28 February 2013

The enormous size of a "battle flag"

My curiosity was piqued by the image above, from a Telegraph article yesterday:
Flag from the Battle of Trafalgar, The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

This flag has flown at two hugely significant moments in history – from the back of a Spanish warship, San Ildefonso, as it fought against the British fleet led by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, and from the roof of St Paul’s Cathedral during Nelson’s funeral service on January 9 1806.
After Nelson’s funeral, it stayed in St Paul’s for a century. Now, it belongs to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. They keep it in storage, because it’s very fragile and they don’t have the space to hang it. The biggest flag in the museum’s collection – it is 33ft long and 48ft high – it is folded up, wrapped in tissue paper and stored in a long cardboard box on the bottom shelf of a cabinet. 
The trophy flag is made of wool and feels very coarse. It has the arms of Castile and León in the middle and the name of the ship on the hoist in ink: san ildefonso. It has holes from where it was shot, and it is frayed on the edges from when it flapped in the winds. Much later, perhaps when the flag was hanging in St Paul’s, souvenir hunters armed with a knife or pair of scissors cut out the larger holes on the left-hand side.
I hope Dante's Inferno has a special basement level for "souvenir hunters."

I found more information at CRW Flags' article on Historic Flags 1701-1785 (Spain) -
According to the Diccionario Enciclopédico Ilustrado de la Lengua Española Sopena, Barcelona, 1954, a bandera de combate or 'combat flag' is "a national flag, very large sized, which is hoisted over the stern of warships when they go into battle or in very solemn events". Is this the practice of Spanish ships? Depictions of sea battles of the 15th to 19th centuries usually show that most warships of different nationalities have large flags and pennants, not only Spanish ships but also Dutch, Portuguese and British. However, it might be that the Spanish Navy's flags were unusually larger than the rest. A book I have on piracy and the Spanish Armada (Heretics in Paradise: English corsairs and sailors on the Venezuelan shores during the second half of the 16th Century, Colección Quinto Centenario del Encuentro de Dos Mundos, Editorial Arte, Caracas, 1994) has several illustrations of sea battles and particular ships. Even though all ships bear many different flags of large size and bright colours, it is certainly the Spanish fleet which boasts the largest 'combat flags'. We should remember that ensigns and war pennants had an enormous strategic importance in naval warfare.
- where it is noted that "even though it describes the flag as "insignia del teniente general de la Real Armada don Federico Gravina y Napoli" i.e. "distinguishing flag of lieutenant general of the Royal Navy Federico Gravina y Napoli" it is most probably an ensign, considering the size..."

I had to look "ensign" up:
In nautical use, the ensign is flown at the stern of a ship or boat to indicate its nationality.  Ensigns are usually flown from the stern staff of a ship, and may be shifted to a gaff (provided the ship is so equipped) when the ship is under way, where the ensign is known as a steaming ensign. Vexillologists distinguish three varieties of a national flag when used as an ensign...
More at Wikipedia.  Image of the San Ildefonso from 3decks.

The Wolf Eel is not an eel

As noted in the video, it's more closely related to a blenny [photo at right].  The Wikipedia entry calls it a "superficially eel-like fish" and notes that they are curious and friendly.  So people like to eat them.

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.  Blenny photo credit.

Feel-good story of the day

The cheerful category for this blog needs more entries.  This goes there.

Via Neatorama.

Consider Pluto's orbit

Pluto's orbital period is 248 earth-years.  That means from the time it was discovered (in 1930) until now, it hasn't accomplished even one revolution around the sun.

Two relevant thoughts from the Reddit thread:
"...assuming they have the same life span as humans, Plutonians would never celebrate their Plutonian birthday!"

"I wonder when Plutonians celebrate their New Year, and how much more awesome the parties must be if you have to wait that long."
Image via Thinking Sci-Fi.

Seed-saving reaches public libraries

Seed-saving as a concept is as old as agriculture, and despite (or because of) the threat of genetically-modified crops, it continues to thrive.  Seed banks have been created as storehouses for preservation of traditional and heirloom varities, and seed libraries exist to encourage dissemination of the seeds.

In 2010 the New York Times described a seed library for heirloom plants in the Hudson River Valley.
Such groups are not common. There are only about a dozen seed-saving entities like Mr. Greene’s in the nation, said Bill McDorman, the president of one of them, Seeds Trust in Cornville, Ariz. These enterprises vary widely in age, size and formality, from the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, a multimillion-dollar group founded in 1975 by Mr. McDorman’s friend Kent Whealy, to the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, a grass-roots seed-swapping community in the San Francisco area that was begun just last May.

Members of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, who have grown from 60 at the start to nearly 700 now, pay a $20 annual fee for 10 seed packs of their choice. The library offers 130 heirloom plant varieties, 50 of which come from locally produced seeds...
In 2011 the Los Angeles Times reported on a similar venture in their city.

I was pleased to find an article at NPR this morning indicating that the concept has now been extended to incorporate some local public libraries.
"You have to be fleet of foot if you're going to stay relevant, and that's what the big problem is with a lot of libraries, is relevancy," she says.

Milnor says that while a library may seem like an odd location for a project like this, seeds and plants should be open to everyone. That makes a public library the perfect home for a seed collection. The American Library Association says there are at least a dozen similar programs throughout the country.
I'll try to forward this idea to the Library Board at our local library.

Via Neatorama.

26 February 2013

Maiolica plate found on a cottage wall

A woman in Somerset, England, discovered she had a rare Italian Renaissance Maiolica plate hanging on the wall of her cottage when she invited appraiser Richard Bromell of Charterhouse Auctioneers in Sherborne, Dorset, to assess some of the objects in her home for their market value. It was hanging in a makeshift wire frame behind a door that was always open. Only about two inches of it were visible when Bromwell caught a glimpse of it.

At first he thought it had to be a 19th century reproduction worth perhaps £2,000 ($3,100), but when he took it to experts at the Ashmolean Museum they confirmed that it was the real thing: a Maiolica charger made in Urbino around 1540. The owner had inherited it from a relative years ago and had no idea of its age or value. It was put up for auction at Charterhouse on February 14th with a pre-sale estimate of £100,000 ($155,000), but due to massive interest from bidders all over Europe and the US, the final hammer price was an astonishing £567,000 ($880,000).
Text and image from The History Blog, where there is additional information about the events depicted on the plate.

Thousand-hand Guan Yin

Guan Yin is the bodhisattva of compassion, revered by Buddhists as the Goddess of Mercy. Her name is short for Guan Shi Yin. Guan means to observe, watch, or monitor; Shi means the world; Yin means sounds, specifically sounds of those who suffer. Thus, Guan Yin is a compassionate being who watches for, and responds to, the people in the world who cry out for help.

Bodhi means wisdom or enlightenment; sattva means being or essence. Put the two together and you get bodhisattva, a being who is enlightened and ready to transcend the cycles of birth and death, but chooses to return to the material world in order to help other people reach the same level of enlightenment. This is the ultimate demonstration of pure compassion.

The thousand hands of this bodhisattva represent Guan Yin's many abilities to render assistance. There are a thousand eyes on these hands which give Guan Yin great powers to observe the world. Guan Yin also has many faces so she can become who people need her to be, not necessarily herself, because her help is given in a way that is literally selfless...

The ultimate message of this performance can be summed up in the following words from Zhang Jigang, the choreographer who put it all together:
As long as you are kind and there is love in your heart
A thousand hands will naturally come to your aid
As long as you are kind and there is love in your heart
You will reach out with a thousand hands to help others
Above text credit here.  Note - all of the performers in the above video were members of the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe, and all of them were deaf.

Reposted from 2009 because I've just watched the movie Samsara, and a similar performance was shown near the conclusion.

The Columbia River basin

What a beautiful map!  (click for bigger - but go to the source link for maximum size viewing)

Source credit in microprint at the bottom says "Developed for the exhibit River of Memory The Everlasting Columbia 2006-2008 by the King County GIS Center.  Copyright 2006 Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, Wenatchee, Washington."

Via Fuck Yeah Cartography!

Coffee as a cause of male impotence?

Excerpts from a rant against coffee - The Women’s Petition Against Coffee - published anonymously in 1672:
Our men in former ages were justly esteemed the ablest performers in Christendom, but to our unspeakable grief, we find of late a very sensible decay of that true old English vigor...

...we can attribute [this] to nothing more than the excessive use of that newfangled, abominable, heathenish liquor called coffee, which rifling Nature of her choicest treasures, and drying up the radical moisture, has so eunuched our husbands and crippled our more kind gallants that they are become as impotent, as aged, and as unfruitful as those deserts whence that unhappy berry is said to be brought. For the continual sipping of this pitiful drink is enough to bewitch men of two and twenty and tie up the codpiece point without a charm.

Certainly our countrymen’s palates are become as fanatical as their brains; how else is it possible they should apostatize from the good old primitive way of ale drinking, to run a whoring after such variety of destructive foreign liquors, to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money—all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking, nauseous puddle water. Yet (as all witches have their charms) so this ugly Turkish enchantress by certain invisible wires attracts both rich and poor, so that those that have scarce twopence to buy their children bread must spend a penny each evening on this insipid stuff; nor can we send one of our husbands to call a midwife or borrow a clyster [enema] pipe, but he must stay an hour by the way drinking his two dishes and two pipes.
The pamphlet purports to having been written by women complaining about the impotence of their husbands.  Knowing nothing else about the history of the document or the customs of the times, I would rather bet this was written anonymously by the owner(s) of alehouses, who were seeing their customers being lured away to a new product.

Found at the always-interesting Lapham's Quarterly.

How you can be fooled by a "heat map"

The image above shows "each day of the year with a ranking for how many babies were born in the United States on each date from 1973 to 1999."  Obviously, more people were born in Jul/Aug/Sep than in Jan/Feb/Mar.  But after the chart was published in The Daily Viz, the creator found it necessary to publish a clarification -
While I’m excited about the traffic, I’m also worried that the graphic may have misled some readers. Some people read the map assuming that darker shades represented higher numbers of actual births, even though I tried to explain in the post that the colors were shaded by birthday rank, from 1 to 366, in popularity. Or I thought I did. Because of that, Sept. 16 — the most popular birthday — seems wildly more common than January 1, among the least popular. Both may be relatively close in the raw number of births, even though their ranks are far apart.
Here's a followup graph showing births/month (and normalized for number of days in the month):

What I actually find most interesting about the first heat map is the extent to which modern medical technology allows birth days to be manipulated - the obvious gaps at the Fourth of July and the days closest to Christmas, with the darker shades just before and after those holidays.

Fuel for your anger about printer ink prices

Everyone knows that printer ink prices are outrageous.  Now The Guardian reports that it's getting worse:
The sky-high price of printer ink – measure for measure more expensive than vintage champagne – has been well documented. Less well-known is the fact that the amount of ink in the average cartridge has shrunk dramatically. "Newer cartridges contain a fraction of the ink a similar product contained a decade ago," Dyckhoff says. "The amount can be minuscule."

For example, the Epson T032 colour cartridge (released in 2002) is the same size as the Epson colour T089 (released in 2008). But the T032 contains 16ml of ink and the T089 contains just 3.5ml of ink. It's a similar story with Hewlett Packard (HP) cartridges. A decade ago, the best-selling HP cartridge had 42ml of ink and sold for about £20. Today, the standard printer cartridges made by HP may contain as little as 5ml of ink but sell for about £13...

Worst value, say the experts, are the colour cartridges. All three leading players, including Canon, sell single tri-colour cartridges – cyan, magenta and yellow – often with less than 2ml of ink per colour. "They're very bad value because when one of the three colours runs out the entire cartridge stops working," Dyckhoff says. "We always recommend people buy a printer with a separate cartridge for each colour."..

Epson, meanwhile, argues that print heads are more efficient compared with 10 years ago because of advances in technology. "They are able to produce a greater number of pages with an equivalent amount of ink," the company said in a statement.
The article concludes with recommendations on how to save money on printing costs.

23 February 2013

Word for the day: drey

Yesterday I was alerted to the existence of the "Urban Jungle Archive" at the Washington Post - an ongoing collection of brief, illustrated entries on natural phenomenon that can be observed in a backyard or park.  It's nicely done, and I've harvested two items this morning.

I've often wondered why squirrel nests don't disintegrate during the winter.  We see them near treetops rocking in the wind and covered with snow, but many or most of them survive until the spring.
Built in the summer or early fall, the drey begins as a collection of small, gnawed-off branches bearing green leaves. Even though they are brown in the winter, the leaves surrounding the drey continue to cling tightly to their branches because they were harvested well before the tree began the process of shutting down and shedding its leaves.
More details at the Washington Post article (whence the image).   On a slightly related matter, I've written a blog entry about marcescence before, without providing a logical explanation about why it might occur.  A separate Urban Jungle Archive article offers this postulate:
Marcescence, the persistence of withered tissue on a plant, occurs mostly on younger trees and on the juvenile parts (lower branches) of older trees... Why would a tree evolve with this trait? Scientists think it may deter deer from feeding on a tree's nutritious twigs and buds. Dessicated leaves tend to be low in nutrients and difficult to digest, so their presence might cause a hungry deer to look elsewhere for food.
Theoretical but interesting.

And now back to "drey."  During about 60 years of reading nature stories, I've never encountered this word for "nest."  And it wasn't in my Random House Dictionary.  Had to resort to the OED which called it an obsolete form of "dray" = "squirrel's nest" with an "origin unknown."  I'm guessing that because "drey" is also a variant  spelling of "dry" that the two are related.

In the process I found this at Wikipedia:
  • A badger's nest is called a sett.
  • An eagle's nest is called an eyrie.
  • A squirrel's or ringtail possum's nest is called a drey.
  • A hare's nest is called a form.
  • A beaver's nest is called a lodge.
  • A pheasant's nest is called a nide.
  • A wasp's nest is called a vespiary.

Defining "gullible"

It is an interesting fact that the word "gullible" is not found in any online dictionary.

Interesting tree biology

The image above shows an entirely natural phenomenon, occurring inside the hollow (rotten) core of a white pine.
Whorled branch cores look like spokes inside the trunk of a white pine, top. The cores were resistant to the rot that consumed the center of the tree, which walled off the damage and continued to grow new wood for more than 20 years.
When I was a little kid, my parents and I used to search the woods for fallen rotten pine logs.  Opening them would sometimes reveal two treasures - grubs that could be used for fishing bait, and "knots" I suppose similar to the above, which were fragrant additions to the fireplace.

Text and image from an entry in the Washington Post's fascinating Urban Jungle series.

"Sarajevo roses" and a bibliocaust

Last night I watched the 1997 film Welcome to Sarajevo.  It's a powerful film, often not easy to watch.  This somewhat cheesy promotional trailer gives a sense of the movie for those not familar with it:

The film's focus is on the plight of the orphans, but I couldn't help noticing in the movie (briefly shown at 1:24 in the trailer) the burning of the National Library; it reminded me of the recent bibliocaust in Mali, so I looked up the Sarajevo one this morning:
On 25 August 1992, Serbian shelling during the Siege of Sarajevo caused the complete destruction of the library; among the losses were about 700 manuscripts and incunabula and a unique collection of Bosnian serial publications, some from the middle of the 19th century Bosnian cultural revival.Before the attack, the library held 1.5 million volumes and over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts.  Some citizens and librarians tried to save some books while they were under sniper fire, at least one person died.  The majority of the books could not be saved from the flames.
The image embedded at the top is a "Sarajevo rose":
A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell's explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement. Because Sarajevo was a site of intense urban warfare and suffered thousands of shell explosions during the Bosnian War, the marked concrete patterns are a unique feature to the city.
Discussed in a Reddit thread.

Radio reception stamps

In the 1920s, when radio was as new and exciting as computers are now, amateur radio enthusiasts recorded their successes by obtaining "verified reception" stamps.
Other companies produced verified reception stamps, but it was the Ekko Company of Chicago, Ill., that started and promoted collecting these stamps as a real part of radio history. Ekko came up with the gimmick of selling broadcast radio stations on the idea of giving verified reception stamps to their listeners. This promotion would enable the station to determine the size and location of its listening audience.

The process was very simple. For only $1.75, the Ekko Company offered an album to the collector of new stamps. The album contains pages preprinted with an outline of each of the stamps currently available, a listing of broadcast station call letters and wavelengths, and a nice map on the inside cover showing the locations of these stations...

"Proof of Reception" cards were furnished with the album. Listeners needed only to send a few facts on these cards about when and where on the dial they had heard a broadcast, plus ten cents to cover mailing costs, to the station. There the card was checked against the station log for accuracy, and the listener was mailed a stamp with the station's call letters and design upon it...

Over 700 stations, ranging from KDKA, broadcast radio's pioneer station, to little KFXF in Colorado Springs, Colorado, participated in this promotion. Radio stamp collecting was a popular hobby from its conception in 1924 until the listening public lost interest in the 1930s. There were stamps for stations from nearly every state, as well as Canada, Cuba, and Mexico. Stamps came in varying basic colors including purple, orange, blue, green, and yellow with the call letters overprinted in red or one of the basic colors that contrasted well.

Printed by the American Bank Note Company, the United States Ekkos were a very high quality stamp. They normally pictured a bald eagle, flanked on either side by a radio tower and the letters "E K K O" on the corners. Canadian stamps used a beaver instead of the eagle. Cuba and Mexico used the United States design, but they were easily distinguishable because their call letters started with a "C"or "X."
There's more information at Antique Radio Classified and in this eBay guide.  As shown in the embed above, the quality of the stamps was excellent.  The American Bank Note Company was a premier quality engraver of stamps and currency for countries around the world.

These stamps fall outside the traditional realm of philately since they were used for commercial rather than postal purposes; they are included in what are called "cinderellas" along with Christmas and Easter seals, but are still highly collectible.  Quite a few of them are currently for sale on eBay, sometimes for impressive prices.

21 February 2013

Close-up card tricks

It doesn't matter how many card tricks you've seen or how jaded you are; these will knock your socks off.  I find close-up magic to be so much more enjoyable and satisfying than the big-stage elaborate-equipment showpieces usually seen at casinos and TV shows.

This performance is by Lennart Green, world champion magician, at a TED conference in 2005. The resolution is good enough to enjoy full-screen viewing.

Reposted from 2008. 

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader wickershaw for noting that the young lady who assists in the video is Zoe, a daughter of Chris Anderson, TED's curator.  She died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2010; here is a tribute to her.

p.s. - probably no more blogging for a day or two; we have ~6 inches of snow arriving tonight.

Disease of the day: podoconiosis

Excerpts from the Wikipedia entry:
Podoconiosis is a disease of the lymph vessels of the lower extremities that is caused by chronic exposure to irritant soils. It is the second most common cause of tropical lymphedema after filariasis, and is characterized by prominent swelling of the lower extremities, which leads to disfigurement and disability...

After parasitic filariae were discovered to be a cause of tropical lymphedema in the 19th century, early investigators assumed that filariae were the sole cause of the disease...  Ernest W. Price, a British surgeon living in Ethiopia, discovered the true etiology of podoconiosis in the 1970s and 1980s by studying the lymph nodes and vessels of those afflicted with the disease. Using light microscopy, Price discovered macrophage cells laden with micro-particles in lymph nodes of the affected extremity. Then, examining the same tissue using electron microscopy, he was able to identify the presence of silicon, aluminum, and other soil metals both in the phagosomes of macrophages and adhered to the surface of lymphocytes...

The pathophysiology of podoconiosis is a combination of an uncharacterized genetic susceptibility and a cumulative exposure to irritant soil. In susceptible individuals, irritant soil particles are absorbed through the feet and collect in lymphatic vessels and nodes. Over time, subendothelial edema occurs within the lymphatic vessels and collagenization of the lumen leads to complete blockage...

The cornerstone of prevention and treatment of podoconiosis is avoidance of exposure to irritant soils. Wearing shoes in the presence of irritant soils is the primary method of exposure reduction.
Pathogenetically and gramatically similar to pneumoconiosis, just substituting the podo of feet for the pneumo of lungs.  Fascinating.   I wonder if this happens to a subclinical degree in other people who frequently go barefoot, and if it would exacerbate pedal edema from other causes when they get older.

This is a "cemetery gun"

From Slate's The Vault (history blog), information about deterring grave-robbers:
The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.

Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise. 
Via The Oddment Emporium.

The Corpse in the Cistern - updated

When I started TYWKIWDBI in 2007, this was my third post -
The Mitford sisters reportedly posted this sign in their home:

I updated that a year later with this addition:
That was just a humorous stunt appropriate to the young Mitford girls. To my surprise, the Janesville (Wisconsin) Gazette just put out a story about Lillian Greenman, their city's 107-year old resident, which included this observation:
As a child, she lived in a stone farmhouse on Stone Farm Road near Edgerton. It was a great place—except for the lady in the cistern. "The man who lived there before us had run off," Greenman recalled. "The neighbors said they had heard the two of them fighting." Eventually, the neighbors found the woman's body in the cistern. "Imagine, we had been washing with that water," Greenman said.
I lived for several years in a rural location in Kentucky, with all of my water supplied from a cistern. The collection system drained the garage roof, which had tree limbs overhanging it, so at certain times of the year I would find insect larvae coming out of my tap. Maybe I should have drained it and checked the bottom...
Now it's time for one more addendum, as reported by the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian:
For days, residents of the Cecil Hotel thought something was amiss. At least one said there was flooding in one of the fourth-floor rooms, while others complained about weak water pressure. One of those complaints led a hotel maintenance worker to check Tuesday on one of the large metal water cisterns on the roof, where he discovered the body of an unidentified woman in her 20s at the bottom of the tank...

British tourist Michael Baugh, 27, and his wife, who had complained about the poor water flow after days of showering, brushing their teeth and drinking some of the tap water, were shocked at the discovery. "We feel a bit sick to the stomach, quite literally, especially having drank the water. We're not well mentally," he said...

Terrance Powell, a director co-ordinating the department's response, said the water was also used for cooking in the historical hotel near Skid Row, adding that a coffee shop in the hotel would remain closed and has been instructed to sanitise its food equipment before reopening. "Our biggest concern is going to be faecal contamination because of the body in the water," he said. The likelihood of contamination is "minimal" given the large amount of water the body was found in, but the department is exercising caution...
More at the links, but I thought this was interesting:
The Cecil Hotel was built in the 1920s and refurbished several years ago. It had once been the occasional home of serial killers such as Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, and Austrian prison author Jack Unterweger, who was convicted of murdering nine prostitutes in Europe and the US.
Photo credit Reuters.

Is the word "midget" per se offensive ?

Excerpts from the story reported in the StarTribune:
Chelley Martinka, a Rhode Island mom... noticed that Cains, a popular pickle brand in New England made by Minnesota’s own M.A. Gedney Co., had an offering called “midgets.” It’s a term that’s offensive to people born with dwarfism, as well as their families. And Martinka’s daughter, now 10 months old, had been diagnosed with the condition soon after birth.

So, she blogged about the issue, made a YouTube video and contacted Gedney, the 132-year-old pickle maker with a national presence and a brand particularly well-known in the Twin Cities. Gedney’s CEO, Barry Spector, called her earlier this month and said the company would indeed junk the midget moniker...

Martinka’s daughter Adelaide, has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, which is caused by a genetic mutation. For those who have it, their preferred name is “little people.”..

Chaska-based Gedney has used the midget appellation in a version of its Del Monte brand of pickles, as well as in one item under the Gedney brand. But with its namesake brand — a big seller in local supermarkets — Gedney uses “Babies” and “Mini-Munchers” to describe most of its small pickles...

The United States Department of Agriculture defined the standards for grades and sizes of pickles in the United States. According to the USDA, a ‘midget’ pickle was the word designation for a pickle with a diameter of 19 mm or less.”
My dictionary shows midget as having been derived from midge (a tiny insect), in common use since the early 19th century.  From Wikipedia:
The term "midget" came into prominence in the mid-19th century after Harriet Beecher Stowe used it in her novels Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands and Old Town Folks where she described children and an extremely short man, respectively. P. T. Barnum indirectly helped popularize the term "midget" when he began featuring General Tom Thumb in his circus. "Midget" became linked to referencing short people put on public display for curiosity and sport.
I fully understand that the term is now considered perjorative when applied to people, but I'm surprised it would be offensive when used to refer to other items. 

Photo cropped from the original at the Daily News.

20 February 2013

Why you should go for the unattainable


Today I'm posting three cartoons that were on the bulletin board at my office for the 30+ years I worked in academia.  They've yellowed and the paper is breaking down, so the best way to preserve them is digitally here.  This first one probably was a Punch cartoon*, but the artist and publication information was trimmed off years ago.

Click image to embiggify for reading.

*A hat tip to an anonymous reader for the following: "This is by J.B. "Bud" Handelsman, from his "Freaky Fables" series, which ran in Punch from the 70s to God knows when. Handelsman also drew for The New Yorker and Playboy, among other publications. One of my favourite cartoonists, he passed away in 2007."

A re-creation of "Bambi Meets Godzilla"

 I first saw this 1.5-minute animation in ~1970 at a movie theater in Boston that specialized in showing "experimental" cinema.  It has been ranked #38 on a list of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time (according to a poll of 1,000 people working in the animation industry).  The chord at the end comes from "A Day in the Life" played at half-speed.

The embed above is a frame-for-frame 1080p re-creation by Coda Shetterly, via Boing Boing.

Collegiate "student secular organizations"

Excerpts from an essay at Salon:
Secular groups on college campuses are proliferating. The Ohio-based Secular Student Alliance... incorporated as a nonprofit in 2001. By 2007, 80 campus groups had affiliated with them, 100 by 2008, 174 by 2009, and today there are 394 SSA student groups on campuses across the country...

The Secular Student Alliance provides its affiliate groups with support and materials, including banners, pins, and informational materials with titles like What Is An Atheist?, a brochure with cheerful graphics and information about the identities of secularists, including “non-theist,” “freethinker,” and “humanist.”

Oddly enough, in the geography of on-campus student groups, atheist organizations fit within the category of faith-based groups like the Campus Crusade For Christ, which recently (and controversially) changed its name to Cru. At Stanford University, the Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics (AHA!) register with the Office For Religious Life, just like Cru, and are a member of Stanford Associated Religions...

The Secular Student Alliance is essentially a support network for the autonomous atheist, agnostic, and humanist student groups that choose to be its affiliates. The rapid growth of the SSA is analogue to the general growth of the American secular movement. Atheist groups were once fringe organizations that didn’t get along. That began to change around 2007, on the heels of bestselling books from atheist authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Suddenly, the movement had leaders, a sense of direction and a common purpose. Today, the Secular Coalition For America is an umbrella lobbyist group for a number of once-competing groups, including American Atheists, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the American Humanist Association.
More at Salon.

"I can't wait till I"m grown up..."

Why you've never heard of Adolf Schicklgruber

Adolf Hitler's family tree is complicated. You will notice that the last name "Hitler" had many variations that were often used almost interchangeably. Some of the common variances were Hitler, Hiedler, Hüttler, Hytler, and Hittler. Alois Schicklgruber did change his name on January 7, 1877 to "Hitler," which was the only form of the last name that his son, Adolf, used
Text and family tree by Jennifer Rosenberg.


Found ~40 years ago, but I don't remember where.

The "Constitution-free zone" of the United States

I first saw this map in 2008 at Wired
After 9/11, Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security the right to use some of its powers deeper within the country, and now DHS has set up at least 33 internal checkpoints where they stop people, question them and ask them to prove citizenship, according to the ACLU...

DHS spokesman Jason Ciliberti says the ACLU’s description of the zone as "Constitution-Free" couldn’t be further from the truth and that the check points follow rules set by Supreme Court rulings. "We don’t have the ability to just set up checkpoints willy-nilly," Ciliberti said. "The Supreme Court has determined that brief investigative encontuers do not constitute a search or seizure."

When citizens or visa holders encounter a checkpoint, most are waived on after showing identification, but if an agent suspects the person is not lawfully in the country, the agent can detain the person until the agent’s investigation is satisfied. The government has long had the power to set up such check points, but has recently expanded the number of permanent and ‘tactical’ check points and deployed them in areas they hadn’t before — such as near the Canadian border. 
It was posted again this week at Computerworld, so apparently not much has changed in the past five years.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have a “longstanding constitutional and statutory authority permitting suspicionless and warrantless searches of merchandise at the border and its functional equivalent.” This applies to electronic devices, according to the recent CLCR “Border Searches of Electronic Devices” executive summary:
Fourth Amendment
The overall authority to conduct border searches without suspicion or warrant is clear and longstanding, and courts have not treated searches of electronic devices any differently than searches of other objects.  We conclude that CBP’s and ICE’s current border search policies comply with the Fourth Amendment.  We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits.  However, we do think that recording more information about why searches are performed would help managers and leadership supervise the use of border search authority, and this is what we recommended; CBP has agreed and has implemented this change beginning in FY2012.
First Amendment
Some critics argue that a heightened level of suspicion should be required before officers search laptop computers in order to avoid chilling First Amendment rights.  However, we conclude that the laptop border searches allowed under the ICE and CBP Directives do not violate travelers’ First Amendment rights.

How to separate bucks with locked antlers

A conservation police officer, state trooper and forest preserve officer were all called out to try free the bucks in Illinois last week. The pair had become dangerously entangled during a fight and could be seen kicking and writhing in a bid to free themselves on the video, filmed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

"He's worn out, he's going to give you a shot," one of the officers can be heard saying as they circle the bucks looking for an opportunity to shoot without harming either animal. The shooter sees an opening and fires his first shot but it takes another three bullets to separate the antlers completely.

One of the deer then runs quickly away while the other hobbles off with a noticeable limp. The men can be heard discussing the possibility of putting down the animal if it is injured. It is not known if the animal survived.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources told the Daily Mail newspaper that in cases such as this the deer would die if they could not free themselves.
There are lots of photos on the 'net of locked bucks who have died as a result or being unable to free themselves; see for example my previous post on rat kings.

I hope you have a ticket...

Posted at imgur, via Reddit.

19 February 2013

Word for the day: cremello

Discussed in the Reddit thread.
Its a Cremello; A coloration rather than a pigment disorder. Albinos would have pink eyes, whereas Cremellos have pale blue eyes...

A true "white" horse would already be dead as well - the genes associated for a pure white horse contain fatal flaws, known as Lethal White Syndrome, that cause white foals to either be born dead or die within the first day - usually much less time than that...

LWS can also be carried way back in the lineage of the horses, not strictly limited to the Frame Overo cross (they're just known carriers). As thirdpeppermint said, conscious breeders should test for the gene to make sure they're not accidentally breeding it into their lines. Also, the foals aren't really missing a large section of digestion tract. They do commonly have impaired colon development (so the colon may be severely narrowed or even closed off in places). The mark of this disease is the missing myenteric plexus from the ileum caudally. The myenteric plexus is part of the enteric nervous system in the GI responsible for peristalsis, meaning there's no movement of ingesta through the GI tract, resulting in colic-y clinical signs and eventual death
More at the thread.  You learn something every day.

And a hat tip to Dr. Mieke for offering a link to genetic information at the Cremello and Perlino Education Association.

The photo was taken at the 2012 Calgary Stampede by Stu Winston.  Via Soul Dipper, with a hat tip to Kelly Durette at Deformutilation.

If you're in the 1%, don't watch this animated short

Created by Ed Asner.

15,000 antlers

In this case not the result of a sporting obsession, but a collector's enthusiasm.  Deformutilation explains:
Between Bozeman and Butte in the Big Sky country of Montana, lives a man with an obsession. His name is James Phillips, but most everybody in these parts knows him as Antler Man. Since he was a boy living in a homemade trailer in the Gallatin Canyon, Phillips has hiked the area’s big tracts of public land to hunt for antlers dropped by whitetails, mule deer, elk, and moose. In a half-century of scouring hillsides, washes, and ridgelines for a glint of bone, he has amassed more than 15,000 antlers, which he displays in a 30x64-foot building he calls The Horn Shed. Over the years he built freestanding archways of antler and progressively larger buildings to showcase his finds. When he began building his current shed from reclaimed lumber, he designed it to display the most horns in the best possible way: a cathedral of bone...

While a few have come as gifts, a handful in trade, all the others he packed out on his back, without the aid of ATVs or horses, on dawn-to-dusk hikes or multi-day trips that take him miles into steep back country.
Mr. Phillips' website has lots more information.

"Ice cylinder maker"

He's lucky it's just the hose that froze.  He should have closed the internal shut-off valve inside the house to prevent damage proximal to the outside spigot.

The world's oldest carved human face

Twenty-six thousand years ago in the Czech Republic, one of our ice-age ancestors selected a hunk of mammoth ivory and carved this enigmatic portrait of a woman - the oldest ever found.
From New Scientist.  Photo: Moravian Museum, Anthropos Institute.

Who owns natural resources?

What rights do native people have in the control and/or harvesting/exploitation of them?  Here are some excerpts from a Salon article about a drama currently playing out in Ecuador.
“We have been coming to these sacred cascades since before the time of Christ,” said Ankuash, preparing a palm-leaf spread of melon and mango. “The government has given away land that is not theirs to give, and we have a duty to protect it. Where there is industrial mining, the rivers die and we lose our way of life. They want us to give up our traditions, work in the mines, and let them pollute our land. But we will give our lives to defend the land, because the end is the same for us either way.”..

To help him grab these shiny metals, [Ecuadorean president Rafael] Correa has invited foreign mining firms to deforest and drill much of the country’s remaining pristine forests. Not far from where Ankuash and I are sitting, a Chinese joint venture led by the China Railway Corp. is building infrastructure for an open-sky copper mine with the “Lord of the Rings”-sounding name of Mirador. To the north and east of the Chinese concession, the Canadian gold giant Kinross is prepping its 39 lots, including the envy of the industry, Fruta del Norte, believed to be Latin America’s largest deposit of high-grade gold. These projects are merely the first wave; others wait in the wings. Together they threaten more than the Shuar way of life and the sustainable agricultural and tourist economies of Ecuador’s southern provinces. The Condor is a hot spot of singular ecological wealth and a major source of water for the wider Amazon watershed to the east. What happens there is of global consequence...

“Unleashing industrial-scale mining in the region is a catastrophe equal to using the Galapagos Islands as a bombing range,” said the biologist. “Its flora has enormous potential to benefit man. So much of it, we’ve only seen from helicopters. Before we even know what’s there, they’re going to destroy it.”..

The Canadian firm announced it would build an open-pit copper mine dwarfing anything in Ecuador’s history. The mine required hollowing out one of the region’s largest mountains and clear-cutting several others. A massive tailing pond would hold the 200-plus million tons of toxic effluvia generated over the mine’s 18-year lifespan. The site designated for the waste sits half a mile from the Rio Quimi, a tributary of the Rio Zamora, whose waters support the local agricultural economy on their way into the Amazon basin. Roads and bridges are being built for 18-wheel truck traffic to carry hundreds of tons of copper concentrate on a daily nonstop loop between the mine and a port on Ecuador’s Pacific coast...
There's way lots more at the link.  See also Chief Raoni cries.

Weaver bird nests

I wonder if the lower one was started there, or whether it was originally a part of the upper one that then broke off and slid down the telephone pole's support wires.

From a gallery of 12 images by Dillon Marsh, via Neatorama.

17 February 2013

She wishes she had more time to read

1st Prize Contemporary Issues Single - Micah Albert/USA/Redux Images - April 3, 2012, Nairobi, Kenya. Pausing in the rain, a woman working as a trash picker at the 30-acre dump... wishes she had more time to look at the books she comes across. She even likes the industrial parts catalogs. “It gives me something else to do in the day besides picking [trash],” she said.
For the last post today, I've selected a photo from The Big Picture's compilation of winners from the 2013 World Press photo competition.
For over 55 years, the World Press Photo contest has encouraged the highest standards in photojournalism. The contest is judged by leading experts in visual journalism who represent various aspects of the profession and the composition of the jury is changed from year to year... The winners themselves uphold the foundation's simple mission statement: We exist to inspire understanding of the world through quality photojournalism.
One goal I have for TYWKIWDBI is to locate and repost in the blog some of the photos used in advertisements by the International Paper company in the 1960s.  The series was entitled "Send me a man who reads" and was an inspiration for me as a high school student.  I've been unable to locate these online, and will need to get hard copies of 1960s magazines from the library and photograph the ads by hand. 

How to wait in line

Source not given, but the photograph was apparently taken somewhere in Thailand.  Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

Namaqua rain frog

Probably not a TYWK, because it's been posted everywhere this week.  To get beyond cuteness and learn more details on the life of "rain frogs," see David Attenborough's segment from Life in Cold Blood.

The Beau Street hoard

I've just discovered The British Museum blog, putting myself at risk of not getting any real work done for a month.
In November 2007, during a routine archaeological excavation in advance of building work in Beau Street, Bath (a stone’s throw from the famous Roman Baths themselves), archaeologists came upon what was clearly a very large number of coins contained within a cist (a stone-lined box). Upon further excavation, they quickly came to realise they were looking at one of the largest coin hoards found in the UK, representing quite a tumultuous time in Roman Britain – about AD 270.  In order to preserve its shape and context, the archaeologists cut around the hoard and lifted it in a soil block.
The initial report was posted in May of 2012.   Last week there was a followup, with some post-conservation photos and data.
We have been able to sort and count seven of the eight Roman money bags contained within the hoard – one is still undergoing conservation. The total so far is 14,646 coins, but as the final bag is large we expect this to go up to over 16,000 coins...

This glass fish was made 1900 years ago !

Not in 1900.  1,900 years ago, in about 100 A.D.  In Afghanistan.  Amazing.
The exhibition Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World contains nineteen of the roughly 180 glass vessels found in the ancient Kushan storerooms at Begram. Many have very close parallels from the Roman world which also support a date of about 100 AD for the sealing of the rooms. These include mosaic glass and ribbed bowls, facet-cut beakers, a drinking horn, a jug decorated with gold foil, another that appears almost black, and a stunning series decorated with scenes painted in brightly coloured vitreous enamels. All functioned as tablewares but, whereas some are very common, others were probably relatively expensive.

However, some of the vessels found at Begram remain something of a mystery and these include as many as twenty-two which are in the shape of fish and other creatures. Three of these are shown in the exhibition. They were made by inflating the glass while it was hot and adding trails of glass to the body, and sometimes in a different colour, to create very distinctive fins. The composition of the glass resembles that of Roman glass made in Egypt yet there are no known parallels, either complete or fragmentary, for these vessels from the Roman world.
You can read more details at The British Museum's blog, via Mental Floss.

When to walk like a penguin

Logical advice from a fellow Wisconsinite, via Boing Boing.

"Finding Vivian Maier" (trailer)

Looks like a fascinating movie. 

Addendum 2015:  Finally saw the movie.  It's excellent.


“What I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource, our children,” – president Barack Obama, February 12. [from the State of the Union address, in reference to the shootings at Newtown]

“‘Ten civilians were killed last night in a joint Afghan and American operation that took place in Chogam Valley in Shigal District,’ said Fazlullah Wahidi, the provincial governor. He said four women, one man and five children between the ages of 8 and 13 were killed; four teenagers were wounded, three of whom were girls,” – NYT, February 13.

Found at The Dish.

Frisbee trick shots

I still have on my office wall a souvenir Frisbee from a 1977 National Championship Series event held in Dallas, when I competed (unsuccessfully) in the accuracy competition.  I know these stunts are the best of hundreds of efforts, but they are still awesome.

Via The Dish.

Books on auto repair

14 February 2013

Two roses for you on Valentine's Day

The one above (via Mighty Optical Illusions) illustrates the phenomenon of pareidolia.  The one below (via The Soul is Bone) is a "double color Aquarius hybrid tea rose" posted at Facebook.

The "Empress of Uruguay"

Do you have an amethyst-lined geode on a bookcase shelf?  This immense one is currently on display at The Crystal Caves near Cairns.  Here are the FAQs.

Found at Cliff Pickover's Reality Carnival.

Chand Baori stepwell

Fascinating both because of the symmetric beauty of the construction, and the practicality of the design in allowing locals to access varying levels of water in the well.

I remembered first seeing it in The Fall (one of my favorite movies, btw), and then again recently in The Dark Knight Rises.

Via Cliff Pickover's Reality Carnival.

"People" flying around New York City

Those are human-shaped remote-controlled planes.  I'll bet this event caused some interest among local residents...

Via Cliff Pickover's Reality Carnival.

The dark side of the moon in color

It's a "gravity map" which "shows variations across the moon's surface caused by both surface irregularities and a lumpy interior. The red sections indicate relatively high gravity." 

The photo comes from NASA's Goddard Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, via Live Science.

Malian music

From reader soubriquet's blog Grit in the Gears comes this delightful videoThe musicians are Ali  Farka Toure -
Ali Ibrahim “Farka” Touré (October 31, 1939 – March 7, 2006) was a Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist, and one of the African continent’s most internationally renowned musicians. His music is widely regarded as representing a point of intersection of traditional Malian music and its North American cousin, the blues. The belief that the latter is historically derived from the former is reflected in Martin Scorsese’s often quoted characterization of Touré’s tradition as constituting "the DNA of the blues". Touré was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and number 37 on Spin magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
-and Abdoulaye Diabaté.  I don't know what proportion of this piece is traditional Malian.  The language (Tuareg) certainly, the melody and rhythms probably.  But what fascinates me is how the incorporation of modern instrumentation and electronic modulation makes the music more "accessible" to my ear.

Not sure you'll like it?  Give it a click to start up while you scroll further down the blog.

Nineteenth-century use of solar energy

"Solar peach walls" were developed by nineteenth-century fruit growers of Montreuil (France):
Their secret lay in the construction of a honeycomb of solar walls. As Suzanne Freidberg writes in Fresh, the Montreuillois enclosed rectangular plots “in walls of plaster — a material that absorbs heat much more effectively than brick — and oriented them all north-south, so as to capture the most sunlight.”

This gridiron of sun traps were surprisingly effective, according to Freidberg:
Indeed, both day and night the gardens were warmer than their surroundings by several degrees Celsius. In this microclimate Mediterranean fruits thrived. Peaches ripened a month before others on the market, when prices were still sky-high. In addition, the villagers trained their espaliers to stretch out across the east-facing walls like giant fans cradling each peach in a perpetual sheltered sunbath.
More details at Edible Geography.

"Totally drug-resistant tuberculosis" discovered

As reported in Ontario's National Post:
The world is facing outbreaks of “totally drug-resistant” tuberculosis if explosions of the bacteria in South Africa and other poorer nations are not addressed, according to a new papers published in Emerging Infectious Diseases. At this point, researchers are working to determine how the bacteria gains its invincibility, and how to isolate it. Fears are mounting in medical communities worldwide that conventional treatments would be useless against the new disease, The Daily Mail‘s health site reports. They say doctors are warning “the world is on the brink of an outbreak of a deadly and ‘virtually untreatable’ strain of drug resistant tuberculosis unless immediate action is taken.”..

They also found that it was “counterintuitive” that multiple drug-resistant TB is genetically distinct when compared to the totally resistant TB strains “because we would expect all MDR TB strains to have had an equal chance of acquiring resistance to second-line anti-TB drugs.” That, ultimately, could be good news, since they go on to note that, in addition for this development making it easier to tell the two apart among infected patients, and thereby easier to treat properly, the bacteria themselves may not be exchanging genetic information as easily as was thought, making it harder for the totally resistant TB strains to grow stronger and more virulent and likely to spread.
Multi-drug resistant (MDR) mycobacteria have of course been around for decades, but I don't remember having read of any as being totally drug-resistant.  The term "resistant" does not necessarily mean "untreatable," but dosages and regimens may need to be increased to levels resulting in increased toxicity.

I got to wondering last night whether, if a totally untreatable MTb strain were to start spreading, whether my longstanding positive PPD status would confer an element of cellular resistance.  Then I could become the Last Man On Earth (an old fantasy).
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...