31 December 2012

Found under a bed

In Panama.  Discussed at Reddit, where the consensus is that living in a cold climate and shoveling snow is not so bad when you consider that we don't have to contend with mama scorpions carrying a litter of babies...

30 December 2012

Video of the "Briggs-Rauscher iodine oscillator"

The instructional voiceover in the video is fully explanatory; I certainly have nothing to add, but will note that there is an unrelated substance called "blue amber," which looks to be blogworthy (some other time).

Natural Path Sanctuary - a "green cemetery"

In 2010 I bookmarked a story in Madison's Cap Times about a couple who were encountering opposition to their plans to establish a "green cemetery."
Farley is proposing to bury 70 to 100 people a year at the Natural Path Sanctuary, which comprises about 25 acres of his property just west of Verona... The Skinners are among a growing number of Americans who hope to be buried in an environmentally friendly way. But their options are limited. Nationwide, there are only about two dozen certified green cemeteries...

In the Dane County area, cemeteries require concrete vaults. Most are maintained with lawn chemicals. And many people are buried after being embalmed with toxic chemicals. Farley, a retired physician and longtime social activist, plans to bury about 2,500 bodies altogether, providing fertilizer for trees and plants in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. The land’s designation as a burial site would, by law, protect it as a nature preserve in perpetuity, and Farley says it would require little maintenance. “The woods in which people will be buried won’t be manicured,” he says. “There will be a trail through it where people can walk and enjoy, and there will probably be places where people can sit and meditate or sit and reflect."..

 But the plan has been held up by neighbors who fear that a cemetery will take a bite out of their property values. “I have a lot invested, so I obviously have to protect my assets,” says neighbor Brian Raffel, who’s trying to sell his home, assessed at $2 million, which lies on property adjacent to Farley’s land... Raffel is not alone. Several neighbors signed a letter to the Springdale Town Board opposing the cemetery. The town’s planning commission voted it down in July, but Supervisor Wayne Hefty says the Town Board will likely give it a thumbs up at its Sept. 13 meeting...

Farley says he’s doing everything he can to accommodate the concerns of his neighbors, but they just can’t get past the “ick factor” of having a cemetery near their properties. But Tim Esser says it’s not an irrational fear that drives his opposition. He worries that the cemetery threatens to contaminate well water, despite that fact that a hydrologist hired by Farley says it won’t. And he points to the fact that the appraiser hired by Raffel, as well as the town’s assessor, have told town officials that the cemetery will hurt property values. “It reduces your pool of buyers, which reduces your value,” Esser says...

In the Madison area, cemeteries will allow for unembalmed bodies — traditional Jewish ceremonies forbid embalming — but they have to be entombed in a concrete vault, not because of any law, but because cemeteries want to keep the grounds flat. “Without them the graves will settle and you have kind of a dipping effect,” McNally says. “So it’s hard to keep them manicured the way people have come to expect them to be.”.. 
I hadn't seen a followup, so I was pleased a couple weeks ago to encounter a link to the website for the now-thriving Natural Path Sanctuary.
Green cemeteries are burial grounds where care of the land is a primary concern. The land is preserved in its natural state forever. Burials are limited in number using only 10-30% of the land. Natural burials occur in harmony with nature without any toxic chemicals. Upon death, the body is allowed to return to the earth entering into the natural cycle of life. There are certain rules and standards that must be practiced in order to be considered a green cemetery, with different levels of certification. Typically green cemeteries do not allow embalming fluids or cement vaults. Containers are made from unfinished and non-precious woods, and no metal is allowed. Full body burials are encouraged as this is less harmful to the environment than cremation, but both methods are acceptable. Full body burial in a biodegradable covering/shroud/blanket, has the least environmental impact and is the choice encouraged at the Natural Path Sanctuary green cemetery.
There's more information at the link, and at the website for The Center for Natural Burial.
Costs of green burial vary and can be substantially cheaper than traditional burial in urban areas, but often are more costly than rural cemeteries. At The Meadow, for example, a membership including a plot, opening and closing of a grave, a memorial planting fee and endowment care fee are $3,065, excluding the cost of a boulder marker. At White Eagle Memorial Preserve in Goldendale, a 20-by-20 plot is $2,200, and opening and closing a grave is $600. Most green caskets or containers are cheaper than traditional coffins, but they can get spendy for rare woods or special joinery.
And for those of you with pets, there is this consideration:
Last May, the Texas Banking Commission, which regulates funerals and cemeteries [does that make sense to you?], deep-sixed burials of pets in cemeteries for homo sapiens. But Texas still welcomes human burials alongside animals in pet cemeteries...

As the clip reveals, some Texans are also opting for their own burials--sans Bootsie---in pet cemeteries. The cost of room and board, notes the clip, beats its counterpart in people cemeteries by a mile. So why not think outside the box? 
Found at Wig & Pen, where a relevant news video is embedded.

The movies of 2012

A list of the movies in the order of appearance in the mashup. So far I've seen only I think eight of them, but have several others on request from the library.

If you like this video, Matt Shapiro has also done "Cinescapes" for -
2007, and

I may have blogged some of these in the past (because I've seldom met a movie mashup I didn't like) but I don't have time to check old blog posts right now; got to go watch the Vikings lose to the Packers again.

Via The Dish.

29 December 2012


Not a galaxy.
"This neurosphere was cultured from an adult mouse brain in a project aiming to determine how new brain cells are born in the adult brain. With nascent neurons (yellow) navigating amongst associated astrocytes (red), it reminds me of a meteorite in the night sky and highlights the mirror relationship between microcosm and macrocosm."
One of the top science and nature photos posted in 2010 in Australian Geographic (credit Dana Bradford).

A "real-life" Quasimodo

In August 2010 Adrian Glew, a Tate archivist, announced evidence for a real-life Quasimodo, a "humpbacked [stone] carver" who worked at Notre Dame during the 1820s. The evidence is contained in the memoirs of Henry Sibson, a 19th-century British sculptor who worked at Notre Dame at around the same time Hugo wrote the novel.

Sibson describes a humpbacked stonemason working there: "He was the carver under the Government sculptor whose name I forget as I had no interaction with him, all that I know is that he was humpbacked and he did not like to mix with carvers."

Because Victor Hugo had close links with the restoration of the cathedral it is likely he was aware of the unnamed "humpbacked carver" nicknamed "Le Bossu", who oversaw "Monsieur Trajin".

Adrian Glew also uncovered that both the hunchback and Hugo were living in the same town of Saint Germain-des-Pres in 1833, and in early drafts of Les Misérables, Hugo named the main character "Jean Trajin" (the same name as the unnamed hunchback carver's employee), but later changed it to "Jean Valjean".
From a 2010 article in The Telegraph, via Wikipedia.

"After the breaking of the world"

A digital fantasy landscape by Seattle-based Dutch artist Jesse Van Dijk. (click for bigger)
His work evinces research into historical architecture, technological developments and the geological processes through which landscapes unfold. "If you create images and structures that are grounded in reality - that obey the laws of nature, complying with physics - the image becomes more expressive and powerful. I always look for something that could theoretically exist in reality. From my experience, the more you keep achievable possibilities in mind, the more creatively expressive the work becomes. My work allows suspension of disbelief by refusing to engage in the merely nonsensical."
Via Robs Webstek.

(I had to restrain myself from entitling this post "the physical cliff.")

Find your home on a U.S. dotmap

Using data from the U.S. census, Brandon M-Anderson created the dotmap above, which depicts each of the 300 million U.S. residents with one dot.  The original map is zoomable, so I was able to zoom repeatedly to find my neighborhood:

Having a "blank" corn/alfalfa field nearby helped me find the right area.  It can be rather difficult, especially since conventional landmarks like roads are implied rather than specifically shown. 

Addendum:  xcentric notes that there is a toggle to a conventional map in the upper right corner.

Via Boing Boing.

Everyone eats at the Quality Cafe

A Cracked article ("6 Places You'll Recognize from the Background of Every Movie") makes note of the many movies and television episodes that have been filmed in this Los Angeles diner.

28 December 2012

"Peacock spider" (Maratus speciosus)

Photo credit to Jurgen Otto from New South Wales, whose Flickr photostream has hundreds more excellent macro photos of this and other spiders. 

This species is discussed at length in a paper he published in Peckhamia 103.1 (November 2012); see pp 43-44 for photos of how the opisthosomal fan shown above is deployed during courtship. 

There are also videos at his YouTube channel, one of which I featured in TYWKIWDBI in 2011.

"Too big to prosecute"

Remember "too big to fail."  Here's what comes next...
Over the last year, federal investigators found that one of the world's largest banks, HSBC, spent years committing serious crimes, involving money laundering for terrorists; "facilitat[ing] money laundering by Mexican drug cartels"; and "mov[ing] tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups". Those investigations uncovered substantial evidence "that senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity." As but one example, "an HSBC executive at one point argued that the bank should continue working with the Saudi Al Rajhi bank, which has supported Al Qaeda."

Needless to say, these are the kinds of crimes for which ordinary and powerless people are prosecuted and imprisoned with the greatest aggression possible. If you're Muslim and your conduct gets anywhere near helping a terrorist group, even by accident, you're going to prison for a long, long time. In fact, powerless, obscure, low-level employees are routinely sentenced to long prison terms for engaging in relatively petty money laundering schemes, unrelated to terrorism, and on a scale that is a tiny fraction of what HSBC and its senior officials are alleged to have done.

But not HSBC. On Tuesday, not only did the US Justice Department announce that HSBC would not be criminally prosecuted, but outright claimed that the reason is that they are too important, too instrumental to subject them to such disruptions. In other words, shielding them from the system of criminal sanction to which the rest of us are subject is not for their good, but for our common good. We should not be angry, but grateful, for the extraordinary gift bestowed on the global banking giant:
"US authorities defended their decision not to prosecute HSBC for accepting the tainted money of rogue states and drug lords on Tuesday, insisting that a $1.9bn fine for a litany of offences was preferable to the 'collateral consequences' of taking the bank to court. . . .

"Announcing the record fine at a press conference in New York, assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer said that despite HSBC"s 'blatant failure' to implement anti-money laundering controls and its wilful flouting of US sanctions, the consequences of a criminal prosecution would have been dire.

"Had the US authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking licence in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilised...
There's more at The Guardian, where it is noted that the financial penalty "represents about four weeks' earnings given the bank's pre-tax profits of $21.9bn last year."

Would anyone care to offer a defense of the Obama administration's Justice Department action here?

Via Reddit.

Sharks on a golf course

The sharks are bull sharks stranded in a small lake after a flood; they can survive in fresh water and are apparently being fed by staff and visitors.  Carbrook golf course appreciates the attention they bring, and have incorporated them into the club's web page:

Discussed at Treehugger, via Reddit.

What do these items have in common?

2 golf balls
12 pairs of boots
numerous Hasselblad cameras
and 96 bags of urine, feces, and vomit

(but no partridge in a pear tree)

Answer at The Atlantic.

Smoker's carpet

"Photographed when the bed was moved in preparation for repainting the walls.  I smoked for many years and never appreciated at the time how much damage was being done to my wall hangings and decorative items."
Credit and discussion at Reddit.

27 December 2012

Tips on getting gas for your vehicle

Today at JohnnyCat's The Litter Box blog, I learned that you can't pump your own gas in Oregon or New Jersey: "Can NOT, as in it is actually against the law." 

I also learned that you shouldn't "top off" your fill after the pump shuts off automatically:
Not only is it bad for the environment and the health of everyone, the new-fangled pumps actually suck a good portion of that excess back into the hose, so you’re not getting what you’re paying for.
Confirmed at Wikihow -
Do not, however, try to pump more gas into the tank after it's clicked off. This is called "topping off" and is not recommended. The extra gas you try to sneak in will end up getting sucked back up by modern handles, spilling, or evaporating into the air, but you'll still have paid for it. All gas tanks are vented. Over filling just means that it's gas, not vapor, that will be vented out. Plus, you need extra room in your gas tank to allow the gasoline to expand or your car won't work as well.
- and at an EPA website, which also offers this tip:
Do not pump gas when the tanker truck is at the station refueling its underground gas tanks. Any water or gunk that may exist in the underground tank is stirred up by the force of the new, in-coming gas. This water or gunk can then be pumped into your car, which can cause a great deal of damage to your car.
And a link there led me to this tip at Life123:
Did you know that gas pumps have three different speeds? Most pumps have slow, medium and fast. Most people insert the pump into the car and then set the handle so that they don't have to hold the pump. Gas stations want you to do this because you are actually getting less gas this way-slow pumping reduces the vaporization of the gas. Take the extra effort to hold the pump at the first setting (slow), and you'll get fewer vapors and more gas for your dollar. Try squeezing the handle about a third of the way to set it at the slowest setting.
You learn something every day.

"Frost flowers" in the Arctic Ocean

"Frost flowers" are "a strange phenomenon where frost grows from imperfections in the surface ice amid extreme sub-zero temperatures nearing -22C or -7.6F, forming spiky structures that have been found to house microorganisms. In fact, the bacteria found in the frost flowers is much more dense than in the frozen water below it, meaning each flower is essentially a temporary ecosystem, not unlike a coral reef."
The cold, moist air above the open cracks becomes saturated and frost begins to form wherever an imperfection can be found on the ice surface. From these nucleation points the flower-like frost structures grow vertically, quickly rising to centimeters in height. The hollow tendrils of these “frost flowers” begin to wick moisture from the ice surface, incorporating salt, marine bacteria, and other substances as they grow.
More details (and additional photos) at Colossal, via allhomosapienswelcome. Unlike the land-based "frost flowers" I used to see when I lived in rural Kentucky, these Arctic ones are truly made from frost, not from extruded ice.

"Color pic-a-pix" online game

You are provided an empty grid with data on the x- and y-axes for the distribution of colors within the grid.  Then use your mouse to fill in the blanks.

I thought the 20x20 grid was a difficult (but fair) challenge.  Found by Alex and posted this morning at Neatorama.

The game is here.

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader Muzzman, who knew of a similar (and free) site at Griddlers.

Got a washing machine? You've got a drum set.

What you need, of course, is a child as talented as the one in the video above (this particular child also has a real Pearl drum kit, as per his parent's comments at YouTube).

Passwords stolen from your computer will be sold for $2 each

By default, most bot malware will extract any passwords stored in the victim PC’s browser, and will intercept and record any credentials submitted in Web forms, such as when a user enters his credit card number, address, etc. at an online retail shop. Some of the most valuable data extracted from hacked PCs is bank login information. But non-financial logins also have value, particularly for shady online shops that collect and resell this information.

Logins for everything from Amazon.com to Walmart.com often are resold — either in bulk, or separately by retailer name — on underground crime forums...

Increasingly, miscreants are setting up their own storefronts to sell stolen credentials for an entire shopping mall of online retail establishments. Freshtools, for example, sells purloined usernames and passwords for working accounts at overstock.com, dell.com, walmart.com, all for $2 each. The site also sells fedex.com and ups.com accounts for $5 a pop, no doubt to enable fraudulent reshipping schemes. Accounts that come with credentials to the email addresses tied to each site can fetch a dollar or two more.
From a frankly scary article at the often-scary Krebs on Security site, via Boing Boing, where the process is summarized as follows:
The person who writes the malware sells it to someone who's got a useful vector (a hacked website, say) for distributing it. The distributor extracts the ecommerce logins and flogs them to someone else who has access to a stooge who does freight forwarding. The freight forwarder acts as a dead-drop for some other crook who's wholesaling to dirty retailers, and so on.
I don't have a sense that law enforcement organizations have much success (or incentive) in pursuing such crime.  It seems that the losses are soaked up by retailers and banks and then passed on back to customers in the form of higher prices, while in the meantime the malefactors continue their ways.  But I might be wrong.

26 December 2012

Magnificent cloud photography

I'll close today with a selection of photos of Clouds of the Month, from the website of the incomparable Cloud Appreciation Society.  Their Cloudspotter's Guide is an excellent book.

Top to bottom:
When Cirrus clouds are arranged like the backbone of a fish, they are given the name ‘vertebratus.’ (Photograph © Tim Middleton).

...a display of cloud iridescence. This colourful optical effect is caused by sunlight being diffracted as it passes around the cloud particles. (© Photograph Andrew Kirk)

Mount Rainier’s shadow being cast onto the clouds above (Photograph © Nick Lippert)

The bar-tailed godwit can fly 11,000 kilometers. Nonstop.

As reported at Science Daily in 2010:
Every autumn the bar-tailed godwit undertakes an eight-day journey from Alaska to New Zealand. The bird flies non-stop, without once breaking the journey to rest or eat. Then when spring comes, the bar-tailed godwit makes the 11,000-kilometre journey back to Alaska...

Professor of Ecology Anders Hedenström from Lund University has pondered over how this species of bird can fly so far without stopping. The distance is twice as far as previously known non-stop distances for migratory birds.

Professor Hedenström emphasises that the bar-tailed godwit is far superior to all aircraft constructed by humans when it comes to the art of flying for a long time without a break. The long-distance flight record for aircraft is held by QiniteQ's Zephyr, an unmanned solar-powered craft. It can remain in the air for 82 hours, around three and a half days, compared with the bar-tailed godwit's eight-day flight.

But what is it that makes the bar-tailed godwit able to fly 11 000 kilometres without a single break? How can these birds manage without sleep or food for eight whole days? One explanation is that they consume unusually little energy compared with other species of bird. Anders Hedenström has calculated that the bar-tailed godwit consumes 0.41 per cent of its body weight each hour during its long flight.
And this from a subsequent report:
The last leg of E7's journey is the most extraordinary, entailing a non-stop flight of more than eight days and a distance of 7,200 miles, the equivalent of making a roundtrip flight between New York and San Francisco, and then flying back again to San Francisco without ever touching down.

Since they are land birds, godwits like E7 can't stop to eat or drink while flying over open-ocean. The constant flight speeds at which E7 was tracked by satellite indicate that she did not stop on land.

Pogo stick world records

Highlights from Pogopalooza 9 (2012) here, and some background from NPR.

Risks of QR codes

Malicious QR codes combined with a permissive reader can put a computer's contents and user's privacy at risk. This practice is known as "attagging", a portmanteau of "attack tagging". They are easily created and can be affixed over legitimate QR codes.

On a smartphone, the reader's many permissions allow use of the camera, full Internet access, read/write contact data, GPS, read browser history, read/write local storage, and global system changes.

Risks include linking to dangerous web sites with browser exploits, enabling the microphone/camera/GPS, and then streaming those feeds to a remote server, analysis of sensitive data (passwords, files, contacts, transactions), and sending email/SMS/IM messages or DDOS packets as part of a botnet, corrupting privacy settings, stealing identity, and even containing malicious logic themselves such as JavaScript or a virus. 

These actions could occur in the background while the user is only seeing the reader opening a seemingly harmless web page. In Russia, a malicious QR code caused phones that scanned it to send premium texts at a fee of US$6 each.
So how does one detect a malignant QR code or protect onself against them?

A question about Prohibition

I was reading a Slate article (The Chemist's War:The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences) and encountered this sentence -
The saga began with ratification of the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States.
- and noticed that the 18th Amendment did not ban the consumption of alcohol.  This was confirmed at the Wikipedia page: "Prohibition was instituted with ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on January 16, 1919, which prohibited the "...manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States..."

Now I'm wondering why, in so many movies, scenes depicting raids on speakeasys show the patrons fleeing the establishment? (I think The Cotton Club had a scene like that).  If patrons were not doing anything illegal in consuming alcohol, why do they jump out windows and escape through back doors to the alley?  

Mounded shapes help small plants stay warm

Excerpts from an interesting article at The Olive Tree:
The dome-like shape which the cushions tend to take (made possible by an adaptation that makes all the plants in the clump grow upward at the same rate, so no one plant is high above all the others), and the closeness with which those plants grow, makes these clumps perfect heat traps. The temperature on or inside a cushion can be up to 15 °C more than the air temperature above it. The cushions are able to retain heat radiating up from the soil, as well as absorbing heat from the sun (a very dense, large, clump of green can get surprisingly warm on a sunny day at high altitude)...

The desirable microclimate created by the cushion is not just desirable for the plant itself – in fact these plants have been shown to provide habitat for other plants, which shelter under the canopy of the cushion, as well as a variety of microorganisms and arthropods. Studies on various species of cushion plant around the world have shown that, depending on the type of plant and the location, cushion plants may improve species diversity, richness, or evenness (often all three!) when compared to a similar site with no cushion.
Via Boing Boing.  The plant in the photo may or may not be technically a "cushion" plant.  It was the only small dome I could find in my photos this morning (taken at a "barrens" area along the Wisconsin River).  I don't know what it is. 

Newborn baby Jesus serenaded with bagpipes

The painting is Adoration of the Shepherds by the 17th-century master Domenichino.
The painting shows a fairly conventional depiction of this very common scene, with some unusual details. The number of shepherds is rather large at nine, and the pose of the shepherd pointing at the baby Jesus while looking over his shoulder outside the picture space suggests that more are arriving. Or possibly he has seen the approaching Magi, the next arrivals in the traditional narrative...

A prominently placed shepherd on the left side of the group is shown playing his bagpipes. Though the shepherds sometimes carry musical instruments, often including pipes, they are less often shown playing them at this solemn moment, as opposed to the earlier scene of the Annunciation to the Shepherds where an angel appears to them with their flocks. If music is shown being performed beside the crib it is more often by angels...

The inclusion of the shepherd's dog, especially right by the crib, is unusual, though the shepherds very often have one in scenes of their annunciation, and sometimes bring a lamb to the crib as a gift; here the dove held by the boy in the foreground is intended to represent a gift. In the 17th century the shepherds often crowd round the crib, as here, and Mary actively displays her child to them. However her gesture of lifting a cloth, revealing a full view of a naked Jesus, including his penis, is unusual in art by this date. In the late medieval period pictures of the infant Jesus often made a point of displaying his genitals for theological reasons*, but in the Counter-Reformation this was discouraged...

*An influential book by Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1983, 2nd edition 1996), explores the explicit depiction of Christ's penis in art, which he argues became a new focus of attention in late medieval art, initially covered only by a transparent veil in the early 14th century, and by the second half of the century completely uncovered, and often being the subject of the gaze or gestures of other figures in the scene. This emphasis is, among other things, a demonstration of Christ's humanity when it appears in depictions of the Madonna and Child and other scenes of Christ's childhood, and also a foreshadowing of Christ's Passion to come in the context of the Circumcision.
More at Wikipedia, where there is also a gallery of other adoration paintings with bagpipes depicted but not played.

25 December 2012

"Dear Santa" letters (from 1905)

Selections from a collection of century-old letters to Santa, posted by Ben Welter for the StarTribune's Yesterday's News column:
“Dear Santa Claus – This Christmas you cannot come through the chimly because it is to narrow and you will skrach your cheeks so we will be all up waiting for you, so please bring me a pair of skates, a bag of nuts and candy and good magic lanterns. So I think this will be all. Yours truly, Charles Wojtaszek, Ninth avenue main street northeast, number 507.”
“Dear Santa Claws: Will you please bring me an auto express wagon, ball, animal book and a suit of clothes. Please don’t forget me. I am five years old. My name is Toney and I live across the street from Shol’s grocery store.”
“dear Santa Claws please bring alice and pearl Katzenberg a bureau and a plane set of dishes and a red doll cloak and a white dress and a rocking chair and a picture book. This will be all your friend alice, 602 17th ave north.”
“Dear Santa Claus – Please bring me a new white fir for my neck and a little white muff. Also a little stove and bureau for dolly. Sincerely yours, Virginia L. Layman, 718 11th ave., S.E.”
“Dear santa Claus – I want a pair of skates and I want a pair of leggings also I can have some fun I am 8 years old and of course I want some candy and I want one or two story book and that will be all I want, and my sister Helen wants a dollie buggie and she wants a pair of shoes and a little table and a little rocking chair dollbed and that will be all and please call at 822 main street north east. John Leroy.”
More at the link.

24 December 2012

The War on Christmas - in colonial America

Christmas celebrations in Puritan New England (1620–1850?) were culturally and legally suppressed and thus, virtually non-existent. The Puritan community found no Scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry. The earliest years of the Plymouth colony were troubled with non-Puritans attempting to make merry, and Governor William Bradford was forced to reprimand offenders...

In Puritans at Play (1995), Bruce Colin Daniels writes "Christmas occupied a special place in the ideological religious warfare of Reformation Europe." Most Anabaptists, Quakers, Congregational and Presbyterian Puritans, he observes, regarded the day as an abomination while Anglicans, Lutherans, the Dutch Reformed and other denominations celebrated the day as did Roman Catholics. When the Church of England promoted the Feast of the Nativity as a major religious holiday, the Puritans attacked it as "residual Papist idolatry"...

Puritans heaped contempt on Christmas, Daniels writes, calling it 'Foolstide' and suppressing any attempts to celebrate it for several reasons. First, no holy days except the Sabbath were sanctioned in Scripture, second, the most egregious behaviors were exercised in its celebration (Cotton Mather railed against these behaviors), and third, December 25 was ahistorical. The Puritan argued that the selection of the date was an early Christian hijacking of a Roman festival, and to celebrate a December Christmas was to defile oneself by paying homage to a pagan custom... 
Further details at the Wikipedia entry and at the one about Father Christmas.

No "Bah, humbug!" here.  TYWKIWDBI wishes everyone a Merry Christmas.  Stop surfing the internet and spend time with your family and friends.

Image: The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686).

"Bullet pudding" in a Jane Austen-style Christmas

Parlour games were played throughout Christmas and during the 12th Night celebrations in Jane Austen’s era. One favourite at Godmersham Park was Bullet Pudding, as described by Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s niece, in a letter written to her friend, Miss Dorothy Chapman of Faversham:
You must have a large pewter dish filled with flour which you must pile up into a sort of pudding with a peek at top. You must then lay a bullet at top and everybody cuts a slice of it, and the person that is cutting it when it falls must poke about with their noses and chins till they find it and then take it out with their mouths of which makes them strange figures all covered with flour but the worst is that you must not laugh for fear of the flour getting up your nose and mouth and choking you: You must not use your hands in taking the Bullet out.  
Found at Austenonly.

The Islamic view of Mary, mother of Jesus

From an op-ed piece in the StarTribune this week:
Much has already been written about Jesus's exalted position in Islam. At this time, I would like to focus on how Mary (peace be upon her) is viewed in Islam.

Mary is mentioned in the Qur’an in several chapters, including chapter 19 that is named after her. Mary is revered by Muslims on account of her chastity and devotion to God. The Qur’an makes clear the exalted status of Mary as follows:
And [mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer]." (3:42, 43) 
According to the exegesis of the Qur'an by Ibn Katheer, Mary was born in a noble family from the lineage of David (peace be upon him). The Qur’an mentions the story of her mother’s pregnancy with Mary in the third chapter called Al ‘Imran and how she dedicated Mary to the service of the Bait Al Maqdis (the mosque of the sacred house) in Jerusalem...

During one of the interfaith discussions, a Christian friend remarked that the Qur’an is very kind and compassionate to Mary. She explained that the Bible mentions the first miracle of Jesus when he was 33 years old whereas the Qur’an narrates the first miracle of Jesus when he was a newborn and thus saving Mary from the humiliation of having to wait 33 years to be absolved from the calumny that was heaped upon her by the people at that time.

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims honor Mary (peace be upon her) and her son the Messiah Jesus Christ (peace be upon him). They send blessings on them when they mention their names, they recite these verses from the Qur’an in their prayers, and they name their children after them as a mark of respect. 
Additional explication and citations at the link.  See also my post from last Christmas:

Preparing food with liquid nitrogen

Was your Christmas dinner prepared with the use of liquid nitrogen?  Mine neither, but you can learn about it in a 2010 Salon article:
Liquid nitrogen is headed for the mainstream, and it might not be terribly long before you’ll find a nice dewar of the stuff bubbling away in your own kitchen.  The idea of using liquid nitrogen in food is not actually new; there are reports of ice cream made with it in the 1800s...

It’s not very expensive, as low as $1 a gallon.  Bad: The insulated dewar you’ll need to keep it in can run in the hundreds of dollars, but some suppliers will rent them.  Look up a local welding supply store or an industrial gas supplier to buy it...

It is colder than -346 degrees Farenheit... You really don’t want to touch this stuff; it can burn you as seriously as fryer oil — and so can any bowl or ladle you use while playing with it... Avoid glass bowls, since they can break from the shock... Oh, and this also means that if you’re freezing food with it, you’ll want to let it warm back up to regular-old freezing temperature before eating it!..

There is a small but real risk that if you play with it in a small, unventilated room, it can suffocate you... 
Image at the top:  "milk foam" or "crispy milk" (explanation and recipe at the link).

I need help with some quiz questions

The questions for the King William's College general knowledge paper (the "Christmas Quiz") have now been posted online at The Guardian.  Groups have been established to solve the questions, as for example is done each year at Metafilter.  There is one set of questions that puzzles me, and three other questions for which I don't know the answers.

To shield this post from the prying eyes of Google and thus the searches of other puzzle solvers, I have inserted the letter "x" into the crucial words and phrases. 

5.2    Who [with a name ending in -by] "wrote of guinxea pigs and mxoles?

10.2    Where [presumably in New England] "did the hirxsute hunxter board the txrain?"
10.10  Where [presumably in New England] "did two Sxtarks idxle down?"

This next group presumably - but not with certainty - refers to alcohxol or perxfumes, since the word "House" is capitalized: "Which spiritxed conxcoction of which House..."

17.4    "recalls a Piedmonxtese founxdation?"
17.5    "might have been named Jollxy Rogxer?"
17.6    "shares its name with a Bretxon muxsic fesxtival?"
17.8    "might be derived from Taxro rooxt?"
17.9    "suggests a rapxtor's grasxp?"

I believe any answers that you might offer in the Comments will not be accessible to a Google search, and would not need to be disguised or encoded.  And I will delete the post altogether in a couple days.

Thanks in advance for any help.

Point of view

Via The Dish.

Marijuana as a "pain distracter"

To determine exactly how cannabis relieves pain, a group of Oxford researchers used healthy volunteers, an MRI machine and doses of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Their findings, published today in the journal Pain, suggest something counterintuitive: that the drug doesn’t so much reduce pain as make the same level of pain more bearable.

“Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine,” Michael Lee, an Oxford neuroscientist and lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates. Instead, cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.” 

This indicates that marijuana doesn’t function as a pain killer as much as a pain distracter: Objectively, levels of pain remain the same for someone under the influence of THC, but it simply bothers the person less. It’s difficult to draw especially broad conclusions from a study with a sample size of just 12 participants, but the results were still surprising. 
From at the Smithsonian's Surprising Science blog.

Roadside trees can affect traffic speed

Motorists who travel down French-style avenues feel as though they are going faster and are more likely to slow down. 
More than 200 trees were planted on the approach roads to four rural villages in north Norfolk which had a history of speeding problems...

Provisional results found that drivers reduced their speed on the roads into Martham, Horstead, Mundesley and Overstrand by an average of two miles per hour...

By strategically planting trees along the roadside the driver's perception of speed can be altered. As the car approaches the village the trees are planted closer and closer together giving the impression that the vehicle is moving faster. This encourages the motorist to slow down.  
More details at the 2010 Telegraph article.   I have no doubt about the physiology and psychology of the effect, but another consideration I've noticed when driving down avenues of trees is that, depending on time of day and orientation, the trees can generate a stobe-like effect as they block the sun from the driver's eyes.

Image credit:  Warren Photographic.

Snap-dragon on Christmas Eve

Snap-dragon (also known as Flap-dragon) was a parlour game popular from about the 16th to 19th centuries. It was played during the winter, particularly on Christmas Eve. Brandy was heated and placed in a wide shallow bowl; raisins were placed in the brandy which was then set alight. Typically, lights were extinguished or dimmed to increase the eerie effect of the blue flames playing across the liquor. The aim of the game was to pluck the raisins out of the burning brandy and eat them, at the risk of being burnt...

Other treats could also be used. Of these, almonds were the most common alternative or addition, but currants, candied fruit, figs, grapes, and plums also featured... The low bowl was typically placed in the middle of a table to prevent damage from the inevitable splashes of burning brandy. In one variation a Christmas pudding is placed in the centre of the bowl with raisins around it...

The first printed references to snap-dragons or flap-dragons are in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost (1594): "Thou art easier swallowed than a flapdragon."

By the mid-19th century Snap-dragon was firmly entrenched as a Christmas parlour game, and it is in this sense that it is referenced in 1836, in Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers and in 1861, in Anthony Trollope's novel Orley Farm.  Lewis Carroll, in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) describes "A snap-dragon-fly. Its body is made of plum pudding, its wings of holly-leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy."

Agatha Christie's book Hallowe'en Party describes a children's party )during which a child's murder causes Hercule Poirot to be brought in to solve the case) at which Snap-dragon is played at the end of the evening...

Michael Faraday, in his essay The Chemical History of a Candle (1860), suggested that the raisins in Snap-dragon act like miniature wicks. The concept is similar to that of burning brandy on top of Christmas puddings – the brandy is burning, but is not burning at a high enough temperature to consume the raisins.  Nevertheless, children often burnt their hands or mouths playing this game, which may have led to the practice mostly dying out in the early 20th century.
I think the game should be restarted at Christmas, even at the risk of burning hands.  (Reposted from 2010)

22 December 2012

And now we are five...

Today marks the fifth blogiversary for TYWKIWDBI, which began with this post in 2007 (10,788 posts and millions of visits ago).

It's been a good five years; I still struggle with motivation to keep blogging because of the seemingly unending distractions of real life.  But I do get a great deal of satisfaction from the depth and breadth of knowledge, the sophistication, and the almost always unfailing courtesy of readers who comment on the posts.  I learn things, I teach things, and every now and then I get help with my car or my computer for free.  Such a deal.

The photo is of a birthday party with my sister and my cousins from Las Vegas, taken in the house where I grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina.  I'm older than five in that photo; when I was five (right), we lived in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia.

I'm not seeking feedback on this, so I'll close the comments for this post.  And I'll use the occasion as an excuse to take another day off from blogging.  Yay!!

Mommy, what's a cephalophore?

A cephalophore (from the Greek for "head-carrier") is a saint who is generally depicted carrying his or her own head; in art, this was usually meant to signify that the subject in question had been martyred by beheading. Handling the halo in this circumstance offers a unique challenge for the artist. Some put the halo where the head used to be; others have the saint carrying the halo along with the head...

[A]n original, and perhaps the most famous cephalophore is Denis, patron saint of Paris, who, according to the Golden Legend, miraculously preached with his head in his hands while journeying the seven miles from Montmartre to his burying place. Although St Denis is the best known of the saintly head-carriers, there were many others; the folklorist Émile Nourry counted no less than 134 examples of cephalophory in French hagiographic literature alone...
In Dante's Divine Comedy (Canto 28) the poet meets the spectre of the troubadour Bertrand de Born in the eighth circle of the Inferno, carrying his severed head in his hand, slung by its hair, like a lantern; upon seeing Dante and Virgil, the head begins to speak...
Aristotle is at pains to discredit the stories of talking heads and to establish the physical impossibility, with the windpipe severed from the lung. "Moreover," he adds, "among the barbarians, where heads are chopped off with great rapidity, nothing of the kind has ever occurred."
Text and images from Wikipedia.

Camel dressage

I don't know what to say...

Re video games and gun violence

Found at imgur.

They didn't believe his alibi

Criminal charges are pending against an Onalaska teen police say led officers on a high-speed chase late Friday before crashing a stolen van into a North Side business [oddly, the "Sir Speedy" printing  office]...

Onalaska police arrested Traywick at his house late Sunday. He denied stealing the van, telling officers he had permission to drive his friend’s friend’s uncle’s vehicle.
Reported in the La Crosse Tribune.

A clever use for broken garden pots

Created by the staff at Natureworks, via Recyclart and Neatorama.

"Fox tossing" explained

The explanation involves cruelty to animals, so I'll leave it beneath the fold.

20 December 2012

Snow day(s)


Wisconsin is getting the brunt of a major winter storm deemed "life-threatening" by local authorities.  Not only are schools and businesses closed, but even the two major shopping malls (5 days before Christmas).  We were greeted this morning by a foot of snow on the ground, and it's supposed to continue until midnight tonight.

The conifer above, in front of our house, copes well with snow.  This snowfall is wet and heavy; it adheres to branches (like the dogwood in the foreground). The conifer just lets its branches sag until the snow eventually slides off. 

This birch tree had a harder time.  The weight of the snow has collapsed it over the top of the burning bush and across the sidewalk.  It's not entirely the birch's fault; some stupid humans planted it too close to a house, so it leaned out for more light, and in doing so took on a configuation that doomed it in this blizzard. 

Birches are very flexible, as any reader of Robert Frost will remember.  Whether this one will recover remains to be seen.  If not, I'll plan to harvest some birch water in the spring (see photo of final result here, with explanation at bottom of post).

All of the above is a preamble to my saying that I'll not have time to blog for a couple days.  I've already spent a couple hours clearing snow, and there are many hours to go.

If you need something to do during TYWKIWDBI's silence, consider the quiz mentioned in the post below this one.

For a real intellectual challenge...

... consider trying to answer the questions in the King Williams College General Knowledge Quiz.   I posted an explanation of the quiz in December of 2010:
For over a century, students at King William's College on the Isle of Man have been given a quiz (formally the "General Knowledge Paper") just before the Christmas holidays:
Up until 1999, pupils at King William's College would sit the paper unseen on the last day of term before the Christmas holidays. The questions are very hard and often cryptic, and pupils got hardly any questions right first time: five percent was considered a good score! During the Christmas holidays, pupils tried to find the answers to the harder questions by consulting reference books or asking clever relatives. When they returned to school in the New Year, they took the test again, under exam conditions and without the aid of notes.
The quiz is now voluntary for the students, but has spread worldwide via publication in The Guardian.  It is, as noted above, inhumanly difficult, requiring impossible amounts of knowledge of trivia and/or extraordinary computer search skills -
A Latin phrase is always printed at the top of the quiz: “Scire ubi aliquid invenire possisea demum maxima pars eruditionis est”.  Freely translated, this means "the greatest part of knowledge is knowing where to find something."
The best way to approach the quiz is as part of a group, many of which will form on the internet in the weeks ahead.
Here are sample questions and answers from the December 2011 quiz.

And some more here.

The quiz is published each year in this column in The Guardian, but it is not available online yet.  It is, however, available in the newspaper's hard copy, and some enterprising groups have already started working on the questions.

If you would like to join in with a group working on the quiz, I would suggest going to the Quite Interesting Talk Forum (you will need to create an identity and a password in order to log in to the forum).  Among their many interesting groups is one entitled "Sooper Seekrit Stuff.  A forum for discussing things we don't want Google to know about."  That's the one you want. 

Now an important point regarding internet courtesy.  When people work on puzzles like this and need to search the internet for the name of Charlemagne's sister or the height of Hadrian's Wall, they don't want to accidentally stumble across a set of answers to the questions.  So, unlike previous years, I will not be posting any questions from the Quiz here, and I'll request that nobody post the questions or any answers here, where they could be retrieved by Google; if you do, I'll delete them immediately. (At the QI Talk Forums, the questions and answers are behind a password sign-in, which makes them opaque to Google search engines).  

After the quiz is published online a few days from now, the internet will light up with the questions and answers in public forums such as Metafilter, and much of the fun of truly searching for the answers will be lost.  

I signed in at the QI Sooper Secret forum last night and answered some of the easier questions, but there are lots more that nobody has deciphered yet.  Some readers here might be very good at this.  Have at it, if you like.

Addendum Jan 24, 2013: Here are the answers.

Photo:  stained glass window from KWC on the Isle of Man, credit Don McPhee, via The Guardian.

19 December 2012

Interesting tracked vehicles

Posted at English Russia back in 2010; there are additional photos (and an explanation of their purpose) at the link.

How to make your own Smash Glow crystals

Many substances exhibit triboluminescence including sugar and tape. But Europium Tetrakis (Dibenzoylmethide)Triethylammonium is one of the strongest available and its glow can easily be captured by a camera.

It's made by mixing 100mL of Ethanol,  2.93g of dibenzoylmethane, 1.4g of europium nitrate pentahydrate and 1.9mL of triethylamine. The mixture is heated until everything dissolves and then allowed to cool slowly to obtain crystals that are filtered off and washed with ethanol. After thorough drying they are ready for use.

A frequently asked question is if this stuff is hot when it is used. The answer is no, the crystals do not undergo a chemical transformation and thus they do not release or consume heat, but remain at constant temperature. There may be some small heating due to friction when they are broken, but that is not from the crystals or a special property of triboluminescence.
Video and text from Nurd Rage.  I thought the use of a vacuum bottle to allow slow cooling and larger crystal formation was clever.

More on the discovery and use of triboluminescence of quartz crystals by ancient peoples later.


Brooklyn police officers were involved in the ultimate "debriefing" last month when a prisoner being questioned told them about the latest in criminal fashion: underwear with secret pockets.

A memo circulated to all members of the New York Police Department, and viewed by The Wall Street Journal, warns officers to be aware that "drug dealers are using underwear with secret pockets sold in stores from several different companies to hold drugs and small weapons."

Instead of the standard light pat-downs around suspects' waistbands, the knowledge that this secret underwear exists is going to cause police to have to undertake more thorough searches of some suspects...

Police research, he said, shows that secret pocketed underwear comes in a variety of styles—briefs, boxers, thongs—and is sold by dozens of companies...

Company owner Phillip Scott, 55, of Bonifay, Fla., said he has been selling pocketed underwear since 2006. He sells his underwear for $14 a pair, less if you buy wholesale. Its target market is not drug dealers, says Mr. Scott... "I always stashed my money when traveling so I don't lose it or get pick-pocketed," Mr. Scott said...

The pocket goes all the way down the front and up the back side. According to the website: "this basically makes your whole crotch area a secret place for your valuables."
From a 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal.

Golden eagle attacks a human toddler? - fake

Filmed in Montreal.  These relevant comments from the Reddit thread:
"If that kid wasn't wearing a thick coat, this would have been a very different video."
"Winter jacket +5 frost resist +10 eagle protection."
And this expression of doubt:
"Just wanted to get this out to you - The video is fake. The bird in the film is NOT a Golden Eagle, it's an Imperial Eagle, a bird whose closest natural habitat is in southern Europe. The neck easily separates them, the Golden Eagle has a much more dark, gold-colored neck, while the Imperial has this, lighter color. The bird is probably a falconer's bird, and when she lifts the child the child is probably just a doll.

Here's what birding expert Kenn Kaufmann said about the video: "A golden eagle tries to snatch a baby in Montreal, and the video goes viral. But it's faked. Golden Eagle is a scarce visitor in the Montreal area, but the bird in the video is not a Golden Eagle, nor anything eelse that occurs in the wild in North America. This was clearly a setup: using a falconer's bird, and probably a fake toddler for the distant scene. With all the ignorance about nature that's out there already, the last thing we need is this kind of stupid garbage."
Confirmed as a fake in a CBC News article:
Students at Montreal's 3D technology school, Centre NAD, have come forward to claim responsibility for a viral video that appears to show an eagle snatching a toddler in a Montreal park.

A malevolent tooth fairy?

As reported in the BMJ (via Improbable Research):
We are concerned that the actions of the mythical character at the root of this report must be brought to the attention of the medical community, as it seems to represent the first signs of a worrying new trend in malpractice.  Previous anecdotal evidence suggests the tooth fairy is benevolent, but this opinion may need revising in light of mounting reports of less child-friendly activity.

An 8 year old boy was referred to a specialist allergy clinic with a history of profuse mucopurulent rhinorrhoea. After a failure of first line medical treatment, computed tomography of the sinuses was performed. This revealed clear evidence of changes consistent with sinusitis but also a calcified foreign body in the left external auditory meatus (figure).

The family spoke of an occasion three years earlier when the boy had woken from sleep, extremely distressed because the tooth fairy had put a tooth in his left ear. The tooth had initially been left under his pillow for the tooth fairy to collect and to leave some money in its place. Thinking this was a bad dream, the parents initially reassured the boy but were unable to locate the tooth. Nevertheless, his concerns continued, and on two occasions advice was sought from different general practitioners, when the auroscopy was thought to be normal. 

Repeat auroscopy by the allergist confirmed the presence of a deciduous tooth in the auditory canal. The tooth was removed by an ENT surgeon...
[I've added a yellow arrow to the head CT to clarify the position of the tooth].

Video games and gun-related murders

Res ipsa loquitur. 

From The Washington Post.
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