31 May 2013

"Hundred dollar hamburger" explained

[The phrase is] used in general aviation in the United States (perhaps with variations on the theme elsewhere?). A lot of pilots like to pick a random airport a couple or a few hours away, drop-in for a meal, refuel, and then take off again to fly back home. The sheer joy of flying seems to serve as the primary motivation, like someone taking a sports car out into the countryside for a weekend getaway. The $100 price tag refers to the cost of flying to a distant runway for no reason other than wanting to fly to it, and not specifically to any meal that may have been purchased there. It’s a euphemism, or a wink-and-a-nod, or both, even though fuel prices today would make a hundred dollar round-trip flight a bargain."
Via Twelve Mile Circle, which has links to relevant sites.

Snake (the game) being beaten

The player controls a long, thin creature, resembling a snake, which roams around on a bordered plane, picking up food (or some other item), trying to avoid hitting its own tail or the "walls" that surround the playing area. Each time the snake eats a piece of food, its tail grows longer, making the game increasingly difficult. The user controls the direction of the snake's head (up, down, left, or right), and the snake's body follows. The player cannot stop the snake from moving while the game is in progress, and cannot make the snake go in reverse.
The embed above is the final image in a GIF showing Snake being totally beaten.  It just takes a couple minutes.

Cosmetic glasses

Introductory text from a Reddit thread:
I know this is a disturbing pic to a lot of people but you are looking at some really badass reconstructive surgery and prostheses. I used to work at a prominant cancer center and we would make these types of prostheses for people who lost facial structures/tissues due to trauama, cancer, or congenital deformities. Those "piercings" around his eyebrows are implanted magnets that aid in supporting his nose. He might have prescription lenses in the glasses, but generally the glasses are used to obscure the magnets and make the transition from real to fake tissue less obvious. This man is most likely also missing part of his maxilla or palate and has and internal portion that is also supported by a series of implants and magnets. It takes a really skilled team of physicians, dentists, and anaplastologists to make these types of prostheses. Looks crazy when not worn, but this is a life changing process to go through with truley amazng results.
The photograph is truly startling, but because it depicts an alteration of the human face which may not be within some readers' comfort zones, I'll place it below the fold here...

The plummeting cost of solar energy - updated

The total amount of energy we use every year – from coal, oil, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, and everything else – is dwarfed by the amount of solar energy hitting the planet each year. How dwarfed? The solar input is 5,000 times greater than the amount we use from all those sources, combined.

In fact, it would take only about 0.3% of the Earth’s land area to meet all of humanity’s energy needs through 2030 via solar power.
That's the most encouraging graph I've seen all year.  Via Boing Boing.

Addendum:  When I published the above post last month, one of the valid comments was that the scale of the graph was logarithmic.  Let's remedy that with this new graph -

- which I found today at The Economist, accompanied by these comments:
Rebranding is always a tricky exercise, but for one field of technology 2013 will be the year when its proponents need to bite the bullet and do it. That field is alternative energy. The word “alternative”, with its connotations of hand-wringing greenery and a need for taxpayer subsidy, has to go. And in 2013 it will. “Renewable” power will start to be seen as normal...

But it is in the field of solar energy, currently only a quarter of a percent of the planet’s electricity supply, but which grew 86% last year, that the biggest shift of attitude will be seen, for sunlight has the potential to disrupt the electricity market completely.

The underlying cause of this disruption is a phenomenon that solar’s supporters call Swanson’s law, in imitation of Moore’s law of transistor cost... Swanson’s law, named after Richard Swanson, the founder of SunPower, a big American solar-cell manufacturer, suggests that the cost of the photovoltaic cells needed to generate solar power falls by 20% with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity.

Moreover, technological developments that have been proved in the laboratory but have not yet moved into the factory mean Swanson’s law still has many years to run...

Reliability of supply is a crucial factor, for the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow.  But the problem of reliability is the subject of intensive research. Many organisations, both academic and commercial, are working on ways to store electricity when it is in surplus, so that it can be used when it is scarce. Progress is particularly likely during 2013 in the field of flow batteries. These devices, hybrids between traditional batteries and fuel cells, use liquid electrolytes, often made from cheap materials such as iron, to squirrel away huge amounts of energy in chemical form. “Grid-scale” storage of this or some other sort is the second way, after Swanson’s law, that the economics of renewable energy will be transformed.
More at the link.  Huge implications for world (and domestic) geopolitics within our lifetimes.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, politics without end...

While giving a fiery speech against Lincoln, Fernando Wood calls him "King Abraham Africanus The First." This epithet is based on a real pamphlet from 1864 titled "Abraham Africanus I: his secret life, revealed under the mesmeric influence; mysteries of the White House." 

This pamphlet, printed by the "Copperheads" (a group of Democrats from outside the Confederacy who were nonetheless sympathetic to the Confederate cause and opposed to Lincoln), claimed that Lincoln had signed a contract with Satan to enable him to seize the US presidency for life and to "subvert the liberties of the American people and debauch their civic aspirations; to impose upon them in every imaginable form of low cunning, and cheat them with words of double meaning and with false promises, until by these, and kindred means, that end is accomplished, and his dynasty firmly established."

(My wife and I watched Spielberg's Lincoln last night and were startled to hear the above epithet.  She searched the 'net afterwards and found this explanation.)

As an interesting coincidence, one of the physicians who attended Lincoln after his assassination was Albert Freeman Africanus King.

29 May 2013

Crystalline native gold on quartz matrix

This is one of the largest Belshazzar Gold specimens that I've seen at the shows. It contains over 22 ounces of Native Gold, visible on all sides of this cabinet sized specimen! The Gold consists of fine crystals and wires...

From the Belshazzar Mine, Quartzburg District, Boise County, Idaho.
Measures 12 cm by 7.2 cm by 6 cm.
A showpiece from the Tucson Show 2013.  This specimen sold for $55,000.  For the rockhound or any lover of natural beauty, there are some truly awesome photographs at the link.

"Holding nature's land speed record for 10 million consecutive years"

Via Neatorama.

Electricity usage in the United States. A cartogram from 1921.

From the archives of the StarTribune, this cartogram depicting the number of households having electricity in each state:
How each state ranks may be judged by its size as shown on the map, which was prepared by the General Electric company, Schenectady, N.Y., from data compiled through a national survey made by the commercial service section of its publication bureau.
New York ranks first, having an electrical population (served by central stations) of 8,620,700, or 78.7 per cent of its actual population. The second largest state is Pennsylvania, with an electrical population of 6,330,000, or 68.8 per cent of the actual population; third, Illinois, with 5,150,000, or 79.8 per cent; fourth, Massachusetts, with 4,030,000 or 97.8 per cent; fifth, Ohio, with 3,550,000, or 66.1 per cent, and sixth, California, with 2,827,000, or 86.5 per cent.
At the bottom of the list is Nevada, squeezed into a tiny circumference on the map, because it has only 66,300 persons served by central power stations, which, however, is 54.3 per cent of its actual population...
The electrical population of the United States is 62,023,400, out of an actual population (last previous census) of 108,148,000, a percentage of 57.3.
This was of personal interest to me because my father used to work for REA (the Rural Electrification Administration) in the 1950s.

School may discipline teacher who advised students of their Constitutional rights

From the Chicago-area Daily Herald:
[John Dryden] wants people to focus on the issue he raised: Whether school officials considered that students could incriminate themselves with their answers to the survey that included questions about drug and alcohol use.

Dryden, a social studies teacher, told some of his students April 18 that they had a 5th Amendment right to not incriminate themselves by answering questions on the survey, which had each student's name printed on it...

The survey asked about drug, alcohol and tobacco use, and emotions, according to Brad Newkirk, chief academic officer. The results were to be reviewed by school officials, including social workers, counselors and psychologists.

The survey was not a diagnostic tool, but a "screener" to figure out which students might need specific help, Newkirk said. Superintendent Jack Barshinger said teacher support for doing a survey grew after several suicides by students in recent years. Students and staff typically said they had no idea those teens were in distress...

Dryden said it was just "dumb luck" he learned about the contents. He picked up surveys from his mailbox about 10 minutes before his first class. Seeing students' names on them, unlike past surveys, he started reading the 34 questions.

"Oh. Well. Ummm, somebody needs to remind them they have the ability not to incriminate themselves," he recalled thinking. It was particularly on his mind because his classes had recently finished reviewing the Bill of Rights...

Dryden faces having a "letter of remedy" placed in his employment file. He said this week he is negotiating the matter with district authorities.
Discussed at Reddit.

Stylish compression garments

Anyone who has dealt with edema will be familiar with compression stockings (we used to call them TED hose).  They were designed for function, not fashion, and were colored and styled to be as inobtrusive as possible.  The only ones I ever remember seeing were either white or "flesh" colored (and the "flesh" was always Caucasian - though that may have changed in recent years).

Now a new product is available to breast cancer patients and others wishing to prevent or suppress lymphedema in the upper extremity.
It used to be that the only kind of sleeves available looked like big ugly bandages, but LympheDIVAs, a company started by two women with breast cancer in Philadelphia, was one of the first to change that. LympheDIVAs creates sleeves and gauntlets so funky and pretty, you could imagine wearing them just because they look cool. I wear their product regularly, and have found them to be pretty great. When I put on my "Lotus Dragon" one, people think I have an actual sleeve tattoo, which cracks me up.
Further details at Boing Boing.

At a "build party" you can assemble your own functioning, untraceable, AK47

A journalist for Mother Jones explains the process in the video above.
Although US customs laws ban importing the weapons, parts kits—which include most original components of a Kalashnikov variant—are legal. So is reassembling them, as long as no more than 10 foreign-made components are used and they are mounted on a new receiver, the box-shaped central frame that holds the gun's key mechanics. There are no fussy irritations like, say, passing a background check to buy a kit. And because we're assembling the guns for our own "personal use," whatever that may entail, we're not required to stamp in serial numbers. These rifles are totally untraceable, and even under California's stringent assault weapons ban, that's perfectly within the law.
Here's a field test of a similarly-assembled weapon:

Via The Dish.

28 May 2013


See if you can guess the identity of this famous actress.

Her grandparents were Welsh, Swedish, and Scottish.  She was born in Montana and was named after a whistle stop in Nebraska.
[Her] silent film roles were mainly those of vamps or femme fatales, and she frequently portrayed characters of Asian or Eurasian background in films... which she later recalled "...kind of solidified my exotic non-American image."  It took years for her to overcome this stereotype, and as late as 1932 she was cast as a villainous Eurasian half-breed... She also played a sadistic Chinese princess in The Mask of Fu Manchu...
I leave a final, decisive clue...

Perhaps if she were carrying Asta...
Photo credit Vintage Photography.

"Pistol Packin Mama"

Roosevelt was a peripatetic traveler, covering large distances in service of the many projects she pursued both during and after the FDR presidency. It was Eleanor’s determination to drive her own car that led to her pistol ownership. The Secret Service begged her to take an agent, a police escort, or at least a chauffeur; she refused. The pistol was a compromise: a small bit of protection to put their minds at ease...

Although Eleanor told the fascinated press, when she first got the weapon, that she was a “fairly good shot,” a New York Times reporter at the 1972 dedication of the Eleanor Roosevelt Wings of the FDR Library interviewed several of Eleanor’s friends who said that she carried the permit, but not the pistol.
Found in Slate's Vault. I doubt this is who Bing Crosby had in mind for his song.

A dose of Dilbert

Thousands more are here.

This is a "Schnee bath"

The Schnee Four Cell Bath was used for treating general rheumatic conditions and painful joints. A patient would be seated with an individual bath for each limb. Each bath had its own current, which could be varied independently.  In this treatment patients could bear a much stronger current than with electrodes on small areas, because of the large skin area exposed to the current in each bath. There was no danger of electric shock as in a full bath as the porcelain tubs were not connected to water pipes and were well insulated from earthing. The quantity of water required was not great and did not depend on a nearby water supply. It also allowed the person to be treated without undressing, speeding up treatment times and proving much more comfortable and convenient than a full body bath.
Text from the Sacred Medical Order of Hope.  Photo from Edward Reginald Morton and Elkin Cumberbatch’s Essentials of Medical Electricity (Third Edition) (1916), via A London Salmagundi.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2012, with a hat tip to reader Rein in the Netherlands, who sent me this 1930s photo of a Schnee bath in Bethesda, the first Dutch spa, established in 1849 in Laag Soeren.

The "Schnee" is not a reference to the German word for snow; it was the name of the inventor, who lived in Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary), Czechoslovakia.
Photo credit: Mrs. Kike Laagewaard, granddaughter of the last managing director of the spa.

The unhappy life of the real Christopher Robin

A reminder that the protagonist of the Pooh stories was a real person:
In the case of Christopher Robin at least we have a little window into the human test-tube: for CR wrote a book describing the hell of being Christopher Robin, The Enchanted Places (1974)... It seems that writing the books was essentially an excuse not to be with his son, or perhaps better, to be with him in a different way...

He helped his father with plot lines – there really is a Poohsticks Bridge; he put on a Pooh play with some children in the Hundred Acres Wood for his parents and assorted friends.
However, imagine his dismay at arriving at boarding school – a long way from Hogwarts unfortunately – and immediately being known as ‘that Christopher Robin’. A record had been made of A.A.Milnes’ poem Vespers and some of CR’s classmates took to playing it again and again in the evening.
In pessimistic moments, when I was trudging London in search of an employer wanting to make use of such talents as I could offer, it seemed to me, almost, that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.
Further details at Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog.

Boston traffic, 1949

Is it any better now, Chris?

Photo: Cornell Capa, via First Time User.

Pulling the old "switcheroo"

State authorities this morning raided 29 bars and restaurants across New Jersey on suspicion that they have been re-filling empty bottles of their most expensive liquors with cheaper alcohol.

Dubbed "Operation Swill," the year-long investigation found the establishments fooled customers so they could charge higher prices and bolster their profits...
The raided establishments included famous names, including TGI Friday, Ruby Tuesday, and Applebee's (list at the link).

This struck a chord with me because three of my college roommates worked their way through school as bartenders, and at least in that era (Boston, 1960s), bartenders were sometimes allowed to take home the almost-empties as a tip.   As a consequence our dorm room had Johnny Walker Black Label and Maker's Mark bottles on the shelf - which we of course filled and refilled with the cheapest available generic substitutes.

We enjoyed having schoolmates come to parties and compliment us by saying "You know, you can really tell fine liquor."  Sure....

26 May 2013

I am... Batman !!

Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis Antiopa) overwinter at our latitude, then emerge as harbingers of spring, typically before any other butterflies.  This fellow has some ragged edges on the trailing edge of his/her hindwing, suggesting successful escapes from bird beaks, or perhaps just the wear and tear of aging.  Basking in the sun on a porch railing is a typical warming behavior on a coolish spring day.  (closeup photos here)

"Rabbit Island", off the coast of Japan, is the site of an abandoned WWII poison gas production facility, but now it's home to hundreds of rabbits that thrive in a predator-free paradise.

A thread at Reddit addresses the question What is the "rule #1" in your profession or hobby? There are some amusing replies among the 14,000 responses.  In one of the emergency rooms at Parkland Hospital in Dallas in the 1970s, #1 on a list of posted rules was "Don't hurt yourself."  Rule #2 was "Don't yell at the nurses (See rule #1)."

Some amazing plays happen in high school basketball games.  Here's an unusual buzzer-beater.

A lady recounts how dolphins saved her life and that of her pet dog.

At Google Images you can pull up hundreds of photos of "cat litter cake." (edible cake that looks like dirty cat litter).  Perhaps not safe for non-ailurophiles.

The Mnozil brass present a most unusual performance of "Lonely Boy."

Wikipedia has a listing of The 50 Greatest [animated] Cartoons.

An erotic statue from Pompeii is now being exhibited at the British Museum. "The sculpture is of the mythical half-goat, half-man Pan having sex with a nanny goat. The Times reports that the museum is determined to display the object in plain sight, rather than hidden behind a curtain or in a "museum secretum" – a restricted area for those aged over 14 in the Naples Museum."  Graphic photo at the link.

Some prisoners in Venezuela are sewing their mouths shut (or partially shut).  The reasons for this are explained at the Atlantic article.

The National Forensic League's website has a list of all the debate topics from 1939 to 2012-13.   I vividly remember spending weekends in empty schoolrooms debating federal aid to education, the Common Market, and Social Security/medical care.

A Reddit thread compiles suggestions of books that are better understood/enjoyed when read for a second, third, or fourth time.

For the home handyman: how to fill missing knockouts in electric boxes.  Also an explanation of combustion air vents, and preventing or correcting problems with them.

The world's most expensive car crash: a pileup of ten Ferraris and similar cars on their way to a supercar event in Hiroshima.

"Archaeologists surveying the construction site of the former City Hall in Rotterdam have unearthed a collection of 477 coins stuffed inside a 16th century shoe. The oldest coin in the hoard dates to 1472 and the most recent to 1592."

If you use a credit card and the clerk asks for your ZIP code, giving that information may subject you to unwanted sales mailings, or your data may be sold to a data broker.

A Texas homeowner threw gasoline on a snake and set it on fire.  The resulting karma-fueled fire burned down her home.

A supercut of rabbits in the movies.

Food may taste bad after you brush your teeth because surfactants in toothpaste interfere with receptors on your taste buds.

A GIF of a dog happily cavorting with a venetian blind.

24 May 2013


I always like to end my blogging morning with a good image at the top of the page. Here's another photo of this famous rock formation (named because of its resemblance to a troll's tongue):

It is located near Odda and the Hardanger Fjord, well south of the Fjaerland Fjord where my ancestors lived.

See also Preikestolen.

Top image via Reddit; second one via Wikipedia.

The "long fall" photograph of 9/11

Excerpts from a story at the Motherboard section of Vice:
The events of 9/11 remain the most photographed in history. It’s from out of that mass witness and record that one image, the 9/11 photograph that still hardly anyone has ever seen, seemed to challenge our deepest notions of not only what it meant to die – and eventually be partially reconstructed – in the new data age, but what confronting death, as witnesses or consumers of information, said about ourselves as witnesses or consumers of information. Making it all the more arresting, perhaps, was its stark, almost calm anonymity. Nobody had a clue as to who the photo’s subject, seen plummeting from the very top of the North Tower, could be. Countless newspapers and wires ran the image the following morning, but almost immediately got so much shit from readers that for most outlets there became no other option but to pull the photo. Eleven years on, the Falling Man is still suspended.
In deference to the sensitivities of some readers, I'll place the photo and some additional text below the fold...

Tornados producing a "dead man walking"

The image above is a screencap from a video on a television documentary about tornados.  Twin twisters rotating about one another produced a figure that could be viewed as humanoid in shape.

A discussion thread at the extensively-redacted AskHistorians subReddit examines whether or not there was a legend among pre-contact plains native Americans of some tornados being referred to as "dead man walking" and whether this image is representative of that.

I have often wondered why tornados are not depicted in ancient rock art petroglyphs in North America.

Americans do not have a constitutional right to vote

The U.S. has waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan justified, at least in rhetoric, by the claim that people deserve the right to vote for their leaders. Most of us assume that the right to vote has long been enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Not according to the Supreme Court. In Bush v. Gore (2000), the Court ruled that “[t]he individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.”..

The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy. Yet most Americans do not realize that we do not have a constitutionally protected right to vote. While there are amendments to the U.S. Constitution that prohibit discrimination based on race (15th), sex (19th) and age (26th), no affirmative right to vote exists...
Two Congressmen from Minnesota and Wisconsin want to change that:
Two members of the House of Representatives, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Representative Keith Ellison, D-Minn., announced on May 13 that they would introduce an amendment to the federal Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote in America.  Here is their proposed amendment:
SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.
SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.
There's more at the Salon source.

"Balloon syndrome" in a hedgehog (and "flatus profuse" in 1593)

A variety of British sources today are reporting the unusual case of a hedgehog that was inflated like a balloon (the above image is via The Times).   On the left is an almost-unrecognizable hedgehog lying on its back on a towel, presumably on some type of tray for the xray machine.  The image at the right is an AP view of the little critter, showing the skin inflated by gas.

The subcutaneous emphysema developed because a wound became infected with gas-producing organisms.   The same thing can happen in humans; here are excerpts from a 2009 report published in Surgical Infections:
‘‘Flatus Profuse Present in the Muscles’’: Subcutaneous Emphysema of the Lower Abdominal Wall and Thighs, Described in 1593 by Fabricius Hildanus

Between 1598 and 1641, 600 medical and surgical observations made by the famous German surgeon Guilhelmius Fabricius Hildanus (1560–1634) were published in his Observationum et curationum chirurgicarum centuriae I–VI.  One of the case reports, published as Observatio LXX in the fifth Centuria, bears the title (in translation) Of flatus, profuse present in the muscles. This case report probably is the earliest accurate observation of subcutaneous emphysema of the lower abdomen and thighs attributable to a retroperitoneal abscess.

Here is an English translation of the most essential part of this case report:
In the year 1593, in Keulen, I was sent for a boy of about ten years old, who has suffered heavily from smallpox, of which he was almost cured, but now his belly, down from the umbilicus, and his hips and thighs were peculiarly extended with flatus, which was present between the skin and the muscles, and partly in the muscles, and when these parts were touched with our hands, they rustled, just as fresh calf’s meat, that the butcher has inflated with air. He felt no pain, his internal parts were comfortable, and with almost no effects of the previous illness. We used several means, internally, to strengthen the noble internal organs, and externally, to make the flatus disappear, which ultimately resulted in a favourable outcome. 
Those familiar with the word flatus being used only in reference to farts will recognize now that it can also be applied to other collections of air or gas, and is derived from the Latin verb flare ("to blow") which gives us inflation.

I also find it interesting that this report gives such a good description of the crepitus detectable in SQ emphysema ("when these parts were touched with our hands, they rustled...") and I'm very curious about the next part: "...just as fresh calf's meat, that the butcher has inflated with air."

Why would butchers of the time inflate meat with air??  Does anyone know?

Was this week's murder of a British soldier a "terrorist" attack?

The argument in this Guardian column argues that terrorism is defined as attacks directed at civilians:
That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without saying, but given the legal, military, cultural and political significance of the term "terrorism", it is vital to ask: is that term really applicable to this act of violence? To begin with, in order for an act of violence to be "terrorism", many argue that it must deliberately target civilians. That's the most common means used by those who try to distinguish the violence engaged in by western nations from that used by the "terrorists": sure, we kill civilians sometimes, but we don't deliberately target them the way the "terrorists" do.

But here, just as was true for Nidal Hasan's attack on a Fort Hood military base, the victim of the violence was a soldier of a nation at war, not a civilian. He was stationed at an army barracks quite close to the attack. The killer made clear that he knew he had attacked a soldier when he said afterward: "this British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

The US, the UK and its allies have repeatedly killed Muslim civilians over the past decade (and before that), but defenders of those governments insist that this cannot be "terrorism" because it is combatants, not civilians, who are the targets. Can it really be the case that when western nations continuously kill Muslim civilians, that's not "terrorism", but when Muslims kill western soldiers, that is terrorism? Amazingly, the US has even imprisoned people at Guantanamo and elsewhere on accusations of "terrorism" who are accused of nothing more than engaging in violence against US soldiers who invaded their country
More at the link (those who reflexly dislike Glenn Greenwald's column can give it a pass).

A Segway for golfers

The video is a promotional one by the company.  At their website they offer data suggesting that the two-wheeled Segway is gentler on turf than the 4-wheeled conventional carts.  At $6K, they won't be widely bought by the general public, but perhaps they will find their way into the rental business.

23 May 2013


Found at imgur (p.s. - discovered this week that it's pronounced "imager").

And GIF is pronounced "jif" (according to its creator):
He is proud of the GIF, but remains annoyed that there is still any debate over the pronunciation of the format. “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
The counterargument is presented at Sentence First:
I’ve written about the pronunciation of GIF before, but a lot of people are still confused about it. There’s no need to be. Wilhite may have invented the GIF but he can’t decide its pronunciation for everyone. Each of us gets to choose how we say a new word, and most people say GIF with a hard g – unsurprisingly, given the sound’s dominance in English words containing the letter. Language being democratic, hard-g /gɪf/ is therefore the dominant usage. But “jif” is a significant variant, equally standard and clearly preferred by some communities...

In the meantime, you don’t have to adopt the inventor’s preference. He did us a great technical service, but he’s not the boss of English. You’re the boss of your own English. GIF is in the public domain: say it any way you want.

"Robo Raven" - a robotic bird

Professor S.K. Gupta has been working on creating a robotic bird for over 8 years now, and other engineering groups across the world have also been working on robotic birds. And while the RoboRaven isn’t the first robotic bird to take flight, it is the first robotic bird to have two independently functioning wings. That gives it a huge advantage in flight, since the independent operation gives it more aerodynamic configurations and more practical applications.
At 1:49 in the video the robotic bird is attacked by a hawk.

Via The Dish.

Redefining "special needs"

"...everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.

But Siobhan said we have to use those words because people used to call children like the children at school spaz and crip and mong, which were nasty words. But that is stupid too because sometimes the children from the school down the road see us in the street when we're getting off the bus and they shout, "Special Needs! Special Needs!""
---from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

Shadow art

The artist is Kumi Yamashita.  An image of the final product is posted at her Facebook page.  See also my previous post about her portraits created with thread and nails and with denim.

Things you might not know about golf

The longest drive ever was 515 yards.

The longest putt ever was a monstrous 375 feet.

The longest golf course in the world is the par 77 International Golf Club in Massachusetts which measures a fearsome 8325 yards.
The longest golf hole in the world is the 7th hole (par 7) of the Sano Course at the Satsuki Golf Club in Japan. It measures an incredible 909 yards.

125,000 golf balls a year are hit into the water at the famous 17th hole of the Stadium Course at Sawgrass.

It is thought the word golf comes from the Dutch word "kolf" or "kolve", meaning "club". Historians believe this was passed on to the Scottish, whose own dialect changed this to "golve," "gowl" or "gouf". 
Found at The First Tee.

Clever pommel horse routine

Some YouTube commenters think this is FAKE! (allcaps with exclamation point), while another asks why he has a face on his chest. *sigh*

Via Neatorama.

16 May 2013

Scrimshaw pie crimpers

On a recent Venue visit to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, I was captivated by a gallery filled with scrimshaw items, carved by American nineteenth-century whalemen as gifts for mothers, wives, and sweethearts during their long sea voyages... scrimshanders carved baleen, walrus tusks, and whale teeth into hundreds of thousands of pie crimpers.

Serious pastry chefs today still crimp the edges of their pies using their fingers. Some might go as far as using a fork or spoon to create decorative patterns; and the truly gadget-obsessed, or those with no limitations on their kitchen storage space, might even own a simple stainless steel crimping wheel.

Nineteenth-century scrimshaw pie crimpers, however, are not just useful for sealing pies with an attractive flourish. They incorporate forks for punching air holes, knives for cutting off excess pastry, tart tampers that double as decorative stamps, and, most importantly, two, three, or even four crimping wheels, each of which would imprint a different pattern on your pie crust
More photos at the Edible Geography source. And a new word for me: scrimshander.  Not in my Random House dictionary, but I found it along with scrimshandy, and scrimshoner as a referent under scrimshaw.

Photo credit: New Bedford Whaling Museum/Nicola Twilley.

"Retronasal olfaction" - smelling food after it's in the mouth

As most readers of Edible Geography will know, smell makes up to ninety percent of what we perceive as flavour, primarily through a process known as retronasal olfaction, in which odour molecules travel from the mouth to the nose via the throat as we eat.
More at the link.

Giving new meaning to "Hire the Handicapped"

Excerpts from a New York Post story:
Some wealthy Manhattan moms have figured out a way to cut the long lines at Disney World — by hiring disabled people to pose as family members so they and their kids can jump to the front, The Post has learned.

The “black-market Disney guides” run $130 an hour, or $1,040 for an eight-hour day. “My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours,” crowed one mom, who hired a disabled guide through Dream Tours Florida.

“You can’t go to Disney without a tour concierge,’’ she sniffed. “This is how the 1 percent does Disney.” The woman said she hired a Dream Tours guide to escort her, her husband and their 1-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter through the park in a motorized scooter with a “handicapped” sign on it. The group was sent straight to an auxiliary entrance at the front of each attraction.
The New York Post is admittedly not the best choice for a source.  Via Reddit, where the thread included these comments:
"Former Disney employee here.  The only thing new here is the way people are getting to bypass lines. To me, this is actually more honorable than what I usually see. Typically, average joes and obese people complain they can't walk or stand in line due to some BS medical reason. Disney doesn't want to look bad so they give away wheelchairs. People fuck the system like the liars they are to wait less. I know most redditors aren't rich and I'm sorry to bring another side of the argument to people, but think about it like this; these moms are hiring people who want a job, and are taking them to fucking DISNEY WORLD. Ya it may be a shitty sounding tactic, but it's a lot more honest than other people I've seen while working. "
"It is actually shady for the handicapped person. They are selling ADA access. Kind of sick, when the ADA is there for them to function in society, not exploit for money. My guess is disney will just start logging these people and banning them from the park, since they are undermining the VIP access that disney sells."

"It sounds like a secretive and highly sketchy operation with folks pulling in quite a lot of cash. If the disabled tour guides are paying FICA and income taxes, fine. They might only have a problem with Disney. If they are working under the table while collecting disability insurance payments they might have a bigger problem. Social Security Disability Insurance (and Medicare coverage before age 62) require people to be unable to work. Income from work would have to be disclosed and might disqualify them from disability benefits, not to mention the problems with the IRS. "

Here it is!

Posted at imgur.

The Battle Song of St. Trinians - updated

After watching one of the original St. Trinians movies I could NOT get the theme song out of my head, and thought perhaps if I post it here and someone else will listen to it, it might jump into your head and out of mine.
Maidens of St Trinian's, gird your armour on.
Grab the nearest weapon; never mind which one.
The battle's to the strongest; might is always right.
Trample on the weakest; glory in their plight.
St Trinian's! St Trinian's! Our battle cry.
St Trinian's! St Trinian's! Will never die.
Stride towards your fortune boldly on your way,
Never once forgetting there's one born every day.
Let our motto be broadcast: "get your blow in first!"
She who draws the sword last always comes off worst.
Reposted from 2010 to commemorate the recent death of Ronald Searle, who created the iconic illustrations of St. Trinian's.

The first two or three films from the 1950s and 60s, starring Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, and George Cole, were memorable components of my childhood cinema education (the later remakes were eminently forgettable). Cartoon via Fictions.  Ronald Searle tribute blog here.

Addendum:  Reblogged from 2012 because of a report in The Telegraph that the school which served as the inspiration for St. Trinian's will now be admitting... boys.
From 2014, they will be allowed at Perse Girls' junior school, part of the Stephen Perse Foundation - a group of independent schools in Cambridge...
The new system will see girls and boys aged 10 to 16 taught alongside each other in creative subjects and sports but separately in other lessons. They will however, also share facilities such as libraries and eating areas.
Tricia Kelleher, principal of the foundation, said this would allow the school to "remain true to its single sex roots" while at the same time, embracing the "best of all worlds".
She said the move was in response to requests from parents and would go some of the way to redressing the deficit of places for boys in Cambridge schools, adding it was not fair that girls "should have all the fun"...

Mr Searle, a sketch artist for the Cambridge Daily News, now the Cambridge News, said that as a teenager attending Boys' Central School in Cambridge, he would see the girls on the way home from school. 

In a letter to the school he said Perse Girls was a "positive source of inspiration" and added: "But I hope the school won't hold that against me, so many years after the crime." 
I don't dare play the video this morning, or else I'll have an earworm all day.

Geoguesser challenge

When you click on GeoGuesser, it uploads a series of five Streetview images from Google.  You can then explore short distances, and the goal is to find out where those locations are and mark them on the map.  Your score is apparently determined by your distance from the actual location.  I don't believe there is a time limitation.

I'm not sure what determines what distance you can "travel," but it does seem to be limited.  Some of the most relevant information in the photos has been obscured (notably license plates on vehicles), but you can read many billboards and building signs.

When you place your answer on the map, you can zoom in on the target for more accurate placement (assuming you know where you're going).

The five uploads are probably random; I was helped in getting a high score by having one American and two Scandinavian locations.  I tried again using Google in a separate tab to look up some words I saw and was able to raise my score to 16,801, but I don't know if that was "legal."

Start here.

Via Neatorama.

Hungary's "Attraction" shadow theater company performs

With a hat tip to Warren.

13 May 2013

73 to the 12th power is how much? Rudiger Gamm knows. Also 54 to the 17th power. Watch.

This is Rudiger Gamm.  What's interesting is that even though he is a mental calculator, for this television show he appears to be not calculating the numbers, but rather reciting them from memory.

From his head motion I would also wonder if he has an eidetic memory and is seeing the number in his mind and reading it out loud.

Medical nipple tattoos vs. "titoos"

The embedded image shows the breasts of a mastectomy patient who has subsequently received cosmetic tattoos of nipples.  This is one of four examples depicted in a small gallery at BreastCancer.org.  It can be done with or without nipple reconstruction ("If you want the projection then tattooing can be done in conjunction with recon but if you do not need the projection 3-D tattooing can give you the illusion of projection without the additional surgery.")  It can also be done on radiated skin.

Found while reading about "titooing," which is pure cosmetic enhancement of people with nipples:
Gail Proudman, an independent clinician based in Merseyside, tattoos the nipples of more than three women a week and has seen a huge increase in young women coming in for the latest cosmetic trend. She explains: "A lot of people want their nipples made darker. It’s the fashion. Some people think theirs are too pink or their boyfriends want them done. I think sometime they are doing it because they are conscious of them being pale and they think it’s fashionable to have dark nipples...

The two-hour procedure, which can cost up to £1,200 for both nipples, lasts around 12 to 18 months and top-ups are recommended to restore any colour lost as the ink fades over time... In Liverpool, a number of salons already offer nipple tattooing and there at least 15 independent technicians based in the area. It is rapidly catching up with vajazzles, designer vaginas and boob jobs as the latest cosmetic procedure available to women nationwide. 
More re the pros and cons of the procedure in The Telegraph.

Michele Bachmann channels Cotton Mather

"It's no secret that our nation may very well be experiencing the hand of judgment. It's no secret that we all are concerned that our nation may be in a time of decline.... Our nation has seen judgment not once but twice on September 11. That's why we're going to have '9/11 Pray' on that day. Is there anything better that we can do on that day rather than to humble ourselves and to pray to an almighty God?"
This response from Rachel Maddow:
To be sure, Bachmann, like everyone else, is entitled to whatever theological beliefs she wishes to embrace. But it's nevertheless jarring, to put it mildly, to see a prominent politician -- a former presidential candidate and current member of the House Intelligence Committee -- argue publicly that God's judgment of Americans' sins led to deadly terrorist attacks. Members of Congress usually blame the terrorists for mass murder, not us.

What determines the angle of a boat's wake?

I'd never given it a thought, but the question has been debated for over a century.
Lord Kelvin is still making waves. In the 1880s, the great British physicist—then a commoner named William Thomson—argued that the wake of a boat fans out at the same angle regardless of how fast the boat is going. But scientists and engineers have long known that boats sometimes appear to have narrower wakes. Now two French physicists say they've explained that narrowing. Their idea may not sail smoothly into the textbooks, however, as experts in marine engineering are skeptical.

An avid seaman, Kelvin analyzed boat wakes and came to a rather curious conclusion: No matter the speed of the boat, it should produce a wake with a "wake angle" of 19.47°. (See figure.) That odd constancy arises for two reasons. First, the speed or "phase velocity," of water waves varies with their wavelength, with longer wavelengths traveling faster than shorter ones do. As the boat moves, it creates waves of all speeds slower than the boat itself. And the longer waves generally spread out behind it faster than the shorter ones. 
The old theory, the new theory, and the counterarguments are discussed briefly at Science.

"One foot in the grave"

When life gives you lemons...

From imgur.

12 May 2013

Mommy Rhapsody

Does the world need another Bohemian Rhapsody takeoff?  Perhaps so, if they are as well done as this one by "Church on the Move," who have altered the lyrics to suit a mommy-oriented audience.

(Reposted from 2010 because I don't have time to blog this Mother's Day weekend.)

10 May 2013

Where to look for lost children

‘Little Lost Lambs’ Getting New Haven at Zoo

“Lost children will be taken to the Lion House” is the Washington Zoo's most quoted sign. Outraged parents of straying tots protested vigorously until they discovered zoo police headquarters was sandwiched above the lions. Now, at long last, the sign will be changed. Come winter, the Zoo is to have a new building, housing among other facilities, police headquarters and the most up-to-date comfort station. (Washington Post, June 26, 1955.)
Found at Shorpy.

Animation of computerized high-frequency stock trading

It shows one half-second of trading in just one stock, boring old Johnson & Johnson, on May 2. The video slows down the trades so that the milliseconds -- thousandths of a second -- tick slowly by, and so that human eyes can comprehend what's happening.

What you see is trading gone haywire, hopelessly beyond the control of any regulators that might want to make sure all of these trades are legitimate. This flood of trading confuses even other machines, creating mismatches in orders that high-speed traders can exploit, millisecond by millisecond.

"These guys are not stealing dollars, they're stealing pennies," says Nanex founder Eric Hunsader, who presented the video at a recent Wired conference. "It's like paper cuts instead of first-degree murder."..

Inside of the one half-second of trading represented by the video, more than 1,200 orders and 215 actual trades occur, Hunsader says. (The colored boxes in the video represent exchanges, and the dots that go flying represent individual orders.)  
I fully understand that all of this is legal and I will readily concede that the process might "enhance liquidity in the market" (I know that when I place an order online at Schwab, it is completed as fast as I can click the "check order status" button).  But... this still scares the shit out of me.
Regulators are desperately trying to keep up. The European Union last year approved a new rule mandating that all trades must exist for at least a half-second, in order to try to minimize the kind of quote-stuffing that frightens and confuses markets. It turns out that half-second is an eternity. 
It is a financial Armageddon just waiting to happen.  Why doesn't anyone have the cojones to limit this activity?

Addendum:  A well-informed reader wrote to me privately re the content of this post, asking to remain anonymous, and offering the following counterpoints, which I thought were valid enough to bring above the fold to the content of the post -
That HuffPo article is kind of silly, what it shows and what it concludes don't follow at all. What the video seems to show is the pretty straightforward implementation of a regulation called RegNMS. If you send an order to one exchange but there's a better price at another one it's required that the exchanges get you that better price. Obviously that means the exchanges are going to have to talk to each other whenever an order comes in that might have a better price somewhere else. All you're seeing is those "hey can you beat this price" messages going out to all the other exchanges. Skip to 2:50 and you can see one or two happen all alone, the crazy visual is just a lot of that happening all at once. 
Notably there's no indication that anything in the video has anything at all to do with HFT. This is the exchanges and only the exchanges trying to clear trades as fast as they can while complying with the rules they operate under. The cacophony seems to be because there are a lot of orders and computers can execute the straightforward (and, again, legally mandated) arithmetic astonishingly quickly. All the underlying orders could very well be boring mutual funds trading with each other without it looking very different.

Which is not to say that there's no nefarious stuff going on in the markets just that this video doesn't show anything like that. I'm happy to be corrected if I've misinterpreted it of course; I'm not an expert in market microstructure.
(Nanex has an older but more detailed page about some of this at http://www.nanex.net/Research/IsNBBOIgnored.html that seems to be addressing a slightly different issue about which I know nothing)

As an aside, one reason your Schwab trades execute immediately may be that they never even make it to the public market. They're either matched inside Schwab by another customer doing the reverse trade or sent to a 'dark' venue that pays Schwab for doing so:

This is called 'payment for order flow'. Note that this still falls under RegNMS so Schwab (or the venue where your trade eventually ends up) must do the 'notify all exchanges' dance from the video. You can see a nice breakdown of where actual trading volume happens in the US at Bats' website: http://www.batstrading.com/market_summary/. The NASD and TRF volumes are things like Schwab filling the trade internally without ever reaching an exchange but also trades that happen on 'dark pools', like the ones that Schwab sends to. Note I'm not calling out Schwab in particular here, this is common practice. 
I will be the first to agree that the Huffington Post tends to be sensationalist in hyping mundane material to increase clicks, and while the comments above temper my angst a bit, I remain uncomfortable with the overall concept of HFT.  Re the latter, the reader who wrote to me also provided a link to A High Frequency Trader's Apology, which discusses the concept in some detail.

Dance-powered human pile driver

Via the Miss Cellania humor blog.

Has this Minnesota terrorist been covered in the national news?

I don't watch television, so I don't know if this story has been publicized.  The StarTribune carried the story:
Federal authorities said Monday they are confident that they foiled a planned attack on the Montevideo Police Department and possibly saved lives when they arrested a man with suspected white supremacist leanings.

Buford “Bucky” Rogers, 24, of Montevideo, was arrested and charged Friday with being a felon in possession of a firearm after federal authorities found suspected pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails and guns during a search of his family’s mobile home, according to a
federal criminal complaint and affidavit...

Neighbors’ and Rogers’ own postings on Facebook suggest a man with troubling interests involving racial superiority and irritation with authorities... Several postings on Rogers’ Facebook page from June 15, 2011, express his apparent irritation: “The NWO [New World Order] has taken all your freedoms the right to bear arms freedom of speach freedom of the press …” read one profanity-punctuated message.

According to the affidavit, FBI agents searched Rogers’ home while he was there and found the Molotov cocktails, suspected pipe bombs and a Romanian AKM assault rifle among the firearms...

After Rogers was arrested, authorities searched his father’s trailer home on the north edge of Montevideo and found more than a dozen bombs inside a shed. Some of the explosives were described by authorities as being sophisticated pipe bombs and others that are the type packed with nails and other kinds of shrapnel...

The FBI believes that a terror attack was disrupted by law enforcement personnel and that the lives of several local residents were potentially saved,” the agency said in a statement issued Monday.

Rogers’ strong anti-government views were well-known around town, drawing the ire of many because the family flew the U.S. flag upside down, according to persons with knowledge of the case. A sign in front of Rogers’ father’s mobile home was spray-painted with the letters B.S.M., standing for Black Snake Militia.

"Tweet pee, pour les parents geek"

Via Curiosités de Titam.

The business of war

It's a racket.  Can't say that often enough. 

As reported in Spiegel online:
The German government has once again approved a controversial deal to export arms to a country with questionable democratic credentials. The German Security Council, which meets in secret, has approved a deal by defense firm Rheinmetall to export 104 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Indonesia.

In addition, 50 Marder 1A2 infantry fighting vehicles are to be delivered as part of the deal, as are 10 other military vehicles, including armored recovery vehicles, mobile bridges and military engineering vehicles...

Indonesia's interest in German arms had long been apparent, but Berlin had remained silent on its intentions. Previously, Indonesia had approached the Netherlands regarding its interest in acquiring Leopard tanks, which are widely considered to be the most modern battle tanks available. But the Dutch parliament declined to approve the deal due to concerns about the human rights situation in Indonesia. Jakarta then turned to Germany...

Jakarta [said] the anticipated deal was merely an effort to update its weapons systems and insisted the tanks would not be used against its own people, during protests, for example.
Right.  We believe that, because Indonesia is so likely to be involved in a land-based war...

Reindeer steals a man's wife

Via Boing Boing.

Incredible styrofoam art

The embed above is just one of a set of 11 photos of artwork drawn with a ball-point pen on a styrofoam cup:
I went in to the dealership for my free oil change and saw this cup sitting there. The cashier said that a young man had come in to have some work done and it was going to take about three hours. "I'll just doodle" he said, and grabbed a ball point and a coffee cup. 
Note the above shows the inside of the cup.   Look at the other photos and note how the links of the chain and the other scrollwork is all evenly spaced, and that the letters are drawn in negative with a black pen.

Discussed at Reddit.  The artist is (at least for now) unidentified.

09 May 2013

"Ata" is not a hoax. Or an alien.

Excerpts from an article posted at Science:
The story began 10 years ago, when the diminutive remains were reportedly found in a pouch in a ghost town in the Atacama Desert of Chile. Ata ended up in a private collection in Barcelona; producers of the film Sirius latched onto the bizarre mummy as evidence of alien life.

Last fall, immunologist Garry Nolan, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Proteomics Center for Systems Immunology at Stanford in California, heard about Ata from a friend and contacted the filmmakers, offering to give them a scientific readout on the specimen...

"The DNA was modern, abundant, and high quality," he says, indicating that the specimen is probably a few decades old.

To the chagrin of UFO hunters, Ata is decidedly of this world. After mapping more than 500 million reads to a reference human genome, equating to 17.7-fold coverage of the genome, Nolan concluded that Ata "is human, there's no doubt about it." Moreover, the specimen's B2 haplotype—a category of mitochondrial DNA—reveals that its mother was from the west coast of South America: Chile, that is.

Meanwhile, after examining x-rays, Lachman concluded that Aka's skeletal development, based on the density of the epiphyseal plates of the knees (growth plates at the end of long bones found only in children), surprisingly appears to be equivalent to that of a 6- to 8-year-old child. If that holds up, there are two possibilities, Nolan says. One, a long shot, is that Ata had a severe form of dwarfism, was actually born as a tiny human, and lived until that calendar age. To test that hypothesis, he will try to extract hemoglobin from the specimen's bone marrow and compare the relative amounts of fetal versus adult hemoglobin proteins. The second possibility is that Ata, the size of a 22-week-old fetus, suffered from a severe form of a rare rapid aging disease, progeria, and died in the womb or after premature birth...

The other claim Nolan debunks is that Ata is an elaborate hoax. The x-rays clearly show these are real bones, complete with arterial shadows, he says. "You just couldn't fake it," he says, adding, with a laugh, "unless you were an alien." 
More at the link.

Credit for photos: Garry Nolan
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