31 August 2012

No legs. One arm. Paralympic medalist.

Congratulations to Arnulfo Castorena. The brief video below shows his second-place finish in the 50-meter competition; his response during the medal presentation is heartwarming.

Harvard cheating scandal involves hundreds of students

It happened on an open-book exam (!!!)
After similarities were noticed in up to 20 student exam papers by an examiner, the matter was brought to the attention of the administrative board and an investigation was launched.

That probe has now found some 125 of the course's final papers were suspicious and has begun contacting students involved.

Possible punishments range from being suspended for a year to an official warning. The class was taken by only 250 students meaning a staggering half are now suspected of cheating.

The newspaper quoted an email sent to students taking the exam that said it was "completely open book, open note, open internet, etc.." but warned them not to discuss it with each other and to treat it as an "in-class" exam.
The course?   Government 1310: Introduction to Congress.  LOL.

Addendum:  An interesting followup article in Salon, with one student saying:
Harvard chose to go public with this story to first and foremost save their own asses. They wanted to get the version that they wanted out to the public first. Why did they do this? A large number of the students involved had threatened to go public with this unfair process and an even larger number of students have already lawyered up and are preparing to sue the college, professor platt, and every single TF in the course. Myself included.

McDonald's tortilla with use-by date. On the food.

From the discussion thread at Reddit, I gather this is real, but that it is laser-printed, not ink-printed and thus safe for consumption (though it should not have been distributed to the public).

The world's shortest scheduled airline flight

Two minutes in duration, from Westray to Papa Westray (in the Orkneys).  The entire flight is documented in this 2-minute video.

Via 22 Words.

Military golf courses

"Welcome to Cole Park Golf Club at Fort Campbell, KY. Cole Park is one of the finest golfing facilities in the Army. Our goal is to provide golfers in our Army community with everything they desire in a top-notch golf facility... We have an 18-hole Championship course that covers over 350 acres of prime real estate..."
The description is of Cole Park Golf Club at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, just one of hundreds of military golf courses situated around the world.
Back in 1975, Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin) decried the fact that the Department of Defense spent nearly $14 million each year to maintain and operate 300 military-run golf courses scattered across the globe. In 1996, the weekly television series America's Defense Monitor noted that "Pentagon elites and high government officials [were still] tee-ing off at taxpayer expense" at some "234 golf courses maintained by the U.S. armed forces worldwide."..

Take the Eaglewood Golf Courses at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. In 2004, the Pentagon paid out more than $352,000 to George Golf Design to refurbish its two courses... George Golf Design considerately worked on the courses one at a time, so that local duffers would not be left linkless. This was of critical importance since if both courses were out of commission, Virginia would have been left with only nine military golf facilities (navy, five; army,three; Marine Corps, one) with a total of fourteen courses...

[In 2004], according to DoD documents, the U.S. Army paid $71,614 to the Arizona Golf Resort -- located in sunny Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A Saudi homage to the American Southwest that claims to offer the "only residential western expatriate golf resort in Riyadh with activities for all ages," the resort actually boasts an entire entertainment complex, complete with a water-slide-enhanced megapool, gym, bowling alley, horse stables, roller hockey rink, arcade, amphitheater, restaurant, and even a cappuccino bar -- not to mention the golf course and a driving range.
From a 2008 article at AlterNet (one doubts that anything has changed during the Obama administration).  At the Military Golf Course Guide, you can find a list of golf courses sorted by service, by state, and by country.

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty

Floating caskets

A seldom-discussed complication of hurricanes and flooding. 

Photo from Facebook, via Paul Douglas on Weather.

Yarn for an Icelandic shawl

It's too bad there are only 24 hours in a day, because there are so many intriguing and useful hobbies and crafts that one could learn.  When I see a photo like the one above, I wish I had the time (and skill) to create things with fabric.
In this kit to make a Icelandic traditional 'Hyrna' shawl there are 5,2oz (150g) of yarn, 3 colours . The yarn is hand dyed with natural colours from plants from the Icelandic nature, except for the Indígó (blue) that is imported. These green tones Gudrun Bjarnadottír gets from using Lupin leaves and then colouring with Indígó to get the green effect...
We have the lupin growing in our yard, hoping to attract a Karner Blue butterfly.

Text and photo from Hespa on Etsy, via A Polar Bear's Tale.

30 August 2012

"Market by candlelight" (Petrus van Schendel, 1865)

I was stunned by this artist's ability to capture light, both on the young woman's face and the diffused light of the misty moonlit scene.  I had not heard of him before, but discovered he was famous for precisely this effect.
Petrus van Schendel (1806-1870), Dutch Romantic painter, etcher and draughtsman. Van Schendel specialised in nocturnal Dutch market scenes, exploring the effects the soft light had upon his subjects, as a result he was named Monsieur Chandelle by the French... Petrus van Schendel also had an important precedent within the art of the Low Countries, Rembrandt van Rijn’s masterpiece The Nightwatch
Twenty-five of his paintings are assembled at Wikigallery.

Image from Bonham's auctions, via Alabaster.  Click on the embed above to view it at larger size.

A stunning wall of books

I found the photo at Librarianista, and wondered how material could be retrieved from shelving like that.  The caption listed it as "Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum," and a quick search yielded an explanation at The Centered Librarian:
Ryotaro Shiba started writing historical novels after World War II and won the prestigious Naoki Prize for his 1959 novel, "Fukuro no Shiro" ("The Castle of an Owl")... The Museum in his honor consists of two parts, his former house and a museum newly built after his death... Inside one sees the huge bookshelf(11 meters high) housing his more than 20,000 books.
So it's a sterile museum display rather than a working library.  I am less impressed now.

Cow chip deficiency strikes the Midwest

The drought has caused a shortage of flattened, dried cow manure - or cow chips - for the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival, which attracts about 300 throwers and 40,000 spectators to Prairie du Sac, Wis...

The hot, dry summer - which has caused crop, water level and other problems across the nation - caused the grass to brown and cattle to stay near their barn for food and to keep cool. That means the manure in the pasture wasn't able to dry and flatten in the sun...

Instead, a few organizers went out sporadically and collected about a third of the usual amount - 200 or 300. Every year they keep the good ones that don't break - so they will dip into the 150 to 200 in reserve barrels for this year's competition...

When searching for chips, they look for them be about the size of a ping pong paddle. "If it looks like it has air bubbles on the top, it's bad chip," Reuter said. "It won't be worth it because it will be light and airy. But if it's thick and solid and grassy, it's a good chip." 
It's worth remembering that in pioneer days, dried buffalo patties served as handy fuel in woodless plains areas.  Herbivore feces are no more nasty than the material you scrape out from under your rotary lawn mower; it's carnivore feces that get nasty.

Triassic mites found in amber

As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Abundant 230 million-year-old amber from the Late Triassic (Carnian) of northeastern Italy has previously yielded myriad microorganisms, but we report here that it also preserves arthropods some 100 Ma older than the earliest prior records in amber... Antiquity of the gall mites in much their extant form was unexpected, particularly with the Triassic species already having many of their present-day features (such as only two pairs of legs); further, it establishes conifer feeding as an ancestral trait...
From the BBC report on the manuscript:
After a painstaking screen of more than 70,000 droplets, Prof Grimaldi and his team discovered three ancient arthropods - including two species of previously undiscovered mite - entombed within these small resinous gems.

The new mite species are the oldest fossils of an extremely specialised group called Eriophyoidea. This contains about 3,500 living species, all of which feed on plants and sometimes form abnormal growth called "galls"...

"When flowering plants entered the scene, these mites shifted their feeding habits, and today, only 3 percent of the species live on conifers. This shows how gall mites tracked plants in time and evolved with their hosts."
After screening 70,000 droplets... !!

Teddy Roosevelt's chest xray

While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper named John Schrank shot him, but the bullet lodged in his chest only after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and passing through a thick (50 pages) single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket.  Roosevelt, as an experienced hunter and anatomist, correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not completely penetrated the chest wall to his lung, and so declined suggestions he go to the hospital immediately. Instead, he delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt.  He spoke for 90 minutes. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were, "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose."  Afterwards, probes and x-ray showed that the bullet had traversed three inches (76 mm) of tissue and lodged in Roosevelt's chest muscle but did not penetrate the pleura, and it would be more dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet than to leave it in place. Roosevelt carried it with him for the rest of his life.
According to documents found on [John] Schrank after the attempted assassination, Schrank had written that he was advised by the ghost of William McKinley in a dream to avenge his death, pointing to a picture of Theodore Roosevelt.
The bullet, designated by the arrow in the lower left of the image, overlies the anterior end of the right fourth rib.

Interesting ancient coins

A set of ten gold coins from the Harborough Museum, in Leicestershire:
As the museum puts them on public display, curators have dated the coins to around 50 or 60 BC, made of a style symbolic of north-west France and the Low Countries, which were given the Latin name of Gallo Belgica during their Roman occupation at the time.

These origins suggests that the inhabitants of Leicestershire, known as the Corieltavi, had French connections, although the lucrative value of each piece would have made them the stuff of elite tribe members...

“You don’t normally find imported coins this far north – this is the most northerly example so far. They are usually found in the south-east of England, maybe because the area is closer to the continent, or perhaps because they had strong trade links with the Gallo-Belgic tribes.

“We think they may have been considered special because they were imported. They may have been hoarded because they were better quality gold than local coins.”
I think the design is fascinating.  Although it must (?) be culturally unrelated, the stylistic horse on the obverse looks similar to me to the Uffington White Horse.

29 August 2012

Wedding dress made from a parachute

From the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History:
This wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that saved the groom's life during World War II. Maj. Claude Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, and his crew, were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, in August 1944 when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out...  He kept the parachute and used it as a way to propose to Ruth in 1947. He presented it to her and suggested she make a gown out of it for their wedding.

She wondered how she was going to make "this voluminuous item" into a dress. Seeing a dress in a store window that was based on one that appeared in the movie Gone with the Wind, she patterned her dress after that. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. She made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple were married in the Neffs Lutheran Church in Neffs, Pennslyvania, July 19, 1947.
Via The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things.   And since my newly-installed widget probably won't find it, I'll manually insert a link to Carol Burnett's famous "Went With The Wind" sketch.

How machines rule the financial markets

Excerpts from what is, to my mind, a scary story at Salon:
In today’s stock market, humans have largely been reduced to interested observers. The algorithms own the market now. Dow Jones and Bloomberg offer news services that are written specifically for the trading bots. These stories would be incomprehensible to a human, but make perfect sense to an algorithm...

The competition between warring Wall Street algorithms has become so bizarre that there are days when 40 percent of the trades on all U.S. exchanges, from the Nasdaq to the NYSE, are made by just two midwestern companies that most people, even those who work in finance, have never heard of. One of them, Getco, is located in Chicago; the other, Tradebot, is in Kansas City. Both firms employ world-class hackers and engineers who are focused on clearing profits of often less than one cent per share. Getco and Tradebot deploy thousands of algorithms to scour the markets for the tiniest of opportunities...

When a mutual fund company, be it Fidelity, Vanguard, or T. Rowe Price, makes a trade to add to a position or subtract from one, it’s inevitably a very large order. Trading a million shares of a stock, even a heavily traded one such as Apple or ExxonMobil, can move the market against the large seller or buyer. If other traders know that an order to buy a million shares is coming through the pipe, they will do whatever they can to get in front of it and buy up available shares. That way, they can repost their newly acquired shares for sale at a higher price knowing that they’ll get sucked into the mutual fund order. When a mutual fund has to pay more for its shares, it costs the owners of that fund—normal people saving for retirement—money...

Wall Street leaders have acknowledged that a rogue series of algorithms could spark a string of colossal losses that their owners can’t cover. Because some high-speed trading algorithms are able to trade on margin with leverage, it’s conceivable that a series of bad trades, all conducted in seconds, could lead to a liquidity crisis, bankrupting a trader’s broker and the clients he trades for. Such incidents have nearly happened before. In late 2009, Chicago’s Infinium Capital Management, one of the more secretive and powerful trading houses in the United States, twice lost control of an algorithm that began selling S&P 500 futures as fast as it could, dropping the market... 
The Salon story is in turn excerpted from a book that will be published later this week.

An Egyptian "paddle doll"

"Paddle dolls" earned their nickname because of their resemblance to modern Ping-Pong paddles. They all show exaggerated depictions of female genitalia. Some are decorated with rudimentary drawings of couples engaged in sexual intercourse, and others have images of birth gods. The iconography of birth and reproduction suggests that the Egyptians believed "paddle dolls" enhanced fertility for the living and probably also for the dead.
From the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, where I had to search for other examples of paddle dolls to decipher how this image depicts female genitalia, even in exaggerated form.  Apparently the small triangle at the very bottom of the carving is thought to represent the pubic region.

Via A London Salmagundi.

"Tappers" at paralympic swimming events

One of the most important aids to the blind swimmer is the tapper. Standing at each end of the pool is a person holding a long pole with a soft circular ball on the end. As the swimmer approaches they are tapped on the head.

It is a sign to the swimmer that the end of the pool is approaching, and the confidence gained by the tapper's presence means the swimmer can move at full pelt without fearing a painful crash at the end.

"The pole looks a bit like a fishing rod," says Marcelo Sugimori, one of two tappers in the Brazilian Paralympic team. Sugimori used to tap for his sister Fabiana, who won gold in the 50m freestyle in Athens 2004. He now works with the team's two other blind and partially sighted swimmers.

"We tap the swimmer when they are between two and four metres from the end of the pool," he adds. "It takes a lot of training together, and a lot of trust."
There are several more interesting aspects of the paralympics detailed in an article at the BBC today.

"Tulipmania" comes to China

Their version involves walnuts.  Via BoingBoing.

The nonsense of "zero tolerance" in schools

Here is yet another in a seemingly-neverending series of incidents in which schools rigidly enforce "zero tolerance" of sex/drugs/violence/etc related matters.  In this case a three-year-old child deaf child who signs with his hands has been told to change his name sign because the hand gesture resembled the pointing of a gun.
Hunter Spanjer says his name with a certain special hand gesture, but at just three and a half years old, he may have to change it.

"He's deaf, and his name sign, they say, is a violation of their weapons policy," explained Hunter's father, Brian Spanjer.

Grand Island's "Weapons in Schools" Board Policy 8470 forbids "any instrument...that looks like a weapon," But a three year-old's hands?

"Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way," said Hunter's grandmother Janet Logue.

"It's a symbol. It's an actual sign, a registered sign, through S.E.E.," Brian Spanjer said. S.E.E. stands for Signing Exact English, Hunter's sign language. Hunter's name gesture is modified with crossed-fingers to show it is uniquely his own.
Source link, via Neatorama.

Addendum:  I just noticed that the boy's name is "Hunter," which may explain the hand sign he was taught to use.  Also this comment from the Reddit thread -
...the boy is using SEE instead of ASL. Read through to the related article, and you'll see that the school district teaches to deaf children with ASL instead of SEE (the former is much more common). What most likely happened is that the school is just trying to teach the boy ASL, perhaps starting with his name, so the parents ran to the news to create the story that the school is trying to change his name due to their gun policy, when it's actually because their teachers don't speak SEE.
- which, of course, would put the story in a different light.

28 August 2012

The beheading of Lady Jane Grey

She was only 16 or 17 years old, and had been de facto Queen of England for nine days.

Painting by Paul Delaroche (1833), via Rob's Webstek.

Holes in beach sand explained

From Naturespeak, a detailed explanation of why one sometimes sees a line of holes in the sand at a lakeshore...
In places where the shorebird and hieroglyphs met, a third type of marking evidenced where the birds were working these wiggle marks with systematic thrusts of an open bill. They were starting at one end and poking millimeter by millimeter down the line until – whatever it was – was found, escaped, or the hole turned out to be dry.  I opted to try the same tactic...

Taking my finger and collapsing the tiny ridges, I became a giant sandpiper on this day. Many of the tunnels yielded nothing except, well, collapsed patterns in the sand. A fascinating few of the tunnel investigations resulted in a tiny explosion near the terminal end. In a motion quicker than the eye could catch something would erupt out of the tunnel – spreading a small shower of sand grains and leaving an opening.

Not only were they micro-sized but also cryptically colored to blend into the speckled sand... Their surprising trajectory took them well beyond expected range to about 4 or 5 inches from their starting point...

If this were an ocean beach I’d be talking about “sand fleas” at this point but this was an inland sea beach [Lake Huron]. These things looked like grasshoppers but nothing about this scenario, except the jumping, smacked of grasshopper...
Those interested in the identity of this burrower-in-the-sand can find the identity and a drawing of the creature at Naturespeak.


From a story in the Bournemouth Daily Echo:
A schoolboy has stumbled across a rare piece of [ambergris] which could be worth £40,000... the substance is highly sought after and is used to prolong the scent of perfume. Eight-year-old Charlie Naysmith made the discovery at Hengistbury Head near Bournemouth in Dorset, much to the amazement of his parents.

His find doesn’t look very exciting and most people would probably walk straight past it, mistaking it for a stone. But Charlie was curious enough to pick it up and, after a bit of research, he and his family discovered it is worth between £10,000 and £40,000...
See also This wasn't used to poison Charles II.

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

"Ecce reparationem" - updated

An elderly parishioner has stunned Spanish cultural officials with an alarming and unauthorised attempt to restore a prized Jesus Christ fresco.

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) by Elias Garcia Martinez has held pride of place in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church near Zaragoza for more than 100 years.

The woman took her brush to it after years of deterioration due to moisture. Cultural officials said she had the best intentions and hoped it could be properly restored. Cecilia Gimenez, who is in her 80s, was reportedly upset at the way the fresco had deteriorated and took it on herself to "restore" the image.

She claimed to have had the permission of the priest to carry out the job. "(The) priest knew it! He did! How could you do something like that without permission? He knew it!"
You can read the rest of the story (and see a video interview of the woman) at the BBC.

Addendum:  Reposted from five days ago to add this most interesting information from a writeup at The History Blog:
City officials are bringing in professional restorers Monday to see if Cecilia Giménez’s “restoration” can be undone. Prospects are grim. The original work is a hundred years old and it was done directly on the unprepped wall with oil paints. There’s a reason frescoes are made with pigment applied to wet plaster; oil on wall tends to flake right off.

If it can’t be re-restored, that might be a boon for the city. “The world’s worst restoration” has a growing fan club now. It has become a major tourist attraction and subject of a Change.org petition to keep the new version rather than allow restorers to revert it back to the original. As the petition puts it: The daring work of the spontaneous artist in the Ecce Homo of the Sanctuary of Mercy of Borja is an endearing and a loving act, a clever reflection of political and social situation of our time. It reveals a subtle critique of creationist theories of the Church...

Anyway it’s not like the original is a masterpiece, despite what some of the more sensationalistic headlines said when the story first broke. It has more sentimental value than artistic or historical significance. Elias Garcia Martinez was a fairly well-known local painter of traditional-style popular works in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was a professor at the Fine Arts School of Zaragoza from 1894 until his retirement in 1929, and he and his family used to vacation in Borja during the summer break. One of those summers he spent two hours painting Christ with a crown of thorns on a church wall...
I understand there are suggestions that the church will opt to leave the restoration in place, and place on the wall a photograph of the original painting.  All of which raises some interesting questions about the nature of art and how we value it.

Photo of tourists via Peregrino.

Ribbon eel

Like many eels, the ribbon eel is sometimes thought to be angry or aggressive, because its mouth is often open, appearing ready to strike. In reality, the eel is simply breathing. In the wild, the ribbon eel buries itself in sand or hides in rocks or reefs, dashing out to feed on shrimp and fish.

The Wikipedia entry also notes that a ribbon eel can live to be twenty years old, and is the only moray eel that is protandric (born a male, but changes to a female during its lifetime).

Filmed in the ocean off Lembeh, Sulawesi, Indonesia.  Video found at Neatorama.  To me, the creature looks like a piece of living Christmas candy.

Are these Bible passages self-contradictory?

Where in the Bible are we told in one verse not to do a thing and in the next to do it?
‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.’
--Prov. xxvi. 4.
‘Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.’
--Prov. xxvi. 5.
---Samuel Grant Oliphant, Queer Questions and Ready Replies, 1887.

I don't know the answer to the question I posed in the title; there may be a subtext or translation subtletly that is not evident in the brief excerpt.  Someone with a theological training or a better understanding of Proverbs may be able to explain this apparent discrepancy.

Found in the Futility Closet.

Instant karma strikes an unsportsmanlike bicyclist

Via A London Salmagundi.

A coffin for two kittens

From the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, via A London Salmagundi.

27 August 2012

Three-horned sheep are real

Ovis aries - Old Norway Sheep (anomalous, three-horned)

As explained at Biomedical Ephemera:
Three-horned sheep legitimately have more than two horns... As a result, the extra horn locations can deform the skull shape of sheep who develop them, resulting in…"special" sheep.

Thankfully for farmers, most of the time, the extra horn and semi-deformed skull/face has no influence upon brain development, and the sheep are no more dull than average.
Text and image from an eighteenth-century German nature book.

LinkWithin added to the blog

Today I added a widget called "LinkWithin," which adds internal links to other posts on TYWKIWDBI.  I did this not to increase pageviews, because I don't have any click-related revenue, but to try to enhance the experience by steering readers (especially new readers) to relevant past posts, rather than having to search for and link to those posts while I write the text.

At present I seem to have placed the widget within the body of the post, which is not what I wanted; I would prefer that it come at the very bottom, after the social media links and the "labels" information.  I found this information -
Modify your HTML template to add the code below at the place where you want the widget to appear: <div class="linkwithin_div"></div>
- but I'm understandably nervous about even opening my template for fear of screwing something up (I minimally modified the blog format from a preset template).

It's also too small.  I installed the three-thumbnail-wide version, then wanted to change to the five-thumbnail-wide version, but haven't successfully been able to alter it.

Most importantly, it's not currently linking to "relevant" past posts, which was my goal.  It seems now to be linking to random past posts.  My understanding is that it takes time for LinkWithin to "prowl" the blog and categorize the relevance of past links based on keywords.  I'll give it a few days to see how it goes.

Guard your ginseng carefully

The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn... Rén means "man" and shēn means a kind of herb; this refers to the root's characteristic forked shape, which resembles the legs of a man
There are malefactors who will steal it from your woods:
The theft and destruction of valuable wild ginseng growing in Wisconsin has alarmed wardens in the Department of Natural Resources to the point that a warning was issued last week for landowners and others to be on the lookout.

The motive is money, and grabbing the slow-growing plants now before the ginseng season opens on Sept. 1.

Ginseng, which sold for $200 per pound last year, could rise to $500 per pound this year, the DNR said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, ginseng has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a natural energy booster. A recent study showed the herb relieved fatigue in cancer patients. Animal studies also show ginseng helps with inflammation.
The DNR is reminding ginseng harvesters that they need a license (cost is $15.75) and permission from the landowner. Also, harvesters must immediately bury the plant’s berries to ensure the plant grows back.
Another reason it is so expensive:
One study in laboratory animals showed possible effects of ginseng or its ginsenoside components on the central nervous system and gonadal tissues and another on penile erection. Ginseng is known to contain phytoestrogens and may affect the pituitary gland to increase the secretion of gonadotropins. Other mice studies found effects on sperm production and the estrus cycle.

The first written words of the English language

I didn't know that the earliest known example of written words of the English language are preserved not in a book or manuscript, but in a medallion - the Undley Bracteate, which dates to the 5th century:
Believed to have been made in southern Denmark and brought to England by some of the earliest Germanic-speaking settlers, the Bracteate features a helmeted head, a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus and a runic inscription…

It says "maegae medu" – the word "medu" is well known in old English, it means reward or gift. "Maga" certainly means kinsman or colleague or chief or something like that. The thing that nobody knows is another word from the inscription – gaegogae. What on earth does that mean? The a and e are actually a symbol – it’s pronounced ga-go-ga. The Library are guessing that it might mean she-wolf or it might just be some sort of magical incantation – it sounds a bit like that...
Found by a farmer plowing a field.

Guess the identity of this famous self-educated man

I selected these extracts from a biography at infed:
...he “stumbled upon starting to acquire some kind of homemade education”. He became extremely frustrated at not being able to express what he wanted to convey in letters that he wrote...

He got himself a dictionary and began painstakingly copying every entry. It took him a day to do the first page. He would copy it all out and then read back aloud what he had written. He began to remember the words and what they meant. He was fascinated with the knowledge that he was gaining. He finished the A’s and went on to the B’s. Over a period of time he finished copying out the whole dictionary...

..."every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading in my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of a book with a wedge”... [he] read and read and read. He devoured books on history and was astounded at the knowledge he obtained... His reading was not limited to history, however. He read about genetics and philosophy. He read about religion... He never stopped wanting to learn. Just before his death in 1965, he maintained that one of the things he most regretted in his life was his lack of an academic education.
Answer below the fold...

Learn not to burn

The photo shows a house that was not burned by the wildfires near the city of Cle Elum in Washington.  The photographer, a member of the family, said it looked like a force field surrounded the house, but as a Reddit thread indicates, this escape is a result of following proper preventive procedures in wildfire-prone areas, including -
"In rural areas, clear a fuel break of at least 3 times the fuel length around all structures."
In other words, clear the brush and trees around your dwelling to a distance of 3X the height of the trees or brush.   By that criterion, virtually every cabin I've ever seen in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin would be doomed, because the ethos here is to preserve as many trees as possible.  I grew up in a home that was sited after plotting the location of the trees so that the house could be fitted among them with branches overhanging the roof; as a kid my annual autumn job was to crawl to the roof edges to clean out the leaves that had fallen in the gutters. 

How to escape a whitewater river vortex

The guys in this raft do not escape during the minute of the video, but this suggestion is proffered at Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics:
One of the perils of whitewater sports is getting stuck in what paddlers call a “hole” or a “hydraulic”. This river feature forms just downstream of large obstacles like rocks or low-level dams. As water pours over the obstacle and into its shadow, the flow forms a recirculating vortex-like zone. Immediately next to the obstacle, water is pulled upstream toward the obstacle and then down toward the bottom of the river. This makes the hydraulic very dangerous and hard to escape. Note in the video how the raft is held in place by the upstream motion of the water at the surface of the hydraulic. The rafters are preventing their craft from flipping over by weighing down the side experiencing the upward flow of the vortex. Escaping a hydraulic usually requires getting near its edge, where its current is weaker. If swimming, the best way to escape is to swim toward the bottom of the river and then downstream with the current of the hydraulic rather than against it at the surface.
It would take a braver person than me to shed a life preserver and dive to the bottom of a vortex in order to escape it.

Flexible burial shoes

Laced in back to facilitate fitting them onto a corpse.  I presume the idea in 1916 was not that the deceased regular shoes couldn't be wiggled onto the feet, but rather that it would be a shame to bury a decent pair of shoes with mom or dad when these cheap substitutes can be interred instead, and the good ones reused by someone in the family.

Image from the Flickr set of eye heart, via Sutured Infection.

24 August 2012

A lenticular (lens-shaped) cloud

This is a nice example, photographed at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.  It is presumably colored by the setting sun.   From a gallery of cloud photos at The Guardian

Photo credit: Science Photo Library/Rex Features.

The neverending rape of the oceans

From the BBC:
Police in Peru have seized more than 16,000 dried seahorses which were to be exported illegally to Asian countries...

Police chief Victor Fernandez told the BBC the cargo could have fetched up to $250,000 (£160,000) abroad. Seahorse fishing is illegal in Peru, but the high prices paid for seahorse powder abroad make it difficult for the authorities to enforce the ban...

"They are sent to Asian countries and used as aphrodisiacs. In China this product is also used to cure asthma," he told the BBC's Mattia Cabitza in Lima.

The marine fish, which finds northern Peru's warmer waters a perfect breeding ground, is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).  But Mr Fernandez said that last year a total of 20 tonnes of dried seahorses were seized across the world - half a tonne in Peru alone.
Just like rhino horns, harvested for the sake of some pitiful penises somewhere.  Sad.

Joyful baby elephant

YouTube link, via Nothing to do with Arbroath

Relevant past post: "All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it."

The changing "middle class" of the United States

The graph above comes from a Pew Research Center study released this week.
For the purpose of this analysis, the middle tier is defined as those living in households with an annual income that is 67% to 200% of the national median; the upper tier is made up of those in households above the 200% threshold, and the lower tier is made up of those below the 67% threshold.

These shifts result from two trends: larger income gains for upper-income households than for others and a decline in the share of adults who live in middle-income households.
There is an interesting section of the study looking at which people self-identify as being "middle class."
In addition to looking at a “statistical middle” derived from government data, this report looks at those who self-identify as middle class, based on a Pew Research Center national survey of 2,508 adults. In the survey, 49% of adults describe themselves as middle class; 53% said the same in a similar survey in early 2008...

Similar shares of whites (51%), blacks (48%) and Hispanics (47%) say they are middle class, even though government data show that whites have a higher median income and much more wealth than blacks or Hispanics.

Adults ages 65 and older (63%) are more inclined than all other age groups to call themselves middle class... Meantime, younger adults (those ages 18 to 29) are more likely to say they are in the lower or lower-middle class; fully 39% say this now.
Much more at the link, via The Dish.

Exploding household glass

Some glass objects don't just break or shatter - they truly "explode."  I noticed a story at BoingBoing this morning: Dining room table spontaneously "exploded"-
On a recent Seattle morning, Adam Welch heard an crashing sound and saw broken glass everywhere. Turned out that his dining room had table spontaneously shattered...
There are a number of useful comments at the thread, particularly this one:
Tempered and heat strengthened glass can explode due to nickel sulfide inclusions, which are basically bits of nickel sulfide in the glass that change state slowly after being heated up during the tempering process. Because tempered glass is strong due to the fact that the outer layers are in compression and the inner in tension (kind of a two dimensional truss structure, when there is a small failure all the stored energy is released rather quickly. Interestingly enough, there was a rather spectacular failure of a large sheet of tempered glass in the dinosaur hall of the Museum of Natural History in NYC about a decade ago. You can actually go through the shattered dice of tempered glass that fails in this way and find the point of failure; it will create two round dice that meet at the point where the inclusion was, these dice are quite different than the rest of the pieces which tend to be square.
Another comment reminded me of my own post four years ago - Why do teardrops explode?  That post includes two impressive videos of Prince Rupert's drops exploding.

After reading the BoingBoing post and my old one, I searched YouTube for relevant videos and found several.  A Massachusetts TV channel reported on exploding patio tables in 2007, and exploding shower doors in 2009 [embedding disabled because by some convoluted logic they want it viewed on YouTube but not on blogs??], but here's one documenting the aftermath of an exploding bathroom vanity:

It's not apparently a predictable event, but the knowledge that it can happen may be useful when making decorating or remodeling decisions.

23 August 2012

A manticore and "fire stones"

Two selections from a nicely-done website: The Medieval Bestiary; Animals in the Middle Ages.
The manticore is a composite beast from India, with a blood-colored lion's body, the face of a man with blue eyes, and a tail resembling the sting of a scorpion. It can leap great distances and is very active. It eats human flesh. Its voice is a whistle that sounds like a melody from pipes. Some say it can shoot spines from its tail.

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 30): Pliny quotes Ctesias as saying that the mantichora has the face and ears of a human being, grey eyes, a triple row of teeth that meet like the teeth of a comb, a lion's body of a blood-red color, and a voice like a pan-pipe blended with a trumpet. It stings with its tail like a scorpion. It is very fast and has a special appetite for human flesh.
Found in the East, fire stones are either male or female. As long as they are kept apart, they are safe, but if a male and female stone are brought together, they ignite a fire that burns everything.

Aberdeen Bestiary [c. 1200 CE]: "On a certain mountain in the east, there are fire-bearing stones which are called in Greek terrobolem; they are male and female. When they are far from each other, the fire within them does not ignite. But when by chance the female draws near to the male, the fire is at once kindled, with the result that everything around the mountain burns. For this reason, men of God, you who follow this way of life, stay well clear of women, lest when you and they approach each other, the twin flame be kindled in you both and consume the good that Christ has bestowed upon you. For there are angels of Satan, always on the offensive against the righteous; not only holy men but chaste women too."
You can spend hours exploring this online bestiary.

"They broke all the Commandments..."

From the weekly collection at The New Yorker

If you can't zap the bugs, zap the bite

That's the recommendation of a Gizmodo article reviewing the "Therapik" - a device that can be used to apply focused heat to an insect bite to minimize the inflammatory response.
You put the tip of the Therapik onto your bug bite, then you press and hold down the button. The tip uses light to heat the bite up. You hold it there for as long as you can take it, up to a minute. The burning sensation gets pretty intense after 30 seconds or so.

It actually works! Mosquito bites (the only thing we tested it with) stopped itching within a few seconds of taking it off, and in most cases they never itched again. We are officially stunned.

It works on the principle that most insect venom is thermolabile (sensitive to heat). Therapik claims to deliver "heat in the precise temperature range necessary to deactivate the venom from over 20,000 different species of insects and sea creatures."

At first we thought it was just psychosomatic, but after a few weeks of testing, we believe it to be legit. 
I'm not recommending it - just offering it for consideration.  One presumes that other forms of heat would work as well, if the amount of heat can be reasonably controlled.

"One morning at the gates of the Louvre"

A 19th century painting by Édouard Debat-Ponsan, depicting Catherine de' Medici (in black) viewing the carnage of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre (on this day in 1572).
The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre (Massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy in French) in 1572 was a targeted group of assassinations, followed by a wave of Roman Catholic mob violence, both directed against the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants), during the French Wars of Religion. Traditionally believed to have been instigated by Catherine de' Medici, the mother of King Charles IX, the massacre took place six days after the wedding of the king's sister Margaret to the Protestant Henry III of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France). This marriage was an occasion for which many of the most wealthy and prominent Huguenots had gathered in largely Catholic Paris.

The massacre began on 23 August 1572 (the eve of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle), two days after the attempted assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military and political leader of the Huguenots. The king ordered the killing of a group of Huguenot leaders, including Coligny, and the slaughter spread throughout Paris. Lasting several weeks, the massacre expanded outward to other urban centres and the countryside. Modern estimates for the number of dead vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000.

The massacre also marked a turning point in the French Wars of Religion. The Huguenot political movement was crippled by the loss of many of its prominent aristocratic leaders, as well as many re-conversions by the rank and file, and those who remained were increasingly radicalized. Though by no means unique, it "was the worst of the century's religious massacres."  Throughout Europe, it "printed on Protestant minds the indelible conviction that Catholicism was a bloody and treacherous religion".
Much much more at Wikipedia and elsewhere.

Some "Hunger Games" DVDs are defective

On the day it was first made available for public viewing, my wife and I received from our library a new copy of the DVD of Hunger Games.  We enjoyed the movie up to the 1:12:56 mark in Chapter 14 - the moment when Katniss uses the ripcord to secure herself in a tree.  At that point the DVD froze.  No clicking of the DVD player could overcome the blockage.  Examination of the disk showed no visible faults (scratches, contaminants).

We took the DVD out of the player and inserted it in the iMac.  It froze at exactly the same point (indicating that the problem was not with the DVD player); the computer was able to work around the defect and resume the movie at the 1:16:14 point (after the fire in the woods).

The next day we got a different copy from a different library branch, only to see this one freeze at exactly the same frame of the movie.  This time we used the menu to navigate to Chapter 15 and watched the rest of the movie without glitches.

The fact that two different copies froze at exactly the same frame suggests this was not an acquired defect, but rather something in the production process.  I searched the 'net this morning to see if anyone else has experienced this and found one message at a Complaints Board about a new DVD of Hunger Games pausing inappropriately.

I'm posting this to see if others experience the same phenomenon at the same point in the movie.

22 August 2012

The Treasure of Lima

As reported in The Telegraph:
Shaun Whitehead is leading an archaeological expedition to Cocos Island, the supposed hiding place of the “Treasure of Lima” – one of the world’s most fabled missing treasures.
The haul – said to be worth £160 million – was stolen by a British trader, Captain William Thompson, in 1820 after he was entrusted to transport it from Peru to Mexico...

The team plan to use a small, unmanned helicopter, fitted with specialist cameras, to fly above the nine mile square island, which will enable them to make a computer-generated 3D map of the landscape.

They will then use a snakelike robot that can be dragged across the parts of island and, using ground penetrating radar, detect voids and cavities up to a depth of around 60ft. This data will be added to the 3D map to identify any likely concealed caves. After this, a team will use a specialist “keyhole” drill, which can reach more than 100ft, to dig down into the cave. A probe camera can be sent down through the 1in diameter. 
An original inventory showed 113 gold religious statues, one a life-size Virgin Mary, 200 chests of jewels, 273 swords with jewelled hilts, 1,000 diamonds, solid gold crowns, 150 chalices and hundreds of gold and silver bars.
PBS' NOVA has the background:
The most famous Cocos hoard of all is the "Great Treasure of Lima." In 1820, as the revolutionary José de San Martín advanced on Lima, the Spanish Viceroy realized he had better remove the stores of gold and silver under his command. Officials of the more than 50 Spanish churches in the city came to the same conclusion about their ecclesiastical riches, which included a solid-gold, gem-encrusted, life-size image of the Virgin Mary. Figuring that hiding this wealth anywhere near Lima would be foolish, the Viceroy entrusted it to a British sea captain named William Thompson, a known and respected trader in the region. The Viceroy's plan was to have Thompson sail around for several months, with the treasure stowed aboard his merchantman, the Mary Dear, until the political situation improved. Big mistake. A load of such value—at the time, Spanish officials deemed it worth between $12 and $60 million—proved too great a temptation to Thompson and his men. Once out of sight of land, they cut the throats of the Viceroy's appointed guard, tossed their bodies overboard, and made haste to Cocos, where they duly buried the treasure.made haste to Cocos, where they duly buried the treasure.
Thompson and his crew decided to split up until things simmered down, then reconnoiter to divvy up the spoils. But not long after leaving Cocos, the Mary Dear was picked up by a Spanish man-of-war. The crew was put on trial for piracy, convicted, and hung—all except for Thompson and his first mate, who agreed to lead their captors to the stolen goods if their lives were spared. Soon after they stepped on Cocos under an armed guard, however, Thompson and the mate suddenly hotfooted it into the jungle. Despite a protracted search, they were never found, and their frustrated captors finally left the island. According to some versions of the story, the pair were later picked up by a whaler and taken to Puntarenas, in Costa Rica, where the mate contracted yellow fever and died. For his part, William Thompson seems to have vanished from the pages of history shortly thereafter, and there is no indication that he ever returned to Cocos Island.
Would you trust your treasure to the man in the photo?

Images from the Daily Mail.

A compendium of maniacal laughter

In th original movie context, several of these clips are arguably not "maniacal" or diabolical (e.g. Tom Hanks losing his cool in The Money Pit), but the video is still enjoyable.

Via Neatorama.

Addendum: Amy found a list of the source movies at Pictures by James Chapman.

The restored Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool

I've been following this story ever since the Washington Post coverage last May -
The four-ton hammers have been at it a week now. Pounding the timber pilings through the earth... The 18-month, $30.7 million project to replace the 80-year-old reflecting pool, which began in November, is well underway. Last week workers started sinking the pilings — 2,133, to be exact — that will support the new pool.
- in part because I was born in Washington D.C. and some of my earliest memories are of the monuments and the cherry blossoms.   Now the pool is ready to be refilled.
It will debut an almost completely rebuilt and slightly redesigned pool — shallower, but more aesthetically pleasing, with a tinted bottom, sidewalks to replace the old dirt paths and subtle nighttime illumination.

It will also employ a new water supply system in which its water will for the first time be drawn from the Tidal Basin — not from city water reserves — and be cleaned and recirculated. The old pool could not circulate its often-stagnant water...

Once the site of winter ice skating and summer toy boat regattas, by 2010 the pool was a fetid wreck, its water off limits to the public. Its old bottom was cracked and leaking 500,000 gallons of city water a week, 30 million gallons a year...
This is the part of the story which got my attention:
And after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, fears arose that the shallow, unobstructed pool might be an avenue for an attack on the Lincoln Memorial. Indeed, Quinn said, the security aspect “was probably the biggest driving force in getting this plan approved.” In 2010, the concerns, coupled with government stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, made replacement of the pool possible, Quinn said... Security was enhanced by a three-foot dip in the bottom at the west end of the pool, acting as a kind of moat to protect the Lincoln Memorial.
A universally-recognized national icon, reduced to decrepitude and fetid conditions, wasting 30 million gallons of city water a year, the subject of decades of pleas for upgrading, doesn't get fixed until someone says that terrorists might drive across it to attack the Lincoln Memorial.  So then they spend the money.  What a goofy mindset.

National park funding problems

A article in the Washington Post details the problems faced by national parks in the United States as funding for the maintenance declines:
After more than a decade of scrimping and deferring maintenance and construction projects — and absorbing a 6 percent budget cut in the past two years — the signs of strain are beginning to surface at national parks across the country. The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which curves along the spine of the easternmost range of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina, has a $385 million backlog of projects, mainly in road maintenance, and has been unable to fill 75 vacant positions since 2003. For the past three years, New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument has lacked the money to hire a specialist to protect its archaeological ruins and resources...

Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said he has lost a third of his permanent maintenance crew in the past 11 years. Staff members have gotten “a few visitor complaints” about conditions in the park, ranging from its restrooms to its overlooks...

Since fixed costs represent such a high portion of park budgets — 92 percent for Fredericksburg and 88 percent for the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example — an 8 percent cut as part of sequestration could prompt closures in as many as 150 parks, according to estimates by the conservation association...
This seems an appropriate place to post data from a 2011 article in the New York Times which showed that of all the NATO countries, the U.S. is the only one still operating with a Cold War mindset:
An examination of the latest NATO data shows that in 2010, the United States spent 5.4 percent of its gross domestic product on its military — twice as much as spent by Britain and three to four times as much as most of our NATO allies, as shown in the following table:

A crucial reason for this gap is that the United States spends almost as much today as it did during the Cold War. Every other NATO country spends substantially less...

But what about our adversaries? Don’t we need to maintain a high level of military spending to counter the capabilities of countries like Russia and China? For those data, we need to look to a different source. According to the latest yearbook from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the standard nonclassified source, Russia spent 4.3 percent of its G.D.P. on military outlays in 2009, down from 15.8 percent in 1988; China spent just 2.2 percent of its G.D.P. on the military budget, about the same as it has been since 1989.

The institute notes that the United States accounted for virtually all of the increase in world military spending in 2010.

And because the United States has the world’s largest economy, its share of world military spending is outsized, accounting for 43 percent of all the military spending on Earth — six times as much as China, which has the world’s second largest military budget and accounts for 7.3 percent of world military spending. Russia accounts for just 3.6 percent.
Res ipsa loquitur - but feel free to comment.

How to make a do-it-yourself nuclear fallout meter

In November of 1961, the mother of one of TYWKIWDBI's readers opened her "This Week" magazine.  She encountered a two-part article discussing concerns about a cold-war nuclear attack, and dutifully clipped out this "how-to" portion so she could help her family survive.  Her son found this among her effects some fifty years later.
I think that she will smile from above knowing those years of keeping things she found important still are important.  She had several large filing cabinets (I mean large!) where the bits of info were cut, sorted, and filed away- all pertinent and valuable to her mind and career (as an educator).  Just recently, I went to Switzerland, and I took a Michelin guidebook of the country from the early 60's I found in her cabinets, complete with thoughts & notations where she had been, and what she saw, and visited some of those same spots.
Some of this blog's more science-minded readers may be able to comment on the extent to which the science in the magazine article is valid.  I find it to me more interesting from the sociological standpoint of popular culture and how families responded to the perceived risks of that era.
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