31 December 2014

Copperplate writing

I was reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods this week, and ran across a description of someone's handwriting being like "copperplate script," so I decided to look it up.
Copperplate, or English round hand, is a style of calligraphic writing, using a sharp pointed nib instead of the flat nib used in most calligraphic writing. Its name comes from the fact that the copybooks from which students learned it were printed from etched copper plates... the term "copperplate" is mostly used to refer to any old-fashioned, tidy handwriting...

All copperplate forms (minuscules, majuscules, numbers, and punctuation) are written at a letter slant of 55 degrees from the horizontal.
You learn something every day.

The giant ash trees of Tasmania

A nice story at the BBC reminds readers that the Tasmanian ash trees are among the world's tallest trees.
The trees in question are mountain ash, the tallest flowering trees in the world. They are not quite the tallest trees of any kind: that record belongs to the coast redwoods of the western US. But that might be because things have been skewed against the mountain ash...

On the face of it, the mountain ash should be able to beat the redwoods, which top out at 115m. They grow five times faster than the redwoods, "sprinting" toward the skies. "They're the fastest-growing tree by far," says Sillett...

Historical records do indicate that mountain ash have reached greater heights than today's giants in the past. In 1881, surveyor George Cornthwaite measured a felled tree in Victoria at 114.3 metres. That is about 1m shorter than the world's tallest living tree, a coast redwood measuring 115.5m.
This was new to me:
...the tallest trees can suffer from "xylem cavitation", in which gas bubbles form in the cells carrying water up the trunk. These tiny gas embolisms [sic] can prevent water from moving up the tiny conduit cells, much like a pulmonary embolism can stop blood flow to the lungs in humans. To avoid this, the tree regulates how much water is lost through its leaves by closing down the tiny pores all over their surfaces. But these pores are also the pathways for carbon dioxide to come in, so by closing them the trees limit how much sugar they can make.
"Emboli," not "embolisms" (which are events).

I expect we're going to be hearing more about Libya

This map, made by Middle East mapper Thomas van Linge, will help you get a sense of what's going on in Libya's chaotic civil war.
Some explanation of the color codes and the situation at Vox.

Posted for reference for when events there return to front-page news.  *sigh*

Addendum:  See also The Emirate of Cyrenaica, which includes this historical map:

(discussed at the link)

This is a beautiful tattoo

It covers a facial burn scar.
Samira Omar pushes back her headscarf to reveal burn scars that swirl along her face and neck. Her hands are also dotted with colourless patches where her skin was scorched.  The 17-year-old says she was the victim of a horrific bullying incident in August. She says four classmates she thought were her friends, beat her and then doused her with boiling water...

She thought she’d be scarred for life. But then Omar heard about para-medical tattoo specialist Basma Hameed... Over time, Hameed will camouflage Omar’s burns by tattooing them with ink that blends with her natural skin tones...

Patients from around the world seek out Hameed’s skills. She started her Toronto clinic in 2011 and recently opened a second location in Chicago. In addition to scar victims, she also treats people with vitiligo...
More details at the CBC article.

Note there is also an organization called Survivors Ink.
Survivors Ink is a project that addresses the issue of branding. The purpose is to empower human trafficking victims by breaking the psychological chains of enslavement through beautifying, removing, or covering the brandings that are constant reminders of a violent past.
Related previous post:  Medical nipple tattoos vs. "titoos"

30 December 2014

Impress your kids (and friends) with magnets, a battery, and copper wire

Via Neatorama.

Video of a "cage-free" chicken factory farm

...Craig Watts, 48, a North Carolina farmer who says he raises about 720,000 chickens each year for Perdue... Watts opened his four chicken barns to show how a Perdue chicken lives.

Most shocking is that the bellies of nearly all the chickens have lost their feathers and are raw, angry, red flesh. The entire underside of almost every chicken is a huge, continuous bedsore...

[A spokesman for Perdue] suggested that the operator was probably mismanaging the chicken house. That doesn’t go over well with Watts, whose family has owned the farm since the 1700s and says he has been raising chickens for Perdue since 1992, meticulously following its requirements...

The claim about the chickens being raised “cage free” is misleading because birds raised for meat are not in cages. It’s egg-laying chickens that are caged, not the ones we eat. So “cage free” is meaningful for eggs but not for chicken meat. Moreover, Perdue’s chickens are crammed so tightly in barns that they might as well be in cages. Each bird on the Watts farm gets just two-thirds of a square foot.
More at the New York Times and Salon.

Incoming !

I'll grant it's difficult to think rationally when your skull is being pelted with baseball-sized hail, but I should think the best strategy in this situation would be to wade deeper into the water and then squat to get your head 6-8" below the surface.

Photo credit Nikita Dudnik/AP via the Washington Post.

Addendum: Video - of the same storm/same beach - here.

Offered without comment...

via Reddit.

29 December 2014

This is a "red-fleshed apple"

Pink Pearl apples are generally medium sized, with a conical shape. They are named for the color of their flesh, which is a bright rosy pink sometimes streaked or mottled with white. They have a translucent, yellow-green skin, and a crisp, juicy flesh with tart to sweet-tart taste. Pink Pearl apples ripen in late August to mid-September. It is susceptible to scab, and the fruit tend not to keep well on the tree once ripe.
Via Winelandia and The Soul is Bone.

The Cyr wheel

The Cyr wheel (also known as the roue Cyr, mono wheel, or simple wheel) is an acrobatic device popularized in the early 21st century.

There are records of people using a similar apparatus as sports equipment during the 19th[citation needed] and 20th centuries. The cyr wheel was further popularized as a circus skill by numerous acrobats and circus artists during the 1990s and later by Daniel Cyr in 2003, who presented the first cyr wheel circus act at the 2003 Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris...

 Cyr wheels are typically made of aluminum tubing. Usually a 1.5” diameter tubing with 1/8” sidewall 6061 aluminum is used. Generally they are made in 3 or 5 individual pieces, and connect with inserts. The inserts can be made out of solid aluminum or steel (either tubing or solid). They are then painted, and covered with a plastic PVC covering to add friction, and protect the metal. Smaller wheels spin faster, work better for smaller spaces, and make "no hand" tricks easier than larger wheels. Larger wheels are more graceful and there is more room for suspensions.
In the video a young man documents his first 30 days using the wheel.  Via Neatorama.

Cigarette smoking plummeting in the United States

Both graphs from an extensive discussion of the rise and fall of cigarette smoking in a recent article at The Atlantic.

I started at the peak of the first graph (left margin of the second one) and quit nine years ago.  Smart decision.

The death of Frederic Chopin

For decades I've assumed that Frederic Chopin died of tuberculosis; that's what I told my students in lectures and handouts.  Now I learn his cause of death is still being debated.
Chopin died in an apartment in Place Vendome, in Paris, on 17 October 1849, at the age of 39. France's greatest authority on tuberculosis had diagnosed him with the disease months earlier, and duly noted it as the cause on the death certificate.

But things then became less clear. The same doctor, Jean Cruveilhier, removed Chopin's heart and carried out an autopsy. Precisely what he recorded is not known - the notes he made were lost. However, reports suggest he referred to something other than TB, a "disease not previously encountered"...

Then in September, the debate appeared to be over. The forensic and genetic scientists who had gathered months earlier at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw for that unprecedented examination revealed their conclusions at a news conference. Chopin's heart was well preserved and bore "TB nodules" they reported. It was also "much enlarged, suggesting respiratory problems, linked to a lung disease"...

... the possibility remains that the heart reinterred in the pillar of the church in October 1945, amid patriotic celebration in the ruins of a devastated city, is not Chopin's.
 Photo cropped for size from the original at Wikipedia.

Syria's cultural history being destroyed and looted

"A walnut tree stripped of its branches stands in the rubble of the Kalat al-Numan citadel, originally built during the Roman era some 2,000 years ago." (John Cantlie/AFP/Getty Images)

Res ipsa loquitur.  But if you want more grim details about wartime destruction and looting, see the depressing article at the Washington Post.

Snake climbing a brick wall

Using a technique evolved over the millennia to climb rough-barked trees.

Photo cropped for size from the original at imgur.

28 December 2014

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

A British Pathe documentary "displays various 1920s underwear garments, with elements of dance and touches of a striptease, although the video is very much in good taste."

And speaking of underwear, how do you sit down when you're wearing a bustle?

"In the eyes of the law, pets are possessions and when US citizens die, they have the right to decide where they go... Connie Lay, of Aurora, Indiana, had a few possible plans laid out for her dog Bela at her death. One of them being the German Shepard be put down and her ashes put with hers... According to volunteers, she is a smart, well trained, sweet dog who deserves a home. But according to the attorney handling Lay's estate, that was not her owner's wishes...several people have offered to adopt Bela but Denmure says it's Lay's dog and the executor of her will has the authority to carry out her wishes."  (update: a tip of the blogging hat to reader Solange, who found that Bela is going to be transported to a sanctuary in Utah.)

The Royal Statistical Society Quiz for 2011 asked this question: "If Scotsman Adam equals American Andrew, and Canadian John equals twice New Zealander Edmund, then which Australian man equals Englishman Charles?"and this one:  "Explain the following linked sequences: 10, 9, 60, 90, 70, 66, 96, ...  (and) 1, 4, 3, 11, 15, 13, 17, ...".  Answers for the entire quiz here.

An explanation of why the seasonally popular "Baby, it's cold outside" song can be viewed as a "date-rape holiday classic."  See also my previous post about the song.

An impressive video at Neatorama shows a horsehair worm emerging from a mantis.  If that interests you, take a look at my 2013 post showing a roundworm emerging from a spider and the two videos of parasites emerging from crickets - important because the parasites seem to have evolved [or been granted by a god...] the ability to control the behavior of their host so that their emergence occurs in water.

"1000 colours" is a puzzle in which each piece is an different color.  Time-lapse video of one being assembled at the link (via BoingBoing).

Everything you need to know about the winter solstice.

Cheerful story of the day - with video.  A chronically ill 17-year-old girl with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis is surprised by her father with a gift.

A detailed report from the BBC documents how a group of Australian Aboriginal people meet modern civilization for the first time. "They had been unaware of the arrival of Europeans on the continent, let alone cars - or even clothes." (hat tip to reader Charles Hargrove).

An op-ed piece at Salon asks whether the American public would allow the open-carry gun laws to be applied to radical Muslims or Hispanics.  "In other words, the Bill of Rights only applies to those whose intentions are “good.”

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse explains how to deal with junk mail.  I have one aunt who has been contributing to various conservative political groups and as a result now receives an average of 60 solicitations per day in her mail.  She wants to keep supporting Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, but is dismayed to sometimes find up to two hundred items in her mail in a day.  She has way more notepads and return address labels than she can ever use.

Officials in Wisconsin are studying techniques that will extract drinkable water from cow manure.  "The treatments can strain virtually all of the phosphorus and solids out of a large portion of the material, producing clear water and a concentrated fertilizer that could be sold."  The goal of course is not to procure more water, but to reconfigure the manure into separate water and solids to minimize environmental contamination.

Image of impressive Christmas wrap cropped for size from the original posted at imgur.

27 December 2014

Is there an upside-down flag on this $10 bill ?

This image is a closeup of the reverse side of a $10 bill from the series of 1950C (printed between 1961 and 1963).  It looks like the flag is being flown upside-down.  This has been vehemently denied by government officials and numismatists:
Let us put this rumor to rest. It doesn’t matter whether or not the flag on the back of a series of 1950 bill appears upside down. This is not considered an error and in no way does it command a premium.

It takes a team of eight engravers hundreds of man hours to engrave a plate used for printing currency. There is no rogue engraver out there inverting American flags. Whether the flag on the back of 1950 does or doesn’t appear upside down is all in the eye of the beholder. The fact of the matter is that the flag looks the way it is supposed to look.

 So spread the message and please do not call asking about an upside flag on 1950 or any other bills. It is not a recognized error and it never will be.
Via Reddit.

"Deepest fish ever recorded" filmed in the Mariana Trench

An international team aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor set a new record for the deepest fish ever recorded at 8143m in the Mariana Trench. The fish is a completely unknown variety of snailfish with a translucent body, broad wing-like fins and an eel-like tail. 
Additional details at the Washington Post.

The water cycle, and water in the earth's mantle

An article at BoingBoing makes note of the vast quantities of water stored in the earth's mantle.
Deep inside the mantle, where the temperature and pressure are so high you would think it impossible, viscous crystalline rocks potentially trap the equivalent of the Pacific Ocean...

We know that ringwoodite can hold water, but it has been determined that below 660 km, ringwoodite transitions into yet another form of olivine called bridgmanite, which can't hold much water. However, seismic mapping experiments have detected areas of melt, melted material held within the crystalline solids that differ in their chemical composition, and which are possibly indicative of water, at depths of 760 km. This is 100 km deeper than water should be able to venture...

Whereas previous estimates have put the amount of water in the mantle at 1-3 times the amount of water on the surface, this study brings that quantity down to a single ocean. Regardless of the reduction, this is still substantial considering that all of the water could have originated from geochemical processes alone.
See also a previous post on this subject.

Planning a "collective New Year's greeting card" to TYWKIWDBI readers

Five years ago at Christmas I set up a "collective greeting card" for the readers of this blog.  There were only about a dozen responses, but they were good ones.  I'd like to repeat the effort; it's too late for Christmas, so we'll make this a New Year's greeting.

Here are the instructions:

In the comment section to this post, give me a link to a photo (or a bit of artwork or other image) that you have in your blog, or in your Flickr photostream or in some other online storage site. Don't email me the photo - just give the link and I'll go there and copy the photo.

The picture can be of you, or your family, or your computer, or your cat, or whatever - it doesn't matter.

In the comment, with the link write a brief (25 words max) greeting, directed to the other readers and visitors (not a comment on TYWKIWDBI).

Sign with the avatar name you use in commenting here, or in your blog, or your real name if you wish. I reserve autocratic right to edit comments and trim pictures if they are too big, to limit the number if there are too many, and to vaporize anything that hints of spam or might be offensive to other readers.

I'll assemble your submissions into a collective post similiar to the one I created five years ago, and I'll post it in mid-January.

Have a go.

Addendum:  Already fifteen responses, with a couple portraits/selfies of readers, a dog photo, a cat photo, a horse, a greeting card, a scenic, one sports, a nature, a retro, and even one butterfly.  Keep 'em coming!

25 December 2014

Math puzzle

Who else would give you a math puzzle for Christmas morning? 

Solve/simplify/reconstitute this mathematical construct into what might be considered a more "elegant" expression.

For those who long ago swore that they would never again have anything to do with natural logarithms, the answer is below the fold:

Patrick Otema's world changes

This is your "feel good" video for Christmas morning.

And here is the sequel, filmed 10 weeks later.

From the filmmaker's comments at Reddit:
A lot of people asking how to help. Here is a list of organisations based in Uganda helping the deaf. One of my favorites, and for which it's very easy to donate to, is called Sign Health Uganda. The organisation which set up the course for Patrick is called UNAD - their donate link is broken so you have to email them directly.

Even NASA wastes money

GULFPORT, Miss. — In June, NASA finished work on a huge construction project here in Mississippi: a $349 million laboratory tower, designed to test a new rocket engine in a chamber that mimicked the vacuum of space.

Then, NASA did something odd.

As soon as the work was done, it shut the tower down. The project was officially “mothballed” — closed up and left empty — without ever being used...
The reason for the shutdown: The new tower — called the A-3 test stand — was useless. Just as expected. The rocket program it was designed for had been canceled in 2010.

But, at first, cautious NASA bureaucrats didn’t want to stop the construction on their own authority. And then Congress — at the urging of a senator from Mississippi — swooped in and ordered the agency to finish the tower, no matter what.

The result was that NASA spent four more years building something it didn’t need. Now, the agency will spend about $700,000 a year to maintain it in disuse...

So the tower stand has taken its place on NASA’s long list of living dead. Last year, the agency’s inspector general found six other test stands that were either in “mothball” status, or about to be. Some hadn’t been used since the 1990s. Together, those seven cost NASA more than $100,000 a year to maintain.
More grim details at the Washington Post.

Ballet + Magic

Via Neatorama.

Celebrating post-polio

"I believe one of our secrets to thriving with polio is that we, first and foremost, quietly dismissed all those who gawked at us with pity, volunteered to Biblically heal us, needlessly tried to fix us, or gazed at our bent feet rather than into our eyes.  As we have matured, we have learned to reject the shame and stigma of disability.  What a freedom!  We found out that such negativity gets old and is not useful. Out of necessity, we have had to become introspective from time to time, which inescapably fostered our personal character development.  We have learned to be assertive when needed, to surround ourselves with loved ones, to think positively, get educated, find good resources and enjoy life along the way.

Perhaps most importantly, we have learned to accept ourselves as we are.  Many of us have evolved in our thinking to appreciate and lovingly embrace what used to be our primary nemesis - polio.  In order to find peace and contentment, we have had to make friends with our disability.  Not overcome it.  Not hide it.  And not fight it...  Polio has made us who we are today.

Our physical differences don't matter much anymore because we are all beginning to look like everyone else our age anyway.  We, however, know a bit more about aging gracefully, because we started sooner than all of our friends.  We are aging with a disability.  Many of our friends are aging into disability.  If they'll let us, we can actually help them with their new adjustments."
-- a couple paragraphs from a much longer, refreshingly upbeat, essay by Sunny Roller, MA (Ann Arbor, Michigan) - the lead article in the most recent issue of Post-Polio Health.

Peru providing its citizens with free solar power

“This program is aimed at the poorest people, those who lack access to electric lighting and still use oil lamps, spending their own resources to pay for fuels that harm their health."
From the Wall Street Journal channel, via Minds.

Impressive anagram

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott 
is an anagram of
A novel by a Scottish writer.

Credit to Suze, who found this in a cryptic crossword and posted it in a Sooper Seekrit location.  Anagrams are not difficult per se, but ones that are logically consistent are uncommon.  This one is awesome.

"Buddy" vs. "Bro"

Posted not for the information per se, but rather to illustrate that linguistic maps can now be generated from analysis of Twitter data.
To generate the maps, Grieve first searched for occurrences of these words in the dataset. Once he identified word uses and their locations, he used hot-spot testing, a common technique in spatial analysis. It uncovers geographic trends in data by clustering together nearby areas with similar results.

Tweets are first adjusted by the population of the counties from which they were sent. Then, the frequency of tweets for a given county is compared to nearby counties...
For the distribution of "dude" and for some caveats on the methodology, see the source article at Quartz.

22 December 2014

All the planets would fit between the earth and the moon

And what a view that would be.  At low tide.
I pulled my numbers from NASA’s Solar System Fact Sheets, and they’re a little different from the original infographic, but close enough that the comparison is still valid.

Planet Average Diameter (km)
Mercury 4,879
Venus 12,104
Mars 6,771
Jupiter 139,822
Saturn 116,464
Uranus 50,724
Neptune 49,244
Total 380,008

The average distance from the Earth to the Moon is 384,400 km.
Image and text from Universe Today, via reader Adrian Morgan's The Outer Hoard.

The question I have (for any budding planetary scientists out there) is how is it possible to measure the diameter of a gas giant planet like Jupiter?  I understand all the data in the table are expressed as "average diameter" because even the Earth is not round, but the Earth's diameter is measured on a solid.  How can data be obtained on a gas giant, where the gases would (presumably) gradually thin out as one gets further from the center.  It seems ridiculously presumptuous to express such data to a precision of 1 km.

That aside, the concept of all the planets fitting between us and our moon is still mind-boggling.

Retrieving munition barrels from Lake Superior

As reported by Wisconsin Public Radio in January:
The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe has been working for more than a decade to remove some of the 1,400-plus munitions barrels from Lake Superior’s bottom. Using grants from the Department of Defense’s clean-up fund, Red Cliff officials has pinpointed that most of those drums dumped a few miles northeast of Duluth.

In August 2012, an expert recovery team pulled up 25 barrels. Three of the barrels had melted munitions parts, but the other 22 each contained up to 700 ejection cups used in cluster bombs -- about 15,000 small explosive devices...

The dump area is in the ceded territory of Lake Superior tribes, giving them the right -- and, the tribes say, duty -- to protect that sacred area.
Photo credit.

"Macaroni" explained

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.
Traditions place [the origin of Yankee Doodle] in a pre-Revolutionary War song originally sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial "Yankees" with whom they served in the French and Indian War...

The Macaroni wig was an extreme fashion in the 1770s and became contemporary slang for foppishness. The Macaronis were young English men who adopted feminine mannerisms and highly extravagant attire, and were deemed effeminate. They were members of the Macaroni Club in London at the height of the fashion for dandyism, so called because they wore striped silks upon their return from the Grand Tour - and a feather in their hats.
Above text from the Yankee Doodle entry at Wikipedia.  Image and the following from the related macaroni page:
The term pejoratively referred to a man who "exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion" in terms of clothes, fastidious eating and gambling. Like a practitioner of macaronic verse, which mixed English and Latin to comic effect, he mixed Continental affectations with his English nature, laying himself open to satire:
There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately [1770] started up among us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion.
The macaronis were precursor to the dandies, who far from their present connotation of effeminacy came as a more masculine reaction to the excesses of the macaroni...
Young men who had been to Italy on the Grand Tour had developed a taste for macaroni, a type of Italian food little known in England then, and so they were said to belong to the Macaroni Club. They would refer to anything that was fashionable, or à la mode, as 'very maccaroni.'
More at the lilnks.  Idea from a Reddit thread.

How times have changed

Even within our lifetimes.

Viking presence confirmed in subarctic Canada

A stone artifact (apparently part of a crucible) containing traces of molten metal has been found in subarctic Canada.
Dr Sutherland and her colleagues from the Geological Survey of Canada-Ottawa and Peter H. Thompson Geological Consulting Ltd have now discovered that the interior of the vessel contains fragments of bronze as well as small spherules of glass.

The object, according to the scientists, is a crucible for melting bronze, likely in order to cast it into small tools or ornaments. Indigenous peoples of northern North America did not practice high-temperature metalworking...

According to the team, small ceramic crucibles were employed in nonferrous metalworking throughout the Viking world. “We are aware of only one stone crucible, which was recovered from a Viking Age context in Rogaland, Norway.”
The extrapolated shape of the complete crucible could have allowed it to fit into the keel of a ship.

I'm pleased to note that the location is about midway on the voyage from their known settlement at  L'Anse aux Meadows to the southern end of Hudson Bay, from whence the Vikings would have been able to head south into Minnesota...

Original publication in Geoarchaeology.

21 December 2014

How Christmas crackers were made in the 1930s

Referring to "the 50's" or "the 60's" is grammatically incorrect

Contractions for numbers follow the same rules as contractions for words. As a apostrophe goes where the letters are dropped in a contracted word (e.g. you are into you're) the same applies to numbers (e.g. 1950s into '50s)... By putting an apostrophe between the numbers and the "s" (e.g. 50's), you are making the "s" possessive
I see this type of mistake ("music of the 60's") frequently while browsing the web - and sometimes in the comments here.  I think I sometimes refer to groups of years as "the 90s" without an apostrophe at all - not sure if that's acceptable.

London's newest tourist attraction

Via Bad Newspaper.

The UN Convention Against Torture

Several weeks ago The Dish live-blogged the release of the torture report.  It makes for difficult reading.  An important, earlier, related post provides a detailed rebuttal to those who defend the use of torture (boldface added):
It’s worth recalling in that context the actual words of the UN Convention Against Torture, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and torn to shreds by Dick Cheney. It guts both lines of Tenet’s purported defense. First up, there can be no attempt to craft techniques that are close to torture but designed to slip through a legal loophole. The Treaty’s full title is, for example, “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment“. The definition of torture is this:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Intimidation and coercion are also expressly forbidden, when implemented and authorized by an officer of state. President Reagan included the broad definition in his signing statement:
The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.
In other words, the entire point of the Convention is to prevent any wriggle room around what torture is and to include inhumanity...

Just as important, the context is irrelevant. Tenet’s plea to understand the context he was working in has no place here:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
More at the links.

So you like to take quizzes?

I'm waiting (impatiently) for the annual King Williams College General Knowledge Quiz, which presumably will be released just after Christmas.  In the meantime I peeked at the Royal Statistical Society Christmas Quiz, which is equally near-impossible.

Here is the first of the ten questions:

1. Setting the scene (12 points)

In whole or in part, which works are set on, in or at:
  • (a) A ship at sea; The Palace of Theseus; An open place; The guard-platform of the castle
  • (b) Antwerp, c. 925; Thuringia, c. 1200; Rome, c. 1350; Gothic Spain, at an unspecified time
  • (c) A Leicestershire castle, c. 1194; A Warwickshire castle, c. 1575; ‘A large and antiquated edifice’ in Northumberland, c. 1715; Prestonpans, 1745
More at the link.  Alternatively, here is their 2011 quiz --- with the answers.

A tortoise rescues an overturned comrade

Discussed at Reddit.

Wealth inequality is not just an American problem

Via the always-interesting Nag on the Lake.

Democracy as a vehicle for tyranny

That democracy can be a vehicle for tyranny was well understood by earlier generations of liberal thinkers. From Benjamin Constant, Alexis de Tocqueville, and John Stuart Mill through to Isaiah Berlin, it was recognized that democracy does not necessarily protect individual freedoms. The greatest danger for these liberals was not that the historical movement toward democracy would be reversed, but rather the potential ascendancy of an illiberal type of democracy — a development they saw prefigured in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theory of the general will. Legal and constitutional protections have little force when majorities are indifferent or hostile to liberal values. Because democratic regimes can claim a source of legitimacy that other forms of government lack, liberty might be more threatened in the future than in the past. Most human beings, most of the time, care about other things more than they care about being free. Many will vote readily for an illiberal government if it promises security against violence or hardship, protects a way of life to which they are attached, and denies freedom to people they hate.

Today these ideas belong in the category of forbidden thoughts. When democracy proves to be oppressive, liberals insist it is because democracy is not working properly — if there were genuine popular participation, majorities would not oppress minorities. Arguing with this view is pointless, since it rests on an article of faith: the conviction that freedom is the natural human condition, which tyranny suppresses. But the mere absence of tyranny may allow no more than anarchy; freedom requires a functioning state, with a competent bureaucracy and a legal system that is not excessively corrupt, together with a political culture that allows these institutions to work independently of lawmakers.

In the absence of these conditions, human rights — which are, fundamentally, legal fictions that are created and enforced by well-organized states — are meaningless. Such conditions do not exist in most of the world today and will not exist in many countries for the foreseeable future, if ever. Where they do exist, they are easily compromised. Far from being the natural condition of humankind, freedom is inherently fragile and will always be exceptional.

Liberals in all countries find this prospect intolerable...
An excerpt from the thought-provoking essay Under Western Eyes, by John Gray.

Adrenaline rush videos of 2014

A compilation of over 200 snippets from this past year's YouTube videos.  No single common theme, but a heavy preponderance of adrenaline-junkie material, about which I have mixed feelings.  But there are several segments in here I plan to post as full videos, after I retrieve them from this list of the source material.

BTW, if you're going to watch this, it's the type of video that really benefits from clicking the fullscreen icon at the lower right.

Cranberry packaging

Cropped for size from original at imgur, via Reddit.

If a garlic head in the store smells like garlic... don't buy it.

This scientifically valid advice comes from the staff at Cook's Illustrated, who note that "garlic is one product where a strong fragrance is a sign of questionable quality rather than potency. "

Because this recommendation is so logically counterintuitive, try reasoning out the rationale for it before peeking at the explanation below the fold (and at the link).

15 December 2014

"History is a set of lies agreed upon" - Napoleon

"The typical spices used in winter include nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and anise. These spices contain two groups of chemicals, the allylbenzenes and their isomers, the propenylbenzenes. It was suggested 40 years ago by Alexander Shulgin that these substances act as metabolic precursors of amphetamines...Humans may be exposed to amphetamines derived from these precursors in forno, the formation during baking and cooking, for example in the preparation of Lebkuchen, or Christmas gingerbread. It is possible that this may be responsible, in part, for uplifting our mood in winter. "

A set of two articles in Der Spiegel details the outrageous profits made by the human scum who act as traffickers for persons seeking asylum in Europe. "Jafir had insisted that the total fee for the trip to Italy -- €7,000 ($8,735) per person -- be paid in advance. Ahmad doesn't comment on the amount, which corresponds to at least two average annual salaries in prewar Syria... Ahmad and 126 other refugees boarded the vessel..."

The Motherboard at Vice explains that "erection vendors" in Peru are driving some amphibians toward extinction.  "Frog Juice, or Jugo de Rana, as it's referred to in Spanish, has been dubbed the Peruvian Viagra. It's a concoction that's believed to have strong medicinal powers with purported benefits including increased blood flow, lung function, and more poignantly, sexual stimulation."

The top song played in U.K. funerals is the Pythons' Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.  I posted the video six years ago; I suggest clicking that link and playing it while reading the rest of this linkdump. ("Always look on the bright side of death.  Just before you draw your terminal breath.")

An article (with video) at The Telegraph documents the changes that occur when a man adds ten non-diet Cokes a day to his diet.   In a month "the previously gym-toned Mr Prior put on two stone in weight, and saw his blood pressure rise to an unhealthy 145/96. He also reported strong cravings for more sugar, even though he was consuming 350g of sugar daily from his Coke intake alone."

So, you think you understand Putin's role in the situation in Ukraine?  What if someone said it was the West that was responsible for the escalation of hostilities?  "Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine’s economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia."  That's Henry Kissinger speaking.  The op-ed piece at Salon suggests "this is a non-Western nation drawing a line of resistance against the advance of Anglo-American neoliberalism across the planet."

Terminal lucidity is the subject of an interesting article in Scientific American.  The term refers to "The (re-)emergence of normal or unusually enhanced mental abilities in dull, unconscious, or mentally ill patients shortly before death, including considerable elevation of mood and spiritual affectation, or the ability to speak in a previously unusual spiritualized and elated manner."  For example " A 92-year-old woman with advanced Alzheimer’s disease... hadn’t recognized her family for years, but the day before her death, she had a pleasantly bright conversation with them, recalling everyone’s name."  At one of the links in the article a reasonable postulate is that when the brain is dying, an inhibitory hemisphere or locus dies first, releasing normal function by memory cells that had previously been suppressed.

Big Agriculture doesn't want libraries to share seeds.

The largest known block of stone carved by humans weighed an incredible 1,650 tons.  It was created in about 27 B.C. but never used for construction. (via Neatorama).

In six years your IRA balance can go from $5,000 to $196,000,000.   But only if you know how to twist the intent of Congress to your personal advantage.

"A German man committed to a high-security psychiatric hospital after being accused of fabricating a story of money-laundering activities at a major bank is to have his case reviewed after evidence has emerged proving the validity of his claims."

As you watch the American collegiate football playoffs, take a moment to ponder this tweet by the quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes: "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS."

A gif of a German sport called headis.  Discussed at Reddit.

Vortices in swimming pools are way more complicated and interesting than you would expect (also via my old friends at Neatorama).  What you're really seeing is both ends of a "half-vortex ring."

YouTube link.

 Wikipedia is the number one "go-to" resource that saves me countless hours of searching. TYWKIWDBI supports Wikipedia; if you enjoy this blog, you should support them too.

Top image of Trapiche emeralds (Muzo, Colombia) via Minerals, Minerals, Minerals!  Time travel image via Mark's Scrapbook of Oddities and Treasures.  I am going to do a sign like that for our front yard next summer.

The way things are going, I may be able to return to regular daily blogging in about one more week.

06 December 2014

"I do not want to be the one who tries to tell somebody else what life is all about. To me it’s a complete mystery."

BoingBoing offers a comprehensive report entitled Everything you need to know about marijuana edibles.  "It’s important for individuals to develop an idea of how they personally metabolize any oral cannabis preparation, starting with a very small dose and remaining patient until it’s thoroughly metabolized over six hours, before taking more... individuals only having experience with the low-potency cannabis of the Seventies and Eighties can be unpleasantly overwhelmed when consuming today’s cannabis."

This autumn in a garden outside the House of Commons in Westminster a gardener was employed to pull the leaves off the trees one by onePhoto at right.

The Telegraph offers a comprehensive list of all the winners of the Man Booker Prize from 1969 to 2013.  Each one is accompanied by a thumbnail sketch, often with a link to a comprehensive review of the book.  I'm embarassed at how few of them I've read.

Naval war games in the Pacific Ocean threaten the lives of countless marine creatures.  "Through 2018, the Navy plans to use 260,000 explosives — some as heavy as 2,000 pounds — and emit high-frequency sonar for a total of 500,000 hours — including 60,000 hours of the most powerful sonar.

The population of Germany is falling; it is down by 2 million.  "Mr. Voigt has already supervised the demolition of 60 houses and 12 apartment blocs, strategically injecting grassy patches into once-dense complexes... In its most recent census, Germany discovered it had lost 1.5 million inhabitants. By 2060, experts say, the country could shrink by an additional 19 percent, to about 66 million.  Demographers say a similar future awaits other European countries, and the issue grows more pressing every day as Europe’s seemingly endless economic troubles accelerate the decline."

A dinosaur newly discovered in Argentina - Dreadnoughtus schrani - is the largest animal ever found (so far).  It weighed 65 tons (a Boeing 737 weights 50 tons).  The photo at left shows a toe bone.

A desert plant plant, Helianthemum squamatum, can derive up to 90% of its fluid requirements from crystallization water (hydrates) trapped in gypsum rock.  Discussed at Reddit.

The Belgian chocolate maker ISIS has decided to change its name.

One appears to be gray and the other yellow, but these two Xs are the same color:

A vaccine has been developed to prevent tick-borne Lyme borreliosis.  Commentary at Reddit.

The first "Knock, knock.  Who's there..." was written by Shakespeare:  "Knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' th' name of Belzebub? . . . [Knock] Knock, knock! Who's there, in th' other devil's name?"  [Macbeth II:3, 1-8]

Those readers who have been following developments in the Antikyhthera mechanism will want to read about an update on the subject.  The date it was constructed to be used was 205 B.C. - earlier than previously thought.

Millennials are not interested in golf.  "Last year alone, some 400,000 people gave up the sport in the U.S., according to the National Golf Foundation. At least 160 golf courses closed down, which marked the eighth consecutive year of net closings around the country. Golfers played the lowest number of rounds since 1995."

Unusual horse for sale (image embedded right), via the always funny Bad Newspaper.

If you live in Europe and find an unusual object washed up on the beach, with the word "Tjipetir" written on it, you can read an explanation of it in the Washington Post.

The top (by Ali Akbari) and bottom (by Adam Williams) photos in this post are two of the 101 images presented in the 2014 International Landscape Photographer of the Year Competition.

Title quote (attributed to Charles M. Schulz), found at Mark's Scrapbook of Oddities and Treasures.

29 November 2014


An article at the BBC explores why so many Americans live in mobile homes.  "Not everyone who lives in a trailer park is poor."  My father lived in one in Texas for many years .

The WildCat is an impressive robot developed by the U.S. Defense Department. Video at the link.

The "choking game" is "an activity popular among 9- to 16-year-old kids in which they strangle themselves or each other — sometimes at parties or sleepovers — to get a high. The most common reported age of death is 13, Alex’s age. Many kids like Alex — smart kids who do well in school and have loving families — regard the Choking Game as a legal and safe alternative to drugs; one popular nickname for this is the Good Kids’ High."

The Atlantic explains how close New York City is to a food crisis, if supplies from outside the city are disrupted by natural or manmade events: "New Yorkers rely chiefly on food from across the country, or the other side of the world. And to complicate matters, in recent decades the big companies that run these systems... keep much smaller inventories than in years past, sized to meet immediate demand under stable conditions—a strategy known as "just-in-time."

 Some medical facilities in the U.S. are now permitting patients to be visited by their pets. "In the end, officials decided that the benefits — comfort and reduced stress for patients — were more substantial than the risks. 

The Ancient History Encyclopedia has TMI for right now, but it is a good link to bookmark for reference and future browsing.  Its content is exactly what the name suggests.

The World Memory Championships are a remarkable test of human abilities.  Components of the competition include:
1. Names and faces: recall as many as possible in 15 minutes
2. Binary numbers: remember as many binary figures, which are made up of 0 and 1, in half an hour
3. One hour numbers: to memorise as many random digits in complete rows of 40 in one hour
4. Abstract images: recall the sequence of abstract images in as many rows as possible in 15 minutes
5. Speed numbers: remember random digits, in rows of 40, as quickly as possible in five minutes
6. Historic/future dates: recall as many years as possible and link them correctly to given fictional events in five minutes
7. One hour cards: remember as many separate decks of 52 playing cards as possible in one hour
8. Random words: recount as many random words, such as dog, vase, spoon, in 15 minutes
9. Spoken numbers: memorise as many single digits spoken aloud in one second intervals as possible
10. Speed cards: recall as single pack of 52 playing cards in the shortest possible time.
Additional details are available in an article in The Telegraph.

The Sahara desert is experiencing a "catastrophic collapse of its wildlife." "Of 14 species historically found in the Sahara, four are now extinct, and the rest are heading that way.... the region has lost the Bubal hartebeest (which is entirely extinct), the scimitar horned ornyx (extinct in the wild), the African wild dog and the African lion, while the dama gazelle, addax, leopard and the Saharan cheetah have been eliminated from 90 percent or more of their range."

The earth has vast resources of fresh water - underneath the oceans. "The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we've extracted from the Earth's sub-surface in the past century since 1900."

Some people think the U.S. and Canada should merge into one country.  "Such a merger makes perfect sense. No two countries on Earth are as socially and economically integrated as the U.S. and Canada... Truth be told, the merger of the U.S. and Canada is already well under way. As many as one in 10 Canadians (more than 3 million people) live full- or part-time in the U.S., and an estimated 1 million Americans live in Canada."

An op-ed piece at Salon argues that referring to every soldier as a "hero" cheapens the term.

FlirOne infrared cameras attach to a cellphone and can be utilized in a variety of ways to do your own home inspection looking for heat and water leaks.

The "jetway Jesus phenomenon" is a term flight attendants use to refer to passengers who get rides through airports in wheelchairs, then miraculously get up and walk.

Was Vincent Van Gogh murdered?  "And, anyway, what kind of a person, no matter how unbalanced, tries to kill himself with a shot to the midsection? And then, rather than finish himself off with a second shot, staggers a mile back to his room in agonizing pain from a bullet in his belly?"

Photos of vinyl hoarders and their hoards.

The first house in the United States to have electric lights was in Appleton, Wisconsin.  The homeowner operated a mill and set up a hydroelectric plant for the house.

A previously-unknown Shakespearean First Folio has been discovered in a French Jesuit library.

During WWI, tanks were designated "male" or "female."  The latter had machine guns.

"The former leader of a Christian ministry that promised to cure people "trapped in homosexuality" has revealed that he has married his gay partner."

"The two drugs have been declared equivalently miraculous. Tested side by side in six major trials, both prevent blindness in a common old-age affliction. Biologically, they are cousins. They’re even made by the same company. But one holds a clear price advantage. Avastin costs about $50 per injection.Lucentis costs about $2,000 per injection.  Doctors choose the more expensive drug more than half a million times every year, a choice that costs the Medicare program, the largest single customer, an extra $1 billion or more annually... Doctors and drugmakers profit when more-costly treatments are adopted... “Lucentis is Avastin — it’s the same damn molecule with a few cosmetic changes..."

The National Library of Norway is in the process of digitizing its entire holdings. "If you happen to be in Norway, as measured by your IP address, you will be able to access all 20th-century works, even those still under copyright. Non-copyrighted works from all time periods will be available for download. "

ELI5 explanation of why oil (and gasoline) prices have been plummeting


The title of this linkdump is one of the penultimate lines from The Court of Tartary, a fantasy by T.P. Caravan first published in 1963. In the story, a professor of English literature "awakens" to find his mind is entrapped in the body of a cow, and the herd seems to be destined to the slaughterhouse.
"Edward Harrison Dunbar, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., L.L.D., member of the Modern Language Association and authority on eighteenth century literature, was not prepared for the situation in which he found himself: it had never been mentioned by any of the writers of the Age of Reason....

And even as he ran he wondered if he couldn't prove that Edward Young was the true author of the third book of Gulliver's Travels, because he knew that if he stopped thinking scholarly thoughts about the eighteenth century he would have to admit that he had turned into an animal. So as he ran he considered the evidence turned up by the publication of the Tickell papers and the discovery of Swift's old laundry lists and Night Thoughts and the graveyard poets and Gray's Elegy and the lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, and he had to admit that he was an animal....

There was no point in approaching his difficulty through the scientific method: he knew no science. There was no help for him in metaphysics: he had cleared his mind of Kant. Nor could the classics aid him: he had read Ovid, of course, and the Golden Ass, but he didn't see how they bore on his problem. And — he hated to admit it — nobody in the eighteenth century seemed to have wondered what would happen to a scholar who woke up and found himself a cow. All right. That left only his own experience to fall back on. But, being a professor, he had never had any experiences..."
He decides to use his hoof to draw a triangle in the dust.  Then... if I've piqued your curiosity, you can read the full story in ten minutes fulltext online at Scribd.


The photographs (found here, here, and here) embedded above in this weekend linkdump are of Prince's Island Park, located in the Bow River as it passes through Calgary.  The backside of the island abuts the community of Eau Claire, but its nicest feature is that the front of the island faces the delightful community of Sunnyside, a suburb of Calgary characterized by an uncommonly large number of intellectually sophisticated residents.

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