point of most history courses: "To millions of students, U.S. history ends up being — to modify the oft-repeated dictum — the story of one damned war after another. Even in my own classroom, the major events on the U.S. history timeline required for the final exam emphasize wars as highly significant for marking out and framing the study of the American story. Everything else, it seems, just falls less consequentially between."

Katie Couric conflated "castrate" with "castigate" and was roundly lampooned because she used the term in reference to a female.  This was unfair, because ovary removal is a perfectly valid second definition for the word.

Read this link only if you want to know how wicked Uday Hussein was.

Most people would never guess that part of Norway is further east than Istanbul. 

An intereseting article at Wired Science discusses the surprisingly sophisticated physics of a crumpled ball of paper.

A list of the ten funniest jokes at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (none of which are particularly funny...)

The Fibonacci Series has been over-hyped.

The staggering cost of owning a parking space in some urban areas ("The parking spot they purchased [two years ago] for $100,000 today sells for $125,000.)

Jimmy Carter reflects on his years as president.

An Alfred Hitchcock movie, lost for 80 years, has been discovered, restored, and is being shown to the public.

Excellent skull makeup for Halloween.

An argument against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient god.

A man's severed thumb has been replaced by transplanting his toe.  Video at the link.

In an effort to cope with falling revenues, golf course managers in Minneapolis have opened their courses to dual use by Frisbee golfers and regular golfers.  The result has been unexpectedly well received.

Draw a stickman.  See what happens.  Go ahead -- do it....

The photo is of my paternal grandfather and grandmother - Harry and Myrtle - who tragically died at a young age as a result of a faulty gas heater.

It's so easy to mock the 1%

Their behavior seems sometimes to be a self-parody.  The photo above shows an item from this year's Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.  It's a "bespoke library."
The publishing house renowned for its beautiful volumes and cultural perspective is offering the ultimate enriching addition to your home: a bespoke library. From floor to ceiling and wall to wall, every nuance of this room will reflect Assouline’s brilliant style—through custom carpeting, objets d’art, and beautifully framed prints—as well as your intellectual viewpoint. When the decor is complete, the shelves will be lined with a one-of-a-kind Assouline collection, consisting of 250 current and vintage volumes in the genre of your choice. Enjoy published works from the world’s foremost artists, photographers, writers, architects, interior designers, and fashion and culinary masters. With this purchase, Neiman Marcus will donate $2,500 to First Book, an award-winning nonprofit organization that provides access to new books for children in need throughout the U.S. and Canada. One custom-built library is available.
Yours theirs for $125,000.

Deck chairs in a library?  A font on the floor?  That couch?  Could any decor be less appealing?

"Klaatu barada uffda"

An interactive graphic of all UFO sightings reported in Minnesota since 1947.   The image above is a screencap - to read the reports, go to the source at MinnPost (to whom credit for the title of this post) and click on the dots.

This will probably be of interest to Minnesota residents only; the database does not appear to have been graphed for other states.

Hagfish produce enought slime to choke a shark

From the incomparable Not Exactly Rocket Science blog at Discover Magazine:
[Hagfish] are disgusting feeders. They burrow deep into corpses and eat their way out, and can even absorb nutrients through their skin. And if they’re threatened or provoked, they produce slime – lots of slime, oozing from the hundreds of pores that line their bodies. The slime consists of large mucus proteins called mucins, linked together by longer protein threads. When it mixes with seawater, it massively expands, becoming almost a thousand times more dilute than other animal mucus... 
Much more at the link, where there is a second embedded video:
The hagfish in the videos are attacked by sharks, conger eels, wreckfishes and more. In less than half a second, the predator’s mouth and gills are filled with slime. It leaves, gagging and convulsing, slime hanging in long wisps from its head. 
You learn something every day.

Why people don't return to symphony concerts

From a post at Fast Company:
Marketing managers for major orchestras had always assumed that convincing people to give the symphony a try was the key to gaining subscribers. "Get people through the doors!" was their mantra, assuming that the sheer beauty of the music would lure them back. But when they actually studied the numbers, they discovered that getting new people wasn't the problem...

In 2007, several orchestra managers joined forces to analyze their collective marketing challenge. A pro bono third-party study by Oliver Wyman (Audience Growth Initiative) found that on average, symphonies lost 55% of their customers each year; churn among first-time concert-goers was 91%!...
The symphonies compiled a list of 78 attributes of the classical music experience... It turns out the quality of the orchestra, magnificence of the hall, and virtuosity of the conductor were not particularly important attributes. What was? Drum roll! The most powerful "driver of revisitation" was parking! As with other orchestras, veteran members of the core BSO audience had figured out where to park, but trialists identified it as a huge hassle--so they didn't come back... 
More information (and additional factors) at the link.

Strikingly "modern" chessmen

These pieces from Iran surprisingly date from the 12th century.  They are crafted of molded and glazed "stonepaste."
Islamic stone-paste, also called fritware and quartz frit, is a ceramic material which seems to have been first manufactured in Iraq in the 9th century... made by combining clay with quartz or other siliceous material, as well as glass frit, to which is adjoined an organic compound such as gum or glue for binding...

Islamic stone-paste was invented to give a stronger body to its pottery material, which, combined with tin-glazing of the surface, allowed it to approximate the result of Chinese porcelain.
From the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, via A London Salmagundi.


Photo presumably from Bangkok, via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

28 October 2011

The next time you jump start your car...

... let this photo serve as a caution to be careful.  If you mix up the wires...
When you jump a car with another car, or an extra battery, you hook positive to positive, and negative to negative or to a metal part of the dead car. When you connect + to - and + to - you create a short circuit, since the electricity was not meant to travel on that path, it was meant to go through the electrical parts of the car.

The insulation on the cables melted from the heat created when the batteries shorted, the battery overheated and caught fire, the electronics may have fried, plastic fuel lines and rubber hoses melted giving more things to burn, and it's all downhill from there.
Further details (and additional impressive photos) in the thread at Reddit.

How covered wagons traversed the Rockies

In old western movies, the settlers' covered wagons are typically shown traversing the plains and deserts.  Getting them over the mountains was less scenic.

The illustration above comes from an outstanding book - Hard Road West, by Keith Heyer Meldahl - that I'll review in more detail later.  It shows the technique used at a location eventually dubbed "Roller Pass."
At Roller Pass, the final 400 feet from a 30-degree slope of jagged boulders, "as steep as the roof of a house"... Oxen could not pull wagons directly up such a grade.  Instead, the animals were unhitched from the wagons and driven to the top, where they could heave along the flatter ground at the pass.  Some emigrants placed log rollers at the top of the slope.  They yoked the oxen to hundreds of feet of chain, and then passed the chain over the rollers and down the slope to a waiting wagon.  Then, under shouts and cracking whips, as many as 12 yoke of oxen hove to on each wagon..."
The drawing doesn't seem to be to scale re the wagon, but the point is clear.  At other sites, the terrain was even more impassable, and the wagons had to be unloaded and disassembled, and the wagon parts hoisted up the mountain with winches, then reassembled at the higher altitude (right image).

Credit for the lower image to Charly Price, the graphic artist for Tahoe National Forest; he prepared this drawing for the Overland Emigrant Trail Map, which he designed.  Via.

Addendum:  A tip of the blogging cap to Phillip Sexton, District Interpretive Coordinator for the Capital District of California State Parks, who encountered this post and offered the following information -
Your discussion concerns crossing the Rockies. Roller Pass is one of two passes used in the Donner Pass area just west of Truckee CA, part of the Sierra Nevada Range. Since the Sierra is granitic, rather than basaltic, as much of the Rockies are, the topography is structurally quite different.
Roller Pass in particular is the highest, but easiest route in the Donner area, because of this slope, as opposed to glaciated and frost heaved granite boulders that are more typical of the Sierra. The drawing of Charly’s represents conditions involved in crossing the actual Donner Pass, first used by the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party in 1844. Because of difficulties like this, far and away most emigrants used Roller Pass on this route, since they did not have to unpack and disassemble their wagons.

I'm not on Facebook

via Bruno Learth Soares at Google+.

Reader Maggie adds this interesting observation:
This is true also of watching tv, listening to the radio (not quite as much NPR), reading magazines, and going to movies where there are previews and popcorn. The product is not the TV show, radio show, news article, whatever. The product is you and you are being delivered to the "sponsor" at a price per expected consumer.

You might as well just order fish sticks

Because when you order a premium fish at a restaurant, you're probably not going to get it.  Here's what the Boston Globe found:
The sliver of raw fish sold as white tuna at Skipjack’s in Foxborough was actually escolar, an oily, cheaper species banned in Japan because it can make people sick. The Alaskan butterfish at celebrity chef Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger in Wellesley was really sablefish, traditionally a staple at Jewish delicatessens, not upscale dining establishments.

At Chau Chow Seafood Restaurant in Dorchester, the $23 flounder fillet turned out to be a Vietnamese catfish known as swai - nutritionally inferior and often priced under $4 a pound.
Those were among the findings of a five-month Globe investigation into the mislabeling of fish. It showed that Massachusetts consumers routinely and unwittingly overpay for less desirable, sometimes undesirable, species - or buy seafood that is simply not what it is advertised to be. In many cases, the fish was caught thousands of miles away and frozen, not hauled in by local fishermen, as the menu claimed...

The Globe collected fish from 134 restaurants, grocery stores, and seafood markets from Leominster to Provincetown, and hired a laboratory in Canada to conduct DNA testing on the samples. Analyses by the DNA lab and other scientists showed that 87 of 183 were sold with the wrong species name - 48 percent...

The Globe-sponsored DNA testing found 24 of the 26 red snapper samples were in fact other, less prized species... All 23 white tuna samples tested as some other type of fish, usually escolar, which is nicknamed the “ex-lax’’ fish by some in the industry because of the digestion problems it can cause...

Seafood substitution can take place anywhere along the international route most wild and farmed fish take to a diner’s plate in the United States. The practice is carried out by fishermen, importers, wholesalers, restaurants, and stores...
More at the link, and it's not very cheerful, because you know these are not innocent mistakes.

Via Consumerist, via the crazy cat lady.

"France is bacon" explained

Discussed at Reddit (the thread has other examples of mondegreens*).  Via this isn't happiness.

*and if you like mondegreens, listen to Stevie Nicks, whose "Edge of Seventeen" got its title because of one, via Tom Petty's wife.

There are four moons in this photo

The image comes from the Cassini-Huygens space probe, presently imaging the area around Saturn.  Titan is the big moon in the background, with Dione in front of it.  Pandora is just beyond the rings to the right.  To find Pan, you will probably need to visit the source of this image - NASA's incomparable APOD website (and thereby learn about the Encke Gap, and what causes it...)

The world was different when I was born

Many people are using the interactive feature at this BBC article today to find out where they are positioned in the history of the world.  I entered the world when it had about 1/3 the population it has today.  That's a huge change in one not-yet-completed lifetime.

My mom is 92.  Her entry point is obviously even further back down the curve:
She often comments (as I tend to do as well now that I'm getting older) about how so many things have changed in her lifetime.  If, when she was born, a 92-year old woman had been at her bedside, that woman would have been born in 1826, when the world population was under a billion.  And if you repeat by having just one more 92-year-old woman present when that woman was born, it takes her birth back to 1734 - the flat part of the graph, where the world population was a half-billion and unchanged for centuries.

So, within the sequential lifetimes of just three people, all of this population growth has occurred.   That's a staggering thought.

25 October 2011

"The Bajau deliberately rupture their eardrums at an early age."

From a story about the "sea nomads" of the Malaysian region:
Diana is one of the world's last marine nomads; a member of the Bajau ethnic group, a Malay people who have lived at sea for centuries, plying a tract of ocean between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia...

They are highly skilled free divers, plunging to depths of 30m and more to hunt pelagic fish or search for pearls and sea cucumbers – a delicacy among the Bajau and a commodity they have traded for centuries.

Since diving is an everyday activity, the Bajau deliberately rupture their eardrums at an early age. "You bleed from your ears and nose, and you have to spend a week lying down because of the dizziness," says Imran Lahassan, of the community of Torosiaje in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. "After that you can dive without pain." Unsurprisingly, most older Bajau are hard of hearing. 
The rest of the article is decidedly downbeat:
These days, those who can afford it dive using compressors. Air is pumped through a garden hose so divers can go deeper for longer – 40m or more. Unaware of the need to restrict their exposure to pressure, countless Bajau have ended up crippled or killed by deadly nitrogen bubbles in their bloodstream.

The practice continues, however, because it's lucrative – especially when potassium cyanide is involved. Cyanide fishing was first introduced in the Philippines by Hong Kong fishing boats looking for reef species such as grouper and Napoleon wrasse to satisfy seafood restaurants' rising demand for live fish...

Torosiaje used to be flanked by teeming reefs; now there are only wastelands of broken coral, the legacy of years of dynamite and cyanide fishing. It's a common story throughout the Coral Triangle – communities destroying the environment that sustains them, driven by voracious global markets.
Additional information (and pix) at the Guardian source.  Photo by James Morgan (gallery here).

Celery - "Nature's toothbrush for your colon"

Via Bits and Pieces and Titam et le Sirop d'Erable.

Addendum:  See BJN's note in the Comments re the etiology of this cartoon.

The subtle science of an urban water tower

A basic hydrostatic principle is evident in this photo of a water tower in New York City - notice the variable spacing of the circumferential hoops (more closely spaced toward the bottom of the tank).

Found at Kottke.

"Mommy" shows how to hold a knife

This somewhat unsettling photo of Joan Crawford was posted yesterday to commemorate the seventh blogiversary of If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger,There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.  Congratulations.  The more I do this blogging, the more I admire the sheer persistence of the survivors.

"Single bamboo drifting"

An athlete in the single bamboo drifting competition, during the 9th National Traditional Games of Ethnic Minorities of the People's Republic of China, September 11, 2011 in Guiyang, China. (Feng Li/Getty Images).

I don't have time to look up information on this game, but if that guy is propelling a single bamboo pole without outriggers or an attached rudder or whatever, then I'm impressed.
Photo from Boston.com's The Big Picture.

Addendum: Richard Hartmann found some additional photos of the event -
- to confirm that it does indeed involve balancing on a single bamboo pole.  (Photo credit Feng Li/Getty Images).

Yeti "nest" in a Russian forest

I don't believe in yetis, but many people do, and some are traveling to Russia for an international conference on "hominology."
Siberian officials this month sponsored nature lovers, scientists and foreigners who claim they have socialized with Bigfoots to attend an International Scientific-Practical Conference on Hominology...

Siberian officials issued a press release saying the three-day event this month turned up "irrefutable evidence" that such a creature—known to locals as a Snow Person—has been squatting in a Kemerovo cave 2,000 miles east of Moscow. Field trips into the surrounding mountains also turned up what they said were telltale signs of Yeti wanderings, such as bent and twisted branches, and underbrush that served as a bed...

Kemerovo Gov. Aman Tuleyev is offering a one million ruble, or about $31,500, reward to anyone who finds a Yeti, telling Russian television, "We need to sit down with him, drink some tea and talk about life."..

Mr. Burtsev has visited conferences and gone on hunts in the U.S., staying for a week in rural Michigan, where Robin Lynne, 48, says she has been feeding a family of Bigfoots outside her home for two years. Hosted by the regional government, Ms. Lynne flew to Siberia for the conference this month, where a tour bus with police escort drove participants to a hunting lodge in the piney outback. There, Ms. Lynne described how the Bigfoots bang on her door, bring her sticks as presents and drink water from a bucket in the yard when the weather is warm. "They love the bucket," she told the group.
The rest of the story is at the Wall Street Journal, where there is also a photo gallery.
Oh, and by the way...
Officials say they would also like to drum up some tourism for Kemerovo, a poverty-stricken region known more for its coal mine accidents than alpine beauty.

Homeless mom prepares her daughter for school

This photo by Gautam Basu is an entrant for the CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the Year award.  Several dozen additional entrants are posted in a gallery at the Telegraph.

Via the Daily Mail.

24 October 2011

Peacock in flight

An India Blue Peacock (Pavo cristatus).  Clearly not a creature designed for aerodynamic efficiency - but still an impressive sight.

Photo ©Burnred, via ionracas and animals, animals, animals.

Divorce attorney's business card

Via snuh.

22 October 2011

Pursuing the Southern Dogface

The email appeared in my box in early September - Southern Dogface butterflies had been identified at a location about an hour's drive from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Southern Dogface is one member of a large group of butterflies known as the "Sulphurs" (because of their yellow color).  Like the "Whites" and the Monarchs, this family is well known to the general public because they are sufficiently common as to be seen by anyone spending time outdoors in most of the United States.

To the public, of course, they are all the same butterfly.  Enthusiasts like my colleagues and I use close-focusing binoculars to sort out the shades of yellow and the patterns of the spots that identify the subsets of the group.  And while they may be common within their usual ranges, sometimes butterflies travel (or are blown by winds) to areas where they are not usually seen.  Such was the case with the Southern Dogface, typically a resident of southern states, and only documented in Wisconsin about six times in the past 10 years.

This butterfly's odd name comes from the black/yellow pattern seen on the dorsum of its forewings, nicely shown here in a photo taken by Mike Reese at the National Butterfly Park in Mission, Texas last year.
The original namer likened the yellow pattern to the face of a dog (it varies a bit from specimen to specimen - this one looks more ducklike).  There are several other identifying characteristics, including the shape of the wing, the pattern of flight, and a pink tinge on the margins of the wings that appears in late-season hatchlings.

When I received the email, I dropped what I was doing, loaded my boots, camera, binoculars, and trekking poles in the car and headed out for the adventure.  The destination location included several hundred acres of oak savannah and prairie; in the latter I finally spotted some sulphurs, but they were powerful and fast fliers who didn't allow a close approach.  After a while I met other members of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association, who were there with the same goal - one of them even being pushed in a wheelchair hoping to spot a dogface.

The breakthrough came when the son of one member spotted something odd and (being in good health) was able to chase it a considerable distance until it finally landed underneath some foliage.  The "oddness" turned out to result from this being a mating pair "in copulo" (butterflies can fly while coupled).  The exertion required for one of the pair to fly while carrying the weight of the other required them to then rest for an extended period, which allowed us to get photos.
Because these butterflies typically rest with their wings vertical and apposed, it's difficult to get pix of the dorsal patterns (one method that sometimes works is to use a "sport" mode on the camera to snap 25 images during flight/takeoff/landing).  My best image came from letting the sun backlight the butterflies, which transilluminated the dogface (above).  It was a fortunate coincidence that the lower one of the pair is exhibiting the "rosa" pattern of magenta-pink highlights typical of the late-season form. (Another photo of this pairing, by Mike Reese, is posted here).

The fact that this pair was copulating does raise the possibility that they may be able to reproduce within the state; since they can't overwinter here, they have to migrate up from Texas, Florida, or the Gulf area, and by history have not been seen here before about August, which doesn't leave much time to form a second generation.  I plan to look for eggs, larvae, and (hopefully) a pupa next summer.

Top photos from Wisconsin Butterflies (which also has detailed information on Tiger Beetles and Robber Flies.)

Welcome to a Tudor kitchen

This one is at Hampton Court.  (Does anyone know if this is a segment from a television series?)

Video found at A Woodrunner's Diary, an interesting blog about historical living skills and period reenactments.

Federal duck stamp entries

Two selections from a gallery of about 200 entries, posted at Outdoors Weekly:
The $15 Federal Duck Stamp is a vital tool for wetland conservation, with 98 cents of every dollar generated going to purchase or lease wetland habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since the stamp’s inception, sales have helped to acquire nearly six million acres of wildlife habitat at hundreds of refuges in nearly every state. 

The Federal Duck Stamp art contest is the only art competition of its kind sponsored by the federal government. Since the first open contest was held in 1949, thousands of wildlife artists from throughout the nation have submitted art to the annual contest. While the winner receives no money from the federal government, the winning artist may benefit from the increased visibility and sale of prints and artwork.
Duck stamp contests always remind me of the scene in the movie Fargo* with Marge and Norm.  In real life, old duck stamps are quite valuable.  A 1934-2006 set of mint stamps is presently listed on eBay with a buy-it-now price of $5,495.

*(in the movie, Norm's primary competitor for the duck stamp contest are identified as "the Hautman's," who were real-life wildlife artists and friends of the Coens.  One confusing thing, though, is that in the movie Marge consoles Norm because his entry was selected for a "low-denomination" stamp, which could not be a federal waterfowl stamp.)

Scrabble championship final board

From the Scrabble Association's website, where you can replay this game move-by-move, and do the same with 30 other games from the tournament.

Before you exclude illegal immigrants...

Excerpts from an Associated Press story in the Cullman Times:
Potato farmer Keith Smith saw most of his immigrant workers leave after Alabama’s tough immigration law took effect, so he hired Americans. It hasn’t worked out: Most show up late, work slower than seasoned farm hands and are ready to call it a day after lunch or by midafternoon. Some quit after a single day...

Politicians who support the law say over time more unemployed Americans will fill these jobs. They insist it’s too early to consider the law a failure, yet numbers from the governor’s office show only nominal interest...

Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican who signed the law, started a program last week to help businesses, particularly farmers, make up for the lost labor. So far, about 260 people interested in temporary agricultural jobs have signed up. About three dozen job openings have been posted... the department doesn’t know of anyone who has been hired...

At his farm, field workers get $2 for every 25-pound box of tomatoes they fill. Skilled pickers can make anywhere from $200 to $300 a day, he said.  Unskilled workers make much less.

A crew of four Hispanics can earn about $150 each by picking 250-300 boxes of tomatoes in a day... A crew of 25 Americans recently picked 200 boxes — giving them each $24 for the day.

It may make sense for some to sit on the couch. Unemployment benefits provide up to $265 a week while a minimum wage job, at $7.25 an hour for 40 hours, brings in $290.

Spencer said the Americans he has linked up with farmers are not physically fit and do not work fast enough.
More at the link.

Wherein we learn about the "ampullae of Lorenzini" - updated with amazing video

Addendum to the original post (below).  A tip of the hat to expatQLD, who after reading the post below searched YouTube and sent me a link to the video showing this lady at work.  As it started I thought I was watching computer graphics because of the unbelievable abundance of sea life; then when I saw her rubbing the snout of the shark I realized this was Cristina Zenato at work.

By all means, click the fullscreen icon [bottom far right corner] to get full enjoyment of this video !!

From the DailyMail:
...She induces the 'tonic' state in the shark using a little-known technique of rubbing the ampullae of Lorenzini - the name given to hundreds of jelly-filled pores around the animal's nose and mouth... The pores act as electroreceptors detecting prey moving in the electromagnetic field around the shark - but also for some reason rubbing them turns 'Jaws' into a sleeping baby.

Ms Zenato uses her ability to put the sharks in a sleepy state to educate other divers, remove parasites and even take out fishing hooks caught in their mouths.

Mr Meier, a commercial photographer who specialises in underwater, nature and travel, said he hoped to raise awareness of the plight of sharks. He said: 'We kill millions of sharks every year, with the majority of those having their fins cut off while still alive and then thrown back into the water to die a slow, agonising death. 
I remember reading reports years ago of surfers or swimmers defending themselves from sharks by hitting the shark on the nose; it was said to be an effective deterrant.  Perhaps this report offers a biologic basis for that observation.

21 October 2011

Orca imitates an outboard motor

I once had a 7.5-horse Evinrude that sounded like this. The unanswerable question is whether he is trying to communicate, or complaining about anthropogenic noise pollution in his world.

Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

Addendum - a hat tip to Lexacq, who points out that this particular orca was well known:
 Luna was abandoned by his pod, and bounded with boats instead in Nootka Sound, BC. This was dangerous, and tragically, led to his death by a boat.
Luna's biography is detailed at Wikipedia.

The "Clovis First" theory appears to be disproven

The settlement of the Americas has always been a controversial topic in archaeology.  Conventional  wisdom has been that the first humans in North America (the Clovis people) arrived via the Beringia Land Bridge near the end of the glacial period, then moved down an ice-free corridor to reach the bulk of North America, and from there to South America.  I've  doubted this theory for years, ever since reading about Tom Dillehay's excavations at Monte Verde in Chile.

This week a BBC report details recent evidence that a [spear] "point" found in a mastodon bone has been reliably dated to 13,800 years before the present.
This places it before the so-called Clovis hunters, who many academics had argued were the North American continent's original inhabitants...

A succession of archaeological finds right across the United States and northern Mexico have indicated there was human activity much earlier than this - perhaps as early as 15-16,000 years ago. The mastodon rib, however, really leaves the once cherished model with nowhere to go...

These investigations included new radio carbon tests using atomic accelerators. "The beauty of atomic accelerators is that you can date very small samples and also very chemically pure samples," Prof Waters told BBC News. "We extracted specific amino acids from the collagen in the bone and dated those, and yielded dates 13,800 years ago, plus or minus 20 years. That's very precise."

DNA investigation also threw up a remarkable irony - the point itself was made from mastodon bone, proving that the people who fashioned it were systematically hunting or scavenging animal bones to make their tools...

When Clovis-First was first proposed, it was a very elegant model but it's time to move on, and most of the archaeological community is doing just that."
I am also gobsmacked to read that it is now possible to date specific amino acids (!).  You learn something every day.

Turner Prize nominee discusses her work

Long-time readers of TYWKIWDBI will know that although I enjoy and appreciate a variety of forms of art (see the art category of this blog), I am frequently befuddled by some of the creations, especially the most modern ones, such as those that typically become nominees for the Turner Prize.

In the video above, the artist seems to be explaining some aspects of her work.  Here's the review from The Telegraph:
Only once before in my career (the first time I saw a work by the Chapman Brothers) have I been unable to formulate any thoughts at all in front of an art work, but that’s what happened when I stepped in the gallery in which Karla Black has made a landscape out of pastel-coloured paper, powders and paints. As you wander through its undulating heights and depths, your experience is polymorphous, like an infant’s – you feel good when you are looking at her work in a fuzzy sort of way and you may want to touch it or roll in it, but what you can’t do is think about or impose any rational meaning on it.
And that, I think, is Black’s point: she takes the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein’s work with very young children as her starting point, creating for adult viewers an experience that is precognitive and pre-verbal. Black is a sort of genius whose work I find uncomfortable at the best of times and threatening when it’s conceived on this scale.
Since it's supposed to be "pre-verbal," I'll withhold commentary.

Kayaker encounters a blue whale

Via Neatorama.

Yet another proof of the Pythagorean Theorem

There are many such proofs.  This one is achieved by folding a piece of paper.

By an almost certainly unrelated coincidence, the length of the video is 3.14

Via The Dish.

Committed to improving automotive fuel economy

Your next new car may not have a spare tire.  As cited by a WKOW television report:
Manufacturers are beginning to phase out spare tires from their new models. Some General Motors cars come instead with a tire repair kit that can patch small holes.

Automakers say roadside assistance plans will cover major tire punctures and spare tires aren't needed much anymore. According to car website www.edmunds.com, 14 percent of new cars are coming without spares. This can cut down the car's weight, making it easier for manufacturers to stick to tighter fuel economy standards.
See?  It's not about cutting costs - it's about improving fuel economy.

19 October 2011

Harvest time

Some of you will remember a post I wrote in late summer showing our vegetable/herb garden out back.  This week temperatures have plunged, and a freeze or frost is predicted within days, so it's time to rescue what we can and put the gardens to sleep for the winter.

Shown above are some of the indeterminate tomato plants which provided us with lots of sweetness and vitamins and lycopenes through the late summer and fall, and eventually overtopped steel cages 7 feet tall.  The plant at the right center still had 35 tomatoes on it yesterday; the almost-ripe ones are now stored in bags.  The green ones will go to friends who like to fry them.

Some of the better herbs have come inside to live under a gro-light for a while longer.

Shark massacre in a marine wildlife sanctuary

As reported in The Guardian:
Colombian environmental authorities have reported a huge shark massacre in the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary in Colombia's Pacific waters, where as many as 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and whale sharks may have been slaughtered for their fins...
"I received a report, which is really unbelievable, from one of the divers who came from Russia to observe the large concentrations of sharks in Malpelo. They saw a large number of fishing trawlers entering the zone illegally," Bessudo said. The divers counted a total of 10 fishing boats, which all were flying the Costa Rican flag.
"When the divers dove, they started finding a large number of animals without their fins. They didn't see any alive," she said. One of the divers provided a video that shows the finless bodies of dead sharks on the ocean floor.
The sanctuary covers 8,570 square kilometres of marine environment that provides a habitat for threatened marine species – in particular sharks. Divers have reported sightings of schools of more than 200 hammerhead sharks and as many as 1,000 silky sharks in the protected waters, one of the few areas in the world where sightings of short-nosed ragged-toothed shark, known locally as the "Malpelo monster," have been confirmed. In 2006 Unesco included the park on its list of World Heritage sites...

Colombia's navy sporadically patrols the waters and maintains a small outpost on the 1.2 square metre island, which is 36 hours from the nearest port. 

Photo via animals, animals, animals.

p.s. - one has to admire the resourcefulness of the Colombian navy for maintaining an outpost on an island that small...

Adapt a meme

The Quickmeme website has templates you can use to modify popular memes to your own purposes.

18 October 2011

A "flying corset"

In the late 19th century... the West End master stage carpenter George Kirby began a business which specialised in flying effects on stage, organising the routines and supplying the equipment. This is one of the body harnesses that he developed for performers to wear. It was shaped like a corset, with leather straps attached and could be unobtrusively attached and detached from the flying wires during performance.

Kirby had worked with the German troupe, the Grigolatis, whose flying effects needed four stage hands to raise and traverse one performer. Kirby was convinced that his system could be less cumbersome and in 1889 developed the first pendulum flying system with quick-release mechanism. One of the earliest productions for which Kirby supplied equipment was Peter Pan by J.M.Barrie, at the Duke of York's Theatre which featured the Darling children flying with Peter from their London home to Never Never Land.
From the collections of the Victoria and Albert.

Harper's Puzzle answers for January, 2012 ------- ("Coined Words")

I think there are at least a few other TYWKIWDBI readers who eagerly look forward to the Harper's magazine "Puzzle" each month.  One frustration is that if you are stuck on an entry, it's a long wait before the answer comes in the next issue (though I do believe there is an online forum somewhere).

I've created another venue here for the convenience of the few who might need it.  Ask (and answer) questions in the Comments section of this post.

p.s. - the embedded grid is for the May 2011 puzzle.

Update:  The first 8 comments apply to the June puzzle; the next 12 are for the July one, then a couple for the August one

Second update:  Commenting now open for the September puzzle.

Third update:  Post queries and hints for the October "New Words" puzzle.

Fourth update:  Post queries and hints for the November acrostic-type "Taking Steps" puzzle.

Fifth update:  Post queries and hints for the December "3 Down and Counting" puzzle.  (p.s. I've stopped boosting this post to the top of the blog each month because so few people use it; those who want to share queries and answers can find this post with a quick search).

Sixth update:  Arrived today - anyone need hints?

The 1930s - with speed came streamlining

 The Schlörwagen “pillbug."

Found at the Aptera Forum, where there are numerous other photos, and some information re the car's low drag coefficient.

Hot water CAN freeze more quickly than cold water

I heard that statement years ago and dismissed it, but the subject was brought up recently in a Reddit thread, which linked to an extended explanation by a physicist.  Herewith brief excerpts:
Hot water can in fact freeze faster than cold water for a wide range of experimental conditions.  This phenomenon is extremely counterintuitive, and surprising even to most scientists, but it is in fact real.  It has been seen and studied in numerous experiments.  While this phenomenon has been known for centuries, and was described by Aristotle, Bacon, and Descartes, it was not introduced to the modern scientific community until 1969, by a Tanzanian high school pupil named Mpemba...

This seems impossible, right?  Many sharp readers may have already come up with a common proof that the Mpemba effect is impossible.  The proof usually goes something like this.  Say that the initially cooler water starts at 30°C and takes 10 minutes to freeze, while the initially warmer water starts out at 70°C.  Now the initially warmer water has to spend some time cooling to get to get down to 30°C, and after that, it's going to take 10 more minutes to freeze.  So since the initially warmer water has to do everything that the initially cooler water has to do, plus a little more, it will take at least a little longer, right?  What can be wrong with this proof?

What's wrong with this proof is that it implicitly assumes that the water is characterized solely by a single number — its average temperature.  But if other factors besides the average temperature are important, then when the initially warmer water has cooled to an average temperature of 30°C, it may look very different than the initially cooler water (at a uniform 30°C) did at the start.  Why?  Because the water may have changed when it cooled down from a uniform 70°C to an average 30°C.  It could have less mass, less dissolved gas, or convection currents producing a non-uniform temperature distribution.  Or it could have changed the environment around the container in the refrigerator.  All four of these changes are conceivably important, and each will be considered separately below...
Prepare to spend some time at the link if you want to understand the details.  I'll accept it on faith now.

Law enforcement technology bags a laser user

Be prepared to be impressed by the imaging and location technology this police helicopter employs after some dude on the ground decides to shine a green laser at the pilot.

Via Boing Boing.

Butterflies are free (though their keepers aren't)

A hat tip to Keith for alerting me to an article in the Seattle Times about a new program instituted in the state of Washington, in which inmates raise butterflies:
Landa, 29, and another inmate from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women have spent eight hours a day, seven days a week for much of the year reading, writing and watching butterflies.

"It's a wonderful experience and it's very rewarding," Landa said. "It's very interesting and amazing to help populate life."

Earning an average inmate wage of 42 cents an hour, the two women are part of a training program ultimately designed to boost the population of Taylor's checkerspot, a once-thriving species of Northwest butterfly now considered threatened...

There are only a handful of known populations of Taylor's checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterflies in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. The species has long been on the minds of local conservationists and the military because the largest concentration of the thumb-sized black, white and orange butterfly is on a swath of grassland that abuts a live-fire artillery range on Joint Base Lewis-McChord...

For several years, The Evergreen State College has partnered with the state Department of Corrections to create jobs for inmates to study everything from mosses to frogs. In the course of their studies, the inmates also play an active role in increasing populations of wildlife...

"We don't just want to have them focus on producing butterflies. We want them to understand what they are doing," Bush said. "Hopefully, it inspires them to seek environmental careers or additional education, or, at the very least, it helps them understand our ecosystems better."

A grant from the military paid for supplies for the $35,000 greenhouse at Mission Creek Corrections Center; inmates built the facility, according to corrections staff.
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