30 April 2013

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails...

"...You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake in the middle of the night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."
(from The Once and Future King)
Before President John F. Kennedy signed into legislation the Cuban trade embargo, he secured 1,200 Cuban cigars for himself.

A video at The Telegraph explains the "Trial of the Pyx," which confirms the value of British gold coins.  The procedure dates back to the 13th century.

The LunaCobra website specializes in body modification.  From the safety of your home or office you can view galleries of piercings, tongue splittings, implants and eyeball tattoos.

"How to land a plane if you are not a pilot."  One page of instructions.  Easy as pie.

And another one-page succinct summary:  the Cold War explained.  

Google Street View now includes hikes on the trails of the Grand Canyon.

The Budweiser 2013 Super Bowl ad should appeal to anyone who likes horses and the music of Stevie Nicks.

"In a nationwide study of 15,000 high school students, pot is now more popular among teens than cigarettes."

This LiveLeak video is from the dashcam of an automobile involved in a spectacular accident.  No gore, and they survived, but it is still startling as hell, and possibly NSFL if such things trouble you.  Discussed at Reddit.

The crime rate in New York City has plunged dramatically.  "In one remarkable day, Nov. 26, 2012, there was not a single murder, stabbing or shooting reported in the nation's largest city, possibly the only time that happened since New York was a small Dutch colony."  There is disagreement about why this is happening; theories are discussed at LiveScience.

A Swedish golfer on the Ladies European Tour was bitten by a black widow spider during a match.  As her leg started to swell and become painful, "she pulled a tee out of her pocket ("it was the only thing I had handy," she told Svensk Golf) and used it to cut open the wound so she could squeeze out the venom and keep it from spreading inside her body."  She finished her round with a 74. [hat tip to reader Eddie for this link]

In response to the modified female genitalia typically displayed in pornography, a "labia pride" movement has arisen to celebrate the diversity of normal human anatomy.  Details and links at Salon.

"Rob Samuels, Maker's Mark's chief operating officer, said Sunday that it is restoring the alcohol volume of its [bourbon] product to its historic level of 45 percent, or 90 proof. Last week, it said it was lowering the amount to 42 percent, or 84 proof, because of a supply shortage."

Homeowners who live in northern climates might want to read about the problems involved with having plumbing vents frosted shut.  "The plumbing code requires plumbing vents to terminate at least 12" above the surface of the roof to help prevent the vents from getting blocked with snow, but the higher the vent the greater the potential for getting blocked with frost."

A must read for every world soccer fan.  Match-fixing is rampant.  " there's plenty of other evidence, even recent evidence, that match-fixing is rampant in global soccer — but because the sheer extent of the allegations means that we can no longer delude ourselves about what's happening. This is what's happening: Soccer is fucked. Match-fixing is corroding the integrity of the game at every level... When the outcomes of matches are being dictated from the outside, though? You no longer have a game at that point. You have something else, a weird simulacrum, pro wrestling without the feather boas."

Here is a list of "every novel to reach the number one spot on Publishers Weekly annual bestsellers list" from 1913 to 2013.  I've only read about a dozen of them - but I've seen most of the movies.

Those interested in native plants might enjoy browsing the newsletters of the South Carolina Native Plant Society.   I was a member of the Kentucky Native Plant Society when I lived there.  Such groups often have excellent field trips.

Bicycle helmet laws are discussed in a Reddit thread which includes some interesting arguments ("reduced injuries comes about only because of reduced bike riding" "riders in automobiles would also be safer if they wore helmets.")

Video of a young man who juggles Rubik's Cubes - and solves the cubes while juggling them.

29 April 2013

The etymology of "Isabelline" is probably not related to discolored underwear

Yesterday I encountered a sentence that referenced both leucistic and isabelline animals; I had never heard of the latter word.  Found this in Wikipedia:
Isabelline... is a pale grey-yellow, pale fawn, pale cream-brown or parchment colour. It is primarily used for animal coat colouring, particularly plumage colour in birds and, in Europe, in horses. It also has historically been applied to fashion...

The first recorded use of Isabella as the name of a colour in English was in the year 1600, to describe an item in Elizabeth I of England's wardrobe inventory: "one rounde gowne of Isabella-colour satten...

A few theories have been proposed for the origin of the colour's name. According to a popular legend, the name comes from Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain; during the Siege of Ostend which started in July 1601, Isabella is claimed to have vowed not to change her underwear until the siege was over, expecting a quick victory for her husband Archduke Albert of Austria. Since the siege lasted over three years, finally ending in September 1604, it is claimed that the discolouration of her underwear in that interval led to the naming of the colour. However, this theory was discounted by the Oxford English Dictionary as the word was in use before the siege had begun.

A variation of the legend refers to Isabella I of Castile and the eight-month siege of Granada by Ferdinand II of Aragon starting in April 1491. This siege ended in January 1492 and again was said to have resulted in overworn underwear belonging to an Isabella.

Other theories focus on animals close to the colour as the source of the word. In 1904 several writers to the journal Notes and Queries, prompted by a question of etymology, debated that the word could have begun as a corruption of the word zibellino (a sable pelt accessory), noting the similarity in colour and the popularity of the accessory around the period the word first came into use. Etymologist Michael Quinion suggests the Arabic word for lion, izah, as the origin, indicating an intended original meaning close to "lion-coloured".
Related: a leucistic alligator, and white lion (impressive photo).

Hospital profits go up when complications occur

From Wonkblog:
A surgical complication increases a procedure’s average contribution margin by 330 percent for the privately insured and 190 percent for Medicare patients, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study underscores how ludicrous the incentives are in the American health care system, generally paying doctors for each medical service they provide, even if some of that care is the result of a surgery gone wrong...

The study does not imply that hospitals intentionally complicate surgeries to bring in more revenue. Most surgeries, about 95 percent, go off without a hitch. What it does suggest to the surgeon, writer and Harvard professor Atul Gawande is that hospitals now see little reason to invest in technologies that would reduce complications when the only prize at the end would be lower income...
More at the link.

"Ice needles" emerge from a Minnesota lake

Filmed at Medicine Lake in Minnesota by Nadalie, via KARE 11 News.

This is occurring during the (delayed this year) spring ice-out phase, so the ice moving ashore is different from the ice heaves that occur in midwinter when a solidly frozen ice surface expands on a warmer-than-usual winter day.  Here the ice is being driven ashore presumably by prevailing winds.

The wondrous aspect of this particular event is the needle-like shape of the ice crystals.  One type of needle-shaped ice is frazil ice, but I think that's different - at least in the video I bloggged some years ago of frazil ice moving at Yosemite - because frazil ice forms in supercooled water.  I think what is seen here is the result of fracturing of the ice sheet.

But the video is cool.  Wish I had been there to see it happen.

The "Snail Ball" rolls s--l--o--w--l--y downhill

From Grand Illusions, via Nothing to do with Arbroath.  The physics behind this phenomenon is explained in an article (pdf) at Mathematics Magazine, and nonmathematically summarized below this fold...

28 April 2013

Catholic wife and Protestant husband, separated after death by religious bigotry

Relevant text from the Reddit thread:
Grave of a Catholic woman and her Protestant husband. The Protestant Colonel of Cavalry, JWC of Gorkum married the Catholic damsel JCPH of Aefferden. This "mixed" marriage, at that time (the 19th century), would have given them trouble. The wife wanted to be buried next to her husband, but the difference in their denomination would not allow that. So the Colonel was buried in the Protestant part, against the separation wall and his wife was buried on the Catholic side.
Here's the cemetery (Roermond, The Netherlands) on Google maps (you can see the monuments from the street view camera!)

Touch typing (not)

The CEO of the Irish Association of Pension Funds demonstrates for the cameras how he imagines his secretaries type (at 0:45 in the video).

As a touch typist for 50 years (most useful course I ever took in high school), I see this kind of fakiness quite frequently in movies.

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

The Senate modifies the part of the sequester that was hurting politicians and rich people

Last week I saw a brief report that the sequester was leading to flight delays on the important-to-politicians-and-businessmen shuttles between New York and Washington.  So I wasn't surprised to read this in Salon a few days later:
After a month or so of the sequestration budget cuts only affecting people Congress doesn’t really care about, the cuts hit home this week when mandatory FAA furloughs caused lengthy flight delays cross the country... The U.S. Senate jumped into action last night and voted to… let the FAA transfer some money from the Transportation Department to pay air traffic controllers so that the sequestration can continue without inconveniencing members of Congress, most of whom will be flying home to their districts today...

...what it did was work to ensure that the sequester continues not affecting elites, who fly regularly. I am embarrassed that I did not predict this exact outcome in my column Tuesday morning. The Senate, which can’t confirm a judge without months of delay and a constitutional crisis, passed this particular bill in about two minutes, with unanimous consent. 

"Vibrated, not stirred"

There’s a theory making the rounds—I first heard it from David Wolowidnyk, who runs the bar at West, a well-regarded Vancouver restaurant—that vibrations of the right frequency will cause the molecules in a drink to rearrange themselves in curious ways, thereby altering or enhancing the flavor... One thing I learned rather quickly: pulling out a tuning fork in a bar and putting it against your drink is an effective way to ensure that no one will sit near you.
The rest of the story at The Atlantic indicates that there is no objective evidence that the tuning fork alters/improves the drink.

Concrete arrows in the desert

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the new Aeronautics Branch in the Department of Commerce established a 650-mile air route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City to carry mail...

Large concrete arrows were constructed on the ground along the way as visual navigational aids for the planes flying the mail route. There were built at intervals of approximately 10 miles and were about 70 feet long. Typically, there was a 51-foot beacon tower in the middle of the arrow topped with a powerful rotating beacon light. Below the rotating light were two course lights pointing forward and backward along the arrow. The course lights flashed a code to identify the beacon's number...

The concrete arrows are all that remain today. 
From the Washington County Historical Society, via Reddit.

"Ripe tomato" hairstyle

Credit to stylist "Hiro" (gallery of more styles at the link), via Neatorama.

"Bulletproof uniforms" for grade school children

It never ends.  Here are excerpts from a Guardian story:
The pink bulletproof rucksack that 5-year-old Jaliyah wears to school every day reaches almost down to her knees and weighs 3lbs even when empty, but for her Colorado father, the size and solidity are part of the attraction.

"If you put it on her back, it almost covers her whole body," explains Demitric Boykin. "It was a very hard conversation to have but she knows that it's something that will keep her safe."

Lined with ballistic material that can stop a 9mm bullet travelling at 400 metres per second, the backpack is only one of a clutch of new products making their way into US schools in the wake of Newtown school massacre. As gun control legislation grinds to halt in Washington, a growing number of parents and teachers are taking matters into their own hands.

The Denver company that supplied Jaliyah's rucksack, Elite Sterling Security, has sold over 300 in the last two months and received inquiries from some 2,000 families across the US. It is also in discussion with more than a dozen schools in Colorado about equipping them with ballistic safety vests, a scaled-down version of military uniforms designed to hang in classroom cupboards for children to wear in an emergency....

Those behind this boom in school security are adamant they are not exploiting the fear, merely filling a growing need for safety.

AJ Zabadne, president of Elite Sterling Security, says his products should be seen as a routine precaution rather than something that would alarm children.

"It's like you find life jackets on ships or planes in case they go down," he says. "It's no different to having a seatbelt in a car."
There's a lot of money being made here.

Rhythmic gymnastics performance

Bulgaria's Boyanka Angelova, at Torino, 2008.

One wonders how many tens of thousands of times she has tossed that ball into the air.

25 April 2013

Children playing on the beach

Omaha Beach, Normandy, 1947.

I find the juxtaposition to be chilling.

Photo credit David Seymour via mpdrolet and Old Photos, Young Kids.

Meet "The GoosInator"

Anyone who has ever slipped on goose poop in a park knows that a flock of Canada geese can make recreational areas unsuitable for humans.  The many large lakes around Madison, Wisconsin attract large numbers of geese.  One response is depicted in the video above and described in a Wisconsin State Journal article:
The stalker is the “GoosInator,” a $2,800 DayGlo orange drone of foam, plywood and plastic sent out to make a lasting impression on the city parks’ goose population. “The goal is to make life uncomfortable for geese, who see it as a predator..."

The "Big Dipper" is an "asterism" - not a constellation

This grouping of stars is one of the few things that has likely been seen, and will be seen, by every generation. The Big Dipper is not by itself a constellation. Although part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major), the Big Dipper is an asterism that has been known by different names to different societies.
Text and image from NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day
Asterisms are sub- or supersets of constellations which build a constellation itself, or a group of stars, physically related or not.
Here is a list of dozens of asterisms (such as the "belt of Orion.")

You (re)learn something every day.

A scary event on the New York Stock Exchange

On Tuesday, a fake Tweet caused a brief movement in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  The Wall Street Journal summarizes the episode:
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged within minutes early this afternoon, after somebody hacked an AP Twitter account and posted a bogus tweet saying the White House had been attacked.

The Dow, which had been up about 130 points, fell into the red within two minutes, and then bounced back just as quickly as it became obvious that the “news” was false, and a prank.
Why did I put the word "scary" into the title?  Not because of an evanescent 140-point drop (I lived through the crash of 1987).  No.  Here's what scares me, from a separate WSJ article:
[T]raders employing so-called algorithms that automatically buy and sell shares after scanning news feeds—including posts on social media sites such as those run by Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. —had already taken action...

In an echo of the May 2010 "flash crash," when the Dow lost 600 points in a matter of minutes, market participants say liquidity—a measure of traders' ability to sell stock positions quickly—dried up while the market was falling...

Some said the episode revealed the influence of computer-driven, high-frequency-trading hedge funds, which by some measures account for as much as half of U.S. stock market volume. The computer programs some of them use have expanded their reach to social-media platforms such as Twitter.
Note that it wasn't the traders who were scanning the news and then activated defensive algorithms - it was the computers that read the news feeds and - without human analysis  or authorization - initiated trading strategies.

I understand why these systems are set up - traders and investment companies want an edge, they want in before and out before the broad public, they want an edge of pennies times millions of shares.  And I see the advantage (necessity) of having computers scan patterns and search trends - but when the computers are capable of triggering buy and sell orders on their own, I sense a recipe for disaster.  It's only a matter of time.

Addendum:  Here's some relevant comments from an articlein Mother Jones about high-speed trading:
This rapid churn has reduced the average holding period of a stock: Half a century ago it was eight years; today it is around five days. Most experts agree that high-speed trading algorithms are now responsible for more than half of US trading. Computer programs send and cancel orders tirelessly in a never-ending campaign to deceive and outrace each other, or sometimes just to slow each other down. They might also flood the market with bogus trade orders to throw off competitors, or stealthily liquidate a large stock position in a manner that doesn't provoke a price swing. It's a world where investing—if that's what you call buying and selling a company's stock within a matter of seconds—often comes down to how fast you can purchase or offload it, not how much the company is actually worth.

As technology has ushered in a brave new world on Wall Street, the nation's watchdogs remain behind the curve, unable to effectively monitor, much less regulate, today's markets...
Much more at the link.

A gallery of stone bridges

P/B (Photographyblogger) has compiled a nice photoset of 20 small stone bridges from around the world.  For the embed above I selected an image (credit Kathie Jamison Cote) of Duck Brook Bridge, because it brings back pleasant personal images.  My wife and I vacationed several times at Bar Harbor, Maine in order to bike the carriage trails of Acadia National Park.  This bridge, iirc, is located on the Witch Hole Pond loop, one of our favorite routes.

Via the always-interesting Everlasting Blort.

Britain's oldest oak tree has become windfall

The tree was blown down during galeforce winds on Wednesday night. The oldest oak in Wales – and probably one of the oldest oak trees in northern Europe – has grown in the Ceiriog Valley near Chirk, north Wales, since 802 and measured 12.9m in girth. Legend states that the Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his army under the tree in 1157, before defeating the English King Henry ll at the nearby battle of Crogen, and that the tree was spared when Henry had his men cut down the Ceiriog woods in 1165.

Text and image from The Guardian.  Photo credit Rob McBride.  Related stories at the BBC and at the Globe and Mail highlight efforts underway to preserve and protect some of Britain's other historic trees.

Zombies probably smell like oleic acid

Excerpts from an interesting column at BBC Earth News:
When animals die, their corpses exude a particular "stench of death" which repels their living relatives... Corpses of animals as distantly related as insects and crustaceans all produce the same stench, caused by a blend of simple fatty acids.

The smell helps living animals avoid others that have succumbed to disease or places where predators lurk. This "death recognition system" likely evolved over 400 million years ago. The discovery was made by a team of researchers based at McMaster University, near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and is published in the journal Evolutionary Biology...

The fraction that was so off-putting to other cockroaches contained nothing but simply fatty acids, with oleic and linoleic acids the two main components... They have found that terrestrial woodlice use the same chemistry to recognise their dead, using it to avoid both crushed woodlice and intact corpses. As do two unrelated species of social caterpillar, which usually gather in large numbers...

And because insects and crustaceans diverged more than 400 million years ago, likely from an aquatic ancestor, it is likely that most subsequent species all recognise their dead in a similar way...

"Evolution may have favoured recognition of such cues because they are so reliable and exposure to risks of contagion or predation are so important." 

23 April 2013

Soccer game revelry

Today I learned... that at Russian soccer games fans in the stands light flares and shoot off fireworks.

Take a look at this related video, offered with this introduction: "Try watching a Red Star V. Partizan match... Until they banned flares and fireworks the matches usually got shut down because the field got too smokey to continue play.  "This is what it looks like after banning flares and fireworks." -

Response: "do you mean before?"
Reply: "No. That video is from several years after the ban was instituted."

I'll defer commentary and just file it in the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot category.  Res ipsa loquitur.

Image slightly cropped and compressed from the original at Reddit.

Meanwhile, in Congress

From The Borowitz Report, a humor column at The New Yorker:

Courageous Senators Stand Up to American People
In the halls of the United States Senate, dozens of Senators congratulated themselves today for having what one of them called “the courage and grit to stand up to the overwhelming wishes of the American people.”

“We kept hearing, again and again, that ninety per cent of the American people wanted us to vote a certain way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). “Well, at the end of the day, we decided that we weren’t going to cave in to that kind of special-interest group.”

“It was a gut check, for sure, but we had to draw a line in the sand,” agreed Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina). “If we had voted the way the American people wanted us to, it would have sent the message that we’re here in Washington to be nothing more than their elected representatives.” 
And in a related matter, via Tech Dirt:
In case you were wondering why so many Democrats switched sides during the most recent CISPA vote, the answer is exactly what you think it is: $$$. And lots of it. Last year's CISPA vote only managed to secure 40 Democrat supporters. This time around, the number leapt to 92.
[A] new coalition of special interests... came together to create a similar data grab bill... Pushing the bill through was $84M USD in funding from special interest backers.
$84 million is change-of-heart money, although one imagines those contributing checked and double-checked their "sponsored" representatives to make sure they were all on the same page.
Via a Reddit discussion thread.

Praying mantises hatch

When I go for hikes in the late autumn/early spring, I look for praying mantis egg cases because I would like to have them hatch out in our yard and garden.

Photo from the book Bug Off, by Jerry Baker, via The Soul is Bone.

Fast footwork

The game is apparently called Dance Dance Revolution; the player is Takaske. 

Via Kottke, where the video is paired with an equally impressive display of tennis volley skills.

22 April 2013

The Best Blogs of 2013

"Nobody does it better -
Makes me feel sad for the rest.
Nobody does it half as good as you.
Baby, you're the best..."
The executive committee here at TYWKIWDI has spent several weeks browsing and reviewing the blogs submitted for this years blogfest. The following winning entries have been selected for four broad categories:  Best Personal Blog, Best Specialty Blog, Best Accumulator, and Best Humor Blog.

Best Personal Blogs

The majority of all the creations for the blogosphere are "personal blogs."  In 2009 when Technorati surveyed the state of the 70 million blogs they monitor, they noted that "hobbyist bloggers overwhelmingly blog about personal musings."  Sometimes these blogs are intended simply as family archives and no outside audience is even sought.  At its worst, a personal blog can degenerate into an obsessive scrapbook of trivia - the classic "Daily Pictures of My Lunch" blog.  A well-crafted personal blog, however, can add meaning to one's existence (even if the purpose of one's life sometimes seems to be to serve as a warning to others).  The best personal blogs transcend the mundane to reach out and seek meaning in events, to share personal fulfillments, to ponder universal questions from an individual's standpoint. Here are the entries judged "best personal blogs" for this year, in the order they were submitted:

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made chronicles, from a Christian perspective, a woman's journey through weight-loss surgery and its effects on her life and body. 

William D. Richards uses A Writer's Chronicles to "vent extraneous thoughts" while writing, with a recent focus on "how-to-digitally-publish-yourself."

Abram and a friend are climbing Yosemite's El Capitan this summer via "The Nose."  In Go Up: The Road to El Cap they will narrate their adventure (currently in the planning and preparation stage).

Bailey's Buddy is an eclectic mix of the things which make up Jay Simser's life - "my dog, my causes, humor and my Masonry. Oh and a bit of a diary with an occasional poem."

A. Aronsson's WeBOLLog features projects and life events of "mr random dude on the Internet" - mostly impossible art in perspective, photography, and video projects.  Plus some motorcycling.

Laughing at Dragons presents the life of teenager Aki Nace, with an occasional emphasis on reviews of books.

Barefoot Journey recounts the adventures of a barefoot runner with Asperger's syndrome and prostate cancer.

Dr. Mieke was one of the first readers to stumble upon TYWKIWDBI perhaps five years ago, so I've had the pleasure of indirectly watching her family grow up and her farm prosper at The Grange: a small farm in the Northern Rivers area of NSW.  It includes good photos of the area for those interested in seeing rural Australia.

Robin Johnston may or may not tell you why her blog is called My Pinky Finger.  Robin is "a teacher, a maker, and a book lover who makes things, from jewelry and sewing to clay, painting, and bookbinding. It's a place for me to share whatever art or creation I am working on, feature other artists and craftsmen of all types whom I admire, pursue various thoughts on education, ponder spirituality, and occasionally post about my life."

Steffi uses Bibliosphere to write about college life, science research, interesting events, and childhood cancer awareness.  And of course cat photos.

Mama Bean maintains a "mommy blog" at Update My Status.  It includes gardening-related posts and some insights into mental health (depression, post-partum depression).

Ionut created Irina's Corner for his girlfriend, and fills it with photos, collages and drawings that she creates.

Half Moose with a Twist contains Tom's "doodles, cartoons, nature photos, occasional poetry, short fiction and movie reviews. Oh, and sometimes man's best friend makes an appearance."

Average Jane may be the most experienced blogger among us.  She has been filling the Average Jane blog with "lots of talk about cats, hobbies and food" for over nine years.

Sanity Check! has Tom Tjarks' own fiction writing, notes on gaming and games he is playing (currently Bioshock Infinite).

Natalie and Dustin are DINKS (dual-income, no kids) living on a Marine Corps base in Iwakuni, Japan. Tice Adventures tells of their experience with Japanese culture, nature, and lots of food.

Oregon Expat details the adventures Fletcher and his wife have experienced after leaving Oregon to live and work in southern Portugal, but also includes "a healthy sprinkling of other travel images, science geekery, language/cultural comparisons, and an occasional Mac moment."

Best Specialty Blogs

While often retaining many of the characteristics of a personal blog, those in this "specialty" category have chosen to focus intensively on a single subject or limited range of subjects, typically but not necessarily reflecting the blogger's personal or professional expertise.

The DragonFly BSD Digest is a "running summary of events around the development of DragonFly BSD, an open source operating system."

Crisp Oaks is one of few tumblrs submitted this year.  The focus is on music, with a new song every day.

In Unequally Yoked, Leah, a geeky Catholic convert, "picks fights in good faith."  While the blog is ostensibly about religion, there is also a heavy dose of musical theatre.

Lockwood's Outside The Interzone posts a geology picture (and relevant discussion) every day, most of the subject matter being derived from the endlessly interesting state of Oregon.  The blog features a large dose of humor every week in the "Sunday Funnies."

David Crews covers a range of material, with a focus on "Photos, Essays, Poems, and Musings on Life, Spirit, Ayahuasca and Entheogens, Time, and Travel.

Phasmatic Apparatus is a specialty blog about Polaroid modifications, projects and items of interest to keep the instant film movement alive.

Heather Hutchinson's Dietetic Sinners is a blend of a personal and a specialty blog, with the main topic being recipes, and restaurant/product reviews.

(OvO) is "an ongoing series of images (primarily photographs, both old and contemporary), quotations, and music interwoven to express an organically evolving theme.

Elly Vortex is a fellow Minnesotan who writes about hiking, biking, and other ourdoorsy stuff in Tales of the Witch of November. " It's been a bit quiet due to the long winter, but now that spring is here it's picking up again. More state parks, biking the wonderful Minnesota state bike trails, volunteering (National Frog and Toad call survey coming up, building the Superior Hiking Trail, etc).

Tank Hughes "used to be semi-informational discussions of English compounds, but now it's just a photoshop comic every Monday and some screenshots from Batman: The Animated Series which I call Bruce Waynesday."

Mikeb302000 has a very topical focus: gun control (plus some other liberal issues).

Richard Hartmann's blog has a lot of (very) "technical stuff," plus some travel diaries and general observations.

Lady Aritê gunê Akasa participates in a living history group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. Sarmatian in the SCA is where she posts what she has learned about the Sarmatian culture and her other experiences in the SCA.
Best Accumulators

An "accumulators" is created by a web surfer who wanders cyberspace like an uncontrolled Roomba, scooping up whatever he/she perceives to be interesting items to preserve and share.  While the accumulators often harvest one another, because of the galactic breadth  of the internet, no two blogs wind up alike - just as no two cooks will create the same meals when they combine ingredients.  Each of these blogs has a unique flavor

Emily selects epigraphs from books and movies and assembles them in Epigraphic.  Although it might be considered a "specialty" blog, the topics for the epigraphs are so varied that the end result becomes an accumulator.

Allhomosapienswelcome compiles interesting facts and articles on science, music, math, art, nature, and much more.

PHSChemGuy is a Midwestern chemistry teacher who uses In Deference to My Idols to blog about music, movies, media, games, and interesting websites, and links the blog to the course he teaches at school.

Goodies//Random Awesomeness I Encounter is Ben Wildeboer's classic accumulator, whose content is defined by its title (and presented in a unique format).

Gort Nation is Oblio's creation, dedicated to "motorsports, politics, music, social commentary, weirdo art, science fiction, home repairs, and cooking."  Oh, and also counterculture ephemera.

Those interested in Icelandic culture will find relevant material at Flippism is the Key, along with "an eclectic mix of short-form 'thought pieces', photos and even a full length novel in serial form."  And the mandatory cat photo.

furthermore, flask is about "whatever i am thinking about at the moment. i have a short attention span, a wide range of interests, a finely tuned sense of outrage, a quirky sense of humor, and no sense of fashion.  soon i will be posting some stuff about the pond skimming up at the mountain, the mushrooms growing in my kitchen, and my continued correspondence with nigerian email scammers."

Chris describes Reboots DaMachina! as containing "Observations & Deep Thoughts
Mostly observations that I find interesting," but I think the range of material puts it in the "accumulator" category.

Regarding Criminal Wisdom, Nathaniel quotes Samuel R. Delaney: "“The only important elements in any society are the artistic and the criminal, because they alone, by questioning the society’s values, can force it to change.”

Andrew denies that Andrewt.net has a focus or topic.  I would agree; it's pretty broad-based.

Dan's Now I Know is not exactly a blog; it is more of an email newsletter, the purpose of which is "to share something new, interesting about the world, each morning. Like the fact that carrots used to be purple, or that Abraham Lincoln created the Secret Service the day he was fatally shot, or that there's an island of hyper-poisonous snakes off the coast of Brazil."

I occasionally harvest material from Rob's Webstek for TYWKIWDBI.  He writes from Amersfoort about "history, paintings, old photographs, maps, classic movie actresses, city walls, Königsberg, Crimea War, geography, Amersfoort and more."

Le Cafe Witteveen is described as a "scatterbrained exploration of personal thoughts on being raised religious, owning and operating a photography and video business, and posting from my favorite blogs."

The title for Clayton Ashley's Clayton's Internet Life came about as a result of a mondegreen.  It is a repository for "funny or interesting videos I find in my daily Internet browsing, but I'll also post about interesting video games, cool photos, web comics, and other neat things."

Best Humor Blog

The recurrent tragedies of the real world and/or the mundane dreariness of everyday activities drive most bloggers to seek out humor to incorporate into their blogs.  Thus one finds a smattering of funny cat videos in poetry blogs and Calvin and Hobbes' cartoons in political blogs.  But some blogs are devoted entirely to humor, and those are the ones we turn to when we need a mental health break.  Only one blog was submitted for this category this year (Miss Cellania being unaccountably absent).

Criggo has been harvesting newspapers for bloopers, unfortunate advertisements, bizarre articles, and odd headlines for years.  Only someone with terminal melancholia could go through several pages of Criggo without at least a chuckle.

21 April 2013

The skeleton of Richard III

Just a quick notice for those interested that tonight the Smithsonian TV channel will air a documentary entitled "The King's Skeleton: Richard III Revealed."
Smithsonian Channel has secured the exclusive North American program rights to tell the inside story of the astonishing discovery of Richard III’s remains, recently found just a few feet under a parking lot in central England... [The program] is produced by the only team allowed access to the scientists, the archaeological dig, and the scientific tests to determine the skeleton’s identity, which were carried out in complete secrecy. The new two-hour special will premiere on Smithsonian Channel on Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
The related (but different) video embedded above comes via a post at The History Blog, which has collated a large number of relevant links.

Previously:  Poor Richard III - buried under the two-doors.

A "grasstree"

Found only in Australia, all 28 species of grass trees are perennial, slow-growing plants belonging to the ancient genus Xanthorrhoea. Some species produce aboveground trunks, while others do not. A grass tree’s trunk is a cylinder formed from tightly packed leaf bases... The leaves of grass trees with trunks obtain water and nutrients via aerial roots that pass down through the open core of the trunk to the ground... Bushfires blacken the trunks of grass trees, but don’t kill the plants. Like many species of eucalyptus trees, grass trees possess highly resinous leaves and exist in an intimate relationship with fire, depending on it for their survival. Flowering is stimulated by fire.
Image (of a tree with some carving of the "trunk") credit © Vilis Nams, via The Seeker, Magi Nams and The Soul is Bone.

An impressive hula-hoop routine

Compare the videobombed ending at her other video (skip to 1:50 mark).

Street scenes from Edwardian England

This video displays vastly better images than conventional archival material, because it has been "motion stabilized" and the speed has been corrected from 18 to 24 frames per second by a computerized "frame interpolation." The music is "Chanson du Soir" and "Arco Noir" from Harvey's Strings of Sorrow album.

I recommend enjoying this in full-screen mode.

Via Metafilter, Nag on the Lake and Neatorama.

Local weather does not always reflect global trends

Americans in the Midwest and residents of Europe may be surprised to discover that despite their local insufferably-prolonged winters, global temperature patterns were somewhat different:
 "...The globally-averaged temperature across the world's land and ocean surfaces was 0.58°C (1.04°F) above the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F), tying with 2006 as the 10th warmest March since records began in 1880. Both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres were also 10th warmest for March..."
Data from the National Climactic Data Center via Paul Douglas' incomparable On Weather blog.

Today's The View From Your Window featured a deck in Isle, Minnesota -

- which is about a hundred miles south of my favorite retreat at Leech Lake in Walker Minnesota.  Posted to remind myself that it's still way to early to escape to the north woods.

"It's all downhill from here"

Follow the arrows on an unending downhill path in this "impossible figure" from reader Andreas Aronsson's WeBOLLlog.

Bariatric office chair

Via Reddit.

19 April 2013

Man-eating sharks vs. men eating sharks

From A London Salmagundi.  Please reblog.

Pink champagne

Excerpts from an essay at Lapham's Quarterly:
Rose champagne is the intoxicant of choice for courtesans and kings. Beautiful, expensive, and rare, it was beloved by the grandest of the grandes horizontales of nineteenth-century Paris—and the men who could afford to love them...

But it wasn’t until well into the twentieth century that rose champagne went democratic and entered the public domain. In Depression-era New York it passed in the more upscale speakeasies for cherry soda. But it reached an apogee of applause when it turned up in the movies, most memorably in 1959 in An Affair to Remember, when Cary Grant drinks it with Deborah Kerr as they first meet aboard an ocean liner. They proceed to drink nothing but the stuff as their love affair unfolds. Sales in the U.S. ballooned that year...
The elaborate wine-making process that led to white bubbly was worked out at the ancient Abbey of Saint Pierre d’Hautvillers by the blind Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon... Sampling one of his own bottles, Dom Perignon famously said “I am drinking stars.” In 1668 he was appointed cellerer and procurator of the monastery and wine maker to the Sun King, Louis XIV, who adored the stuff and thought it good for his gout. [wrong]..

Being declared ready to drink, a vintage champagne is allowed to ferment for ten years or more in the bottle as it continues to produce biological bubbles behind a stout cork and toughened glass. In Dom Pérignon’s own day, bottles would explode as the pressure built up to three times that inside a car tire, shattering weak wood fired eighteenth century French glass and blowing out the oiled hemp stoppers early vintners used. It was the British with their own great thirst for bubbles who first perfected coal fired toughened glass and corks from Portugal that finally made storage safe...

Rose champagne is rare. Only three percent of the 350 million bottles produced annually in the Champagne region of France are pink, perhaps because giving it its tint while maintaining its quality is hard. It’s basically a matter of either adding still red Pinot Noir just before the second fermentation, or leaving the red Pinot grape skins in contact with the wine for a while—both of which are risky and complex. A small mistake can turn the champagne into an unwanted, unsalable red, blue or brown... 
Top image from Sparkles and Crumbs; there is additional commentary re the movie at Apollinas (whence the smaller photo).

Untreated hydrocephalus

The image embedded above is the cover of the book Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monster, from the review at Goodreads. The child in the image had untreated hydrocephalus, a condition where cerebrospinal fluid fails to drain from the skull, and the unfused cranial bones spread widely.

The topic was discussed this week at the always-interesting Quigley's Cabinet, with a link to information about a modern-day child whose family has been unable to afford the appropriate medical treatment: In India, Abdul Rehman's daughter Runa Begum's hydrocephalus has gone untreated because he makes the equivalent of a mere $2.75 a day.
"Day by day, I saw her head growing too big after she was born. It's very difficult to watch her in pain. I pray several times a day for a miracle -- for something to make my child better," he says. 
The child's head now has a circumference of 36" (91cm) and she will by now have incurred irreparable damage to the brain tissue.  In deference to those readers of this blog who for some reason have difficulty viewing human illness, I'll place the photo of her in her father's arms below the fold...

17 April 2013

"Lost in the Taiga"

I'm feeling a bit under the weather, but before stopping early today I need to do a quick review of this book so I can get it back to the library.

Lost in the Taiga, by Vasily Peskov (translated by Marian Schwartz), tells the story of the Lykov family who, to preserve and adhere to their religious faith, "disappeared" into the taiga and for decades lived off a difficult land.  For more details, see my previous post Isolated for 40 years in the Taiga, about a Smithsonian article on the subject, and see also the remarkable Vice video Agafia's Taiga Life.

The book was written by a leading Russian journalist who personally visited the family on numerous occasions and helped arrange for assistance to them.  The narrative is sympathetic and detailed - perhaps a little too detailed - but brief enough (250 pages) to read in an evening or two.  There are few pictures because photography was considered "worldly" and inappropriate by the elder Lykov.  Herewith a couple excerpts - first regarding the Schism that led this family to flee "the world."
Divergencies [sic] that seem ridiculous to us provoked special protest.  According to the new books, Nikon asserted, religious processions around the church should go counterclockwise, not clockwise; the word "hallelujah" should be sung two times, not three; people should bow at the waist, not to the ground; and they should cross themsleves with three fingers, not two, as the Greeks do.  It was a debate not about faith but about the rituals of the service, about isolated and relatively minor details of observance.  but religious fanaticism and devotion to dogma know no bounds; all of Russia was in an uproar." (p. 36 - more about this in one final post coming later)
New words for me:
Fabric for clothing was obtained at great cost in labor and effort.  They planted hemp.  When it ripened, it was harvested, dried, retted in the stream, and braked.  Then scutched. (p. 63)
Rural childbirth:
Agafia showed me a relic she had found from the family's past life.  In the nettles lay a large dug-out trough.  "I was born in it."

Akulina Lykova had had great difficulty giving birth to her fourth child.  To the howls of the birthing woman, Karp Osipovich, strong in those years, felled a pine and in one day carvved out this trough, which he filled with heated water.  Agafia came into the world in that trough.  That was forty-three years ago. (p. 174)
Re the above, see my old post on The implications of being 'born in a manger.'  And finally an observation about killing vermin (p. 196) -
Agafia spoke in detail about snakes she had seen in the garden and about a whole "commotion of snakes" by the river.

"Well then what did you do, get the snakes with a stick?" asked Yerofei, who had stopped dozing.  "What does God have to say about the snake?"

It turned out that God had provided for everything.  Agafia opened up a folio that smelled of the old hut and read: "I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy."

"Well then, what did you do, did you obey God?"

"I felt sorry for it.  Life is dear to every creature."

Addendum:  A Redditor found Agafia's house on Google Maps.  Zoom out to gain some perspective on her isolation.

Introducing Operation Smile

As I wander widely on the 'net, I encounter a lot of charitable foundations.  I'm rather choosy about which ones I donate to, but Operation Smile has been one that I have been gratified to donate to.  Years ago I saw a long video about them, which I thought I had blogged but cannot now locate.  The three-minute one above will provide a brief introduction for those unfamiliar with Operation Smile.

Hyperdontia? Or extreme crowding?

Supernumerary Teeth has more details, via The Soul is Bone.  A counterargument - that the image depicts just severe crowding - is discussed in the Comments.

Two golf videos

I found these at Within The Crainium, and here's an old joke...
Recently I was asked to play in a golf tournament. At first I said, “Naaahhh! I already play 4 or 5 times a week.”

Then they said to me, “Come on, it’s for handicapped and blind kids.”

Then I thought……Hey, I could win this.

Why it's called a "slingjaw"

"High-speed video of suction feeding by the slingjaw wrasse, Epibulus insidiator," via the Smithsonian's Ocean Portal.

15 April 2013

Special outhouses

The Posthorn, a publication of the Scandinavian [stamp] Collector's Club, reports in the most recent (February) issue that Finland is releasing a booklet of four stamps whose designs were chosen from 500 entries in a photo contest for "the prettiest outhouses" in Finland.  More details (and purchase information for the booklets) at Posti - the website for the Finnish postal administration.

The contest was conducted to promote ingenuity and innovation in outhouse design; the 10,000 Euro prize was awarded to an entry that adapted the many knotholes in spruce as light sources and ventilation sources while preserving necessary privacy.

While briefly researching this topic last night, I discovered that the historic Hopper-Bowler-Hillstrom house in Belle Plaine, Minnesota which features a five-hole, two-story outhouse connected to the main house via a skyway; the outhouse was added in 1886 as an upgrade to the original 1871 home.  The house is now open to the public; visitors may see the outhouse (but may not use it).  The image embedded at right is cropped from the original.

I was going to end with that - until I found the photo of the twelve-family, three-story outhouse (the Missouri History Museum does not allow the image to be embedded.)

How (not) to do the old "pull the tablecloth" trick

You know this will go wrong.  Badly wrong.

But you don't know how it will go wrong.

From the Annals of Improbable Research, via The New Shelton wet/dry.

"Phasing" and "flanging" in music explained

"The Big Hurt" reached #3 on Billboard in 1959.  From the Wikipedia entries:
"The Big Hurt" is notable because it featured phasing effects which at that time were rare in popular music... claim that "The Big Hurt" was the first commercial recording to feature a technique (or effect) now known as flanging.

The name "flanging" comes from the original method of creation. Originally, a signal would be recorded to two tape machines simultaneously. The playback-head output from these two recorders was then mixed together onto a third recorder. In this form, minute differences in the motor speeds of each machine would result in a phasing effect when the signals were combined. The "flange" effect originated when an engineer would literally put a finger on the flange, or rim of one of the tape reels so that the machine was slowed down, slipping out of sync by tiny degrees...

Older recording hardware could suffer from flanging as an undesired side effect when recording very long tracks. As the weight of the tape built up on one reel, the pressure on the capstans could cause flanging during mixdown or dubbing...
Wikipedia also has an entry of recordings that include a prominent flanging effect.  Lots of familiar titles there, including several Beatles songs, ELO, Doobies, Eagles, and "Killer Queen."

Shame on America

Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel has been a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2002.  He told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call:
I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity. 

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial

I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either...

I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping. 

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up. 
The rest of his statement is published in the New York Times.

I know there are readers of this blog who feel that America has an intrinsic right to treat perceived enemies in this fashion.  I don't think anyone should be imprisoned for eleven years without a trial.  I will continue to speak out here; there's nothing else I can do.

Drones we would approve of

The Pars Aerial Rescue Robot is designed to work as a mobile lifesaver dispensary, flying out to those in need and dropping vital flotation aids until better help can be secured. As currently designed, Pars starts with a quadrotor, which makes sense: quadrotors are versatile platforms, beloved by scientists because the machines can do things like test eagle arms and kinect-based navigation. Quadrotors are also a relatively strong. That means Pars wouldn't have any trouble carrying life preservers as well as a sophisticated navigation software and infrared cameras.
More information on this concept at PopSci, via American Digest.

A chronicle of a year of abuse

The "about" has two sentences which Google translates from Croatian as "A year in which I was abused. Please help me."  One hopes that this is an actress participating in a public service announcement*, but I don't have time to track down more information.  Someone may know.  Warning: visible sequelae of physical abuse.

*Addendum:  confirmed by reader Simon (see the link in his comment).

"Buy a donkey"

A side benefit to my intermittent watching of the Masters this weekend is that I now can say "Thank you" in Afrikaans. 

"Buy a donkey" is a homophonic Anglicization (?is that the right phrase?) of "baie danke" = "many thanks."  I could have guessed the latter part from the German equivalent, but the baie would have escaped me.

You learn something every day.

12 April 2013

A supercut of "back-to-the-camera" shots from movies

I am endlessly fascinated by supercuts from movies. What resources do people have to create these things?  If someone wanted to collect sneezes from movies, is there a source that tells them which 74 movies have characters sneezing?

Anyway, for this one, a list of the movie sources for the almost 100 scenes is in the "About" section at the YouTube link.  I recognized about half of them, but there were a few that were so beautiful or impressive that it makes we want to see the movie.

Enjoy (fullscreen recommended).

Via Neatorama.

An inn run by one family... for 1,300 years

Hōshi is a ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) in Japan.  The hotel has been operated by the same family for forty-six generations (since 717 A.D.)

The fascinating explanation is in comments at the Reddit discussion thread:
It should be noted that Japan has a tradition of adopting adult heirs if it seems like there is nobody in the family that would be suitable/wanting to run the family business. Over 90% of adoptions in japan are of adult males in their 20s and 30s, and japan has one of the highest adoption rates in the world.

Because of this family businesses in japan are more successful than in other countries, which tend to die out due to blood lines or become other kinds of businesses.

Suzuki, Toyota, Kikkoman, and Canon are all family businesses. The current head of Suzuki was adopted, and the heir that will replace him will also be adopted.
and -
It's not a strange concept when you look at history. Some societies that placed a big importance on family (and there are many) allowed for the "adoption" of an adult. It's more about welcoming someone into the family and taking the family name than it is about providing for someone.

For example, the Roman Republic/Empire frequently engaged in adult adoption, even posthumously. Caesar adopted Octavian/Augustus after his own death as a way of having an heir. Quite a few of the Roman emperors were adopted by the previous emperors simply as a way of choosing an heir if there was no suitable or capable son that could take the job.
You learn something every day.

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