30 September 2013

Excellent example of the Ponzo Illusion

The above image was created by 'shopping three identical images of a car onto a photograph of a street.  The context of the photo (a receding street) creates in your mind the illusion that the cars are of different sizes - but they are exactly the same. ( I had to measure them to convince myself.)

At Neatorama, Alex Santoso has appended an animated gif to confirm the equality of the car images.

Here's another Ponzo Illusion:

Yes, get out your ruler.  We'll wait...

For a sea burial, the last stitch goes through the nose

A post by John Farrier at Neatorama today made note of a longstanding custom for sea burials by the Royal Navy:
On one of the ships I sailed as a cadet in the Merchant Navy in the early 1960s, there was a death on board off the West African coast. As there were two doctors on the ship to sign the death certificate and no refrigerated space, it was decided to "commit the body to the deep."

The mate sent me down to assist the bo'sun to prepare and stitch up the corpse, as he said I would be unlikely to witness such an occurrence again. The bo'sun, a North Sea Chinaman (ie, he hailed from the Orkney Isles), was in his sixties and had performed the task several times before. He was a deft hand with the palm [leather glove] and needle used to sew the heavy canvas into a shroud around the body, and when he came to the final stitches around the face he pushed the large triangular-shaped needle right through the nose. I winced, and he looked up at me and said, "That's the law of the sea, the last stitch through the nose, if that don't wake him up I know he's dead." 
I found confirmation at Exeter Flotilla, with a notation that the person who sewed up bodies for burial was paid a guinea per body.

I can't help but think of how this custom might have doomed the Count of Monte Cristo.

And btw, the phrase in the citation "He was a deft hand with the palm and needle" is interesting in and of itself.  See Wherein I learn what a collarmaker's palm is.

Photo from a brief instructional on how to make bunny whiskers: "When you have several loops, remove the needle from the thread, even up the length of the loops, then use sharp scissors to cut the loops open and trim the whiskers to the length you prefer."

The Leidenfrost Effect is endlessly fascinating

I've written about it before (see "How to dip your hand into liquid nitrogen") and was delighted to find at Nothing to do with Arbroath the above video, in which students at the University of Bath used the effect to create directional movement by droplets of water.

Today I also found a description of the effect from 1868:
Mr. Davenport informs us, that he saw one of the workmen in the King’s Dockyard at Chatham immerse his naked hand in tar of that temperature [220°]. He drew up his coat sleeves, dipped in his hand and wrist, bringing out fluid tar, and pouring it off from his hand as from a ladle. The tar remained in complete contact with his skin, and he wiped it off with tow...

Mr. Davenport ascribes this singular effect to the slowness with which the tar communicates its heat, which he conceives to arise from the abundant volatile vapour which is evolved ‘carrying off rapidly the caloric in a latent state, and intervening between the tar and the skin, so as to prevent the more rapid communication of heat.’..

The workmen informed Mr. Davenport, that, if a person put his hand into the cauldron with his glove on, he would be dreadfully burnt, but this extraordinary result was not put to the test of observation. 
And found that the eponym comes from a German physician:
"During his lifetime, Leidenfrost published more than seventy manuscripts, including De Aquae Communis Nonnullis Qualitatibus Tractatus (1756) ("A Tract About Some Qualities of Common Water") in which the Leidenfrost effect was first described (although the phenomenon had been previously observed by Herman Boerhaave in 1732)."

Vivienne Westwood catwalk models, Paris, 2014

I've been accused of being provincial or narrow-minded when I've made snarky comments about modern fashion in dress, so I'll just hush up and let these photos speak for themselves.

From a gallery with dozens of photos at The Telegraph.

"Getting into the weeds"

I heard the phrase this afternoon on an NPR radio program about recent Congressional shenanigans and had to look it up.  The best I could find was a column in The Word Detective from 2011, excerpted herewith:
“[I]nto the weeds” now seems to be very, very popular, to the point where it earned its own article in the Christian Science Monitor in 2008. That article, in turn, heavily relied on an immensely helpful 2006 post on the excellent linguistics blog Language Log by Mark Liberman, who did some solid research on the phrase.

There seem to be two different uses of “getting into the weeds” out there in the wild. One is the “getting into too much (possibly irrelevant) detail” sense that you mention. This is evidently a very popular figure of speech among policy wonks, beltway insiders in Washington, D.C., and savvy observers such as Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall, who has frequently used the phrase in his articles. The other sense is a restaurant term invoked when the staff is overworked, everything is going wrong, and total chaos is only a burnt fillet of sole away. Back in 2000 there was actually a Molly Ringwald movie about the staff of a restaurant dealing with a bad night called “In the Weeds.”
Golf, rather than farming, is favored for the etymology (details at the link).

27 September 2013

CCC stonework at Yellowstone Park

Earlier this summer I noted that life is too short for me to personally document all of the CCC projects, and I suggested that readers interested in the subject matter might photograph (or even write up for their own blog) CCC stonework in their community or that which they encounter on their travels.

Today, the first post resulting from that suggestion.  Reader Jan Bussey visited Yellowstone Park, and remembering my request she focused her camera on some of the stonework she encountered.
The Civilian Conservation Corps, а New Deal relief agency fоr young men, played а major role between 1933 аnd 1942 іn developing Yellowstone facilities. CCC projects included reforestation, campground development оf many оf the park's trails аnd campgrounds, trail construction, fire hazard reduction, аnd fire-fighting work. The CCC built the majority оf the early visitor centers, campgrounds аnd the current system оf park roads.
The top embedded photo is of a stone building at Madison Junction within the park.  One problem that Jan noted is that the park is older than the CCC, so that not every structure can be assumed to be the work of the CCC participants. This building clearly has a new roof (right), but the construction style - with the wall entirely made of native stone rather than faced with stone - clearly suggests an earlier date for its creation.  I did find online confirmation that CCC work was done at Madison Junction.

The Old Faithful Lodge (above) has extensive and impressive stonework, but because it was constructed in the 1920s and because the stonework is so integral to the building (fireplace, load-bearing walls), it must predate the CCC program.

Road overlooks are also prime sites for impressive stonework.  Jan photographed this one at Gibbon Falls, where there certainly has been recent restoration and repair -

And this one at Lake Jenny - done in mortarless fashion.  There was no single fashion or style of stonework common to all the CCC projects.  The administration hired local professional stonemasons to instruct the boys who came out of the inner cities and farmsteads, and each stonemason presumably had skills acquired over a lifetime on how to work with local material. 

I'll end with this photo taken at Madison Junction.  I particularly like the way the stone wall of the building was integrated into the massive stone protruding from the ground.

If other readers have photos of CCC stonework in Yellowstone, I can append them here later.  Jan Bussey's other photographs are displayed in galleries at her Cascade Exposures website.

I believe two readers (Flask and Christy) are currently compiling  photos of CCC stonework at Watkins Glen.  Stay tuned.

An extremely clean harvestman

As reported by Susannah Anderson in her delightful blog Wanderin' Weeta (With Waterfowl and Weeds):
I took a blouse out of the washer and hung it to dry. This daddy-long-legs came running out of a fold. Good thing I used cold water and the gentle cycle.

I saw him last night, roaming placidly around the bathroom; he looked duller then. Today, the first thing I saw was the flash of brick red. And he was panicking; I don't think I've ever seen a harvestman run as fast as he was before.
More photos at the link, along with this interesting question: "I wonder: does he run faster with shorter legs? Do those long, wobbly legs slow down his brothers?"

I don't have an answer, but I did find this interesting tidbit:
The legs continue to twitch after they are detached. This is because there are 'pacemakers' located in the ends of the first long segment (femur) of their legs. These pacemakers send signals via the nerves to the muscles to extend the leg and then the leg relaxes between signals. While some harvestman's legs will twitch for a minute, other kinds have been recorded to twitch for up to an hour. The twitching has been hypothesized as a means to keep the attention of a predator while the harvestman escapes.
Just like a skink's tail.  Cool.

The value of a dashcam

Dashcams are very popular in Russia because they provide documentation of faked accidents and injuries - as for example those created by the pedestrians in this supercut.

One note from the BoingBoing via: "Unfortunately someone really does get run over, so don't watch this if you think you might be disturbed."

26 September 2013

Using polio virus to treat brain tumors

This MRI depicts a sagittal view of the head of a 15-year-old boy with GBM.

My wife forwarded to me an article in the Washington Post that is absolutely fascinating. 

Glioblastoma multiforme is a particularly vicious type of brain cancer.  It arises from neural tissue and is extremely aggressive, infiltrating in a fashion that makes surgical excision virtually impossible, and is resistant to radiation therapy and chemotherapy (because drugs have difficulty penetrating the blood/brain barrier).

Enter the poliovirus, which has evolved over millenia to target neural tissue:
The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Cancer Center at Duke University has the largest experience on the East Coast with my sort of tumor, so I went there for further consultation and treatment.

As doctors there examined me, it was obvious that my tumor had already grown again; in fact, it had quadrupled in size since my initial chemo and radiation. I was offered several treatments and experimental protocols, one of which involved implanting a modified polio virus into my brain. (This had been very successful in treating GBMs in mice.) Duke researchers had been working on this for 10 years and had just received permission from the FDA to treat 10 patients, but for only one a month. (A Duke press release last May explained that the treatment was designed to capitalize “on the discovery that cancer cells have an abundance of receptors that work like magnets in drawing the poliovirus, which then infects and kills the cells. The investigational therapy . . . uses an engineered form of the virus that is lethal to cancer cells, while harmless to normal cells. The therapy is infused directly into a patient’s tumor. The virus-based therapy also triggers the body’s immune system to attack the infected tumor cells.”)...

I returned to Duke a month after the infusion, and though an MRI showed some expected swelling, the more significant fact was that the tumor had stopped growing. I have gone back to Duke every two months since then, and the tumor, initially the size of a grape, is now a scar, the size of a small pea. It’s been two years since the initial biopsy and radiation, and one year since the experimental polio viral treatment, and I have no evidence of recurrence nor tumor regrowth.

With a "smart rifle" anyone can be a sniper

Excerpts from a fascinating article at Vice's Motherboard:
[TalkingPoint Solutions] made headlines in early 2013 when it unveiled the precision guided firearm (PGF). Think of it as a long-range, laser-guided robo rifle—as much Linux-based computer as traditional firearm. The PGF's closed-loop system comprises not just the gun itself, a custom Surgeon rifle, but also custom ammunition and, notably, a proprietary (and WiFi-enabled) scope. The technology packed into TrackingPoint's initial PGF package is so advanced that we'd heard it could have an inexperienced shooter, maybe even someone who hasn't ever fired a gun, putting lead on targets at over 1,000 away in mere minutes. Not lifetimes. Not years. Minutes...

The art of sniping has traditionally been one of complex ballistics. A long-distance shot must be aimed above a target due to the bullet's drop (gravity) and a slew of other ambient factors that play with projectiles—wind, incline, cant, humidity, temperature, the coriolis effect. TrackingPoint's system does the exact same real-time ballistics calculation, only it does it for you. This is what the company means when it says it's "democratizing accuracy"...

The scope records video every time the system tags, tracks, and fires. Being WiFi enabled, users can immediately upload videos of their kills from the scope directly to social media. Shared killing—it's part of a broader push to target digital natives. "If there's one thing we've got, it's 12-year-olds on the Internet," said TrackingPoint's marketing director Oren Schauble, who is Jason's younger brother.
The PGF is by no means perfect, at least not yet.  But that doesn't mean it's not really, really good at doing precisely what it's designed to do. It took all but five minutes for me to put that one together. That's how long I waited, in another stuffy blind on the opposite side of the ranch, for a 250-pound hog to saunter out of the brush and into a clearing, a black blob in the HUD's reticle. It was a big thing, the sort of critter that my guide, a leather-skinned ranch hand named Chris, referred to as a "fuckin' toad." I dropped my tag, aligned the pip and reticle, and just when I thought the PGF would fire, it did. It was a 200 yard shot to the neck. I was told if it had been just fractions of an inch further to the left I would've blown the thing's head clean off.

To think, even experienced snipers "have difficulty making first-round hits at long range," as TrackingPoint claims. But there I was, just some dude who only 48 hours prior had neither fired nor held a gun. One shot, one kill...

TrackingPoint doesn't want to wait around. To hear Jason Schauble tell it, they'll do it better and faster, and sell it to the public all the while. The company tells me they're on pace to sell 500 PGFs by the end of 2013, which would double initial projections. As of this writing, the startup has sold $250,000 worth of its custom ammo alone.
Much more at the link.  Interesting reading.

"Telephone Line" (ELO, 1976)

Hello, how are you? Have you been alright?
Through all those lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely nights
That's what I'd say, I'd tell you everything
If you'd pick up that telephone, yeah yeah yeah.
Hey, how you feelin'? Are you still the same?
Don't you realize the things we did, we did
Were all for real, not a dream? And I just can't believe
They've all faded out of view, yeah yeah yeah...
Re "Telephone Line":
The song is track two on their 1976 album, A New World Record... It became their biggest single success in the US and was their first UK gold award for a single. With ELO's continuing success in America it seemed obvious to Lynne to use an American ring tone during the songWriter/guitarist, Lynne explained:
To get the sound on the beginning, you know, the American telephone sound, we phoned from England to America to a number that we know nobody would be at, to just listen to it for a while. On the Moog we recreated the sound exactly by tuning the oscillators to the same notes as the ringing of the phone.
And re the group:
Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) are a British rock group from Birmingham, England, who released eleven studio albums between 1971 and 1986 and another album in 2001. ELO were formed to accommodate Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne's desire to create modern rock and pop songs with classical overtones...

The band also holds the record for having the most Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits of any group in US chart history without ever having a number one single...

The group's name is an intended pun based not only on electric light (as in a light bulb as seen on early album covers) but also using "electric" rock instruments combined with a "light orchestra" (orchestras with only a few cellos and violins that were popular in Britain during the 1960s).

The official band logo... is based on a 1946 Wurlitzer jukebox model 4008 speaker... For instance, on 1977's Out of the Blue, the logo was turned into a huge flying saucer space station, an enduring image now synonymous with the band.
Crank it up!!

24 September 2013

Lake Bondhus, Norway

The Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year for 2011 (click image for fullscreen).

Winning (and runner-up) photos dating back to 2006 are available at the link.

The slaughter of rhinoceros

I've written five posts about the ongoing worldwide slaughter of rhinoceros.  I hate to keep harping on the subject, but it keeps happening:
Nearly 700 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2013, making it the bloodiest year yet for rhino poaching. Last year, a record 668 rhinos were poached for their horns, but that figure has already been eclipsed with the deaths of 688 rhinos with three months left of the year, figures from the South African government show. There are around 18,000 white and 4,000 black rhinos in the country.

The dramatic growth in rhino poaching in South Africa, up from just 13 in 2007, has largely been driven by demand in Asia, in particular Vietnam, where rhino horn is seen as a status symbol. A survey of 720 people in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, published earlier this month, found that typical buyers were "educated, successful and powerful individuals" and use rhino horn as currency in networking.

A bleak future for the wife of a rapist

Excerpts from a grim story in the Wall Street Journal:
Akshay Kumar Singh and three other men were convicted this month of a crime that focused the world's attention on violence against women in India: the gang rape and killing of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in December.

For the parents of the woman who died, the sentencing brought a measure of closure. For Ms. Devi, who is in her 20s, and her 2-year-old son, her husband's crime and punishment have opened up a chapter of profound uncertainty.

Ms. Devi expects to be cast out by her in-laws and face ostracism and destitution here in India's conservative hinterland—not because she is married to a convicted murderer, but because she is a woman without a husband. "As a widow, my honor will be lost forever," she says.

Her husband's relatives say they can't afford to feed her. Her parents say they are too poor to take her back. The customs of purdah practiced in the region make it almost impossible for her to work outside the home.

"I am not educated. Our traditions are such that I cannot even step out of the house," Ms. Devi said. "Who will earn money to feed me and my son?"...

Ms. Devi says she can write her name and a few Hindi words, and read a bit. She knew from an early age, she says, what was expected of a woman: to raise children and take care of household tasks...

Since Mr. Singh's December arrest, his family has been thrown into upheaval. His brothers, Vinay and Abhay, who had also been working around Delhi, left their jobs for three months to help out at home, straining household finances. The family's reputation has been damaged.

"They treat us as untouchables," says Abhay Singh, who works in a paint factory in a Delhi suburb...

Ms. Devi doesn't know where to turn. "Is there anyone who is thinking of me?" she asked, crying after learning of the death sentence. "I am alive and I have a small child who is still breathing."

Elite fundraiser for Obama nominated for Canadian ambassadorship

Every president does this, and I'm frankly tired of it.
A veteran Goldman Sachs & Co. executive and major fundraiser for President Barack Obama has been nominated as the next ambassador to Canada — the latest in a parade of big-dollar campaign backers slated to represent U.S. interests abroad.

Chicago-based Bruce Heyman raised more than $750,000 for Obama’s committees since 2007, along with his wife, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of records.
Heyman’s nomination is a sort of milestone for the White House: During his second term, Obama has now tapped 20 campaign bundlers for ambassadorships. Together, these moneymen and women raised at least $13.8 million — and likely much more — for Obama’s political committees since 2007, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s research.
I was delighted in 2009 when he chose John Huntsman (fluent in Mandarin Chinese) to the diplomatic post in China.  But by 2011 the stream of patronage was obvious -
More than two years after President Obama took office vowing to banish “special interests” from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events...

As a candidate, Obama spoke passionately about diminishing the clout of moneyed interests and making the White House more accessible to everyday Americans. In kicking off his presidential run on Feb. 10, 2007, he blasted “the cynics, the lobbyists, the special interests,” who he said had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.”
And now it continues during the second term.  Please someone tell me this Heyman at least speaks French.

Clever Halloween costumes

It's a bit early for Halloween-themed posts, but I wanted to break a series of rather serious topics.  When I'm giving out treats to the neighbor kids, I much prefer to see home-made outfits rather than plastic store-bought Spiderman or Power Ranger costumes.

The soda-bottles-with-crepe-paper-flames comes from Been There, Pinned That (via Neatorama); the wheelchair adaptation (which seems more appropriate for a parade than for door-to-door trick-or-treating and may not have originally been for Halloween) was at imgur, via Reddit.

Teaser for "Hug an Atheist"

Excerpts from an article at Sojourners:
Some outside the atheist community — and even many inside it — would argue that atheism has an image problem. Every challenge to the First Amendment seems to bring to the airwaves some version of an angry atheist versus a sputtering religious pundit. Cooler, calmer heads seldom make an appearance.

Now, a new feature-length documentary from a first-time filmmaker hopes to put a more human, middle-of-the-road face on American atheism... The 90-minute film is the project of Sylvia Broeckx, a 35-year-old Belgian who lives in England and has been an atheist and humanist since her teens. She became interested in America’s perception of nonbelievers when some American friends and fellow atheists shared their own stories of feeling marginalized.

“I always assumed America was founded on freedom of religion and was very much like Europe where if you are an atheist it is no big deal,” she said. “When I discovered that in America being an atheist could be a big problem, that was really a shock to me.”

She was especially upset by the stories of Jessica Ahlquist and Damon Fowler, two teenage atheists who challenged prayer in their public schools. Ahlquist, a Rhode Island high schooler, received death threats and was belittled by local government officials, and Fowler’s family kicked him out of their Louisiana home before his high school graduation...

What is not included is any sort of diatribe or argument against religious belief or believers that’s become the common currency of the most visible atheist activists.
“I really wanted to make sure it was as upbeat as possible and that it really wasn’t a case of ‘us’ against ‘them,’” Broeckx said.

A vibration-cancelling spoon for persons with tremors

The device is described at Fast Company Design:
At first glimpse, the Liftware almost seems like a novelty gadget: an electronic spoon stuffed full of smartphone motion sensors and accelerometers. But the problem that the Liftware is trying to solve is far from trivial. Across the country, there are over 10 million people suffering from essential tremor; there are an additional 2 million people suffering from Parkinson's disease. For these 12 million Americans, the Liftware isn't just an electronic spoon; it's a tool that could give them their dignity and self-respect back...

Here's how it works. Inside every Liftware handle is a number of common motion sensors, the type that you might find in your iPhone or digital camera. Each of these sensors measures motion, then passes it through a small microcontroller that uses custom algorithms to analyze the signal and identify the type of tremor being detected. If the motion has the frequency and amplitude of a large human tremor, the Liftware microprocessor will tell actuators in the handle to adjust the handle's attachment in the opposite direction of the tremor, hopefully canceling it out.
Anyone who has had a family member with Parkinson's will appreciate the potential value of such a device.


It's exactly what the word says - skin (derma) inflammation (itis) caused by exposure to plants (phyto) and sunlight (photo).  My wife has experienced it after brusing against rue in our garden (which we raise for the Black Swallowtails).  Other plants capable of photosensitizing human skin are listed in the Wikipedia entry, and include wild parsnip (which we encounter frequently while hiking in our part of the Midwest), parsley, celery, lemon, and lime.

The photos above are from a report on a group of children burned after playing with lime juice.
What at first seemed to be overexposure to the sun blossomed into softball-sized blisters and second-degree burns. Her girls, Jewels, 12, and Jazmyn, 9, wound up spending several days in an intensive care unit, hooked up to morphine to manage the pain...

A neighbor had a large lime tree that grew over the fence into the backyard where the girls went swimming. They had picked some of the fruits and squeezed them out into imaginary tea cups in their play lemonade stand... She remembered the girls crushing the fruits, juice sliding down their arms, splashing their legs, hitting their faces. 
The tricky part is that even after initial clinical resolution, the victim has to minimize exposure to sunlight because the light can cause recrudescence of the lesions even without reexposure to the sensitizer.

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

See if you could pass this "literacy" test

In the 1960s literacy tests were used in some states in the United States to suppress voting.  The Civil Rights Movement Veterans website has collected a number of these.
In addition to completing the application and swearing the oaths, you had to pass the actual "Literacy Test" itself. Because the Freedom Movement was running "Citizenship Schools" to help people learn how to fill out the forms and pass the test, Alabama changed the test 4 times in less than two years (1964-1965). At the time of the Selma Voting Rights campaign there were actually 100 different tests in use across the state...

Most of the tests collected here are a battery of trivia questions related to civic procedure and citizenship. (Two from the Alabama test: “Name the attorney general of the United States” and “Can you be imprisoned, under Alabama law, for a debt?”).

But this Louisiana “literacy” test, singular among its fellows, has nothing to do with citizenship. Designed to put the applicant through mental contortions, the test's questions are often confusingly worded. If some of them seem unanswerable, that effect was intentional. The (white) registrar would be the ultimate judge of whether an answer was correct.

Try this one: “Write every other word in this first line and print every third word in same line (original type smaller and first line ended at comma) but capitalize the fifth word that you write.” 
Done with page one (above)?  Here are pages 2 and 3:


Oh, BTW...
The test was to be taken in 10 minutes flat, and a single wrong answer meant a failing grade.
Did you fail?  You can't vote.

Via Slate and BoingBoing.

Advances in logrolling

Meet Wisconsinite Abby Hoeschler, who is the boom running world record holder.
“I’m the current boom running world champion and world record holder. There are two events: In logrolling, you’re trying to dislodge your competitor from the log (or just be the last one on the log) in a three-out-of-five-round match. In boom running, a course of eight logs tied end to end is attached to two docks, and you sprint across and back. The fastest time wins.”

“It uses a lot of core ... and a lot of butt, because you’re in the squat position — really digging in. It’s kind of like chair pose in yoga. You keep your shoulders up, with a strong core. It’s an all-body workout."
More about her and the sport in the StarTribune.  In the video she is promoting a synthetic log she developed and is marketing to help popularize (and standardize) the sport.  To overcome the logistic problem of transporting 500-pound logs, the synthetic ones are hollow, made of polyethylene, then filled with water at the site of use to bring them up to mass.

Here's a video of the women's  boom-running competition at the Lumberjack World Championships. And this one of the finals of the men's logrolling competition in 2011:

23 September 2013

Dinosaur feathers

Preserved in amber.
The researchers combed through thousands of minuscule amber nuggets from nearly 80 million years ago. Among them they found 11 M&M-sized globules with traces of ancient feathers and fuzz. A number resembled modern feathers—some fit for flying and others designed to dive. And unlike fossils, the amber preserved colors too: white, gray, red and brown.

The unusual find suggests a wide array of plumed creatures populated the time period—sporting everything from seemingly modern feathers to their filament-like forebears—and that even by this early date, feathers had become specialized, for example, for diving underwater... 
The research was published in Science back in 2011:

The currently accepted evolutionary-developmental model for feathers consists of a stage I morphology characterized by a single filament: This unfurls into a tuft of filaments (barbs) in stage II. In stage III, either some tufted barbs coalesce to form a rachis (central shaft) (IIIa), or barbules (segmented secondary branches) stem from the barbs (IIIb); then, these features combine to produce tertiary branching (IIIa+b). Barbules later differentiate along the length of each barb, producing distal barbules with hooklets at each node to interlock adjacent barbs and form a closed pennaceous (vaned) feather (stage IV). Stage V encompasses a wide range of additional vane and subcomponent specializations. Most modern birds possess stage IV or V feathers or secondary reductions from these stages...

The snapshot of Campanian feather diversity from Canadian amber is biased toward smaller feathers, subcomponents of feathers, feathers that are molted frequently, and feathers in body positions that increase their likelihood of contacting resin on tree trunks. Despite these limitations, the assemblage demonstrates that numerous evolutionary stages were present in the Late Cretaceous, and that plumage already served a range of functions in both dinosaurs and birds. 
Red-feathered underwater dinosaurs.  I love it.

Via Discover Magazine and Neatorama.

"Mountain Dew mouth"

From a story at NPR:
[O]ver in Appalachia, the region that stretches roughly from southern New York state to Alabama, the fight against soda is targeting an altogether different concern: rotted teeth. Public health advocates say soft drinks are driving the region's alarmingly high incidence of eroded brown teeth — a phenomenon dubbed "Mountain Dew mouth," after the region's favorite drink...

Dentists have also found that the effects of soda on teeth are strikingly similar to the effects of methamphetamine or crack on teeth... Drinking more than a soda a day raises the risk that found in many soft and energy drinks will eat away at your tooth enamel and its pearly white color...

Harris says that dental problems are especially bad because dental care is harder to get in Appalachia, which includes many of the poorest and most remote communities in the country. Many people don't trust the well water in their homes because of pollution concerns and probably drink more soda because of it...
More information at the link.  Photo from a related article at First Choice Dental.

Video of the moon rotating

The technology is explained at NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day:
No one, presently, sees the Moon rotate like this. That's because the Earth's moon is tidally locked to the Earth, showing us only one side. Given modern digital technology, however, combined with many detailed images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a high resolution virtual Moon rotation movie has now been composed. The above time-lapse video starts with the standard Earth view of the Moon. Quickly, though, Mare Orientale, a large crater with a dark center that is difficult to see from the Earth, rotates into view just below the equator. From an entire lunar month condensed into 24 seconds, the video clearly shows that the Earth side of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar maria, while the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar highlands.

Where are they now? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"After the expiry of his second term he decided to withdraw from political life and started working again as a professor and teaches at the University of Science and Technology.

A situation where the highest state official and a man who wielded enormous power subsequently returns to his  humble position as a university professor job is hard to imagine.

However, the former Iranian president now takes the a bus to work every day and, judging by the photo, looks content."
Photo credit RTS, via In Serbia.  Discussed at Reddit.

One-man band

Slightly modified from the original, via Alabaster.

San Francisco Zoo advertisement

Agency: BBDO West, San Francisco, USA.  Creative Director: Jim Lesser

Image cropped from original at Ads of the World, via Neatorama.

20 September 2013

Images from The Getty's Open Content Program

Alexander the Great in the Air; Unknown; Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, Europe; about 1400 – 1410 with addition in 1487; Tempera colors, gold, silver paint, and ink on parchment.
In a scene representing one of the stories from the legend of Alexander the Great most popular in the Middle Ages, the world conqueror, dressed as a European monarch might be, is pulled aloft by a pair of griffins and an angel. They hover precariously over a sea filled with an entertaining variety of fish and other creatures. The artist emphasizes the strange chair's upward movement as it carries the group out of the square framework of the miniature and takes off into the text. 
A Harvest of Death; Timothy H. O’Sullivan, American, about 1840 – 1882, Print by Alexander Gardner, American, born Scotland, 1821 – 1882; negative July 4, 1863; print 1866; Albumen silver print.
Although Gardner's caption identifies the men in the photograph as "rebels represented...without shoes," they are probably Union dead. During the Civil War, shoes were routinely removed from corpses because supplies were scarce and surviving troops needed them. 
The two images I've embedded are from a selection of about twenty assembled at Public Domain Review.
In August of this year The Getty announced the launch of their Open Content Program which sees more than 4500 images from their collection made available under an open license, meaning anyone can share the images freely and without restriction.
A wonderful resource for bloggers and the intellectually curious.

The disappearing "middle class"

Excerpts from an essay at Salon:
When I was growing up, it was assumed that America’s shared prosperity was the natural endpoint of our economy’s development, that capitalism had produced the workers paradise to which Communism unsuccessfully aspired. Now, with the perspective of 40 years, it’s obvious that the nonstop economic expansion that lasted from the end of World War II to the Arab oil embargo of 1973 was a historical fluke, made possible by the fact that the United States was the only country to emerge from that war with its industrial
capacity intact. Unfortunately, the middle class – especially the blue-collar middle class – is also starting to look like a fluke, an interlude between Gilded Ages that more closely reflects the way most societies structure themselves economically. For the majority of human history – and in the majority of countries today – there have been only two classes: aristocracy and peasantry. It’s an order in which the many toil for subsistence wages to provide luxuries for the few. Twentieth century America temporarily escaped this stratification, but now, as statistics on economic inequality demonstrate, we’re slipping back in that direction. Between 1970 and today, the share of the nation’s income that went to the middle class – households earning two-thirds to double the national median – fell from 62 percent to 45 percent. Last year, the wealthiest 1 percent took in 19 percent of America’s income – their highest share since 1928.

Capitalism has been doing exactly what it was designed to do: concentrating wealth in the ownership class, while providing the mass of workers with just enough wages to feed, house and clothe themselves.

The United States will never again be as wealthy as it was in the 1950s and ’60s. Never again will 18-year-olds graduate directly from high school to jobs that pay well enough to buy a house and support a family.
More at the link.

Queen Marie of Romania

Via Alabaster.  I was unable to find an explanation as to whether the headdress is part of some ceremony of state, or whether this is stage/costume/revelry related.  A TinEye reverse image search didn't help.  Biography here.

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader Unknown ND Martin for finding the definitive answer: "Diana Mandache originally published the picture in her book about Queen Marie and in correspondence noted that (then) Princess Marie was dressed as the Sun for a fancy ball."

Influential and successful marijuana users

"Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization, released a list of the “Top 50 Most Influential Marijuana Users” in the United States on Wednesday. At the top of the list is none other than our hypocrite…er…commander in chief Barack Obama, who has sent more pot smokers and other nonviolent drug offenders to prison in his five years as president than any before him...

“The goal here is to dispel the myth that marijuana users are ‘losers’ who lack motivation and highlight the fact that they are typically productive and oftentimes quite successful,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “As this list demonstrates, many of our nation’s most successful citizens have used marijuana.”
The list is composed of Americans who have used marijuana at least once during their lifetimes, including some who speak openly about their current marijuana use. "
Here's the start of the list:
Barack Obama
Oprah Winfrey
Bill Clinton
Clarence Thomas
Stephen Colbert
Jon Stewart
John Kerry
George Soros
Bill Maher
Bill Gates
George W. Bush
Andrew Cuomo
Rand Paul
Sanjay Gupta
LeBron James
Rush Limbaugh
George Clooney
Michael Bloomberg
Lady Gaga
Brad Pitt
Ted Turner
Tom Browaw
Michael Phelps...
The rest of the list, with citations of their admissions to marijuana use, is at Salon.

"So long."

I’m not the easiest guy in the world to get along with. So when our anniversary rolled around, I wanted my wife to know how much I appreciated her tolerating me for the past 20 years. I ordered flowers and told the florist to enclose a card that read, “Thanks for putting up with me so long.”

When my wife got the delivery, she called me at work.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I said.

She read the card aloud as the florist had written it: “Thanks for putting up with me. So long.”
—George Arnold, Melbourne, Florida
Found in Reader's Digest.

19 September 2013

A "standing version" of a seesaw

A school girl soars twice her height in a standing version of a seesaw in Tokyo, Japan, November 1964.  Photograph by Winfield Parks, National Geographic.
From National Geographic's Found, via old photos, young kids.

How to roll up your sleeves

"A new uniform rule that takes effect Monday will require all Marines to wear their sleeves rolled down, all year long.

Beginning next week, leathernecks in Marine Pattern utilities will be required to cover their arms no matter the climate or place, according to Marine administrative message 621/11, signed Oct. 18."
More information at Marine Corps Times, via an article at Lew Rockwell.

Readers who are not in the Marines may wish to read the column at The Art of Manliness, which explains in detail when, why, and how to roll up your cuffs (including an instructional video).

"Poo Pourri"

An advertisement for a (real) product designed to minimize or neutralize malodorous flatus and fecal odors.  The video is SFW, though many will find it egregiously tasteless.

Via within the crainium.

Valuable serial numbers on currency

Excerpts from an interesting article at Boston.com:
Currency collectors pay handsomely for what they call “fancy” serial numbers—digits that they perceive as unusual or special...

The simplest fancy numbers are the early ones: The redesigned $100 note with serial number 00000001 is likely to fetch $10,000 to $15,000, according to Dustin Johnston, director of currency for Heritage Auctions in Dallas. A $20 bill that was first off the press in a 2009 run sold in April for $5,581. A $2 bill numbered 0000001 with a star—the star means it replaced a misprinted note with the same number—sold in May 2009 for $29,900...

In addition to the “low numbers,” which stop at 100, there are “ladders,” which have numbers in sequence, such as 12345678 or 54321098. These sell for as much as $1,300. A “radar” (selling for $20 to $40) is a palindrome, such as 35299253, and “repeaters” are notes with two blocks of the same four digits, like 41884188. Undis observes subcategories of each of these, such as “super radars” ($75 to $100) that have all internal digits the same, like 46666664...

Undis says he got started looking for serial numbers about 30 years ago, when he found a note that had nothing but 3’s and 8’s. He is now trying to find the last nine notes in a set of all 254 serial numbers consisting solely of 1’s and 0’s (“binaries”).

“Solids” are numbers consisting of all one digit, such as 22222222. “Solids are popular with Asian collectors,” Johnston says. “Solid 8’s in particular, because the number 8 means good fortune,” and collectors will pay as much as $3,000 for one to give to friends or relatives as framed presents. “The number 4 sounds like ‘death,’” Johnston says, “but I can’t think of anyone giving solid 4’s to an enemy.” Americans like 77777777’s, and a solid-7 $20 sold in 2009 for $528.
For those of you who just peeked in your wallet, the relevant eBay category for selling your windfall is here.

Surfer catches wave - and vice versa

"I dropped Sean at the top of the reef, and the ocean went flat, like someone had turned off the tap. It takes a big set to light this slab up, and as Sean sat patiently I saw a big lump coming. I started yelling, but he had no reference as to where he was on the reef so he waited and paddled for this first wave of the set. He just missed it, and when I looked back, this deep blue lump just started draining out, almost sucking him under the wave. He took one big duckdive and got under the breaking lip. On a normal wave this is fine but this thing didn't have a back -- the reef drops to 200m out the back of this place so when it breaks it really folds. The wave had just too much power and sucked him back over the falls, it's pretty much a surfer's worst nightmare position, so many people claim this is photoshopped, but it certainly is not!" 
From The Atlantic.  The image was a winning entry in the Red Bull Illume Image Quest photography competition.

Gut Fermentation Syndrome

As reported in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine, via NPR:
A 61-year-old man — with a history of home-brewing — stumbled into a Texas emergency room complaining of dizziness. Nurses ran a Breathalyzer test. And sure enough, the man's blood alcohol concentration was a whopping 0.37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas.

There was just one hitch: The man said that he hadn't touched a drop of alcohol that day...

So the team searched the man's belongings for liquor and then isolated him in a hospital room for 24 hours. Throughout the day, he ate carbohydrate-rich foods, and the doctors periodically checked his blood for alcohol. At one point, it rose 0.12 percent. Eventually, McCarthy and Cordell pinpointed the culprit: an overabundance of brewer's yeast in his gut...

The patient had an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Cordell says. So when he ate or drank a bunch of starch — a bagel, pasta or even a soda — the yeast fermented the sugars into ethanol, and he would get drunk. Essentially, he was brewing beer in his own gut.
I'm not sure the term "infection" is proper here; probably better to say his intestines were colonized, presumably as a result of his avocational exposure to the yeast. Still, it's rather interesting.

Alice Liddell (1858)

Photographed by Lewis Carroll.  See also the photo of Alice posing as a beggar-maid.  Additional discussion/insight here.

Photo via Alabaster.

Urban feral dogs

Excerpts from an article at The Atlantic/Cities:
According to the city government, a staggering 64,000 feral dogs live on Bucharest’s streets, giving the metro area, population 2.3 million, more than twice as many street dogs per capita as Detroit, its closest U.S. rival... Bucharestians will vote on October 6 on whether or not to allow euthanasia for the city's entire stray dog population.

Large stray dog populations are common across Southeastern Europe. Around the 2004 Olympics, there were unconfirmed allegations that Athens planned to kill as many as 15,000 stray dogs, though some of this number were eventually neutered and re-homed. A sad by-product of economic dire straits, Greece’s stray dog numbers are now rising again due to the crisis. As many families can no longer afford to feed their pets, they set them loose on the streets, preferring to imagine a lean future of scavenging for their dogs rather than instant euthanasia at overstretched pounds...

As experience in Detroit shows, however, killing large numbers of dogs is expensive and complicated even if you disregard the suffering such a move would cause.
More details at the link.


The above image comes from a gallery posted in The Telegraph.  The photographs come from what must be a remarkable book "Before They Pass Away," documenting the faces and ethnic dress of members of small tribes around the world.

This photo was captioned "Others included the Chukchi and the Nenets (both Russia), the Drokpa (India/Pakistan), the Banna and the Karo (both Ethiopia)," but doesn't specify which group this lady belongs to.

17 September 2013

"Back-to-back" bookbinding

The bookbindings above are as odd as they are rare. In fact, I encountered my first only a few days ago while browsing Folger Library’s image database of bookbindings. The binding is called “dos-à-dos” (back to back), a type almost exclusively produced in the 16th and 17th centuries. They are like Siamese twins in that they present two different entities joint at their backs: each part has one board for itself, while a third is shared between the two. Their contents show why this was done: you will often find two complementary devotional works in them, such as a prayerbook and a Psalter, or the Bible’s Old and New Testament. Reading the one text you can flip the “book” to consult the other...
Photo and text from the ever-interesting Erik Kwakkel, where there are additional photos of similar bindings, including one that incorporates seven texts back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader Christina Wilsdon for her observation that the term "dos-à-dos" (meaning "back to back") is related in etymology to the square dancing term "do-si-do."

Science tattoos

Depictions of a CERN bubble chamber and a horseshoe crab are two of the ten examples in an annotated gallery posted at Accidental Mysteries.

A mechanical gear in an insect - updated

This miniature marvel is an adolescent issus, a kind of planthopper insect and one of the fastest accelerators in the animal kingdom. As a duo of researchers in the U.K. report today in the journal Science, the issus also the first living creature ever discovered to sport a functioning gear...

At the top of its legs, a minuscule pair of gears engage—their strange, shark-fin teeth interlocking cleanly like a zipper. And then, faster than you can blink, think, or see with the naked eye, the entire thing is gone. In 2 milliseconds it has bulleted skyward, accelerating at nearly 400 g's—a rate more than 20 times what a human body can withstand...

Another odd thing about this discovery is that although there are many jumping insects like the issus—including ones that are even faster and better jumpers—the issus is apparently the only one with natural gears. Most other bugs synchronize the quick jolt of their leaping legs through friction, using bumpy or grippy surfaces to press the top of their legs together, says Duke University biomechanics expert Steve Vogel, who was not involved in this study. Like gears, this ensures the legs move at the same rate, but without requiring a complicated interlocking mechanism. "There are a lot of friction pads around, and they accomplish pretty much of the same thing," he says. "So I wonder what extra capacity these gears confer. They're rather specialized, and there are lots of other jumpers that don't have them, so there must be some kind of advantage." 
Further details (and a photo of the insect) at Popular Mechanics.

Updated with this video, via BoingBoing:

"Wind turbine syndrome" - organic or psychogenic?

The question is raised in a column at Salon:
Wind-turbine syndrome is the disease you’ve never heard of, and many will tell you it doesn’t exist. The diagnosis was only first named in 2006, but it’s become more common as its suspected cause proliferates: Wind power is America’s fastest-growing energy source, and some people insist it’s making them sick...

Kristen French investigated the phenomenon for New York magazine. Plenty of people, she found, were eager to testify to an array of symptoms:
In the past decade, hundreds of people who live near wind turbines in places like Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin, and Japan have reported that the windmills are giving them a litany of ailments. The first complaints were recorded in 2003, when a British physician wrote an unpublished report about 36 people in the U.K. who said the turbines made them sick. Then, in 2004, a physician in Victoria, Australia, distributed questionnaires to 25 people living near local turbines, and three of them wrote back about severe stress, insomnia, and dizziness. Even some Scottish Buddhist monks have complained of symptoms, including dry retching and crying. Last summer, Tharpaland International Retreat Centre sold its land to Scottish Power after its monks found they were approximately 70 percent less able to meditate. 
The term “wind-turbine syndrome” was coined by a pediatrician who also happens to be married to an anti-wind activist, but French talked to pro-wind sufferers who claim to be suffering as well. Those affected, she writes, say they have sound reason to believe that turbines are the source of their troubles. “It’s caused by sound waves released when the giant turbine blades collide with the wind—not just the audible whooshing noise, but the rumbling vibrations created by a low-­frequency sound, or infrasound,” she explains.
But most sciences and doctors, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, either won’t acknowledge it or flat-out don’t believe it exists.
To be precise in the terminology, the syndrome does exist.  A syndrome is just a collection of symptoms, without an implication as to whether the symptoms reflect an organic disease.  The question is whether the syndnrome is caused by sound/infrasound, or by anxiety.

More at the Salon link.
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