18 May 2012

Links for you to explore

Because I just don't have time to present them as individual posts.

A "former FBI Special Agent and head of the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force Al Qaeda squad" says the TSA is useless.  Not annoying - useless.  A summary at BoingBoing, with links to the source material.

An explanation of how restaurant menus are designed to incorporate a variety of marketing tricks.  "A box draws attention and, usually, orders..."  The $115 platter is there to make everything else look cheaper.

"A proposed new time-keeping system tied to the orbiting of a neutron around an atomic nucleus could have such unprecedented accuracy that it neither gains nor loses 1/20th of a second in 14 billion years."  "So we'll have a leap-neutron-second every 280 billion years? How am I supposed to write that into my software?"

A new LED light puts out more power than is put into it.  Literally.  It "produces 69 picowatts of light using 30 picowatts of power, giving it an efficiency of 230 percent."  The reason it isn't breaking the first law of thermodynamics is explained at Wired.  

Another e-voting system goes down in flames.  "Within 48 hours of the system going live, we had gained near complete control of the election server."

The best behind-the-back basketball pass I've seen all year.

Three hundred years ago, Sweden had a February 30th.  The reason is explained at Widow's Weeds.

A man in Milwaukee tried to rob a bank.  He was unsuccessful.  "Found in the suspect's possession: "How to Be A Successful Criminal."

Some women report reaching orgasm or achieving sexual pleasure while working out at the gym.  Details re the favorite type of equipment at Discover magazine.

A compilation of "All the nipples on view in the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art."  Safe for work, I guess.

An Easter egg hunt was cancelled because of "the behavior of aggressive parents who swarmed into the tiny park."

"The 56-year-old man held his left leg against an electric saw in his home workshop and severed his foot just above the ankle."  He also threw it in the oven so it couldn't be reattached.

A "bone luge" is a way to drink liquor out of a bone in a restaurant.   In case you need a new way to drink liquor.

Drivers were once taught to hold a car's steering wheel in way to maximize control of the vehicle.  Now the importance of where to place your hands is determined by the possibility that the airbag may inflate.  Among the injuries the NHTSA reports from improper placement of the hands when an airbag deploys are amputations of fingers or entire hands, traumatic fractures and a particularly stomach-churning injury called "degloving." Got your hands in the right spot?

Lewis Lapham has written an insightful appraisal of the American health-care system in the latest edition of his Lapham's Quarterly.  I can't do it justice with brief excerpts; those interested should read the five pages at the link.

Also at Lapham's Quarterly, a scary story about how force-feeding was used against suffragettes in 1910.

For every fan of American football.  Video of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during a game in which he was "miked up" for sound.  Cleveland takes a 24-3 lead.  Stafford gets crushed with an injury to his shoulder.  And then...

"A 93-year-old Florida grandmother has parked her car for good after driving 576,000 miles (927,000km) over 48 years at the wheel of one trusty vehicle."

A collection of photos of swallowtail butterflies of the world.   Beautiful creatures.

Snow globes on a windowsill set fire to a man's couch.

Fourteen photos of gynandromorphs, mostly butterflies, but also birds.  One half of the body is female, one half is male.

A video explains how to peel a head of garlic in ten seconds.

At the GOP convention in Florida, water guns will be banned.  But real guns will be permitted.

A 125-year-old sturgeon was caught in Wisconsin.  It was "bigger than a linebacker."  And it was released after being tagged.

If you want to look up famous people who share your birthday, you know you can do so on Wikipedia.  But for the birthdays of fictional characters there is an infographic at Flavorwire, via Neatorama.

According to Sentence First, the phrase "who to follow" is grammatically permissible.

Here is the archive of every Jeopardy question ever asked.  Over 222,000 entries.

Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald helped one another's careers.  "Ella Fitzgerald was not allowed to play at Mocambo (a Hollywood nightclub) because of her race."  Marilyn made a call, and Ella said it changed her career.

Should obituaries of pets be in the newspaper? "Because they openly announce that a pet was part of a family, and bring legitimacy to mourning the pet as a family member, obituaries for animals push up against the definition of "family" in ways that may be quite upsetting for some people."

When the Pioneer spacecraft left the solar system, they began slowing down.  No one has ever been able to explain why - until now.

Surveillance Self-Defense is a website that specializes in explaining how you can prevent yourself from being subject to surveillance.

There are lots of fossilized dinosaur footprints in Maryland.  A man has made a hobby of collecting them.  20-pic photoessay at the link.

Retreaded tires can be dangerous.  If that's not inherently apparent, read the link.

A BBC video shows poisonous sea snakes (kraits) hunting in packs.  I would embed the impressive video if I could, but you can view it at the BBC, via Neatorama.

Bee colony collapse disorder linked to pesticides.

A cheerful story of a puppy rescued from a cholla cactus.  With video.

Chess enthusiasts may be interested in 17th-century examples of the knight's tour.

CARCA is the acronym for the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Cat Association. "Our goals are to train and maintain a network of highly efficient avalanche search and rescue cat teams across Canada."  My ailurophile wife suspects it's a spoof.

A story in Spiegel Online reports on new investigations about the art work and personal life of Albrecht Dürer.  "In 1517, he ventured a detailed depiction of a scrotum -- a pioneering act in the West. Some of Dürer's drawings are so suggestive that researchers kept them secret for years and locked them away in the closet. One example is the drawing "Youth with Executioner." It shows an executioner, armed with a sword, who is stroking a half-naked young man, who voluptuously acquiesces. Other sketches also show naked men's bodies."

The etymology and history of first names.

Cigarette cards were erotic photographs inserted in cigarette packs.  A gallery of them is posted at Marinni's Livejournal blog (in Russian).  Probably not safe for work, depending on where you work.  And for those of you who used to buy Playboy for the articles, here is the English translation of the site's content.

The Great Pyramid's secret doors are still being investigated.

Otters Who Look Like Benedict Cumberbatch.  Self-explanatory.

A Slate column details the history of buttermilk.  It's not the same product your grandparents enjoyed.

Canada has an alternate currency ("Canadian Tire money") that you should know about if you're planning to visit Canada, in case you encounter some.

A delightful story: "Gac Filipaj, an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia, completed his Classics degree with honors after balancing classes with a fulltime custodial job for the past 12 years."  He has now graduated from Columbia University while working there full time.

A man in Kentucky was arrested for leaving his son in the car while he went into a bar to drink.  His son is seventeen years old.

A woman's pants caught on fire after she picked up some rocks and put them in her pocket.  It sounds totally implausible until you read the explanation offered by "jl" in the comments.

Enough.  Got to get outside.


  1. Umm...how was that behind the back pass not from the NBA? It was the Nuggets and the Celtics. :)

    1. Oops. It was something I bookmarked long ago, and I posted it without viewing it this morning, misremembering it as a highlight of a non-NBA game (probably conflating it in my mind with that half-court saving-the-ball-from-out-of-bounds shot in Estonia).


      Text fixed. Thanks, Dave.

  2. Re the accurate clock: leap seconds don't happen because of the inaccuracy of atomic clocks. It's because the rate of rotation of the Earth is changing, changing the length of the day. The leap seconds are added to keep atomic time close to solar time.

    (Oops, this turned into an introductory essay on timekeeping.)

    Basically, there are two kinds of time: solar time and atomic time. Atomic time is what the clocks measure: a steady progression of equal units of time (seconds, say), and very accurate. Of course at very accurate levels it all depends on local gravity and so on so a we have a sort of average of several atomic clocks around the world: the International Atomic Time, TAI (Temps Atomique International).

    But the actual events that define the day and the season to us humans are not constant. We want our day to last just long enough so that the movement of the Sun doesn't go out of sync with the clock in the long run. The actual time between noons is not constant because the rotational speed of the Earth is changing slightly all the time. This has a random component due to shifts in the mass distribution because the liquid insides are in motion (and maybe because the continents are moving around too, but I'm not sure if they're massive enough).

    There is also a linear trend towards a longer day because of tidal effects of the Moon. The Moon is moving away from us and simultaneously slowing us down, until we reach an end state where the Earth and Moon are both synchronized and the day on both of them lasts one month. This will never actually be reached because it happens so slowly that the Sun will burn out before that. So on average the day gets longer all the time, although in the short time it might get shorter for a while too because of the random fluctuations.

    The time standard which is related to the rotation of the earth is called Universal Time (UT). The raw form, UT0, is measured using astronomical observations. With some averaging and corrections applied, we get UT1. Universal time and the TAI diverge from each other steadily because the TAI moves at constant pace while UT1 does not.

    Ideally we want a time which is constant, but also corresponds to the movement of the Sun. This is why we have the Coordnated Universal Time (UTC), which is the time by which we set our watches and clocks. It's defined so that it progresses at a pace set by the TAI, but every time the difference between UTC and UT1 grows greater than 0.9 seconds, a leap second is added to or subtracted from UTC at the next half-year point (either Dec 31st or Jun 30th). So UTC diverges from TAI, but not from UT1, while still moving at the constant pace of TAI.

    1. It is not linear.

  3. When I was composing my own "gynandromorphy collage" of songbirds, I encountered some discussion alluding to controversy about whether or not that Northern Cardinal was in fact a gynandromorph or just partially leukistic by some genetic/developmental defect.

    1. Interesting; I had seen the cardinal photo elsewhere but had not heard the leucistic explanation before.

      I've put an addendum on my old post about that cardinal:


      Tx, finchwench.

    2. Actually, the 2009 sighting in your previous post is not so controversial. It is the 2011 sighting, with suspiciously imperfect bilateral symmetry and more bleached out looking allegedly "female" half, that is contested. Sorry for the confusion!

    3. Fixed again. Thank you for taking the time to clarify that.

  4. Wow, that FBI agent must be useless. Therefore, we must not need the FBI. I'm using logic like his here. He doesn't realize that he doesn't bypass screening because he is super special and has a cool job; he bypasses security because FBI agents have guns and they can't run guns through x-rays because they lose control of their weapons in crowded checkpoints. They can't walk though metal detectors because a gun would alarm the metal detector. If he doesn't have his gun, he is just one of us, poor fellow.

    TSA needs to be reformed, but it has a purpose.

    Screeners follow rules like "No knives allowed" because law enforcement officers carry guns, not knives. Screeners don't make decisions outside their pay grade, such as "Oh, he's allowed to have a gun, so I'll allow him to have a knife" because if they are allowed to start making judgement calls then they will be lulled into allowing friends to bring things on, then some lady who says she's a school teacher, then some young man who says he's late for his grandmother's funeral.

  5. I love your blog. So many wonderful things to appreciate about this world of ours.

    I think about colony collapse disorder frequently because we have 10 hives per square mile here where I live. Africanized bees are a terror- one never knows if the mere act of walking past a tree or dead cactus or a water meter box is cause for alarm. The bees are thriving here in the desert southwest and it would be wise to study exactly why they are thriving. I suspect the lack of contact with pesticides might have a great deal to do with it. We don't live in an agricultural area and the mesquite trees are thick with blooms and the thousands upon thousands of bees harvesting nectar in those trees.

  6. Just want to thank you Stan for all your effort , your blog is a wealth of information and entertaining trivia , looking forward to seeing more when you get back !

  7. The article linked from here:

    "Also at Lapham's Quarterly, a scary story about how force-feeding was used in the American justice system in 1910."

    has nothing to do with the American justice system. It's listed as from Liverpool, England.

    1. Oops. You're quite correct, Kent. I've fixed the text. Thanks for the heads-up.

    2. Groovy. Now that I reread my comment I hope it didn't come across as rude. I have always had a problem with the way Liverpoolians treat women and I want them to get the bad press they deserve.

    3. I didn't view it as rude at all. This blog is peppered with sharp-eyed readers who effectively serve as copyeditors for me. It all helps make the final product better. :.)

  8. As a Canadian, I can assure you that it is not called "tire money" but "Canadian Tire money" as it comes from the retail chain called "Canadian Tire".

    I've seen it accepted at face value at garage sales, and ads for it in local classifieds. They also collect it in-store and use it for donations to local sports charities.


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