31 March 2014


Woo-hoo.  Temperatures in the fifties have brought out the crocuses in our front lawn, several weeks later than normal (and all the more welcome).  No butterflies reported in the state yet - when one does appear, it will be the latest first sighting in ten years.

Sixty degrees outdoors today - for the first time in five months.

I'm out the door.

When I come back in, there will be tax paperwork and other house chores, so it will be a week before the blog gets my attention again.  TTYL.

The albinos of Tanzania are a "tribe of ghosts"

"Tribe of Ghosts" refers to Tanzanians unfortunate enough to be afflicted with albinism in a society rife with ignorance and prejudice.  Photojournalist Jacquelyn Martin documented their plight; some of her images were featured at the Mail Online:
The Kabanaga Protectorate Centre in the town of Kabanaga in the north-west of the East African country, close to the Burundi border, caters to the nation's albinos, who are known as the 'tribe of ghosts', 'zeros' or 'the invisibles'. They have suffered appalling treatment at the hands of their own neighbours and are murdered for their body parts, which are believed to bring good fortune and cure all manner of ills...

Sometimes the parents are afraid of their children, sometimes they are forced to give up their beloved offspring because they fear the prejudices of the people in their own community...

In February attackers collecting body parts of albinos for witchcraft hacked off the hand of a seven-year-old boy, officials said. The boy, called Mwigulu Magessa, was ambushed by the men as he walked home with his friends in Tanzania. He survived but many such victims of ignorance are not so lucky. Just days earlier an albino mother of four had her arm chopped off by machete-wielding men and a month before that an albino child died in Tanzania's Tabora region after attackers hacked off his arm.'.. 
This photo shows one of the albinos in a shop in the village:

'There's a market close to the centre and the women went together in a group as a safety measure because it's harder to kidnap someone in a group,' says Jacquelyn. 'Angel was in a shop and the woman behind the counter couldn't look her in the eyes. 'She just took her money. That was something that struck me.' 
Jacquelyn Martin's website is here, and the Tribe of Ghosts photoset is here.
To help individuals living at the Center please contact Asante Mariamu, a non-profit that takes an individual approach to education on the issues facing people with albinism.

You're invited to a butterfly lecture

Anyone within driving distance of Madison, Wisconsin is cordially invited to the annual spring meeting of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association (SWBA) to be held in the Fitchburg Public Library (5530 Lacy Road, Fitchburg, WI) (directions) from 7:00-9:00 PM on the evening of Wednesday, April  2.  Indoor, underground parking can be accessed from a driveway on the west side of the building.

Dr. Sean Schoville, an assistant professor of entomology at UW - Madison, will present a lecture entitled "Past and future climate change impacts on alpine butterflies in the Sierra Nevada, California." 
Alpine environments are extreme habitats with protracted winters, high climatic variability, and a history of rapid and repeated environmental transition. Despite many physiological challenges, a remarkable community of insects live exclusively in alpine environments. Dr. Schoville has been using genetic data to understand how alpine butterflies colonize, persist and diversify within alpine habitats of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. 
After the lecture there will be a photography "show and tell" featuring the spectacular images captured by members of the butterfly association.

There will be refreshments, handouts, and lots of good vibes from outdoor enthusiasts finally being released from the throes of a prolonged winter.  The meeting is free and open to the public.

30 March 2014

I'll bet you didn't see the mantis on the orchid

Neither did the fly.

From the Mail Online, via The Soul is Bone.

Today I'm posting five items I've harvested from The Soul is Bone, and I'm adding it to my category of recommended blogs.  It's a tumblr maintained by the same blogger who created Deformutilation, which I also frequently visit.  The content is described as
Educationally bizarre: Current events, medicine, animals, forensics, oddities, teeth, eyes, deformities, funerals, cemeteries, blood, albinism and such ........
Both sites include graphic images of human pathology (especially ocular pathology) which are not hidden beneath any folds and thus may be too intense for some readers.  But the tumblr clearly has an abundance of images of "things-you-wouldn't-know" material, always with appropriate links to the source.

Grave warmer

The one illustrated above is propane-fueled.  The Dakota County Star reports that others are heated by charcoal:
The grave defroster is approximately 8 feet long, and 4 feet wide.  It is double walled steel construction, insulated between the two walls...
It is then filled with 100 to 120 pounds of charcoal, lit, sealed, and then left for a period of 24 hours or so.  Once that time has passed, one man can easily dig the grave within an hour’s time.  Propane can also be used to heat the unit, in which case a 100-pound cylinder would be used.  However, with the cylinder, it burns at a higher temperature and requires supervision.  The cost, at the present time, is also significantly more for propane than charcoal.
Via The Soul is Bone.

Ants squirting formic acid

Their aggressive behaviour was captured by Paul Quagliana, 43, a wildlife photographer, who found a colony of the ants on a log in Wareham Forest, Dorset. In order to trigger the insect’s reaction, he gave their nest a tap, which prompted the ants to squirt acid in the air from their tiny abdomens. ‘There are many different species of woodland ants in Britain and these are called Formica rufa,’ said Mr Quagliana, who lives in Gillingham, Dorset. ‘As a defence mechanism they squirt formic acid which smells a bit like salt and vinegar crisps or fish and chips,’ he explained. 
From the Mail Online, via The Soul is Bone.

Addendum: Video here, narrated by David Attenborough.

Shady front porch

From Facebook, via The Soul is Bone.

Annie Oakley, wheelwoman

Annie Oakley's biography is interesting and worth a couple minutes' browsing.
Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 15,000 women how to use a gun. Oakley believed strongly that it was crucial for women to learn how to use a gun, as not only a form of physical and mental exercise, but also to defend themselves. She said: "I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies."
Photo from the tumblr of the Smithsonian library, where it is noted that she biked 20 miles a day and incorporated a bicycle into her performance in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.

TIL: "During her lifetime, the theatre business began referring to complimentary tickets as "Annie Oakleys". Such tickets traditionally have holes punched into them (to prevent them from being resold), reminiscent of the playing cards Oakley shot through during her sharpshooting act."

28 March 2014

Bigăr waterfall, Romania

Located here.  Photo via Reddit.

A Minnesota forest

Located in Minnesota (near the Canadian border), and shaped like Minnesota.

Screencap by BobInMinn taken from Google Maps and posted in Reddit, then explained at Minneapolis' City Pages:
Hello, I have been aware of this timber harvest shaped like the state of MN border for about 8 years.  I was a forester in northern Minnesota for some time and I can tell you this. This is state forest land, managed by DNR Division of Forestry.  The state employs foresters to design timber harvests to meet many objectives including ecological and economic ones.  The forester who designed this timber sale is a veteran at his craft and created this boundary line without the use of gps, but with map and compass instead.  The forest type is jack pine, which is an early successional species that colonizes sites after a major disturbance and needs full sun to thrive. This species occurs in fire dependent forests.  Modern timber sales mimic the effect of fire in these landscapes.  As such this large opening was created to encourage it's regeneration.   Loggers are contractors of the landowners/ land managers, and as such do not have discretion as to the layout of the harvest or other design features.  They perform the contract. This forester must have an artistic side.
Via 22 Words, which offers a series of zoomed-out Google Maps to place this forest in perspective.

Video of a car vent (really)

You can't spend all day learning things.  Sometimes you just need to lean back and watch a car vent.

Three days in a U.S. hospital

That comes to about a dollar a second.  Via Reddit.

Classic scientific illustration

Turning the Book Wheel, the tumblr of the Smithsonian Library, provided the link for
Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium... and noted that
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)... was fascinated with insects and the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies. Trained as a painter, she beautifully depicted her observations about the life-cycle of insects. Her illustrations show not just the insects’ transformation, but the important role specific plants have in sustaining the animal during the various stages of development.

Bre'r Rabbit takes 500,000 volts

From an article in The Electrical Experimenter (1920), where note is made that -
Bre’r Rabbit taking a trifling 500,000 volts at 20 kilowatts, and liking it well, thank you! He held still for 20 seconds, only blinking once in awhile. He was not chained nor held down otherwise…He is still alive, so Sis needn’t worry that we killed him.”
SciFi enthusiasts will know (or be pleased to learn) that the editor of The Electrical Experimenter was none other than Hugo Gernsback.

Via Turning the Book Wheel, the tumblr of the Smithsonian Library.

The "box scene" from "Kiss Me Deadly"

I watched this classic film noir movie last night. This final sequence, in which the "MacGuffin" is opened, is the most famous scene in the movie.  The video above cuts off too soon; the full effects of "the box" are not apparent until a few moments later, as seen in this other clip: [warning: spoilers in both videos]

The glowing box is reprised in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.  For me an even more vivid parallel would be the opening of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

26 March 2014

Red aurorae borealis

As winter finally fades here in the northern latitudes, so do the opportunities to witness displays of the aurora borealis.  Spectacular sightings were reported this year, including a seemingly inordinate number of reports of red auroras.

Top photo from a Reddit thread.  Below that one from a photoessay at the BBC.  The Telegraph has a photo of a similarly red aurora Australis.

Adolph Hitler's ill health

Excerpts from an interesting post at Neatorama, citing Uncle John's Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader:
Dr. Schenck had been fed a steady diet of photographs, films, and propaganda posters of Hitler since the dictator had come to power in 1933. But the man he saw in the bunker looked nothing like those images. The 56-year-old Hitler “was a living corpse, a dead soul,” Schenck remembered in a 1985 interview. “His spine was hunched, his shoulder blades protruded from his bent back, and he collapsed his shoulders like a turtle… I was looking into the eyes of death.”

Even more shocking than the way Hitler looked was the way he moved about the bunker. He walked with the slow, halting shuffle of a man thirty years older, dragging his left leg behind him as he went. He couldn’t go more than a few steps without grabbing onto something for support.

Hitler’s head, arms, and entire left side trembled and jerked uncontrollably. No longer able to write his own name, he signed important documents with a rubber stamp...

According to one estimate, by the early 1940s, Hitler was taking 92 different kinds of drugs, including 63 different pills and skin lotions. Some medicines were taken only when specific complaints arose, but others were taken every day. By the summer of 1941, Hitler was popping between 120 and 150 pills a week on average. And on top of all the pills, Morell also administered injections -as many as 10 a day, sometimes more...

Most of the pills and shots that Hitler took were unidentified and mysterious, but Dr. Koester’s Anti-Gas Pills came in a little metal container...  that identified them by name and even listed the active ingredients: gentian, belladonna, and an extract of something called nux vomica...

Hitler’s valets, secretaries, and other close aides occasionally witnessed the shots being administered, and after the war they all described how the sleepy and sometimes completely exhausted Führer responded to all the injections instantly, sometimes even while the needle was still in his arm...
Much more information at the links.  Very interesting.

Introducing the hammerhead (flat)worm

This planarian is an inhabitant of the soil; it preys on earthworms:

More details about its biology at The Ark in Space.

It's "duck, duck, GRAY duck"

NOT "duck, duck, goose."  According to the StarTribune:
We play Duck, Duck, Gray Duck, while the rest of the planet plays the inferior Duck, Duck, Goose...

The games begin the same way. Participants sit in a circle, while the person who is “it” circles the group, tapping each player. That’s where the differences start. In DDG, the tapper says only “duck” until using the word “goose,” at which point the tappee jumps up and gives chase.

DDGD is more elaborate. To each “duck” designation, the tapper also adds a descriptive color, such as “red duck” or “yellow duck.” The chase starts when the tapper dubs someone “gray duck.”..

The impetus behind his sudden national prominence was a column in the online news source BuzzFeed. Minnesota native Katie Heaney wrote about growing up playing Duck, Duck, Gray Duck, only to discover as an adult, much to her dismay, that the kids in the rest of the country are “playing some abomination version called Duck, Duck, Goose.”
The rest of the story is at the StarTribune.

Photo credit: Glenn Stubbe • Star Tribune

25 March 2014

Fire opal

It's actually not a mineral:
Opal is a hydrated amorphous form of silica; its water content may range from 3% to 21% by weight, but is usually between 6% and 10%. Because of its amorphous character it is classed as a mineraloid, unlike the other crystalline forms of silica which are classed as minerals. It is deposited at a relatively low temperature and may occur in the fissures of almost any kind of rock...

The internal structure of precious opal makes it diffract light; depending on the conditions in which it formed, it can take on many colors. Precious opal ranges from clear through white, gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, slate, olive, brown, and black. Of these hues, the reds against black are the most rare, whereas white and greens are the most common. It varies in optical density from opaque to semi-transparent...

The word opal is adapted from the Roman term opalus, but the origin of this word is a matter of debate. However, most modern references suggest it is adapted from the Sanskrit word úpala... the argument for the Sanskrit origin is strong. The term first appears in Roman references around 250 BC, at a time when the opal was valued above all other gems...

It was also said to confer the power of invisibility if wrapped in a fresh bay leaf and held in the hand.  Following the publication of Sir Walter Scott's Anne of Geierstein in 1829, however, opal acquired a less auspicious reputation. In Scott's novel, the Baroness of Arnheim wears an opal talisman with supernatural powers. When a drop of holy water falls on the talisman, the opal turns into a colorless stone and the Baroness dies soon thereafter. Due to the popularity of Scott's novel, people began to associate opals with bad luck and death.  Within a year of the publishing of Scott's novel in April 1829, the sale of opals in Europe dropped by 50%, and remained low for the next twenty years or so.
Photo credit Marty Magic, where this specimen is offered for sale.

Remembering The Trashmen

I've been helping several classmates as we prepare for a 50th-year high-school reunion.  As we discussed music, The Trashmen came up, because they were a local Minneapolis band that gained national prominence, largely because of their "Surfin' Bird" in 1963.

It's interesting that after the American Bandstand performance above, Steve Wahrer's initial comment to Dick Clark was "we - the four of us in the group - DID write the song."  That's a most unusual comment to utter after a performance, and likely reflects tensions that were already building because this song was quite blatantly a mashup of two songs by The Rivingtons - Papa Oom Mow Mow and The Bird's The Word ("following a threat from The Rivingtons' legal counsel, that group was subsequently credited as composers.")

Frankly, I never did like the song, but it had more energy than most of the crooning 45s of the era, and thus was popular for dances and parties.

Video via Boing Boing.

$10,000 worth of chemotherapy capsules

Photo from a discussion thread at Reddit.

Honeybees are NOT native to North America

"If the honeybee is a victim of natural menaces like viruses and unnatural ones like pesticides, it's worth remembering that the bee itself is not a natural resident of the continent.  It was imported to North America in the 17th century, and it thrived until recently because it found a perfect niche in a food system that demands crops at ever cheaper prices and in ever greater quantities.  That's a man-made mercantile ecosystem that not only has been good for the bees and beekeepers but also has meant steady business and big revenue for supermarkets and grocery stores."
From an article in the August 19, 2013 issue of Time magazine.  You learn something every day.

Photo credit Ken Thomas, via Wikipedia.

21 March 2014

Japanese mountainside with cherry trees in bloom

I was born in Washington, D.C.  Every year my parents would take me from our home in Arlington to the Tidal Basin in town to walk under the cherry blossoms.

Photo by turtar, via Reddit.

Google Street View explores the Colorado River

Full access via this Google link.  Discussed at the StarTribune.

This kid gets it

Amidst all the exaltation and heartbreak of basketball's "March madness," it's easy to lose sight of the purpose of high school athletics.  Chip Scoggins offers this story from the Minnesota state basketball tournament:
One by one, members of the Hopkins boys’ basketball team stepped forward to receive their second-place medals Saturday night at Target Center. Their mood reflected the manner in which they lost the big-school state championship game.

The top-seeded Royals had the title within their grasp, only to see it disappear as Lakeville North, behind a remarkable performance by senior sharpshooter JP Macura, snatched it away in the final minute. That game represented high school sports at their best.

But then came the awards ceremony and the reaction of the Hopkins players. Specifically, a few players removed their medals almost immediately after having them placed over their heads by a state high school league official.

It wasn’t a good look, a high school athlete removing a state tournament medal in disgust. It created an unflattering impression that the perennial basketball power is too good for second place, which, predictably, made social media light up like Times Square because it involved Hopkins.

But then the TV cameras found Hopkins student manager Grant Petersen, a senior born with Down syndrome who reacted as if his team had just won the state championship, the Super Bowl and the Powerball when he heard his name announced.

Grant jumped up and down, both arms raised. Upon receiving his medal, he raised his arms again and flashed two thumbs up to his parents, sister and relatives sitting in the stands.

It was a beautiful moment, a kid overjoyed to get a medal in a sport he loves. Unwittingly, Grant showed all of us what grace and sportsmanship look like.
The rest of the story, and details about young Mr. Peterson, are at the StarTribune

Posted for World Down Syndrome Day.  See also the "Dear Future Mom" video at Neatorama.

Photo credit: Jarrin Williams, Special to the Star Tribune

20 March 2014

"Fargo" has been remade for television

Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, coming to FX and Channel 4 (UK) next month.

Looks interesting.  You betcha.

I highly recommend this report on fraternities

For those of you getting ready to send Junior off to college, there is an eye-opening essay by Caitlin Flanagan in the most recent issue of The Atlantic.  "The Dark Power of Fraternities" discusses the love-hate relationship that colleges and universities have with fraternities (they save the schools millions in student housing costs, but they have limited or no control over the activities there).
Across the country, kids fall—disastrously—from the upper heights of fraternity houses with some regularity. They tumble from the open windows they are trying to urinate out of, slip off roofs, lose their grasp on drainpipes, misjudge the width of fire-escape landings. On February 25, 2012, a student at the University of California at Berkeley attempted to climb down the drainpipe of the Phi Gamma Delta house, fell, and suffered devastating injuries; on April 14 of the same year, a 21-year-old student at Gannon University, in Pennsylvania, died after a fall from the second-floor balcony of the Alpha Phi Delta house the night before; on May 13, a Cornell student was airlifted to a trauma center after falling from the fire escape at Delta Chi; on October 13, a student at James Madison University fell from the roof of the three-story Delta Chi house and was airlifted to the University of Virginia hospital; on December 1, a 19-year-old woman fell eight feet from the Sigma Alpha Mu house at Penn State.
What is far more interesting (and important) than the catalogue of problems is the complexities of legal responsibility (or lack of same).  Generally, universities are NOT responsible for these incidents.  NOR are the fraternities.  Often it is the students themselves (or their families back home) who will be held financially responsible for another students death or injury.

If you're sending a kid to college, read the article.

Diamonds are not forever

A thread at Reddit addressed the question "If diamonds are made of just carbon, is it possible to get a diamond to catch fire?"

The embedded video answers the question by showing a diamond being burned (heated white-hot, then dropped in liquid oxygen).

Practical significance, for those without liquid oxygen at home and diamonds to burn?
If your house burns down with the family jewels inside, you can collect the pools of melted gold, but the diamonds will be gone in a puff of CO2. Cheaper, more attractive stones, such as cubic zirconia and synthetic ruby and sapphire, are made of refractory metal oxides that easily withstand the same heat. So it's actually mall trinkets, not diamonds, that are forever.

Why does my mouse cursor jump around?

It's a nuisance when blogging, and an real hazard during time-dependent games.  A quick Google shows a variety of remedies for cursors jumping while typing, but my problem arises not with the flashing typing cursor, but with the mouse arrow; when I try to move it to a location, it sometimes teleports to a different part of the screen.  I've tried replacing the batteries, without improvement.

I'm using a Magic Mouse on an iMac, tracking on a rubberized pad.  My three relevant Preferences (tracing, scrolling, double-click) are set on the fastest level.  I'm guessing this has something to do with static electricity, but perhaps the optical sensing apparatus of the mouse is wearing out. 

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

The U.S. prison population

"The United States locks up more people, per capita, than any other nation."
The United States not only incarcerates a lot of people, it also has a bewildering array of places to put them. There are, of course, jails and prisons: jails are usually run by local jurisdictions (cities or counties) and house either convicted criminals serving short sentences or people awaiting trial. Prisons, or penitentiaries, are run by states or the federal government, and house convicts serving longer sentences. But there are also juvenile-detention facilities, military prisons, immigration-detention and civil-commitment centres (used for court-ordered treatment of the mentally ill; they can be inpatient or outpatient) as well as jails and prisons in Indian and overseas territories, most of which are administered by different government entities...
Remember, though, that number is static: it does not capture the churn of people in and out of incarceration during a given year... Many of these have poor intent requirements, meaning people are being locked up not to keep the rest of society safe, but for technical violations of laws they may not have known existed.
Image source.  Via The Dish.

Take a seat

Malefactors are stealing seats from Audis.  Not the car - just the driver's seat.
The so-called B7 version of Audi's practical supercar was sold between 2006 and 2008 and although the V8-powered machine is still highly desirable and worth upwards of £30,000, Audi doesn't make the seats any more.

So they have to be imported in parts and according to mechanic Daniel Parsons at Five Oaks Audi, who had painstakingly done just that for Smith, it takes in excess of 20 hours at £132 an hour...

But who on earth are these seats being stolen for? Audi only sold about 2,000 of the cars in those two years and the race-inspired, leather-skinned bucket seats are hard-wearing enough not to need replacing.

The answer could lie in a new modification fashion, according to one expert. "There's a type of styling trend called OEM-plus where you use original equipment parts but from a superior car like a Bentley, Porsche or Audi," says Elliott Roberts, editor of Performance VW magazine. "You see Audi TT dashboards in Golfs and all sorts of stuff." 
More at The Telegraph.

19 March 2014

Deer tick

Photograph of a tick burrowing its feeding parts into the skin of the photographer's own leg.
This photo, by Ashley Prytherch, is one of the award-winning entries in the annual Wellcome Image Awards (17 more award-winning photos at the link).

Animals may see UV flashes from power lines

The video, from a helicopter company, shows imaging of UV discharges from power lines.  Its relevance to the natural world is discussed at Slate:
In a report published in Conservation Biology, the scientists wrote that animals’ avoidance of power cables is likely linked with their ability to detect ultraviolet light. While the spectrum of light emitted from the lines is beyond what humans can see, it is visible to birds, rodents, and reindeer. These animals may see power cables as randomly flashing bands...

It has been known since the 1970s that birds can see UV light, and more recent studies have shown that many (mostly small) mammals can, too. Reindeer, more so than many other large mammals, have retinas that are adapted to living in the dark, which helps them forage for food during long Arctic winters. That, combined with the fact that UV light is more visible in snowy landscapes due to reflection, means that reindeer are particularly sensitive to the apparent flashing of power cables.

Could "night vision contact lenses" become a reality?

Theoretically, yes.  Researchers at the University of Michigan have created a graphene-based material that detects infrared light.
"We can make the entire design super-thin," said Zhaohui Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. "It can be stacked on a contact lens or integrated with a cell phone."  The material worked at room temperature, which is another accomplishment.
More information at Popular Science.  Graphene image from Nokia.

A wealth/religiosity curve

The chart above is based on data from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes project, which surveyed people in 40 countries to ask whether belief in God was necessary for someone to be a "moral person."
The results aren't just a measure of people's own religious beliefs, but also of the character of the place they're in and the exposure they have to people who aren't like them. If you've always been taught that the nature of right and wrong and the enforcement of those rules comes from the church, and virtually everyone you've ever known believes in God, those who don't would seem like something of an alien species...

At the other end, if you live in a place where most people don't believe in God, even if you do, you probably know many perfectly nice people who don't, so it would be harder to sustain the belief that they're all inherently amoral...
Commentary at The American Prospect asks why China and the United States "fall off the curve" and attributes the U.S. relatively high religiosity to the fact that "we've always had a dynamic, competitive religious marketplace."

I'll offer a different viewpoint - that the high GDP of the United States is distorted by the concentration of wealth in a relatively small group of individuals, so that the per capita GDP should more properly be shifted to the left, placing the U.S. closer to the curve.  (I have not checked to see whether the Pew study used mean or median GDP, which would address my postulate).

Whatever the reason, it's an interesting curve.

18 March 2014

One of the world's most valuable stamps

The world's first adhesive postage stamp was the "Penny Black," issued in Great Britain in 1840.  After it had been in use for a while, officials noted that cancellations with black ink were difficult to discern on the stamps (thus risking their being reused by the public).  Some cancellations were done with red ink, but the simpler expedient was to change the design of the postage stamp to red, and cancel them with black markings.

The "Penny Red" served as postage for a first-class letter in Great Britain for about 40 years (which says something about inflation and economics of the era).  These stamps were therefore printed literally by the billions.  Most therefore are today of only minimal monetary value.  Except for the one shown above.

When you print something by the billions and billiions, the metal plates used to print them wear out, develop cracks and broken highlights, or generally become dull.  New plates are then created.  In nineteenth-century Britain, the printing plates were sequentially numbered, and many stamps of the period carry "plate numbers" placed modestly somewhere in the design.  I have highlighted with yellow ovals in the embedded image the position of plate numbers within the lacework on the lateral borders of the Penny Red.

Plate #77 was found to be defective and not formally used.  The unused copy shown above is one of only nine copies known to exist; it resides in the archives of the British Library and carries a catalogue value of approximately $175,000 USD.

If you have some Penny Reds sitting in an old album in a closet, you can look up the value of the plate number in a variety of philatelic catalogues.   Sound used copies are valued in the range of about $3-20 USD, with mint copies approximately a log power higher.

This man has a master's degree in chemistry

Back when Pope Francis was still going by the handle of Jorge Bergoglio, he earned a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires...

Modern-day science writer and Jesuit Guy Consolmagno studies asteroids and meteorites at the Vatican Observatory... “Doing science is like playing a game with God, playing a puzzle with God,” Consolmagno once told the Canadian Broadcasting Center. “God sets the puzzles, and after I can solve one, I can hear him cheering, 'Great, that was wonderful, now here’s the next one.' It’s the way I can interact with the Creator... Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism -- it's turning God into a nature god." 
More on science and Catholicism at International Business Times.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Max Rossi 

When you see a manual laborer...

Discussion thread at Reddit.  Some interesting discussion re Mike Rowe and the Koch brothers in the Comments below.

I don't understand why this is allowed to happen

Headline and abbreviated text from a local Wisconsin paper:

Stevens Point man arrested for 10th OWI offense

"A Stevens Point man has been arrested for his 10th drunken-driving offense... The man was on supervision for his ninth operating-while-intoxicated conviction when he was arrested..."

Additional details here.  Reports like this are not at all unusual in Wisconsin.

It seems that after X number of convictions, a license to drive would be revoked.  After X+1, the vehicle would be confiscated, and every vehicle thereafter.

But perhaps that would infringe on the perpetrator's freedom...

Safe for work (but just barely...)

Les Beaux Freres are Canadian circus performers.  Via The Dish.

17 March 2014

"Find Momo"

In the spirit of the "Where's Wally" cartoons, Andrew Knapp, a Canadian photographer, invites you to spot his dog in a series of images. 

The Daily Mail has about a dozen sample images from his book.

Should hunters make use of drones?

The pros and cons are pondered by Dennis Anderson in a StarTribune op-ed piece:
Drones also are making news in the outdoor world, particularly in hunting, as states such as Colorado pass laws to prohibit their use in pursuit of elk and other game...

Meanwhile, scouting wildlife in Minnesota with drones might be legal, Salo said, though flying them over private property without permission is problematic, as is, perhaps, their use over various federal properties, such as waterfowl production areas and national forests.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation last year making it illegal for anti-hunters to use drones to interfere with hunters and anglers...

“Drones are pretty loud,” he said. “I could see where they might frighten deer or other wildlife into running, rather than staying put.” Another downside to drone use for, say, scouting, is that their cameras provide relatively wide-angle views. So the size of a deer or sex of a turkey, for example, might be difficult to determine remotely unless the drone was flown relatively low.

A video for St. Patrick's Day

President James Madison cautions about the downside of war

Since I live in a city named after him, and since yesterday was his birthday, it's appropriate for me to honor his memory by citing this prescient quotation:
“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,”
– James Madison, “Political Observations” from Letters and Other Writings
Via The Dish.

"Missed connection"

An evocative image, previously published in the August 24, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, and available now for purchase from the artist's website.  Via Boing Boing.

Passenger airplanes without windows

An article in The Telegraph ponders a possible future:
For the engineers, the removal of windows will facilitate passenger relaxation and reduce in-flight exertion by ensuring “no more glaring sun and no more shades to pull down or push up”. More pertinently, the absence of windows will reduce the weight of the aircraft – the insertion of windows requires additional structural supports and parts – and will lessen drag, thus diminishing travel times and fuel costs. In place of windows, the jet’s interior walls will be covered in thin display screens. Cameras on the exterior of the aircraft will be able to transmit footage of the surrounding panoramas...

The firm is so assured of the benefits of windowless cabins that it anticipates them to become the norm on all new aircraft within the next 20 years...

Passengers willing to fly in a windowless fuselage may need to consider other potential problems. Should the technology falter during the flight, for example, passengers would be plunged into darkness and would have no other means to look out of the aircraft...

Windows are not just there to allow passengers to get accustomed to the ambient light outside in case of an emergency, but also to allow emergency workers to see in, in case they need to cut into the aircraft.
The concept is illustrated at the link with images of wide, plush airline seats that you and I will never sit in.  For some reason, I don't like the concept...

photo credit

13 March 2014

"In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel."

The Life Battery depicts your predicted remaining lengh of life in the format of the battery icon used on computers. "Modal age of death is used rather than life expectancy, to filter out early deaths and give an optimistic result."  Optimistically calculated or not, a memento mori is seldom a pleasant experience to view.

Curious about the explosive potential of WWII mines?  This video shows the controlled detonation of one recently found on the Dutch shoreline.

This leech can survive for years in liquid nitrogen and thus is pre-adapted for interplanetary travel.  "Only two other known species can survive being immersed in liquid nitrogen--water bears and the larvae of one type of drosophilid fly--but previously the maximum recorded length of submersion was 1 hour." 

A touching open letter To The Woman and Child Who Sat at Table 9.  You can read the rest at the link.  It's worth one minute of your time.
"I know what I was supposed to say when I went to your table. I was supposed to politely tell you to please not have your daughter yell. I was supposed to offer to move you to another area. I was supposed to offend you by not offending you...

I did not do any of that.

Instead I just told you I hoped your meal was awesome. I high-fived your daughter and then I told you that your meal was on us tonight. It was only $16. It meant more to me than that. I do not think the other guests I spoke to were happy about it. At that moment it did not matter to me."
How to prevent outside faucets from freezing.  Too late for this winter for many of you, but worth bookmarking if you live at a northern latitude (but note newspaper links do not last forever).

How marijuana causes the munchies:
If mice are an accurate model for humans, one of the ways that THC increases appetite is by making us more sensitive to the smells of food. Because scent and taste are so closely related, it likely allows us to better taste flavors as well. 
A video camera falls from an airplane into a pigpen; the pigs investigate.

There is an annual spelling bee for seniors.  Here is the word list for the 2012 competition.

A dozen photos from the first winter Olympics, in 1924.

Mothers produce different breast milk depending on whether their child is a boy or a girl.  The variation is in both quantity and content.

There have been recent advances in drug treatment of Down syndrome.

Pentecostal preacher Jamie Coots, who handled venomous snakes for church rituals, recently died as a result of snakebite.
Coots said then he needed the snakes for religious reasons, citing a Bible passage in the book of Mark that reads, in part: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
The Roving Typist is a 10-minute video about "C.D. Hermelin [who] was broke when he decided to bring his typewriter to a park and type unique, one-of-a-kind stories for any passersby with a few dollars to spare. And people responded."

A Darwin Award candidate: "The girlfriend told authorities that the man had been drinking all day and was explaining to her that his three handguns are safe when they aren’t loaded, according to Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe. He demonstrated by placing the guns against his head and pulling the trigger. When he pulled the trigger on the third handgun, it discharged. The man was pronounced dead at the scene."  The article notes that "alcohol appears to have been a factor in the shooting."

A lengthy article documents how hog farms in Iowa contaminate local drinking water.

A "graveyard of fossilized whale skeletons" has been discovered in Chile.

A photoessay at imgur documents the hand-raising of a baby songbird.

Video of water snakes performing a mating dance of dominance.  This is NOT a mating dance.

There are seat-fillers at the Oscars:
"...whose job it is to make sure that not a single Dolby Theatre seat is left open when actors and actresses excuse themselves from the three-hour awards show for the bar or loo... seat-fillers are expected to be “very stoic, like a model,” as to not rouse any at-home viewers’ suspicions that they do not know the person they are sitting beside."
(The title of this post is the last two sentences of Sister Carrie)

12 March 2014

"The Irritating Gentleman" (1874)

"Berthold Woltze was a German painter who was born in 1829. Several works by the artist have been sold at auction, including 'The Irritating Gentleman' sold at Dorotheum '19th Century Paintings' in 2011 for $43,737. The artist died in 1896."
I love the detail in this painting - the leather strap for adjusting the window, perhaps a small tear on the young lady's cheek.  And especially her gaze at the viewer, as though appealing for assistance.

Via Eva's Blog and Large Size Paintings.

The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off. He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.

Over the years I've posted 69 linkdumps, and have always struggled to come up with appropriate titles for them.  This time I've used the last lines of two different famous novels.  I won't identify them; English majors can gloat smugly.

The "Soda Ninja Swipe" is a party trick that allows you to open a shaken bottle of soda in dramatic fashion without the contents spilling out.

Matched real estate ads show six castles in Europe that sell for less than apartments in New York City.

The Don Martin Dictionary offers an alphabetical listing of all of the expressions created by that famous Mad magazine cartoonist.

Train vs. minivan.  Train wins.  (A BBC PSA)

A fish leaps out of the water to catch a bird.
"...during their time at the lake, the researchers saw as many as 20 successful fish strikes on barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) every day. These ranged from pursuits by fish at the surface, followed by leaps, to direct attacks from deeper water."
Nine minutes' worth of highlights of Minnesota Viking running back Adrian Peterson.

An optical illusion gif of rotating white crosses.  Or black ones.

An inflatable bike helmet.

The image at right is of a grocery list compiled by Michelangelo.  Components deciphered and translated at Reddit.

The full moon always rises at sunset.  And the new moon at sunrise.  The first quarter moon always rises at noon.  And the last quarter moon at midnight.

The seemingly paradoxical phrase "have your cake and eat it too" is discussed at length in a New York Times' On Language column.

What ever happened to the "ghost ship filled with cannibal rats" that was supposedly "headed straight for Britain"?

"Bad Lip Reading" visits the National Football League.

Psychoactive plants in the Bible.

The therapeutic use of LSD has been studied and reported for the first time in 40 years.

"Double Stuf" Oreos aren't.
Since everyone is talking about Mega Stuf oreos and how great they are, as an exercise in applied consumer mathematics, high-school teacher Dan Anderson of Queensbury, New York, had students do some measuring, calculating, and reflecting. What they found will shock and disturb you. The Double Stuf Oreos had 1.86 times the stuf of regular Oreos...
Some college athletes are demanding a union because the NCAA is "like a dictatorship."

Photos from a compilation of the world's scariest hikes (several of which have been featured in videos posted here at TYWKIWDBI).

An op-ed piece at The Guardian argues that the Nordic countries are not the utopias that they are often described as.   The writer goes on to diss Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.

Hillary Clinton has not driven a car in almost 20 years.  Is that a problem for her?  What does it say about our Secret Service expenditures?
Former presidents and first ladies have Secret Service protection for life after leaving office, which means they have very limited opportunities to drive... George W. Bush often drove his pickup truck, but only within the confines of his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Pope Francis has referred to the internet as a "gift from God."  "While praising the internet for the “immense possibilities” it offers to encounter people from different backgrounds, he also warned that the obsessive desire to stay connected can actually isolate people from their friends and family."

Choate is not the opposite of inchoate.  Don't use the word during a presentation at the Supreme Court. "Scalia stopped Barnhouse cold. “There is no such adjective,” he declared."

A German tourist survived two weeks in the Australian Outback by eating flies.  He even maintained control of his insulin-dependent diabetes.

How to tie your daughter's hair into a bun

This gif is too cute to consign to the anonymity of a linkdump.

For all the daddies out there - enjoy!

11 March 2014

What's the significance of a hand pulling an ear? - updated

(Other than as a sign of otitis media in a child.)  The item at the top comes from the collections of the British Museum (via A London Salmagundi), where it is described succinctly as -
Plain gold box-setting from a finger-ring containing an oval sard intaglio: hand pulling ear; inscribed.
- and filed as probably Roman, of 1st-3rd century.  I had to look up "sard" (carnelian)*, but when I searched the web for further information, what I found was another hand pulling another ear in the Naples Archaeology Museum (via this Flickr user):

 I don't have time to dig more deeply.   Someone out there must know the answer.

*According to Pliny the Elder, sard derives its name from the city of Sardis in Lydia, but it more likely comes from the Persian word سرد sered, meaning yellowish-red.

Addendum:  In keeping with a long-standing tradition at TYWKIWDBI, no question that I ask goes unanswered by the readership.

Reader Pearce O'Leary found a reference to this behavior in A Popular Handbook to the Greek and Roman Antiquities in the British Museum:

Nolandda noted that the inscription reads "ΜΝΗΜΟΝΕΥΕ (a.k.a. Μνημονευε or μνημονευε) : I remember, hold in remembrance, make mention of."

Others found a similar ring offered at Christies and a cameo in the same style in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum:
On this cameo, a hand pinches an earlobe between the thumb and forefinger; above, there is another object, perhaps a knotted scarf or a diadem. Surrounding the imagery, a long inscription in Greek, comprising a sentimental message that addresses a man: "Remember me, your dear sweetheart, and fare well, Sophronios."

In Roman art and literature, the ear-tweaking hand is a common motif, signifying a request for attention. Gems such as this were mementos of love, and were probably given as gifts. The knotted object is not common, but very likely it, too, was a symbol of remembrance, its purpose perhaps similar to the modern custom of tying a knot in a handkerchief so as not to forget something important.
And finally:
I remember doing this a lot as a kid, when we had my favorite dishes for lunch or dinner.

In Brazil, pinching the earlobe means "very good, excellent."
The gesture usually comes with the slang expression "daqui, ó" (which would mean literally "from here"). I can definitely see a connection between this gesture and the "don't forget" connotation explained above.

Very possibly, this gesture came from the Portuguese, Spanish or Italian colonies in Brazil.
One additional observation, from one of the "anons" here:
Interestingly enough, the earlobe is a pressure point in the Ayurvedic pressure-point system of massage. And pinching or massaging the earlobe is said to stimulate brain circulation and generally improve memory, learn better, etc. In India, bad schoolwork or behaviour will result in having the ear pinched quite strongly by teacher or parent. A common school punishment is to hold the earlobe and stand in a corner or hold the lobes and do squats. Also apologies (especially for forgetting something important) maybe rendered with the ear lobe holding gesture.
Thanks to all of my great readers!
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