29 September 2012


Autumn garden chores, leaf-peeping, football games, family activities, financial matters, house repairs, noncomputer hobbies, books to read, and blogging burnout are all coming together to take me away from TYWKIWDBI for a while.

Those who feel bereft are reminded that it is possible to browse the archives of this blog by modifying and pasting this url -


- to a month before you became a regular reader (choose year/month back to 2008) (or go to "archive" in the right sidebar).

Back in about a week. 

27 September 2012

Baltimore Ravens fans chant their displeasure

I was watching this when it happened and was surprised the audio wasn't filtered out by the network.


Found at The Dish.


This is one reason why my blogging will be limited during the next few weeks.  Leaf-peeping (and also autumn chores putting the garden and yard to sleep for the winter).

This image from Travel Wisconsin; your state/country will probably have one you can find using the Google.

A child completes a poem for her mother

Slightly cropped from the original posted by geni91782 at Reddit pics.

A reminder to guard your privacy

A public service announcement from a Belgian bank - worth watching.

"Coke nail" illustrated

Image cropped and annotated from the one at imgur, discussed at Reddit.

Seneca expresses "YOLO" sentiments in 55 A.D.

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself—as if nothing is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap—in fact, almost without any value...

No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.
Can anything be more idiotic than certain people who boast of their foresight? They keep themselves officiously preoccupied in order to improve their lives; they spend their lives in organizing their lives. They direct their purposes with an eye to a distant future. But putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately... And even if you do grasp it, it will still flee. So you must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.
You can read more of the essay in the current issue of Lapham's Quarterly.

Popcorn on the cob

We bought several ears at a local farm.  I don't think it tastes any better than commercial mass-market popcorn-in-a-bag, but it's more fun to microwave, and I think would be more interesting for small children.

District attorneys behaving badly

Some of them have been renting their name and official seal to debt-collecting companies, as explained in a NYT article:
The letters are sent by the thousands to people across the country who have written bad checks, threatening them with jail if they do not pay up.

They bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices...

Debt collectors have come under fire for illegally menacing people behind on their bills with threats of jail. What makes this approach unusual is that the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed...

Prosecutors say that the partnerships allow them to focus on more serious crimes, and that the letters are sent only to check writers who ignore merchants’ demands for payment. The district attorneys receive a payment from the firms or a small part of the fees collected...

Even after Ms. Yartz paid $100.05 in February to cover the bounced check, the returned item fee and an administration fee, she got a letter signed by the Alameda district attorney informing her that her remaining balance was $180 for the class. After consulting with a lawyer, she decided to take her chances rather than pay for a class she could not afford, to avoid being punished for a crime she said she did not commit. Ms. Yartz also questioned the need for a class on budgeting and financial accountability: “If I meant to bounce this check like a criminal, why do I need a class on budgeting?” 
More details at the link, via BoingBoing.

24 September 2012

Rhiannon - the witch and the song

First, some excerpts from Wikipedia about the historical/mythological Rhiannon:
Rhiannon is a prominent figure in Welsh mythology, mother to the Demetian hero Pryderi and wife to Pwyll... Upon ascending the magical mound of Gorsedd Arberth, the Demetian king Pwyll witnesses the arrival of Rhiannon, appearing to them as a beautiful woman dressed in gold silk brocade and riding a shining white horse...

Under the advice of his noblemen, Pwyll and Rhiannon attempt to supply an heir to the kingdom and eventually a boy is born. However, on the night of his birth, he disappears while in the care of six of Rhiannon's ladies-in-waiting. To avoid the king's wrath, the ladies smear dog's blood onto a sleeping Rhiannon, claiming that she had committed infanticide and cannibalism through eating and "destroying" her child. Rhiannon is forced to do penance for her crime...

The Mabinogi do not present Rhiannon as anything other than human. Scholars of mythology have nevertheless speculated that Rhiannon may euhemerize* an earlier goddess of Celtic polytheism. Similar euhemerisms of pre-Christian deities can be found in other medieval Celtic literature, when Christian scribes and redactors may have felt uncomfortable writing about the powers of pagan gods...

According to Miranda Jane Green, "Rhiannon conforms to two archetypes of myth - a gracious, bountiful queen-goddess; and as the 'wronged wife', falsely accused of killing her son."
Now, on to the song:
Nicks discovered Rhiannon through a novel called Triad, by Mary Leader. The novel is about a woman named Branwen, who is possessed by another woman named Rhiannon. There is mention of the Welsh legend of Rhiannon in the novel, but the characters in the novel bear little resemblance to their original Welsh namesakes... Nicks bought the novel in an airport just before a long flight and thought the name was so pretty that she wanted to write something about a girl named Rhiannon... After writing the song, Nicks learned that Rhiannon originated from a Welsh goddess, and was amazed that the haunting song lyrics applied to the Welsh Rhiannon as well.... Nicks avoided wearing black clothing for "about two years" in an effort to distance herself from the witchcraft and dark arts associations surrounding her as a result of the lyrics to "Rhiannon" giving fans the wrong impression.
This post was prompted by my recent viewing (and recording) of the VH1 Behind the Music Remastered segment on Fleetwood Mac:

For an embed of the song itself, I'll use the version recently posted at BoingBoing, a live performance from 1976 which is way better than the shorter, more controlled and nuanced, studio version:

YouTube link.

* "Euhemerize" was a new word to me, explained here.

A landscape in the Dolomites

The topography is stunning (and I'm wondering what crop it is that is farmed on those slopes).  Click for bigger.

Photo by Kevin Kunstadt, from a collection of images of the Dolomites.

Death of a Guantanamo prisoner

Excerpts from a report at Salon:
Adnan Latif was found dead in his cell on September 10, 2012, just a day before the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. He was 32. Latif, a Yemeni citizen, had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade, despite a 2010 court ruling that ordered the Obama administration to “take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate Latif’s release forthwith,” due to lack of evidence that he had committed any crime...

A car accident in 1994 left Latif with a head injury, which he was attempting to get treated in Afghanistan when he was captured near the border by Pakistani authorities. In January, 2002, he was sent to Guantanamo, with the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first detainees. According to the ACLU, Latif was cleared to be released in 2004, 2007, 2009, and again in 2010 by US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy. The Obama DOJ appealed the 2010 decision, in part because of a policy of not transferring detainees to Yemen, and so Latif remained in custody – not because of what he had done (which was nothing), but because of where he was born. The decision to appeal his release wasn’t a holdover from the Bush era. That was an affirmative decision made by the Obama administration, and any supporters who hoped Obama would close Guantanamo Bay should understand that fact.
And these observations from a column in The Guardian:
He is the ninth person to die at the camp since it was opened more than ten years ago. As former Gitmo guard Brandon Neely pointed out Monday, more detainees have died at the camp (nine) than have been convicted of wrongdoing by its military commissions (six)...

...  a camp spokesman acknowledged that he "had not been charged and had not been designated for prosecution". In other words, he has been kept by the US government in a cage for many years without any opportunity to contest the accusations against him, and had no hope of leaving the camp except by death...

Put another way, even if Congress had given Obama everything he wanted, the system that means that death is the only way out for many detainees would have been fully preserved. The excuse-making for Obama – "oh, he tried to close the camp but Congress would not let him" – is simply a deceitful tactic Democrats have concocted to justify their total silence about a grave injustice they once pretended to find so appalling and their raucous swooning for a president who supports it.
Last week I had a long conversation, with a friend I've known since childhood, about indefinite detention without trial of Guantanamo prisoners.  I told him I found the practice outrageous and reprehensible.  His reply was that the situation is different when you're dealing with terrorists rather than ordinary criminals, and that bringing these men to trial might reveal and jeopardize the sources of information that led to their apprehension, thereby endangering our country's security. 

I remain unconvinced.  In my view indefinite confinement without trial is equivalent to a nonjudicial declaration of guilt, and is a violation of basic human rights that apply as much to a terrorist as to any other human being.  If some reader here can give me a well-reasoned justification for the actions of the Obama administration, I'd appreciate it.

Sincere congratulations to Everlasting Blört and to The Presurfer

Two of the internet's iconic and pioneering blogs - The Presurfer and Everlasting Blört [with an umlaut] are celebrating their 12th birthdays today.  I have followed both of them since long before I began TYWKIWDBI, and my blogging style has undoubtedly been influenced by them.

22 September 2012

A charming little girl dances to "Coppélia"

She's a very special girl, as noted by her parents:
We knew Clara loved the Coppélia ballet, but little did we know she memorized the whole thing! She performed this solely from memory!

This is just a small snippet of her dancing to it. We would see her doing some ballet moves around the house thinking it was ballet moves she learned in ballet class, till one day someone decided to whip out a computer and compare her moves to that of the Coppélia ballerina, and, VOILA, we realized she memorized it, and can dance it!

Clara has been diagnosed with DiGeorge Syndrome and Autism. She spent her first 16 months in hospital, has gone through multiple surgeries since she was two weeks due to the complications with her syndrome. Before she was two, we noticed that she had difficulty connecting with people, was in a world of her own, and two years later she was also diagnosed with autism. Clara also had a lot of physical complications, and could not walk till she was four. She never spoke until she was six...
Here's some relevant background on the DiGeorge Syndrome:
... a syndrome caused by the deletion of a small piece of chromosome 22...

... affects between 1 in 2000 and 1 in 4000 live births. This estimate is based on major birth defects and may be an underestimate, because some individuals with the deletion have few symptoms and may not have been formally diagnosed...

Characteristic signs and symptoms may include birth defects such as congenital heart disease, defects in the palate, most commonly related to neuromuscular problems with closure (velo-pharyngeal insufficiency), learning disabilities, mild differences in facial features, and recurrent infections.
And a summary of Coppélia:
Coppélia is a comic ballet originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon to the music of Léo Delibes, with libretto by Charles Nuitter... based upon two stories by ETA Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman), and Die Puppe (The Doll). Coppélia premiered on 25 May 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial de l´Opéra, with the 16-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi in the principal role of Swanhilde...

Coppélia concerns an inventor, Dr Coppelius, who has made a life-size dancing doll. It is so lifelike that Franz, a village swain, becomes infatuated with it and sets aside his true heart's desire, Swanhilde. She shows him his folly by dressing as the doll, pretending to make it come to life and ultimately saving him from an untimely end at the hands of the inventor.
And finally here is Clara's tumblr.

Via Reddit.

Popular (and unpopular) 4-digit PIN codes

Everyone knows that "1234" is an overused 4-digit PIN (the three most commonly used numbers account for almost 20% of all passwords).  Some excerpts from a Slate column:
On the other end of the scale, the least popular combination—8068—appears less than 0.001 percent of the time... Rounding out the bottom five are "8093," "9629," "6835," and "7637," which all nearly as rare...

Data Genetics came up with the numbers by analyzing a database of 3.4 million stolen passwords that have been made public over the years. Most of these are passwords for websites...

Among seven-digit passwords, the fourth-most popular is "8675309," which should ring familiar to fans of '80s music.

The 17th-most popular 10-digit password is "3141592654."

This is a "hurricane simulator"

Created at Florida International University’s International Hurricane Research Center, the "Wall of Wind" can create sustained winds of 157 MPH.  It's used for testing structural integrity of building materials and techniques.

Via Technabob.

"Bath salts" are unique psychoactive drugs

Excerpts from an extensive writeup at PBS Newshour:
“Bath salts” are nothing like the epsom salts often added to bathwater; it's just the most common code name given to a specific type of synthetic drugs made in underground labs and marketed as household items. The drugs have been camouflaged as plant food, stain remover, toilet bowl cleaner and hookah cleaner. They've been sold online and in "head shops," businesses that sell drug paraphernalia. The boxes usually contain a foil wrap or plastic bag of powder, though sometimes they take the form of pills or capsules. The color of the powder ranges from white to yellow to brown, the price from $30 to $50. And nearly every box has a label that says “not for human consumption.”...

Early on, doctors began noticing something else that was strange. Compared with other drugs, bath salts didn't follow a normal dose-response pattern. With cocaine or methamphetamine, the drug entered the bloodstream, and, within hours, began to wear off. Not so for bath salts...

In the 1970s, a medicinal chemist named Richard A. Glennon was studying what it would take to convert a stimulant drug to a hallucinogen and vice versa... By introducing an oxygen atom to the side chain of amphetamine, he created something called a beta-keto amphetamine. Beta-keto amphetamine was what we now call cathinone, and at the time, in the U.S., it was a new class of stimulant...

Methamphetamine, amphetamine and cocaine all produce excessive dopamine in the space between two neurons -- the synapse -- but through different mechanisms. Both amphetamine and methamphetamine primarily work by causing an abnormal amount of dopamine to surge forth from the nerve cells, shifting the brain's reward pathways into overdrive. Cocaine on the other hand is what's called a reuptake inhibitor. That means it acts like a stopper in a kitchen sink, blocking the retreat, or reuptake, of dopamine back into the cell. It's this excessive dopamine, which goes on to stimulate the next neuron, which causes a dizzying rush of energy and a fierce, sometimes euphoric high...

Taking bath salts, it seemed, was similar to taking amphetamine and cocaine at the same time. Except for one thing: MDPV is as much as 10 times stronger than cocaine...

Authorities like Ryan have also noticed another trend -- one possibly as dangerous as the drugs themselves: they're changing. In Louisiana for example, after the five common bath salts ingredients were banned, the products didn't disappear, they just evolved. As soon as the drugs were declared illegal, drugmakers began finding new ways to get around the law by making slight tweaks to the formula, creating substances that don't show up on drug tests while skirting the law...

There's no consistency to what's in the package,” Ryan continued. “We tested packages for how much MDPV was in them. One of them only contained 17 milligrams. One contained 2,000 milligrams.” It explained why one person might have a mild reaction to the drug, while another would end up in the psych ward or counting imaginary police cars outside their window.
Much more at the link, which also has a long comment thread.  Via BoingBoing.  

A Neolithic dental filling

Evidence of prehistoric dentistry has been limited to a few cases, the most ancient dating back to the Neolithic. Here we report a 6500-year-old human mandible from Slovenia whose left canine crown bears the traces of a filling with beeswax. The use of different analytical techniques, including synchrotron radiation computed micro-tomography (micro-CT), Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating, Infrared (IR) Spectroscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), has shown that the exposed area of dentine resulting from occlusal wear and the upper part of a vertical crack affecting enamel and dentin tissues were filled with beeswax shortly before or after the individual’s death. If the filling was done when the person was still alive, the intervention was likely aimed to relieve tooth sensitivity derived from either exposed dentine and/or the pain resulting from chewing on a cracked tooth: this would provide the earliest known direct evidence of therapeutic-palliative dental filling.
Image and abstract from a recent publication in the Public Library of Science (PLOS); fulltext at the link.

21 September 2012

Alexis conquers the hurdles

This video has been featured widely on the internet.  I'm going to repost it here because it struck a chord with me on a very personal level, which I'll explain at the end.

This is a remix; the original video (which you can view here) shows an 8th-grade girl named Alexis participating in her first school track event.  The YouTube poster comments "This video is 6yrs old. Alexis did run the hurdles again and didn't fail. She did give me permission to post the video and all of her friends have seen it, while they do find it funny they do support her and her courage."

The remix adds the audio of the Scala and Kolacny Brothers' version of Radiohead's "Creep."
The classically trained Kolacny brothers, Steven (piano) and Stijn (conducting) have turned this Belgian girls’ choir into an international phenomenon, performing imaginatively reworked covers of Radiohead, U2, Rammstein and Nirvana songs...

One can debate whether the lyrics for Radiohead's "Creep" are totally appropriate for the hurdles video, but the rendition by this girls choir is so beautifully executed, and some phrases are so perfect that the remix really "works" for me.  The original hurdles video was time-stretched to match the audio, and the resultant slo-motion effect is quite dramatic.

I've reviewed the comments about the video at 3-4 different websites.  Not surprisingly perhaps, given the shallowness of many websurfers, the dominant theme is that this is a "fail" video.  That the girl is a loser, that she missed a hurdle, that her coaching was dreadful, that this is the funniest LOLs video they've ever seen.

I have a different viewpoint.  And for that I need to tell a story.  In 1952 I contracted polio; after recovering I was left with some residual atrophy of my right quad, so I could ambulate, but couldn't run very fast.  I attended a school where participation in sports was mandatory all three seasons of the school year.  In the spring the school also held an all-school track day in which everyone was required to participate in several events.  I was entered in the discus and the 220 yard run.  For the latter event I can still remember being in the back stretch when the leaders were crossing the finish.  By the time I got to the finish line they were setting up for the next heat.

When I crossed that finish line, the school's track coach came over to me.  Mr. Bettels was a man who knew what impairment was.  He had what I think in retrospect was severe kyphoscoliosis, but he was an inspirational coach and classroom teacher.  He came to me and very quietly and privately congratulated me on finishing the race.  I hadn't viewed my circling of the track as anything heroic; I was just doing what was expected.  He viewed it a bit differently, and it took me some time to fully appreciate the import of his commendation.  In the decades since then I've won a variety of non-athletic honors and have a smattering of trophies and plaques, but those words from Coach are one of the treasured memories of my youth.

So... I offer my congratulations to young Alexis.  I don't find the video to be funny at all - it's inspirational, and it choked me up to watch it.   It's also a good reminder that every day there are children whose bravery and courage goes unrecognized.  We all need to take moments now and then to commend the "losers."

Reposted from 2010 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Radiohead's initial release of this, their debut song.

See also this animated version and Chrissie Hynde's cover of the song.

Copenhagen building "highways" for bicycles

Every day, one-third of the people of Copenhagen ride their bikes to work or school. Collectively, they cycle more than 750,000 miles daily, enough to make it to the moon and back. And city officials want even more people to commute, and over longer distances.
So a network of 26 new bike routes, dubbed "the cycling superhighway," is being built to link the surrounding suburbs to Copenhagen...

One of the first things you learn about these bike lanes is that you have to move in fast. This is not leisurely biking — this is serious stuff in Copenhagen... Each mile of bike highway will cost about $1 million. The project is to be financed by the city of Copenhagen and 21 local governments. And in a country where both right- and left-leaning politicians regularly ride bikes to work, it has bilateral support...

Several innovations are being tested, like "green wave" technology, which times traffic lights to suit bikers. If you maintain a certain pace, you can ride all the way through into the city without stopping. There are also footrests with bars to lean on at traffic lights, and a bike pump every mile in case you have a flat...

Once the highway network is completed, an estimated 15,000 additional people will switch from driving to biking. And that, say officials, will have a direct impact on the environment, public health and finances.
From NPR.  Image by Tatsuro Kiuchi.

Don't discard your candy wrappers

Across the UK, six chocolate bars will have a GPS chip hidden inside the wrapper; when the wrapper is taken off the bar, it will activate the chip, so that Nestlé can track down the winner within 24 hours and hand them a cheque for £10,000. The chips will be hidden in the wrappers of KitKat 4 Finger, KitKat Chunky, Aero Peppermint Medium and Yorkie Milk chocolate bars.
From CNet, via Neatorama.

John Keats postulated to be an opium addict

The claim is made in a new biography, to be published on Monday, by Prof Nicholas Roe, chair of the Keats Foundation and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Roe admits his finding will be contentious. "This has never been said before: Keats as an opium addict is new."...

Roe maintains that Keats, a trained physician, gained access to laudanum in the autumn of 1818 while administering the drug to his brother.  Tom was dying of TB, the disease he gave to Keats and of which the poet died three years later. Opium was the only painkiller that could alleviate the young man's pain.

After his brother's death, Keats began taking the drug regularly "to keep up his spirits", as Brown said later. Brown warned him of the "danger of such a habit". This, said Roe, "suggests Keats was indeed an 'habitual' user of opium and had been dosing himself for a considerable time."...

"When Keats writes in Ode to a Nightingale of having 'emptied some dull opiate to the drains' he means – very precisely – downing a decanter of laudanum," he said.

"Like Coleridge's Kubla Khan and like Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Ode to a Nightingale is one of the greatest re-creations of a drug-inspired dream-vision in English literature – a poem that frankly admits his own opium habit."

Ode on Indolence, added Roe: "grew out of a reverie induced by taking laudanum to ease the pain of a black eye, got while playing cricket on Hampstead Heath in March 1819".
More at The GuardianPainting from the National Portrait Gallery.

20 September 2012

Sand sculpture of - and by (!!) - an elephant

The process is explained at The Chester Zoo, via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

A flight through the universe

This is, on the surface, a "simple" video, presenting in visual form some of the data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey documenting the number and location of celestial objects.

It's "simple" until you realize - and personally I still have difficulty wrapping my mind around this - that those white specks you are "flying past" are not stars.  Each of those is a galaxy composed of billions of stars.
The movie starts by flying right through a large nearby cluster of galaxies and later circles the SDSS-captured universe at about 2 billion light years (a redshift of about 0.15) from Earth...
This was NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day several weeks ago.  It's not a "high-resolution" video, but for mind-boggling purposes I do think it's best viewed at fullscreen.

Islamist militias destroying cultural treasures in Timbuktu

These actions, by the Ansar Eddine, are a form of cultural genocide and can only be viewed by the enlightened world as the behavior of human scum.
[The region] is being plunged back in time. At its core is Timbuktu, an ancient city that’s bearing the brunt of grinding social devastation. Intent on achieving its own form of Year Zero, the militia announced that it will enforce the stoning of adulterers, as well as the punitive mutilation of thieves and the veiling of all women. And that’s just the start. The city’s historic monuments and shrines are being leveled, its cultural heritage being ripped to pieces, all this as the traumatized population flees. There’s not enough in the way of food, water, or basic medicine, and most vestiges of modern society are being targeted. Soccer, recorded popular music, television, and even videogames have been on the militia’s hit list, too. Men and women who are unmarried or unrelated are forbidden to walk down a street together or even to sit beside each other on a bus.
Via The Dish.

At last, a funny political video ("bipartisan" at that)

The national political discourse has been so unremittingly dreary in recent months that I was delighted to find this video today.  It recycles some familiar material in a refreshing way.  (And it reminds me that I'm looking forward to the next season of Mad Men).

Cape Kamui, Shakotan, Hokkaidō

Nice walking path.

Photo credit.

19 September 2012

How you can be tracked by your car or cell phone

First, re your car.  A Salon column explains that automated license-plate readers tied to data analysis and storage capability allow your movements to be tracked:
The inconspicuous devices are sometimes installed at fixed points, as the DEA has been doing in several border states, but they’re most often mounted on local police cruisers, where they automatically scan and record every license plate that comes within range of their optical sensor.

When they pass an LPR-equipped police car, drivers both innocent and guilty have their whereabouts recorded and tagged with GPS coordinates, along with a color photo and a time stamp. The resulting information is often kept for years, allowing law enforcement to engage in a kind of retroactive surveillance to find out who was where, and at what time.

The data is collected and accessed without the need for warrants or probable cause, because courts have so far held that a license plate – which, after all, is posted very clearly on every driver’s bumper – can’t be considered private information. Privacy advocates think the courts may reevaluate that stance, as LPR systems become so widespread that they allow for tracking on a massive scale.
There's discussion at the link as to whether or to what extent this is an invasion of privacy.  For the cell phone, see Cory Doctorow's post at BoingBoing:
Cell phones are tracking devices that make phone calls. It’s sad, but it’s true. Which means software solutions don’t always matter. You can have a secure set of tools on your phone, but it doesn’t change the fact that your phone tracks everywhere you go. And the police can potentially push updates onto your phone that backdoor it and allow it to be turned into a microphone remotely, and do other stuff like that. The police can identify everybody at a protest by bringing in a device called an IMSI catcher. It’s a fake cell phone tower that can be built for 1500 bucks. And once nearby, everybody’s cell phones will automatically jump onto the tower, and if the phone’s unique identifier is exposed, all the police have to do is go to the phone company and ask for their information...

...remember that whatever governments can do with technology, organized criminals can do too (this is doubly true of back-doors that governments mandate in telecoms equipment and software to make spying easier -- they can be used by anyone, not just "good guys").
More info at the link, and many useful reader comments.

Metric American football

...the colleges of Carleton and St. Olaf held the first NCAA-sanctioned metric football game. The “Liter Bowl,” played on September 17, 1977, featured a gridiron measuring 100 meters (109.36 yards) long and 50 meters (54.68 yards) wide. The expanded dimensions favored St. Olaf’s outside running game. The Oles ended up winning the contest—which was supposed to be a game of centimeters—by a score of 43-0.
Text from the MN70s tumblr; image from the Carleton College digital archives.

From the Republican Party platform (1956)

On its Centennial, the Republican Party again calls to the minds of all Americans the great truth first spoken by Abraham Lincoln: "The legitimate object of Government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities. But in all that people can individually do as well for themselves, Government ought not to interfere."

Our great President Dwight D. Eisenhower has counseled us further: "In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people's money, or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative."

While jealously guarding the free institutions and preserving the principles upon which our Republic was founded and has flourished, the purpose of the Republican Party is to establish and maintain a peaceful world and build at home a dynamic prosperity in which every citizen fairly shares.

We shall ever build anew, that our children and their children, without distinction because of race, creed or color, may know the blessings of our free land.

We believe that basic to governmental integrity are unimpeachable ethical standards and irreproachable personal conduct by all people in government. We shall continue our insistence on honesty as an indispensable requirement of public service. We shall continue to root out corruption whenever and wherever it appears.

We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs—expansion of social security—broadened coverage in unemployment insurance —improved housing—and better health protection for all our people. We are determined that our government remain warmly responsive to the urgent social and economic problems of our people.

To these beliefs we commit ourselves as we present this record and declare our goals for the future. 

Excerpted from the complete document.

Fire tornado

Here's a still image of a fire tornado at a domestic fire, and here is a video showing you how to make a fire tornado in your back yard.

The bottom video is via Physics Buzz.

18 September 2012

"Jesus said to them, my wife" is a forged document

A most interesting article in the Harvard Gazette today:
Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies today.

King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the existence of the ancient text at the congress’ meeting, held every four years and hosted this year by the Vatican’s Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. The four words that appear on the fragment translate to “Jesus said to them, my wife.” The words, written in Coptic, a language of Egyptian Christians, are on a papyrus fragment of about one and a half inches by three inches.

 “Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus’ death before they began appealing to Jesus’ marital status to support their positions.”..

The gospel of which the fragment is but a small part, which King and Luijendijk have named the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife for reference purposes, was probably originally written in Greek, the two professors said, and only later translated into Coptic for use among congregations of Coptic-speaking Christians. King dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip...

“The discovery of this new gospel,” King said, “offers an occasion to rethink what we thought we knew by asking what role claims about Jesus’ marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise.” 
More at the link, where there is also a video of Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, discussing the authenticity and interpretation of the papyrus fragment.

Update:   Additional information from 2014 suggests that the document is not a modern forgery (It could, however, still be an 8th century forgery).  Additional commentary (and a video) here.

Second update:  More evidence that the artifact is a forgery:
Having evaluated the evidence, many specialists in ancient manuscripts and Christian origins think Karen King and the Harvard Divinity School were the victims of an elaborate ruse... "Two factors immediately indicated that this was a forgery," Mr. Askeland tells me. "First, the fragment shared the same line breaks as the 1924 publication. Second, the fragment contained a peculiar dialect of Coptic called Lycopolitan, which fell out of use during or before the sixth century." Ms. King had done two radiometric tests, he noted, and "concluded that the papyrus plants used for this fragment had been harvested in the seventh to ninth centuries." In other words, the fragment that came from the same material as the "Jesus' wife" fragment was written in a dialect that didn't exist when the papyrus it appears on was made.
Third update:
The December 2014 issue of The Atlantic contains a well-written article on The Curious Case of Jesus's Wife (concluding that it's probably a forgery.)

Amazing baseball cards found in an attic

From an AP story earlier this summer, via the StarTribune:
DEFIANCE, Ohio - Karl Kissner picked up a soot-covered cardboard box that had been under a wooden dollhouse in his grandfather's attic. Taking a look inside, he saw hundreds of baseball cards bundled with twine. They were smaller than the ones he was used to seeing...

The cards are from an extremely rare series issued around 1910. Up to now, the few known to exist were in so-so condition at best, with faded images and worn edges. But the ones from the attic in the town of Defiance are nearly pristine, untouched for more than a century. The colors are vibrant, the borders crisp and white...

The best of the bunch — 37 cards — are expected to bring a total of $500,000 when they are sold at auction in August during the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore. There are about 700 cards in all that could be worth up to $3 million, experts say. They include such legends as Christy Mathewson and Connie Mack.

Kissner and his family say the cards belonged to their grandfather, Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s. Hench ran a meat market in Defiance, and the family suspects he got them as a promotional item from a candy company that distributed them with caramels. They think he gave some away and kept others...

The Hench family is evenly dividing the cards and the money among the 20 cousins named in their aunt's will. All but a few have decided to sell their share.
Pretty good video at the link.  Presumably some of these have been sold by now, but I haven't seen the report.

The "fiscal cliff" explained

Informed readers are aware that the U.S. is facing a "fiscal cliff."  It has been more alluded to than specifically discussed in the broadcast media, but there is a detailed explanation at (where else?) Wikipedia.  For today, I'll just offer some excerpts from a nice summary at The Guardian:
Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a man of endless accommodation, drew a hard line under the one thing he could not do to save the US economy. Bernanke told the press:
"If the 'fiscal cliff' isn't addressed … I don't think our tools are strong enough to offset the effects of a major fiscal shock." 
The warning was clear: a "fiscal cliff" could cause the Lehman moment of all Lehman moments. It didn't even send a ripple through Washington. Congress went on campaigning and strategizing over election-year politics. They've heard it before. Nothing will be done until after the election. And when something is done, it will be done at the last minute, in the latest custom of these economic disputes...

Here's what to expect: shortly after 1 January, unless Congress intervenes beforehand, we'll see two things happen: $100bn of automatic spending cuts, along with the demise of a batch of tax cuts that have been a crutch for the weak economy – the Bush-era tax cuts that have kept taxes low for eight years; and Obama's 2% payroll-tax holiday....

Each of these separately – tax hikes or spending cuts – would not be enough to dent the US economy by much. But together, the spending cuts and the tax hikes are enormous. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Congressional Budget Office both expect that a recession would immediately follow if Congress does not address the fiscal cliff.

The spending cuts, for instance, will add up to $100bn pulled out of the economy by the government, in everything from the defense budget to Medicare. The idea is to reduce the federal deficit by $1tn over 10 years. The tax hikes will return tax rates to what they were before 2003, which means the top tax rate for households could be over 39%, according to press reports.

There are two tricky things about fixing this particular problem. The first is the politics. Everyone in Congress knows this will be a hard-fought battle, and they're happy to put it off.  
Say no more.  Congress and the President haven't done diddly-shit about this and obviously won't until after the election in Novermber, because nothing they do will please everyone, and they all want to get re-elected.  They are just kicking the can down the *%#@ road.

But here's some additional insight from the article:
The question is whether it's already here. There's reason to believe that Congress's delay in addressing the fiscal cliff has already had a psychological effect on corporate America. A group of economists told the Wall Street Journal that is exactly what is happening: They blame our lackluster recovery this year on a pullback in spending and investment by US companies, which are afraid that the fallout from a fiscal cliff could compromise their ability to find funding or function normally. They've been preparing by essentially rolling into the fetal position in preparation.

Creative dog grooming

Meet Duchess, one of many dogs included in the annual Pet Stylist Super Show in Knoxville, Tenn. The highlight of the event is the Creative Grooming competition, where owners use nontoxic dyes to "design" their pets. Duchess will be transformed into a member of the Queens Court from "Alice in Wonderland."
Sami Stanley works on her standard poodle, which has a dragon sculptured on one side and a jumping gold fish on the other. She calls it a Zen poodle.

When i create posts about dog grooming (Aug 2009, Oct 2011), I have to restrain myself from offering disparaging comments.  I am reminded by a variety of readers that these people love their dogs, and the dogs love the attention.

So I'll just post the pix and let the res loquitur for ipse.

There are additional examples of artistically enhanced dogs in a photoessay at ABC News.  Both of the above photos credit Meredith Frost/ABC News, via the always interesting Rue The Day.

Marriage in the Bible

It's not as simple as some would suggest.  Here are some excerpts from a column at Salon written by an Anglican bishop:
Some people would have you believe that marriage began with Adam and Eve. But in the account in Genesis where Adam and Eve become one flesh (presumably through their mutual commitment and sexual intimacy), there is no mention of an “institution” of marriage nor any liturgy, vows, promises or other ritual used to solemnize their relationship. This prehistorical account can only serve as a backdrop to the meaning (not the “institution”) of marriage that developed over time.

The fact of the matter is, marriage has not been consistent or unchanging over time. Indeed, even in biblical times, we see a constant evolution in the practice of marriage. One man and one woman, united in marriage for life, mutually exclusive and “faithful” sexually, and joined because of their love for each other, is a relatively modern notion of marriage. Such was not the case in ancient times.

From the earliest Old Testament accounts, polygamy seemed to be the practice of the day. Or, to be more accurate, polygyny (the practice of polygamy by males, not females) was practiced. In the ancient Hebrew culture, having more than one wife was commonplace. In addition to multiple wives, men who were wealthy enough to have slaves or concubines had sexual relationships with them. Even Abraham — father to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity — when he was unable to produce an heir with his wife, Sarah, had a son by his slave Hagar. Abraham’s grandson Jacob married two sisters, Leah and Rachel. King Solomon was renowned not only for his wisdom and wealth but also for his 700 wives and 300 concubines! Over the years, marriage customs evolved, and by Jesus’ time divorce was discouraged and monogamy increasingly became the standard...

Jesus is quite clear that marriage is to be for a lifetime and that divorce is a serious issue, permitted to a man only in the case of “unchastity.” For either a man or a woman to marry anyone after divorce (“except on the ground of unchastity”), Jesus tells his disciples, is to commit “adultery” (Matthew 19:9; 5:31– 32; Mark 10:11– 12; Luke 16:18)...
More re biblical marriage and the subsequent evolution of the concept at the Salon link.

This is a "Jenny Haniver"

A Jenny Haniver is the carcass of a ray or a skate which has been modified and subsequently dried, resulting in a grotesque preserved specimen.

One suggestion for the origin of the term was the French phrase jeune d'Anvers ('young [person] of Antwerp'). British sailors "cockneyed" this description into the personal name "Jenny Hanvers."..

For centuries, sailors sat on the Antwerp docks and carved these "mermaids" out of dried skates. They then preserved them further with a coat of varnish. They supported themselves by selling their artistic creations to working sailors as well as to tourists visiting the docks. Jenny Hanivers have been created to look like devils, angels and dragons...

The earliest known picture of a Jenny Haniver appeared in Konrad Gesner's Historia Animalium vol. IV in 1558. Gesner warned that these were merely disfigured rays, and should not be believed to be miniature dragons or monsters, which was a popular misconception at the time.
Text and image from Wikipedia.

Having fun with windows

A stop-motion video of windows and shutters being opened/closed at a school in Switzerland.  The second half of the video shows the "making of" the film.

Via Neatorama.

17 September 2012

Transmutability of two religious symbols

There's just one sculpture in the photograph, seen directly and reflected at an angle in a mirror.

Artist: Francis Tabary, via Mighty Optical Illusions.

George Washington's advice about party politics and public debt

"However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."
-- Farewell Address, Sep. 17, 1796

"As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear."
-- Farewell Address, Sep. 17, 1796 

To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones.
-- letter to James Welch, Apr. 7, 1799

via Notable Quotes.

Demolition of a silo (the "dancing silo")

After you watch the initial couple minutes, you can skip to the 11:00 mark.

Via Nothing To Do with Arbroath.

Martian "blueberries"

This mosaic image shows spherules, or 'blueberries,' partly embedded and spread over the soil on Mars. The image is from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity at Meridiani Planum. The image is a mosaic of three separate images; each image is approximately 2.5 cm (1 inch) across. (Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Cornell University.)
They may be markers of former life on Mars.
One such tantalising hint was discovered by the NASA Opportunity Rover, which found small spherical hematite balls, dubbed ‘blueberries,’ in the Martian soil...

Now researchers from the University of Western Australia and University of Nebraska have found that such iron-oxide spheroids, when they appear on Earth, are formed by microbes...

On Earth, such spherical iron-oxide concretions are commonly found on beaches and deserts around the world. Similar examples to those discovered on Mars have been found in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone near the Colorado River, Utah, where the concretions range in size from small marbles to cannonballs and consist of a hard shell of iron oxide surrounding a softer sandy interior...
Re the terrestrial ones, see my 2008 post on The creation of stone spheres.

A "student loan" may not really be "financial aid"

I think a good point is made in a Salon op-ed piece entitled "Stop calling student loans 'financial aid'."
The government records and documents student loans as a form of aid... When pundits say that “student aid” has exploded over the past decade and argue that aid is driving increases in tuition, it disguises that the “aid” which has exploded is a signficant amount of debt for young people...

Student loans are an economic transaction, the same as if the government had contracted out to build a bridge or hired a person to serve in the military or police force or be a teacher. The money spent here isn’t “aid.”
If loans are forgiven, or provided at sub-market rates or with interest-free deferrals of paybakcs, then they can be described as gifts or aid.  Otherwise, they are just loans.

Landscape photo resembles abstract painting

The photo represents the mouth of the river falling into the ocean [in Iceland].

“A little bit upstream there is a yellow-colored brook flowing into the river, but yellow currents fail to mix with the main water flow.  One can estimate the scale judging by the car tracks that are clearly seen on the black sand. This is just a river, just a volcano, just our planet.”
An original source link is unfortunately not provided at the allhomosapienswelcome via, but the photographer is identified as Andre Ermolaev.

Addendum:  Reader spyra found the photographer's website.

A murder victim's last photograph

Stunning.  Some details of the story are at CNN.

(very) Great Dane

His 44-inch shoulder height makes "Zeus" the world's tallest dog.
Zeus weighs 155 pounds and eats around 12 cups of food a day.
That’s equivalent to one 30-pound bag of food. 
Not (unless the food weighs 2.5 pounds per cup).   Presumably "per week" was left out at the Salon quote source.  Video at The Telegraph.

Photo: AP Photo/Guinness World Records 2013 Book, Kevin Scott Ramos, HO.

15 September 2012

A "squirrel king"

These details from the imgur posting (embed cropped from original) and Reddit thread:
"My co-worker sent an email saying he would be late because he was trying to untie a squirrel tail knot. I asked for a picture, and he delivered... This is the email he sent:
I was pressed into squirrel rescue this morning on my way out. Five young squirrels got tangled in Christmas lights in my neighbor’s yard. We got the lights off, but now their tails are one big knot, so I have to bring them into a rescue place to untie them, as I am unequipped to untie squirrel tail knots. I should be in this afternoon. 
Some readers of this blog will remember my January repost from 2008: A "rat king" - and three bucks.  Rat kings have been presumed to be mostly apochryphal, but the Reddit thread included a link to a most-interesting article at Messinger Woods Wildlife Care and Education Center:
In the wild, squirrels make their nests of dried leaves and branches...  A strange natural accident that sometimes occurs is sap from pine branches that the nest is constructed of can adhere to the squirrels' tails and ultimately to each other's tails. Squirrels normally have litters of 4 to 6 babies. As they are fed in the nest, they are quite "squirmy" and move around frequently. Once their tails become stuck together, movement is limited amongst them and they jump under and over each other trying to reposition themselves. In the process, they literally knot or braid themselves together. The squirrels pull in many directions, thereby worsening the situation. They can actually live quite a long time like this, as the mother continues to feed them.
The article continues with detailed directions on how to cope with a squirrel king if you encounter one, and how the victims can be untangled.

You learn something every day.

NFL "no-huddle" offense creates problems - for TV

The no-huddle offense has created plenty of problems for defenses, initially at the collegiate level and now in the NFL.  But as the WSJ reports, the tactic is also creating problems for television broadcasters:
Last week, 14% of NFL plays were run without a huddle, an increase of 56% from last season and 100% from five seasons ago. As you might imagine, these up-tempo drives can put a fair bit of pressure on the TV production crew...

Veteran broadcaster Marv Albert, who now calls NFL games for CBS, explained that the problem starts from the first play. If the team starts no-huddle on the first drive, the broadcast doesn't even have time to show the team's lineups. "And once you look down for an anecdote you're dead," Albert said. He added that when a team like New England is playing, he lives by a simple rule: "Don't talk about anything other than the play at hand, or you are going to miss snaps."...

During a Patriots game last fall against the Dallas Cowboys, the Patriots ran their offense so quickly that at one point in the third quarter, 10 plays went by without a replay. "When you're calling a Patriots game you cannot rest," Albert said.

Brian Billick, a former Ravens coach who is an analyst for Fox, said it's often nearly impossible to get even the shortest opinion across: "It's tight enough as it is, you only have 10-15 seconds to make a point and now you don't even have that." 
More at The Wall Street Journal.

If you use coffee to stay awake...

... this advertisement should resonate with you.

Via Like Cool and The Dish.

A real-life man-made bat cave

Created as a possible solution to the epidemic of white-nose syndrome:
...the conservation group, working with the state wildlife agency, decided to build a bat hibernaculum that could be scrubbed out with ammonia each autumn and spring, keeping the cave clean of the deadly fungus...

Made out of pre-cast concrete modules, the cave is about 24 metres long. That size space could easily accommodate 200,000 bats. "But I'd be happy with 10,000 to 15,000," Holliday said.

The cave was engineered to draw a continual supply of winter air from a concrete shaft to provide the chilly temperatures favoured by hibernating bats. Stale air is released through a chimney. The shaft also serves as the entrance for the bats.

The ceiling is scored with ridges and rough edges, the better to give bat claws a tight grip. Walls are lined with sheets of open mesh and fine screens – even a slab of board, with a gap for crevice-loving bats to roost in...

But there are no guarantees the bats will even deign to use the artificial space.  "It's a neat idea for sure but the trick will be seeing whether bats will use it first of all. The second thing will be seeing how they regulate the micro-climate inside, which is super-important for bat hibernation," said Craig Willis, a bat expert at the University of Winnipeg.
Kudos to the people who took the initiative to do this.

Photo credit: Ed Rode/Polaris.
(For background reading, see White-nose syndrome in bats)

14 September 2012

Golden Egyptian finger stall

After seeing this photo at Uncertain Times, I had to look up "finger stall" - didn't know it was a synonym for "finger cot."  This one, currently in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is made of sheet gold and comes from a royal tomb in Upper Egypt (ca. 1479–1425 B.C.), where they are described as "standard elements" of a royal burial (on all fingers and toes).

I presume this was done to cover up the fact that postmortem shrinkage gives most digits a unattractive claw-like appearance.

Giant's Causeway (not)

The scale at the top is in mm, and the material is starch rather than basalt. 
Found all over the world, [similar geologic formations] are now known to be the result of cooling lava flows, in which shrinkage causes stresses that fracture the rock. The columns are formed as a sharp front of cooling moves into the lava flow, assisted by the boiling off of groundwater. As the front advances, it leaves behind a crack network which evolves into an almost hexagonal arrangement. This network carves out the columns. There are many mysteries: what causes the ordering of the network into hexagons? What sets the size of the columns, which varies in different outcrops between a few inches and a few yards?

Amazingly, you can make columnar joints in your kitchen! Just mix 50:50 corn starch and water and put it into a coffee cup. Dry the mixture with a bright light above it --- this might take up to a week. When the mixture is dry, carefully break it apart and you will see that the interior is broken up into small “starch columns” a few mm wide [pix at the link]. In this experiment, water replaces the heat in the lava, and the columns are 1000X smaller.
More details (and more photos) at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, via Fresh Photons.
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