26 November 2013

"Carmina Burana" flash mob

I'm not back (yet) - still on blogcation.  But I can't resist a flash mob.  As explained by Mademoiselle Titam at her Curiosities blog:
"En avril 2012, les solistes, le chœur et orchestre du Volksoper Wien (l’opéra populaire de Vienne, Autriche) a réalisé une flashmob dans la gare de Vienne. Devant des passants et voyageurs aux yeux ébahis, ce sont d’autres passants, employés, qui deviennent peu à peu artistes…"

22 November 2013

"... there will be a short delay..."

"Transtellar Cruise Lines would like to apologize to passengers for the continuing delay to this flight. We are currently awaiting the loading of our complement of small lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort, refreshment and hygiene during the journey. Meanwhile we thank you for your patience. The cabin crew will shortly be serving coffee and biscuits again.''..

"You're the autopilot?" said Zaphod.

"Yes,'' said the voice from the flight console.

"You're in charge of this ship?''

"Yes,'' said the voice again, "there has been a delay. Passengers are to be kept temporarily in suspended animation, for their comfort and convenience. Coffee and biscuits are being served every year, after which passengers are returned to suspended animation for their continued comfort and convenience. Departure will take place when the flight stores are complete. We apologize for the delay.''..

"Delay?" he cried. "Have you seen the world outside this ship? It's a wasteland, a desert. Civilization's been and gone, man. There are no lemon-soaked paper napkins on the way from anywhere."

"The statistical likelihood," continued the autopilot primly, "is that other civilizations will arise. There will one day be lemon-soaked paper napkins. Till then there will be a short delay. Please return to your seat."
TYWKIWDBI is also experiencing a slight delay.  The pilot has elected to take another mental health break/blogcation.  Service should be restored in a week or ten days.  In the meantime, those who feel bereft of ways to avoid doing the work they are supposed to be doing are reminded of the extensive past posts here, which can be accessed by going to the right sidebar and scrolling down to either the expandable "archive" and choosing a month before you became a regular visitor, or by selecting a Category.

Now please return to your seat.

A diatom

Specifically, Navicula variolata.  Photographed by Arturo Agostino for the Nikon Small World Photomicrography 2013 competition.

It never ceases to amaze me how complexly beautiful the microscopic world is.

Video of a tornado destroying a family's home

One of the Illinois tornados last week.
"Here is what my oldest daughter Josie Taylor Wells and I experienced, I am so glad Kerry Gorman Wells and the other girls were out of town when this storm came through. Very thankful we were not injured."
No gore, but difficult to watch for other reasons (the screams of the family in the dark).  Your choice...

World's tallest falling domino structure

From Austrian Domino Art, via Neatorama, where it is noted that five months of preparation and four days of setup went into this stunt. One wonders how many times the 6-meter-tall structure was accidentally toppled during construction.

There should be more stuff like this in the world.

The "knockout game" and "polar bear hunting" explained as racially-motivated crimes

I've seen scattered reports of this for the past month or so.  Here are excerpts from a recent Washington Post article:
One woman was punched in the face as she crested a hill on her bicycle in Northwest Washington. Another was hit in the back of the head as she walked to a bus stop. Neither was robbed, and after one attack, the young men laughed as they made their escape.

D.C. police say the recent attacks in Columbia Heights may be part of a disturbing trend that assailants across the country call the “knockout game.” Youths challenge one another to knock out a random person with a single punch...

The Internet is giving attackers bragging rights far beyond their circle of friends or even their neighborhoods. One particularly brutal video from New Jersey showing a young man hitting a woman from behind, sending her face first to the pavement, has a half-million views on YouTube...

One 10-year-old boy said he recently punched someone on a $20 dare but failed to knock the victim to the ground. “Me and my friends were hanging out and they asked me if I had done one,” the boy said. “And I said I don’t know how to play, so [they] explained it to me.”

A 15-year-old charter school student said that in “Grand Theft Auto,” “you can just run up to people, and you can just like hit them and they’ll just like fall. It looks kind of funny in the game.” She said she wouldn’t do it in real life.
Related incidents:
In New York, a 78-year-old woman strolling in her neighborhood was punched in the head by a stranger and tumbled to the ground. In Washington, a 32-year-old woman was swarmed by teenagers on bikes, and one clocked her in the face. In Jersey City, a 46-year-old man died after someone sucker-punched him and he struck his head on an iron fence.
And some distubing comments appended to the WaPo article:
"It is amazing how the Washington Post can report about this phenomenon without the issue of racial violence coming up one into the discussion. It is a shame that honesty took a back seat to what is really going on here."

"Yep. In the hood, this is called polar bear hunting. The Post knows this but purposefully doesn't report it. Its a rapidly growing hate crime that isn't being acknowledged as such."
I found commentary on "polar bear hunting" by Thomas Sowell
The New York authorities describe a recent series of such attacks and, because Jews have been singled out in these attacks, are considering prosecuting these assaults as “hate crimes.”

Many aspects of these crimes are extremely painful to think about, including the fact that responsible authorities in New York seem to have been caught by surprise, even though this “knockout game” has been played for years by young black gangs in other cities and other states, against people besides Jews — the victims being either whites in general or people of Asian ancestry...

The main reason for many people’s surprise is that the mainstream media have usually suppressed news about the “knockout game” or about other and larger forms of similar orchestrated racial violence in dozens of cities in every region of the country. Sometimes the attacks are reported, but only as isolated attacks by unspecified “teens” or “young people” against unspecified victims, without any reference to the racial makeup of the attackers or the victims — and with no mention of racial epithets by the young hoodlums exulting in their own “achievement.”

Despite such pious phrases as “troubled youths,” the attackers are often in a merry, festive mood. In a sustained mass attack in Milwaukee, going far beyond the dimensions of a passing “knockout game,” the attackers were laughing and eating chips, as if it were a picnic. One of them observed casually, “white girl bleed a lot.”

That phrase — “White Girl Bleed A Lot” — is also the title of a book by Colin Flaherty, which documents both the racial attacks across the nation and the media attempts to cover them up, as well as the local political and police officials who try to say that race had nothing to do with these attacks.
More at the link.

A cartoon for engineers and their spouses

50 years ago today...

I remember exactly where I was.  I was on my high school's debate team and we were off at a tournament.  For practical reasons, our coach always drove us to tournaments; he would then serve as a judge on some of the debates not involving us, and we would all gather after the last debate of the day in some barren classroom to hear the results announced and get feedback on our performances. 

On that day, after the last afternoon debate, he didn't meet us.  After a brief search, we found him in his car, listening to the news on the car radio, in tears.  The news itself was startling, but the sight of encountering one of the pillars of the school faculty, our history teacher, unabashedly crying made the moment surreal for me.

As I was writing this, I decided to look up the National Forensic League's official debate topic for that year.  I remembered speaking as Second Affirmative, but didn't remember the topic.  Here it is:
Resolved: That Social Security benefits should be extended to include complete medical care.
Wow.  How's that for a relevance stretching half a century into the future.  I wish I still had my file box of 3x5 cards.

Readers who have sharp memories of 11/22/63 are welcome to offer them in the Comments.

21 November 2013

"Left-footed" explained

I encountered a new term while reading "Good Omens" yesterday:
"He quite liked nuns.  Not that he was a, you know, left-footer or anything like that.  No, when it came to avoiding going to church, the church he stolidly avoided going to was St. Cecil and All Angels, no-nonsense C. of E..."
My wife found an explanation in an old column at The Guardian:
Why are Catholics sometimes called 'left-footers'? 

The saying turns on a traditional distinction between left- and right-handed spades in Irish agriculture...

Most types of digging spade in Britain and Ireland have foot-rests at the top of their blades; two-sided spades have foot-rests on each side of the shaft and socket, while an older style of one-sided spade had only one. Two-sided spades may well have been introduced by the Protestant 'planters' in the sixteenth century. By the early nineteenth century specialised spade and shovel mills in the north of Ireland were producing vast numbers of two-sided spades which came to be universally used in Ulster and strongly identified with the province.

One-sided spades with narrow blades and a foot-rest cut out of the side of the relatively larger wooden shaft continued in use in the south and west. The rural population of Gaelic Ireland retained the Catholic faith and tended also to retain the one-sided spade and 'dig with the wrong foot'. 

In fact, the two-sided spade of Ulster was generally used with the left foot whereas the one-sided spade tended to be used with the right foot. Instinctively, the 'wrong foot' of the Catholics has come to be thought of as the left foot...
--Hugh Cheape, National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh.
The best image I've found of such a shovel in use is this one, from Jim Orr Photography -

- of a "loy spade" (from the Gaelic word laí, for spade).  His gallery of photographs of the shovel in use includes a closeup of the narrow-bladed tool (about half the width of a conventional shovel).

Top two photos from here (this one appears to me to be designed for use with the right foot) and (cropped from) here.

Addendum:  A tip of the ushanka to reader Aleksejs for finding the following explanatory video:

I'll bet the ancient Irishmen would have loved to have had someone attach bicycle handlebars to their spades.

Family photo implanted inside a living chicken

Apparently a manifestation of a Santeria ritual.
Miami-Dade College anthropology professor Mercedes Cros Sandoval explained, "This is a magical ritual of Cuban origin, probably, with the name 'Sarabanda,' which is a deity from the Congo area that was probably used to affect the relationship of these three young people. To me it is alien, the idea of casting your sins on innocent animals," said Sheehan.
Alien, yes, but not inexplicable when one remembers the Western tradition of "sin-eating" and its relationship to Christianity.

More details here, via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

p.s. - I rather suspect when they named the chicken, the rescuers intended it to be spelled "trouper" rather than "trooper."

Antibiotics and obesity

Correlation does not prove causation.  For the potentital interrelationship between the two maps above, see the article at Mother Jones.
Hicks and her team can't yet explain the connection between obesity and high rates of antibiotic prescription. "There might be reasons that more obese people need antibiotics," she says. "But it also could be that antibiotic use is leading to obesity."

Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that antibiotics might be linked to weight gain. A 2012 New York University study found that antibiotic use in the first six months of life was linked with obesity later on. Another 2012 NYU study found that mice given antibiotics gained more weight than their drug-free counterparts. As my colleague Tom Philpott has noted repeatedly, livestock operations routinely dose animals with low levels of antibiotics to promote growth.
As always, more at the link.

A musical instrument invented by Leonardo da Vinci... maybe (updated)

A bizarre instrument combining a piano and cello has finally been played to an audience more than 500 years after it was dreamt up Leonardo da Vinci.

Da Vinci, the Italian Renaissance genius who painted the Mona Lisa, invented the ‘‘viola organista’’ - which looks like a baby grand piano – but never built it, experts say.  The viola organista has now come to life, thanks to a Polish concert pianist with a flair for instrument-making and the patience and passion to interpret da Vinci’s plans... 
 ‘‘This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,’’ Zubrzycki said as he debuted the instrument at the Academy of Music in the southern Polish city of Krakow...

Sixty-one gleaming steel strings run across it, similar to the inside of a baby grand. Each is connected to the keyboard, complete with smaller black keys for sharp and flat notes. But unlike a piano, it has no hammered dulcimers. Instead, there are four spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair, like violin bows. To turn them, Zubrzycki pumps a pedal below the keyboard connected to a crankshaft. As he tinkles the keys, they press the strings down onto the wheels, emitting rich, sonorous tones reminiscent of a cello, an organ and even an accordion.
More details at The Age, with a hat tip to reader Shirin for the link.

Addendum:   Some doubts have been raised as to the historical relevance of this instrument:
Basically, it appears that the instrument built by Slawomir Zubrzycki is not so much a realization of a design by Leonardo da Vinci as it is a reconstruction of the instrument described as a “Geigenwerk/GeigenInstrument, oder GeigenClavicymbel” in the second volume of Michael Praetorius’s Syntagma Musicum...

Now it’s certainly true that da Vinci made some sketches of a continuously-bowed keyboard instrument (which he dubbed the “viola organista”) , but the sketches are pretty rough, and most of them show an action that’s quite different from the one in Zubrzycki’s instrument (which uses the same rosin-coated wheels as Haiden’s geigenwerk). In short, Zubrzycki’s instrument seems to me to be a nice reconstruction of a 16th-century German instrument that just happens to share some of the characteristics of da Vinci’s imagined “viola organista” (which Haiden almost certainly knew nothing about).
More at the link, found by reader Pam!

20 November 2013

Repaired medieval book pages

You are looking at medieval parchment - animal skin - that was stabbed, cut and stitched up. Preparing animal skin, the first step in producing a medieval book, was challenging. The parchment maker had to scrape off the fleshy bits from the one side, and the hair from the other... If the parchment maker pushed too hard while removing the unwanted parts, he would cut right through the surface, which is what happened in the images above. While some cuts were simply stitched up with a thin parchment cord, it also happened that book producers turned these defects into art. I tumbled these images from a manuscript in Uppsala a while ago, in which holes are plugged with embroidery... In the last image the material was used to attach a missing corner, producing what I tend to call a “Frankenstein page”.
From Erik Kwakkel's incomparable blog about medieval books; there are two additional images of repaired pages at the link.

See also this post.

Why hurricanes cause so much damage

"A coastal town in the Samar province of the central Philippines that was wiped out by Typhoon Haiyan is shown in this Nov. 11 photo. The typhoon, which packed 150 mph winds and 20-foot waves, swept through the archipelago Nov. 8, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake."
This coastal town was effectively built on a sandbar, with virtually zero setback from the ordinary high water level.  

From a photo gallery in the Washington Post.  Credit: Erik de Castro / Reuters.

The science of baking cookies

From the producers of TED talks, via Neatorama.

In 1937, C.S. Lewis wrote a review of Tolkien's newly-published The Hobbit

Excerpts of that review, published in the Times Literary Supplement:
The publishers claim that The Hobbit, though very unlike Alice, resembles it in being the work of a professor at play. A more important truth is that both belong to a very small class of books which have nothing in common save that each admits us to a world of its own—a world that seems to have been going on long before we stumbled into it but which, once found by the right reader, becomes indispensable to him. Its place is with Alice, Flatland, Phantastes, The Wind in the Willows...

To define the world of The Hobbit is, of course, impossible, because it is new. You cannot anticipate it before you go there, as you cannot forget it once you have gone... Though all is marvellous, nothing is arbitrary: all the inhabitants of Wilderland seem to have the same unquestionable right to their existence as those of our own world, though the fortunate child who meets them will have no notion—and his unlearned elders not much more—of the deep sources in our blood and tradition from which they spring.

For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.
You can read his review in toto at The Paris Review.

19 November 2013

A tribute at a funeral

Excerpts from an article in Runner's World:
This powerful photo says so much about Jim Kelley, and it says even more about running.

My friend Jim died this month while out on a run, doing one of his favorite things in the world. A car struck him as he was crossing the street.

Jim was amazing and selfless. He placed in the top three in his age group 90 percent of the time. He loved to run, more than anybody I know, whether by himself or supporting others...

Jim wasn't a dressy guy. He loved jeans and T-shirts. Teri, Jim’s wife of more than 30 years, told everybody to come to his funeral dressed in their running clothes. That's how Jim would be buried, she said. Come in your tights and your running shorts. Wear your running shoes.

I was one of Jim’s pallbearers. When it was time to go to the cemetery, the funeral director had this idea. The cemetery was only a mile away, he said to us. Instead of vehicles following behind, would we want to honor Jim by running behind the hearse?

It was a genius idea.
The rest of the story is at the link.

Can someone identify a partially-remembered poem? - updated

The reports today of the death of Nobel laureate Doris Lessing reminded me that there is a poem I encountered decades ago that I've been unable to identify, despite repeated keyword searches.  I'm almost certain that the poet was female, and I think I read it in the 1970s.

The poem (brief, perhaps 15-20 lines) describes admiration for a houseplant/potted plant which now has lush foliage but shows no signs of blooming.  The poet asks whether, if the plant fails to bloom during this season, she will be able to be satisfied with and appreciate the foliage alone.

I remember it as being a reminder that sometimes life happens while we are making plans for the future, and a concise and apt metaphor for careers or relationships that don't fulfill one's initial expectations.

Does anything there sound familiar?

Addendum:  I found it!   I Googled "will I have learned" and after skipping a few pages of links to Death Cab for Cutie I saw a link to a poem by Denise Levertov.  Here is "Annuals" in its entirety:

('Plants that flower the first season the 
seed is sown, and then die.')

All I planted came up,
balsam and nasturtium and
cosmos and the Marvel of Peru

first the cotyledon
then thickly the differentiated
true leaves of the seedlings,

and I transplanted them,
carefully shaking out each one's
hairfine rootlets from the earth,

and they have thriven,
well-watered in the new-turned earth;
and grow apace now--

but not one shows signs of a flower,
not one.
                  If August passes
and the frosts come,

will I have learned to rejoice enough
in the sober wonder of
green healthy leaves?

That poem spoke strongly to me when I was unmarried and just starting on my professional career.  I still find it to be powerful and worth saving here in the blog.

A visual history of nuclear weapons testing

"Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project's "Trinity" test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan's nuclear tests in May of 1998....

Each nation gets a blip and a flashing dot on the map whenever they detonate a nuclear weapon, with a running tally kept on the top and bottom bars of the screen... It starts really slow — if you want to see real action, skip ahead to 1962 or so..."

"I swear to avocado..."

An article about shopping at Target contained this phrase:
"I'm not a big shopper, but I swear to avocados that once I start roaming the aisles..."
I presume it originated as a polite way to avoid taking God's name in vain, but I've never encountered it before, either in conversation or six decades of reading.  I wonder if this phrase is a local colloquialism from some part of the country where I've never lived.

Contrasting the Affordable Care Act with Medicare and Social Security

From The Next New Deal ("The blog of the Roosevelt Institute"):
What we often refer to as Category A can be viewed as a “neoliberal” approach to social insurance, heavy on private provisioning and means-testing. This term often obscures more than it helps, but think of it as a plan for reworking the entire logic of government to simply act as an enabler to market activities, with perhaps some coordinated charity to individuals most in need.
social_insurance_categoryThis contrasts with the Category B grouping, which we associate with the New Deal and the Great Society. This approach creates a universal floor so that individuals don’t experience basic welfare goods as commodities to buy and sell themselves. This is a continuum rather than a hard line, of course, but readers will note that Social Security and Medicare are more in Category B category rather than Category A. My man Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not have known about JavaScript and agile programming, but he knew a few things about the public provisioning of social insurance, and he realized the second category, while conceptually more work for the government, can eliminate a lot of unnecessary administrative problems.
Via The Dish (more discussion at both links).  Cartoon from The New Yorker.

Cooking meals in a coffee maker

From NPR's food blog:
"My nephew came home from Afghanistan complaining about the food in the mess hall," says Jody Anderson, a retired photographer in southern Oregon. "But the soldiers were allowed only to have coffee makers in their rooms."

So Anderson started developing recipes for the coffee maker, including ones for mac 'n' cheese, short ribs and chicken soup...

As Anderson describes it, the design of a traditional coffee maker gives you three basic cooking techniques:
  1. Steam: The basket at the top is a great place to steam vegetables. You can throw in broccoli, cauliflower or any vegetable that cooks in about the same time as those.
  2. Poach: The carafe at the bottom serves as a simple vessel for poaching fish and chicken. You can also use it to hard-boil eggs or make couscous and oatmeal.
  3. Grill: This technique is a bit more advanced — and time-consuming. But if you're really itching for a grilled cheese sandwich or a cinnamon bun in a motel room, the coffee maker's burner can serve as a miniature grill.

18 November 2013

Supercomet scheduled to arrive in 2013 - updated

Calculations show that the celestial visitor could be dazzlingly bright in November 2013 and be easily visible in broad daylight as it rounds the Sun. Comet ISON is so named because it was first spotted on photos taken by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok from Russia using the International Scientific Optical Network telescope...
That makes it a type of comet called a sungrazer, and there is a risk that the comet - essentially a giant ball of rock and ice, will break up when it makes that close approach.
But it could become brighter than the greatest comet of the last century, Comet Ikeya-Seki, which excited astronomers in 1965...

Comet ISON, which has the official label C/2012 S1, appears to be on a nearly parabolic orbit which leads scientists to believe that it is making its first trip through the Solar System. This means it may have been dislodged from a vast reservoir of icy debris surrounding the Sun far beyond the planets, called the Oort Cloud. It is a giant ball of rock and ice that is likely to be packed with volatiles including water ice that will erupt as brilliant jets of gas and dust when it is at its best
The article at The Telegraph indicates that this comet should be "fifteen times brighter than the moon."

Addendum November 2013:
A new article in The Telegraph reports that the comet is now visible to the naked eye:
The comet has dramatically brightened with an outburst of gases in recent days as it draws ever closer to the sun, the Times reported, and if it survives it could be the greatest celestial display in more than 300 years. It is now visible to the naked eye and is expected to continue brightening over the next few weeks until it outshines the moon...
If predictions are correct the galactic show will rival the Great Comet of 1680, which had a tail 90 million miles long and could be seen during the day because it was so bright, leading many to think it was a punishment from God. Even if Ison breaks up before then, or fails to survive its perihelion, its closest scrape with the sun, experts believe its death throes could be spectacular...
If the comet – which is best observed through a telescope or strong binoculars – survives its scrape with the sun it will reach its most brilliant in early December. 
Please read Danack's comment from last fall regarding the size and location of the comet.

The photo, from NASA, shows Comet McNaught ("the Great Comet of 2007")-
Within the next two weeks of 2013, rapidly brightening Comet ISON might sprout a tail that rivals even Comet McNaught. 
More info from NASA here (and undoubtedly more to come in the next few weeks)

14 November 2013


Two photos from the Nikon Small World photomicrography competition for 2013.  The top image is of a polished slab of Teepee Canyon agate (credit Doug Moore, UW Stephens Point).

The second one puzzles me.  It is a thin section of a dinosaur bone preserved in clear agate (credit Ted Kinsman, Rochester Institute of Technology).  I am surprised that the geologic processes that form an agate wouldn't destroy the fine structure of bone matrix.  You learn something every day.

Solanine poisoning

[T]he potato is the most common cause of solanine poisoning in humans. But how do you know when solanine is present in a potato? The tuber is turning green.

Though the green color that forms on the skin of a potato is actually chlorophyll, which isn’t toxic at all (it’s the plant’s response to light exposure), the presence of chlorophyll indicates concentrations of solanine. The nerve toxin is produced in the green part of the potato (the leaves, the stem, and any green spots on the skin).

The reason it exists? It’s a part of the plant’s defense against insects, disease and other predators. If you eat enough of the green stuff, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, paralysis of the central nervous system... but in some rare cases the poisoning can cause coma—even death...

Fatal cases of solanine poisoning are very rare these days. Most commercial varieties of potatoes are screened for solanine, but any potato will build up the toxin to dangerous levels if exposed to light or stored improperly. Often, the highest concentrations of solanine are in the peel, just below the surface and in the sprouted “eyes”—things that are typically removed in cooking preparation...
More at the Smithsonian's Food & Think blog.  Photo credit unknown.

A fruit fly's wing markings mimic ants

The art appears on the fruit fly’s wings. These translucent appendages contain what has been called the image of an ant. The perfect image is of what appears to be at first glance “ant-like.” Six legs, a pair of antennae, head, thorax and “tapered” abdomen. According to fly specialist Dr Brigitte Howarth, from the Zayed University, the images are “absolutely perfect.” It was the doctor who first spotted the Goniurellia tridens in the UAE.

The G. tridens is part of the tephritidae family that includes 5,000 different species of fruit flies. These insects are also known as peacock flies because of their colorful body markings. These particular fruit flies are called the picture wing species and there are 27 different types who have wing images that range from simple shapes to very complex, like the fly that Dr Howarth discovered...
More at the link.

Explore the demographics of your ZIP code

A Washington Post article examines the demographics of ZIP codes:
The Washington Post analyzed census data to find Zip codes where people rank highest on a combination of income and education. They are Super Zips.

The ranks, ranging from 0 to 99, represent the average of each Zip’s percentile rankings for median household income and for the share of adults with college degrees. Super Zips rank 95 or higher...

The map... shows the nation’s 650 Super Zips. Among them, the typical household income is $120,272, and 68 percent of adults hold college degrees. That compares with $53,962 and 27 percent for the remaining 23,925 Zips shown. Only Zips with at least 500 adults are displayed.
I don't live in a "Super ZIP" (in  yellow).  I'm in the bile-green category one step down.  The image I've embedded is a screencap but the map at WaPo is interactive; you can click on your ZIP code to reveal specific data.

The temperament of a Labrador

From the Wikipedia entry:
The AKC describes the Labrador's temperament as a kind, pleasant, outgoing and tractable nature. Labradors' sense of smell allows them to home in on almost any scent and follow the path of its origin. They generally stay on the scent until they find it... 

Labradors instinctively enjoy holding objects and even hands or arms in their mouths, which they can do with great gentleness (a Labrador can carry an egg in its mouth without breaking it).They are known to have a very soft feel to the mouth, as a result of being bred to retrieve game such as waterfowl. They are prone to chewing objects...

Labradors often enjoy retrieving a ball endlessly (often obsessively)... Labradors have a well-known reputation for appetite, and some individuals may be highly indiscriminate, eating digestible and non-food objects alike. They are persistent and persuasive in requesting food...

They are a very intelligent breed. They are ranked # 7 in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs... Labradors as a breed are curious, exploratory and love company, following both people and interesting scents for food, attention and novelty value. In this way, they can often "vanish" or otherwise become separated from their owners with little fanfare.

13 November 2013

"A mouth that looks like two saws on the side of a barbed sword"

Via Curiosités de Titam.

Pertussis re-emerges because of anti-vaccine parents

"The problem, in part, is that the protection offered by the pertussis vaccine wears off by the time you reach adulthood. Until recently, however, this was not a problem. Back in those halcyon days when we vaccinated our children, the disease was not bouncing around our population and so it was okay that adults did not get re-immunized. (That's the whole point of herd immunity: it's hard to get sick from people who aren't sick...

"How responsible are these non-vaccinating parents for my pertussis? Very. A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics indicated that outbreaks of these antediluvian diseases clustered where parents filed non-medical exemptions – that is, where parents decided not to vaccinate their kids because of their personal beliefs. The study found that areas with high concentrations of conscientious objectors were 2.5 times more likely to have an outbreak of pertussis."
Graph credit Jen Kirby, based on data from the CDC.  Via The Dish.

12 November 2013

Inclusion in a cut gemstone

"Rutile crystals (titanium oxide) included in rock crystal (quartz) (40x). Technique: Brightfield, Fiber Optic Illumination."
From the Nikon Small World 2013 photomicrography competition.

The Munich Nazi art trove

The trove of famous art has been much in the news this past week.  One of the better discussions is a four-part set of articles in Der Spiegel:
In February 2012, German authorities raided the apartment of 75-year-old collector Cornelius Gurlitt and seized 1,406 works of art, a spectacular trove with a value that has yet to be estimated. It includes works by Liebermann, Marc Chagall, Franz Marc, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Picasso and Henri Matisse, among others. There were also many prints and graphic works, which Gurlitt had kept in a cabinet.
At the press conference, it was not clear what exactly the collector was being accused of. There is talk of tax evasion and embezzlement, but the legal framework for the authorities' confiscation of the collection seems murky at best.
Image (cropped from the original photo) is of a reproduction of a painting by Otto Dix that Hitler and his henchmen considered to be "degenerate" art.

Domino theory. And practice.

A four-minute video (a "screenlink" comprised of separate events, not a continuous domino fall) illustrates some of the remarkable effects that can be achieved using falling dominos.

Via Neatorama.

11 November 2013

Butterfly tongue

Photo credit to Kata Kenesei & Barbara Orsolits, from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute of Experimental Medicine in  Szeged, Hungary

From the Nikon Small World photomicrography competition for 2013.

High-rise buildings from the 16th century (Shibam, Yemen)

Mega-churches for atheists

From the StarTribune:
Nearly three dozen gatherings dubbed "atheist mega-churches" by supporters and detractors have sprung up around the U.S. and Australia — with more to come — after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke...

They don't bash believers but want to find a new way to meet likeminded people, engage in the community and make their presence more visible in a landscape dominated by faith...

"If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?"..

Sunday Assembly — whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More — taps into that universe of people who left their faith but now miss the community church provided... It also plays into a feeling among some atheists that they should make themselves more visible...

"In the U.S., there's a little bit of a feeling that if you're not religious, you're not patriotic. I think a lot of secular people say, 'Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we're good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we're going to start a church to prove it.."

During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of "Lean on Me," ''Here Comes the Sun" and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA.

The dancing bodybuilder

During competitions, bodybuilders are required to cycle through a number of mandatory poses.  This man does so with a bit of extra style and flair.

Via Curiosités de Titam.

Ritual whale slaughter in the Faroe Islands

Whaling in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic has been practiced since about the time of the first Norse settlements on the islands. It is regulated by Faroese authorities but not by the International Whaling Commission as there are disagreements about the Commission's legal competency for small cetaceans. Around 950 Long-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melaena) are killed annually, mainly during the summer. The hunts, called grindadráp in Faroese, are non-commercial and are organized on a community level; anyone can participate. The hunters first surround the pilot whales with a wide semicircle of boats. The boats then drive the pilot whales slowly into a bay or to the bottom of a fjord.

Many Faroese consider the hunt an important part of their culture and history. Animal-rights groups criticize the hunt as being cruel and unnecessary. As of the end of November 2008 the chief medical officers of the Faroe Islands have recommended that pilot whales no longer be considered fit for human consumption because of the levels of toxins in the whales...

The primary reason for the Faeroes abstaining from joining the EU was in an effort to prevent the EU from meddling in their fishing policies. The slaughter of cetaceans is illegal within the European Union
More details, photographs, and a couple videos at this link.

The risks of disinflation and deflation

From an article in The Economist:
WHAT is a central banker’s main job? Ask the man on the street and the chances are he will say something like “keeping a lid on inflation”. In popular perception, and in their own minds, central bankers are the technicians who squeezed high inflation out of the rich world’s economies in the 1980s; whose credibility is based on keeping it down; and who must therefore always be on guard lest prices start to soar. Yet this view is dangerously outdated. The biggest problem facing the rich world’s central banks today is that inflation is too low...

The most obvious danger of too-low inflation is the risk of slipping into outright deflation, when prices persistently fall. As Japan’s experience shows, deflation is both deeply damaging and hard to escape in weak economies with high debts. Since loans are fixed in nominal terms, falling wages and prices increase the burden of paying them. And once people expect prices to keep falling, they put off buying things, weakening the economy further. There is a real danger that this may happen in southern Europe...

What’s more, too little inflation will undermine central bankers’ ability to combat another recession. Normally, during a period of growth bankers would raise rates. But policy rates are close to zero, and central bankers are reliant on “unconventional” measures to loosen monetary conditions, particularly “quantitative easing” (printing money to buy bonds) and “forward guidance” (promising to keep rates low for longer in a bid to prop up people’s expectations of future inflation). Should the economy slip back into recession, the central bankers will find themselves unusually impotent...
More at the link, and in this companion article.

0 to 60 in 3 seconds

"Holding Nature's land speed record for ten million consecutive years."

09 November 2013

"Prufrock" in cartoon format

One of my favorite poems - and the only poem displayed on a bulletin board in my home office - is T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  The poem is now being adapted into graphic format by cartoonist Julian Peters:
"The adaptation plays with literal versions of many of the things described in the poem, capturing its humor and poignance."
The entire illustrated poem is viewable here.

(For the full text, see also my 2012 post on "Spooning - and Prufrock."

Via BoingBoing.

I do like this Pope - updated

Addendum:   Found this story at Reddit today - "A couple being married at the Vatican were volunteers at a charity that uses humor therapy for sick children. So, when they met Pope Francis..."

It's the sort of behavior that wouldn't surprise me coming from a Lutheran clergyman, but that I would never previously have expected from a Pope.

"Germany’s recently suspended “Bishop of Bling” faces the prospect of seeing his lavish multimillion euro residence turned into a refugee centre or a soup kitchen for the homeless, Catholic church officials in his home diocese announced today.
Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst was formally suspended last week amid accusations that he had spent over €31m (£26.5m) on renovating his official residence in Limburg. The charges, which earned the 53-year-old bishop his nickname, provoked outrage among German Catholics."

08 November 2013

Neurons terminating in muscle tissue

A marvelous image to illustrate the term "arborizing."

From the Nikon Small World photomicrography competition for 2013.  I love browsing through the galleries each year because of the seemingly endless (but not unenjoyable) hours I spent peering through a microscope during my graduate education and faculty years.

Poachers rule in a world gone mad

The stench of rotting elephant carcasses hangs in the air in western Zimbabwe, where wildlife officials say at least 91 elephants were poisoned with cyanide by poachers who hack off the tusks for the lucrative illegal ivory market.

Massive bones, some already bleached by the blistering sun in the Hwange National Park, litter the landscape around one remote watering hole where 18 carcasses were found. Officials say cyanide used in gold mining was spread by poachers over flat "salt pans," also known as natural, mineral-rich salt licks. They say lions, hyenas and vultures have died from feeding on contaminated carcasses or drinking nearby...

Tusks of the poisoned elephants are thought to have been smuggled into neighboring South Africa through illicit syndicates that pay desperately poor poachers a fraction of the $1,500 a kilogram (2.2 pounds) that ivory can fetch on the black market.
Officials believe at least two deeply drilled wells supplying the water holes may have also been contaminated and will likely have to be sealed. New wells will probably be drilled away from the tainted ones. "We will drill more boreholes in the park because these criminals target areas where there is a shortage of water," said Kasukuwere...

Kasukuwere said Hwange park, Africa's third largest wildlife sanctuary after the Serengeti in Tanzania and South Africa's Kruger National Park, has only about 150 rangers and few fully operational off-road vehicles for an expanse that ideally should have a staff of at least 700.

Scores of vultures, the first predators at a kill, have died from the cyanide. Rangers say their absence makes the ecological impact of the poisonings much harder to fight and control.
Photos and text via PhysOrg.

Janis Joplin's psychedelic Porsche

In September 1968, the budding rock star paid a Beverly Hills auto dealer $3,500 for the three-year-old sports car. When she bought it, the Porsche was a factory-painted "oyster white." For a flamboyant singer who wore rose-colored glasses and feather boas, that wouldn't do. So she got roadie Dave Richards to paint it with swirling psychedelic images, including Mount Tamalpais on one fender and a portrait of her with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, on another.

The singer's 1965 Porsche 356c Cabriolet, which she bought when she was living in Larkspur, is usually enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It came to Marin from the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, where it was on loan.

"They used regular house paint," Michael Joplin recalled. "They were just playing around, saying, 'Hey, let's make an art car.' They were having a lot of fun. It was a convertible, and she would drive it around with the top down. People would leave notes for her on it."
More details about the history of the car at the YouTube "about" section, where my objection re the choice of the song in the video is anticipated by the comment that her iconic "my friends all drive Porches, I must make amends" lyrics couldn't be used because of copyright protection.

NASA identifies a "weird and freakish object"

From a HubbleSite release:
Normal asteroids should appear simply as tiny points of light. But this asteroid, designated P/2013 P5, has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like spokes on a wheel.
Because nothing like this has ever been seen before, astronomers are scratching their heads to find an adequate explanation for its out-of-this-world appearance...

One interpretation is that the asteroid's rotation rate increased to the point where its surface started flying apart, ejecting dust in episodic eruptions starting last spring. The team rules out a recent asteroid impact scenario because a lot of dust would be blasted into space all at once, whereas P5 has ejected dust for at least five months...

The asteroid could possibly have been spun up if the pressure of sunlight exerted a torque on the body. If the asteroid's spin rate became fast enough, Jewitt said, the asteroid's weak gravity would no longer be able to hold it together. Dust might avalanche downslope towards the equator, and maybe shatter and fall off, eventually drifting into space to make a tail. So far, only a small fraction of the main mass, perhaps 100 to 1,000 tons of dust, has been lost. The 700-foot-radius nucleus is thousands of times more massive.

Audrey Hepburn in the kitchen and Mark Twain in the garden

Oddly, what caught my eye (after Ms. Hepburn of course) was the garbage can, which reminded me that once-upon-a-time garbage cans were lined with newspapers, not with pull-closure plastic bags.  And they used to be small, not 30 gallons in size.

The photo comes from an imgur gallery of 29 colorized famous photos, some of them quite remarkably done, including this one of Mark Twain in a garden:

The others are worth browsing.

"Happy as a dead pig in the sunshine"

"When a pig dies, presumably in a sty outside, the sun dries out its skin. This effect pulls the pig’s lips back to reveal a toothy “grin,” making it look happy even though it’s dead. This phrase describes a person who’s blissfully ignorant of reality."
From "13 Southern Sayings That The Rest Of America Won't Understand." Also explained at the link -
  • "We're living in high cotton."
  • "He could eat corn through a picket fence."
  • "You look rode hard and put up wet."
  • "That thing is all catawampus."
  • "He's got enough money to burn a wet mule."
And others.  I spent two decades living in "the south," but some of these were new to me.

06 November 2013

Train traversing the Landwasser Viaduct

Designed by Alexander Acatos, it was built between 1901 and 1902 by Müller & Zeerleder for the Rhaetian Railway, which still owns and uses it today. A signature structure of the World Heritage-listed Albula Railway, it is 65 metres (213 ft) high, 136 metres (446 ft) long, and one of its ramps exits straight into the Landwasser Tunnel.
Blogged for the beauty of the image, but I'm also impressed by the labor and skill that were involved in its construction.

I suppose it's mandatory to add: "Why a no chicken?"

Photo via, and via Reddit.

Memento mori

Image cropped and lightened from the original, via Bad Newspaper.

"Man as machine"

A sharp-eyed anonymous reader of this blog noted this curious juxtaposition in an online article at The Wilson Quarterly.  A read time not of "about 15 minutes," but of "15m 39 sec." 

This kind of false or needless precision crops of in lots of places, and drives me crazy too.  But the use in an article with this title is particularly odd.

"Pink for boys, and blue for girls"

Excerpts from an essay at Smithsonian:
Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.
Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti says.
Photo: TongRo Image Stock / Corbis

Thought for the day

Via Bits and Pieces.

Changing demographics in modern America

More, and link to source, at The Dish.

05 November 2013

"Balayage" explained

My curiosity was tweaked by the 1974 photo above, from the New York Times' Lively Morgue:
"“We never speak of dying,” a misspelled ad boasts, quoted in a roundup of hair coloring techniques available in the city.  While the procedure pictured here — which required 1,000 feet of cotton stripping — might resemble some kind of April Fool’s prank carried out by the colorist, it was apparently a real thing for fine hair, called balayage au cotton." 
The caption that mocked misspelling in the advertisement had its own misspelling; I eventually found balayage au coton defined at A Way With Words:
 n.— The shop has imported a young man named Yvan from the Carita salon in Paris to do what he calls a “balayage au cotton.” Starting at the nape, Yvan lifted out fine strands and applied a lightening paste with a thin brush. Instead of the usual foil wrapping, he tucked pieces of cotton wadding to support the strands in process and keep them from the rest of the hair. When he was three-quarters through, he had used 1,000 feet of cotton stripping and Miss Weston looked as though she were wearing an enormous white wig. The idea of the balayage (the word means sweeping) is to lighten fine strands of hair, rather than add color...
The definitive answer came at Maxine Salon:
The most natural-looking results are usually those that look the most random, which calls for a very specific placement strategy... It’s important to note that balayage is definitely not just for blondes. Brunettes, redheads, even those with black hair can all take advantage of hair painting. The results will be subtle, but they’ll add the dimension that everyone craves, giving a dark brunette swirls of cinnamon or caramel, for example....

Foils often end up looking contrived - a neat row of uniform highlights. When a section of hair is colored using a foil, the entire section is saturated with color resulting in dense, unnatural stripes of color.

Balayage color is painted in soft brush strokes across the surface of the hair, leaving you with natural-looking swipes of color that flow from thick to thin and play off the hair's natural movement. Even better, balayage won't leave you with any signs of demarcation, creating a softer and more manageable grow-out. 

I suppose women readers have known about all of this for years, but it was new to me.  You learn something every day.
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