30 June 2014

A drive down the Fjaerland fjord

This 22-minute video takes the viewer for a ride down Norway's Fjaerland Fjord (which branches off at Balestrand from the larger and better-known Sognefjord).  The trip begins at the head (north end) of the fjord, proceeds for about 6 minutes south to the area of the Fjaerland "booktown," then turns back north, ending at one of the tunnels that opened this fjord to the vehicular traffic of the world.

The video holds special interest for me because one quarter of my genes (the Distad family ones, from the hamlet of Distad) emigrated from this valley to settle in Minnesota.  I visited this area in the 1980s, when the only access was by ferry, and met family members who gave me a copy of a family tree tracing various Olsons and Torsons and Ivarsdatters and Andresons and Distads back to the 1600s.

Posted mostly for my family.  Casual readers will not want to view the entire video, but it's worth sampling the first 4-5 minutes just to get a sense of the majesty of a real fjord.  Americans will notice a) the absence of advertising billboards, and b) that some people actually walk.

If you do watch, absolutely click on the full-screen icon in the lower right corner.  That's what it's for.

28 June 2014

"But I wish Hercule Poirot had never retired from work and come here to grow vegetable marrows."

Flight 370 is still (presumably) on the bottom of the Indian Ocean.  To get a grasp of the "depth" of the problem of locating the craft, see this infographic.

In Germany, mini-drones are flown over fields before harvest to locate newborn fawns, so that they won't be killed by harvesters, which is "traumatic for the farmers and machine operators involved and, furthermore, polluted the cut grass, which was used as livestock feed, with shredded deer remains."

An op-ed piece in Salon remembers and bemoans the death of the middle class:
In our neighbors’ driveways, in their living rooms, in their backyards, I saw the evidence of prosperity distributed equally among the social classes: speedboats, Corvette Stingrays, waterbeds, snowmobiles, motorcycles, hunting rifles, RVs, CB radios. I’ve always believed that the ’70s are remembered as the Decade That Taste Forgot because they were a time when people without culture or education had the money to not only indulge their passions, but flaunt them in front of the entire nation. It was an era, to use the title of a 1975 sociological study of a Wisconsin tavern, of blue-collar aristocrats. That all began to change in the 1980s...
If you insist on always using "data" as a plural noun (based on its Latin origin), what do you do with "agenda" ??

Once again this spring a wall of ice moved off some northern Minnesota lakes, damaging homes of those who built them too close to the shoreline.  There are reasons why some local building codes incorporate setbacks from shoreline, and not just for riparian environmental preservation.

In nineteenth-century France, the Grand Guignol was responsible for presenting some of the world's first public "splatter movies."

"More than 100 people have now reported they got sick with suspected food poisoning at a national Food Safety Summit held earlier this month in Baltimore."

Video of a 6-year-old competing in the Asia Pacific Yoyo Championships.

Details about Soylent powdered food (it's not made from people, or from soy).

A ten-second television advertisement for a French bakery includes the moment a cat ran headlong into the glass door.

For a more cat-friendly link, see this gif of a cat greeting a human, then see the half-dozen variants posted below it.

This DNR link gives you access to maps of all public lands in Wisconsin (an excellent resource for outdoors enthusiasts).  I presume similar links exist for other states.

Wikipedia now has a (long) page detailing the 2014 Ukranian revolution.

How to make your own dragon eggs (photo at right).

A compilation of over a hundred college and university graduation speeches.  I've previously blogged (and recommend) the one by Ellen DeGeneres and the one by J.K. Rowling.

"The Lorain County Correctional Institution acknowledged Friday that pirated movies are being shown to prisoners there, even as inmates serve time for illegally downloading movies."

An interview with Matt Taibbi regarding his new book on income inequality.

Michael Jackson's Billie Jean performed at a high-school talent competition.

Various interesting facts, including that Mars is entirely populated by robots.

A group of high-school students take an eye-opening field trip to a local pawnshop.

A spelling test.

It is becoming more common for men to take their wife's surname when they marry.

A compilation of blogs by expats.

The Monarch in the top photo is the first one we have had this year raised from an egg laid on milkweed in our garden.  She eclosed about 0730 this morning and will fly away before noon.

The title quote is the last sentence of Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - one of her classic novels, but one that should NOT be the first Christie you read.  Get experience reading a dozen or two other ones first; save this one for later.

27 June 2014

Skeletal remains of a "hellhound" found

It's real - but not from hell:
Since the middle-ages, legend has spread of a fearful beast once said to stalk [Suffolk's] coastline and countryside.

Despite tales of a fiery-eyed monster showing up in graveyards, forests and roadsides - and an account of claw marks surfacing on the door to Blythburgh Church - the giant dog’s existence has been reserved to the annals of folklore.

Until now, perhaps, as archeologists have revealed evidence of huge skeletal remains unearthed by a member of the public in the trenches at Leiston Abbey last year...

The dog is huge - about the size of a Great Dane - and was found near where the abbey’s kitchen would have been.

“It was quite a surprise. We’re all dog lovers and we have a site dog with us on our digs, so it was quite poignant. “Even back then, pets were held in high regard.”
Here's more info on the legendary "Black Shuck":
Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock or Shuck is the name given to a medieval hellhound in England. This devil dog was said to have black fur, flaming eyes, sharp teeth and claws, and great strength. Locals described sightings of Black Shuck in graveyards, forests, and roadsides. Shuck’s most famous attack happened on August 4th, 1577 at two churches in Blythburgh
and Bungay in the English countryside, about seven miles from Leiston Abbey.

During a storm on August 4th 1577, Black Shuck reportedly broke through the doors of Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh and charged through a large congregation. It was during this attack that he allegedly killed a man and a boy, right before the church steeple collapsed through the roof.  It was during this attack that Black Shuck left claw marks on the north door of Holy Trinity Church that are still visible today...

Though musing about the earthly remains of a legendary creature or cryptid is always fun, this giant skeleton probably belonged to an abbot’s faithful canine companion or hunting dog. At best the sightings of this huge, domesticated dog by superstitious people may have sparked the rumors about Black Shuck.

"Writhing time" at World Cup matches

From an article in the Wall Street Journal:
All too often during matches, seemingly fit men fall to the ground in agony. They scream, wince, pound the grass with their fists and gesture to the sidelines for a stretcher. Some of them clutch a limb as if it was just freed from the jaws of a wood chipper. But after a few moments, just as the priests arrive to administer last rites, they sit up on the gurney, shake it off, rise to their feet and run back on the field to play some more.

Fans of the world's most popular game know that this is just one of soccer's oldest and most universally despised tactics. Turning a small foul into a death performance worthy of La Scala can draw cards for opposing players, kill time from the clock or just give one's winded teammates a breather...

The study showed one thing emphatically: The amount of histrionics your players display during a match correlates strongly to what the scoreboard says. Players on teams that were losing their games accounted for 40 "injuries" and nearly 12.5 minutes of writhing time. But players on teams that were winning—the ones who have the most incentive to run out the clock—accounted for 103 "injuries" and almost four times as much writhing
Details at the link, via Reddit.

26 June 2014


"Taken during "The Mayana Soora Thiruvizha" festival takes place every March in the small village of Kaveripattinam, the day after Mahashivarathiri (The great night of Shiva). The festival is devoted to Angalamman, a fierce guardian deity worshipped widely in Southern India."

Text and image by Mahesh Balasubramanian, via National Geographic Traveler.

Semen used as invisible ink during WWI

There are other choices besides lemon juice:
Though British counterintelligence spent a considerable amount of time trying to detect enemy secret ink, MI6, British foreign intelligence, experimented with its own recipes... Officers were especially interested in experimenting with bodiily fluids like blood, saliva, urine, and semen - all readily available substances.  An advantage of using bodily fluids is that possession of these substances is not proof of guilt... [spies had been convicted and executed based on the discovery of lemon residue on writing instruments].

Mansfield Cumming, head of MI6... thought "the best invisible ink is semen."  MI6 investigators thought they had solved a great problem, and the men started gleefully experimenting with the new discovery.  Obviously, the main way to produce semen at the office was through masturbation.  The agent who had discovered the covert use of semen reportedly had to transfer to another department after he was teased so much by other staff members.  One officer in Copnhagen took the new discovery so seriously that he "stocked it in a bottle - for his letters stank to high heaven and we had to tell him that a fresh operation was necessary for each letter." (p. 151)
Found in Prisoners, Lovers, & Spies; The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda, by Kristie Macrakis.

A compilation of presidential "executive orders"

This subject will be in the news this summer because...
In a memo addressed to his colleagues on Wednesday, Boehner officially announced his plans to introduce legislation in July that would authorize the House General Counsel to sue the Obama administration and "compel" the president to fulfill his oath of office to enforce existing law.

"If the current president can selectively enforce, change or create laws as he chooses with impunity, without the involvement of the Legislative Branch, his successors will be able to do the same," Boehner wrote in the memo. "This shifts the balance of power decisively and dangerously in favor of the presidency, giving the president king-like authority at the expense of the American people and their elected legislators."
While awaiting details of which orders will be challenged, I thought it would be good to post the Wikipedia page detailing all of the executive orders by the current and all the past presidents.  At the page you can scroll down to access the content of each order by each president.

CCC-constructed stone "Kiwanis Cabin" in New Mexico

Summer is the time for travel, and thus the opportunity for me and the readers of this blog to visit CCC-constructed stonework projects around the country.  These photos come to us courtesy of reader Christopher, who recently traveled to Albuquerque, and found this stone structure at an altitude of 10,000+ feet along the Sandia Crest Road.

A plaque embedded in the stone confirms the provenance of the structure.  It is classic CCC work in that it makes use exclusively of local stone.  The style obviously does not involve tight junctions, and the overall appearance of a partially-collapsed "ruin" is clearly an artistic endeavor.  I found this explanation online:
The trail starts out along the crest and then wanders into the woods for a while, before skirting the edge of Kiwanis Meadow and winds its way back towards the crest and to the Kiwanis rock house. In the 1920's the Kiwanis Club of Albuquerque built a log cabin on the site which was destroyed by fire a couple of years later. A second log cabin was destroyed by high winds. In the 1930's the Kiwanis Club asked the Civilian Conservation Corps to build them a new cabin, which they did in the summer of 1936. The CCC constructed the cabin out of local limestone, and in the style known as "Rustic Aesthetic."

Inside, the structure seems to follow the general pattern of other state- and national-park CCC buildings, serving as a shelter from inclement weather, with a basic fireplace? for cooking.

The Albuquerque Journal had this additional information in 2007:
To clean a year's worth of graffiti off the Kiwanis Cabin at Sandia Crest, it takes three archaeologists, a truck with a pressure washer, someone to drive the truck and someone to use the washer in a way that doesn't damage the cabin...
The cabin had windows on three sides, a fireplace and a door, but the fireplace was sealed and the windows and door were removed.  "Beginning in the '40s the windows started being broken," Hudson said.
So sad to hear about the graffiti and vandalism performed by mindless cretins.

A quick search this morning produced a detailied pdf about the role of the CCC in the New Mexico park system.  I also found these notes about the CCC in New Mexico in the Forestry Service's website:
In the span of eight years, from 1933 to 1941, 54,585 Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees in New Mexico built hundreds of roads and rails, 795 bridges, 472 lookout towers large dams and reservoirs, installed millions of rods of fences and planted millions of trees for reforestation and to prevent gully erosion.  When these New Mexico men joined the corps, along with 3.5 million other Americans, the country was in desperate straits. Close to 25 percent of the population was unemployed. Hunger and despair had become a way of life.  A group of local corps alumni want to see a memorial CCC museum of national stature built on the site where CCC Camp 814 F-8-N Sandia Park once stood on a piece of land just off NM 536, the Sandia Crest Road. They want people to know what they accomplished in youthful days during the Great Depression. And they want today’s youth to know that youth are a major asset to this country, just as the CCC men were when they were boys. The CCC was the greatest-ever conservation effort in American history.
I have a variety of pleasant memories of the Sandias, dating from the time I lived in Dallas and visited family in Grants and friends in Albuquerque.  But despite hiking and playing frisbee in the mountains, I don't remember ever having encountered this cabin.

Again, a hat tip to reader Christopher for sending me the photos; if readers in the Albuquerque region have photos of other stonework along the Sandia Crest Trail (bridges, stairways), please feel free to send them along.

24 June 2014

4-year-old exposes the criminality of her "bad babysitter"

Details from the Bellingham Herald (but it's better to listen to the girl tell the story):
A teenage babysitter and two young men were arrested Wednesday, June 18, when the babysitter made up a story about two armed, black men breaking into an apartment east of Ferndale to throw deputies off the track of the real thieves, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office.

The 17-year-old girl had been watching three kids from 1 to 4 years old at the apartment in the 5400 block of Northwest Drive. She reported two black men in their 20s or 30s - one with a gun, one with a knife - had barged in through a back door around 4:20 p.m. and told her she should leave if she didn't want to get hurt. None of the children were hurt as they fled from the apartment with her.

A SWAT team, a U.S. border helicopter and dozens of law enforcement personnel - many of them on call, working overtime - responded to the scene looking for two armed men with backpacks...

Cody Oakes, 25, an operations manager for J.P. Morgan, had been ready to walk out the door with a duffel bag in his hand to go to football practice. (He plays quarterback and wide receiver for the Bellingham Bulldogs, a semi-pro team.) He'd noticed heavily armed police in camouflage marching down the road.

One of his roommates got in touch with a detective and found out what was going on. Through her, deputies ordered Oakes to come outside. He did, once the detective agreed to come in and escort him out. A sniper stood about 25 yards away with his sight fixed on Oakes. Deputies handcuffed him, pulled his shirt over his head, and sat him in the back of a patrol car...

Eventually, the teen admitted she'd made up the story about an armed home invasion to cover for how she'd let her 16-year-old boyfriend and a young man, Ruben Jerome Benjamin, 18, into the apartment to steal electronics, said Sheriff Bill Elfo.

The burglars briefly got away with a gaming system, laptops and a piggy bank, stuffing a total of $1,500 in stolen goods in their backpacks.
More the link.

"Kentucky Fried hoax"

The news report that a little girl whose face was scarred by pit bulls was asked to leave a KFC establishment because her disfigurement was disturbing the customers... is a HOAX.  A fundraising hoax.
They originally said the child and her grandmother were asked to leave a KFC that turned out to have been closed for years. Victoria’s aunt Teri Rials Bates, who maintains the page, later said it happened at another location on Woodrow Wilson Drive near the Jackson hospital where Victoria went for treatment.

Security camera footage from that KFC and another near the hospital does not show children matching Victoria’s description going into either restaurant on May 15, according to sources interviewed by the Leader-Call. Nor did any orders taken that day include both sweet tea and mashed potatoes – what Mullins claimed she ordered for her granddaughter...

People touched by Victoria’s story have reportedly sent in more than $135,000 in donations as surgeons offered their services for free... The fast-food restaurant had already committed $30,000 to help pay Wilcher’s  medical bills; a spokesman told the AP they would pay regardless of what the investigation into the incident found.
More details from the local Mississippi newspaper investigation.
After it went viral, employees and managers at both Jackson locations have faced death threats, have had drinks thrown at them through the drive-thru window and have faced constant verbal harassment, the source confirmed...

National and world media such as CNN, Nancy Grace, Huffington Post and The Today Show jumped on the story, lambasting the employees, KFC and YUM! Brands, KFC’s corporate owners...

Rufus: biologic control of pigeons at Wimbledon

This is a no-kill video, btw...

Here's an ask-me-anything from Rufus' handler at the stadium.

23 June 2014

Milkweed - the first week

Anyone who has read this blog on a regular basis knows that I have repeatedly decried the sad situation facing Monarch butterflies in the United States.  There's little I can do to alleviate the loss of their winter habitat in the mountain forests of Mexico or to stem the widespread use of Roundup herbicide, but perhaps with a series of blog posts I can inform the public about some of the nuances of growing milkweed - the Monarch's host plant (the only plant its caterpillars can feed on).

At our latitude (southern Wisconsin in the Upper Midwest), spikes of milkweed emerge in early May.  These are growing from deep and well-established root systems that are well-protected from surface freezing temperatures in the winter.  I presume the trigger for cell division is some threshhold temperature or some accumulation of degree-days.  When that limit is reached, the growth is rapid.  The top image shows asparagus-like spears that had not been present the day before.

With an deep-underground branching root system, the spikes can emerge in what appears to be totally inhospitable microenvironments.  This one is coming through an old (probably deteriorated) piece of landscape fabric and past a layer of gravel.  And the early growth is rapid:

This photo was taken one week after the first two.  It's already 6" high and ready to accept Monarch eggs and tolerate the depradations of several caterpillars (Monarchs typically lay their eggs singly, but sometimes two oviposit on the same plant).

In the next installment I'll comment on the perception of the "weediness" of the plant.

Note:  the milkweed shown here is Asclepias syriaca - the "common milkweed."

A Nepalese "living goddess"

She's worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal, who believe she's a reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga.

I got to know the mother of this Kumari - Nepal has a few of them - after several visits to her house. How did it feel when her daughter, Samita, was chosen to be a Kumari, I asked?

"I felt both happy and sad," she says. "On one hand, I felt happy because when your daughter becomes god, having a god in the home is a delightful thing. But I also got scared because I wasn't sure if we would be able to follow all the rules."

There are many rules. For one, Samita's mother has to apply special makeup to her daughter's face in intricate designs. The girl isn't allowed to go outside except for festivals. On those occasions, her feet must not touch the ground. That means someone has to carry the young goddess...

I expect we'll do the interview in Nepali, but when I ask her a question, she starts speaking fluently in English. She tells me that she learned the language by reading newspapers during her Kumari days.

"When I was a goddess, I used to peek through the holes of windows," Chanira says. She's now a 19-year-old business student, and looks like any ordinary teenager in her fashionable green T-shirt and black trousers. She became a Kumari when she was just five years old...

This divine life ended abruptly when Chanira was 15, on the day she first menstruated. Suddenly she was no longer the Kumari. She says the transition was difficult. "When I had to step out of my house for the first time, I didn't know how to walk properly," she says. "My mom and dad, they used to hold my hands and teach me how to walk."
Photo and text from the BBC.

A baby with two faces (craniofacial duplication)

The brief video excerpt has some details.   For more information on the condition, see the Wikipedia entry on diprosopus.  The twins featured in the video died at age 19 days.

A Scandinavian megacity?

[The Oslo to Copenhagen] corridor is the most densely populated stretch of Scandinavia, home to 8 million of the region's 20 million people. An ambitious plan aims to link up its cities, medium-sized by global standards, across three different countries to form a single megalopolis - '8 Million City'.

The glue that will hold this megacity together? A high-speed train link that should reduce rail travel time between Oslo and Copenhagen from 7.5 hours today to 2.5 hours by 2025.
More at Big Think, which notes that expansion with a side link to Stockholm would create a 12-million-person megalopolis.  Personally, I would argue with the hypothesis that "next-level development is hampered by the demographic dispersal in small, relatively isolated urban centres," but obviously there's big money at stake here.

Bars restricted to older adults

The image was posted at Reddit, and the discussion thread comments indicated that such establishments are rare in the United States, but not uncommon elsewhere.

(note the sign should read "greater than or equal to." It's not just for 23-year-olds)

The "rat people" of Pakistan are microcephalics

From a 2006 article in The Telegraph:
The word "microcephaly" comes from the Greek, "small head". But in Pakistan, such children are known as chuas or "rat people". The name is uncharitable but apt, for their sloping foreheads and narrow faces do, indeed, have a rodent quality. When I visited the shrine earlier this year, I found only one chua, a 30-year-old woman called Nazia. Mentally disabled - I would judge her intelligence to be about that of a one- or two-year-old child - her nominal function is to guard the shoes that worshippers leave at its entrance, but that work seems to be mostly done by her companion, a charming hypopituitary dwarf called Nazir...

These days, most chuas are intinerant beggars. Travelling up and down the Grand Trunk Road, following a seasonal calender of religious festivals. Each chua is owned, or perhaps leased, by a minder, often a raffish, gypsy-like figure. The Chua-master looks after, and profits from, his chua rather as a peasant might a donkey; together, they may earn as much as 400 rupees per day, about £4...

There are several reasons for believing that microcephaly in the Punjab is not caused by clamping. The first is simply that no one, or at least no one I spoke to, seems to have actually seen it. The source of the allegation always seems to be an untraceable relation in an unreachable village. The second is that it is probably biologically impossible...

By the late 1990s, the disorder had been mapped to deficiencies in at least six different genes.  
More at the link.

Photo source.

Berlin's "House of One"

A mosque, synagogue, and church combined in one building:
An architecture competition has been held and the winner chosen. The striking design is for a brick building with a tall, square central tower. Off the courtyard below will be the houses of worship for the three faiths - the synagogue, the church and the mosque. It is to occupy a prominent site - Petriplatz - in the heart of Berlin...

Can they get on? "We can. That there are people within each group who can't is our problem but you have to start somewhere and that's what we are doing."..

"Each of the singular spaces is designed according to the religious needs, the particularities of each faith," he says. "There are for instance two levels in the mosque and the synagogue but there's only one level in the church. There will be an organ in the church. There are places to wash feet in the mosque."

Americans' confidence in their Congress at record low levels

Data from Gallup:
The percentage of Americans expressing a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress is the lowest for a trend that dates back to 1973. The high point for Congress, 42%, came in that year...

Democrats, independents, and Republicans are about equally likely to express low confidence in Congress. This is a change from the past and likely reflects the split control of Congress... Between 2009 and 2012, a period that saw Congress come under split control, these partisan differences gradually diminished, and this year, Democrats are a mere two percentage points more likely than Republicans to report having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress.

Americans' confidence in Congress is not only at its lowest point on record, but also is the worst Gallup has ever found for any institution it has measured since 1973

Bamboo rockets

 Presumably related to the Rocket Festival:
...a merit-making ceremony traditionally practiced by ethnic Lao people throughout much of northeast Thailand and Laos, in numerous villages and municipalities near the beginning of the rainy season. Celebrations typically include preliminary music and dance performances, competitive processions of floats, dancers and musicians on the second day, and culminating on the third day in competitive firings of home-made rockets...

Coming immediately prior to the planting season, the festivals offer an excellent chance to make merry before the hard work begins; as well as enhancing communal prestige, and attracting and redistributing wealth as in any Gift culture...

19 June 2014

Offered without comment

I'm not going to editorialize because "rēs ipsae loquuntur" (with a hat tip to reader nolandda for revising my Latin to fit a plural subject).

And I'll close comments for this post because I already know what the comments will be from both sides of the issue.

Those who feel compelled to speak out on this can do so at the Mother Jones source article or at the respective YouTube links.

You've seen thongs. How about "half-thongs" ?

As reported in an op-ed "Women's Life" Telegraph article about "spornosexuals":
If you thought the mankini was bad, the penchant for men revealing way more than they need to on the beach has now reached a whole new level. The half-thong mankini hybrid... If this is what some men think makes them look sexy, then we're all doomed...

Twenty years ago, Mark Simpson coined the term 'metrosexual'. Now, a new, more extreme, sex- and body-obsessed version of men exists, he says - and they're called spornosexuals.  The term encapsulates the new breed of male who thinks nothing of using (and abusing) products, practises and pleasures previously only the domain of women and gay men. Practises including wearing half-thongs to the beach.
I'll leave the photo beneath the fold...

Printable "Battleship" game

One might argue that the paper-based version of the classic "Battleship" game has been rendered obsolete by electronic versions, but this archaic technology could come in handy on long camping trips and other special situations.

But that's only marginally relevant; I'm posting this to introduce a useful website.  Printable Paper has an extensive set of free-to-print paper products - particularly graph papers (I remember once searching fruitlessly for basic log-linear graph paper).  Dozens of different graphing formats are available at the link, along with music paper, quilting and cross-stitch papers, sports score sheets, and even blank templates for comics.

Cardinal Sin

Jaime Lachica Sin was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila and de facto Primate of the Philippines... His title and surname as Cardinal Sin (another term for a deadly sin) were a point of humour in the Philippines and for Philippine Catholics. Examples included "The greatest sin of all: Cardinal Sin", and even his own pun of "Welcome to the house of Sin" that he used to greet guests at Villa San Miguel, the Archbishop's official residence in Mandaluyong.
Discovered by listening to a podcast of QI's No Such Thing As A Fish.

Dutch supermarket toilet

The arrangement allows customers to test various toilet papers before purchase.

Via Reddit.

Can you hear me now?

A tiny tree frog seems to be using city drains to amplify its serenades to attract females. In research published today in the Journal of Zoology, researchers found that the Mientien tree frog native to Taiwan congregates in roadside storm drains during the mating season.

Audio recordings revealed that the mating songs of the frogs inside the structures were louder and longer than those of their less-streetwise rivals, who gathered in patches of land next to the drains.

“This is perhaps the first study to show that an animal preferentially uses human-made structures to potentially enhance the sounds of its vocal communication signals,” says Mark Bee, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in St Paul. “These males could be taking advantage of the enhanced acoustics in drainage ditches to outdo their competition.”
From Nature, where there is an appropriate disclaimer in the closing sentence.

War refugee

This young girl is fleeing Mosul.  The top image captures the starkness of the environment; the embed below offers a better view of the little girl.

Photo: Sebastiano Tomada/Getty Images, via The Dish.

Recreational glacier walking

Chamonix Glacier, 1867.  The same activity was also the subject of this c. 1903 photochrome:

Top photo: William England/Getty Images/Life.com, via Not In The History Books.

This is why you should not slap a porcupine

Details at Arbroath.

15 June 2014

"Father and Son" - Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)

Posted for Fathers' Day, a recent performance of this classic song. 

It's not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy -
You're still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to know.
Find a girl, settle down, if you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old but I'm happy.

I was once like you are now,
And I know that it's not easy
To be calm when you've found
Something going on.
But take your time, think a lot, think of everything you've got,
For you will still be here tomorrow but you dreams may not.

How can I try to explain, 
Because when I do he turns away again;
It's always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen -
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away
I know, I have to go.

It's not time to make a change,
Just sit down, take it slowly
You're still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to go through.
Find a girl, settle down, if you want you can marry
Look at me, I am old but I'm happy.

All the times that I've cried,
Keeping all the things I knew inside -
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it.
If they were right I'd agree, but it's them they know, not me -
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know - I have to go.

See also the 1970s VH1 music video version.

10 June 2014

Today at TYWKIWDBI we're going to "go Dutch"

The phrase "going Dutch" conventionally refers to the sharing of expenses, but today I'm using it to note that all of the posts (and several reposts) will contain material about or from the Netherlands.

Over the years I've been blogging, the Dutch have been among the most faithful readers and commenters (the map shows their locations), and I regularly follow several blogs authored by readers here. 

I know of at least one compilation of Dutch blogs, but I'd be more interested in discovering additional blogs written by readers of TYWKIWDBI.  If you are a Dutch blogger (in the Netherlands or as an expat blogging Dutch material), please leave your blog's address in the Comments for this post.

Things you didn't know about the Netherlands

Where does the Kingdom of the Netherlands share a long border with the French Republic?  The answer is in this brief, entertaining video:

When my father was growing up in a small Pennsylvania railroad town in the early 1900s, his nickname was "Dutch," not because of any Netherlands connection, but because the family was "Deutsch" (German).

Reposted from 2012 for "Dutch Treat Day" 2014.

Can you see the whale in this 1630 Dutch painting?

It's hiding behind the lacquer.  The conservator explains:

Screencaps from the video:

Ancient telescope discovered in the Netherlands

Telescopes (and microscopes) were invented in the Netherlands.  Recently the oldest one ever was discovered during the construction of a subway in Delft.
The Dutch telescope was invented in 1608 in Middelburg. Shortly after that, Delft became a well-known producer of lens viewers, according to historians. Engravings from that time period reveal similar viewing apparatuses, but up to now, none were believed to have survived in the Netherlands. Worldwide, only 20 are known to exist. The oldest kept scopes in the Netherlands are only from the second half of the 17th century, among others from the Christiaan Huygens collection...

The antiques specialists concluded that it is a telescope from the 17th century. The primitive grinding work, and the poor quality of the glass lenses, full of bubbles and unevenness. The telescope can magnify up to five times, which was tested in the lab in Leiden. “Especially the frontmost glass is so primitive that it was hardly recognizable as a lens”, says curator Tiemen Cocquyt of Boerhaven. “But after cleaning, the telescope really works again.”
Further information from The History Blog:
Because tin corrodes so easily, none of the earlier ones were known to have survived. This one was found in an old canal where the low oxygen environment kept it from rusting into nothingness. There’s even a very slim chance that it’s the oldest telescope in the world, but it’s highly unlikely. There’s only a tiny window of possibility since Galileo started making his in 1609, the year after the first patents applications were filed in the Netherlands and the Museo Galileo in Florence has two of his from 1609-1610.

Netherlands medieval cathedral converted into a bookstore

Utrecht-based architectural practice, BK. Architecten, have designed the Waanders In de Broeren project. Completed in 2013, the 15th-century cathedral has been converted into a modern book store and can be found in Zwolle, The Netherlands.

This radical concept in a 15th-century Broerenkerk cathedral spans over three floors and includes a shop in the former church building. The architect radically changed the interior design of the 547-year-old Gothic building, but had to ensure they left the original features, such as the pipe organ, stained glass windows and decor intact.
Architectural details and a dozen more photos at Adelto, via Erik Kwakkel.

The corpses of the de Witt brothers

A rather bleak painting ascribed to Jan de Baen, depicting a famous historical event in Dutch history (full title: The corpses of the de Witt brothers, Jan and Cornelis, hanging on the Groene Zoodje on the Vijverberg).

The figure in the lower right corner is apparently shining light on the nighttime scene to illuminate it for the artist.

Via La Muse Verte.

Addendum: MJ Valente found the following information at the website of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam:
"De Witt held a key position in Dutch politics, being a kind of Prime Minister avant la lettre. In that role, he was repeatedly in conflict with the Orange faction, led by Prince William III of Orange (later King of England during the so-called Glorious Revolution), who felt menaced in his authority. When De Witt came to power, a collective aversion to monarchical power dominated among the Dutch people. But things changed in 1672, the ‘Disaster Year’, when the Dutch Republic was attacked by a large alliance of hostile countries. Popular feeling suddenly turned in favor of William III, and mistrust grew against Johann de Witt and his brother Cornelis.

The latter, who was also an influential political figure, got imprisoned in The Hague on false accusations of treason. On 20 August 1672, when Johan was visiting his brother in prison, the brothers were dragged out of the building and lynched outside by an angry mob. The rage seemed to be spontaneous, but was in fact well-organized and planned by Orangist militiamen. The frenzy was so immense that the De Witts were not just killed, but literally ripped apart by the inflamed mass. Body parts like heart and fingers were removed to be exposed as souvenirs, while other parts were roasted and eaten(!) by the hysterical crowd, in a bizarre outburst of cannibalism. Their corpses were eventually hung upside down on a scaffold nearby. The disgusting sight was captured in this dark painting, whose artist (attributed to Jan de Baen) seems to have witnessed the lynching and presents us his gruesome experience in this early form of visual journalism."
And Rob from Amersfoort adds the following:
1672 was indeed called the Year of Disaster, when The Netherlands where attacked by England, France ànd Germany.

The scaffold was located near the prison where Johan's brother was held (the Gevangenpoort, a building with a city gate, it still exists). On the other side of the road the Dutch center of government (the Binnenhof) is located (with the parliament and the office of the PM).

I wrote a essay about Johan de Witt when I was in high school. Watching this scene always makes me feel sad, he was a good man. This is an example of what happens when people are stirred up by populists. Remarkable is that in 2002 the same thing happened at the same location after a famous politician was shot; a crowd of angry people gathered near the Binnenhof, ready to lynch the first politician they would see ...

NB the head of the first Dutch PM, a man born in Amersfoort, was chopped of inside the Binnenhof, after he was falsely accused by the ruling prince of Orange. The latter was the grand-uncle of prince Willem III who stirred up the lynch mob in 1672. Later Willem III became king of England, so for him it worked out fine.
There is significant discussion of this painting in the Comments.

Reposted from 2009 for "Dutch Treat Day" 2014.

Photos from the Nationaal Archief

Three schoolgirls, satchels on their back, peeking through a window somewhere in Elten. The Netherlands, 1959.

Dutch people celebrating their holidays in a German bunker in the dunes, two years after the Second World War.

Man at the beach fined for not wearing decent clothes. Netherlands, Heemskerk, 1931.

Land sailing: sand yacht of Emanuel Urlus on the beach between Noordwijk and Katwijk (the Netherlands), 1917.

The Dutch queen Wilhelmina and princess Juliana as snowmen. The Netherlands, 21 January, 1913.

Selections from the Nationaal Archief's photostream at Flickr, which also includes for some reason a large set of photos about Japanese culture.

Larger versions of the photos are available at the individual links.

Reposted from 2009 for "Dutch Treat Day" 2014.

English words of Dutch origin

Wikipedia has an extensive list and discussion -
The main part of refugees to England, Wales and Scotland from the 11th till the 17th century were from the Low Countries... In the Dutch Golden Age, spanning most of the 17th century, Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world, and many English words of Dutch origin concerning these areas are stemming from this period...English and Dutch rivalry at sea resulted in many Dutch naval terms in English... Via settlements in North America and elsewhere in the world Dutch language influenced English spoken there, particularly American English.
Just a few examples:
Aardvark, bamboo, beaker, bicker, blink, blister, booze (from Middle Dutch busen (="to drink in excess"), boss, boulevard, Brooklyn, bully, caboose, coleslaw, cookie...
Via - appropriately - Gerard Vlemming's The Presurfer.

Dutch bricklaying machine

It's not as automated as might appear from the still photo.  As a video demonstrates, humans have to be present to load the bricks in the proper order and position.  But it does allow them to do their work from a standing position, and presumably more quickly.

Via Reddit.

Dutch forensic experts can date a fingerprint

"It's not quite the Holy Grail of fingerprinting, but it's a very important discovery," Marcel de Puit, fingerprint researcher at the Dutch Forensic Institute (NFI), told AFP on Wednesday, hailing what he said was a world's first... "Being able to date the prints means you can determine when a potential suspect was at the crime scene or which fingerprints are relevant for the investigation," De Puit said...

"The chemicals in these fingerprints can be analysed," said De Puit. "Some disappear over time and it's the relative proportions of these chemicals that allow us to date a fingerprint."
Previous attempts to crack the formula for dating fingerprints failed because they focused on the amounts of chemicals, rather than their relative proportions, De Puit said.
Taking into account the temperature of the original prints' surroundings, which affects the speed of deterioration, forensic experts can now date fingerprints to within "one or two days", up to 15 days.

The new technique needs to be extensively tested on real crimes scenes, leading to the creation of a database, before it can be used in prosecutions, hopefully "within a year", De Puit said.

08 June 2014

Music recorded on xrays

Before the availability of the tape recorder and during the 1950s, when vinyl was scarce, ingenious Russians began recording banned bootlegged jazz, boogie woogie and rock 'n' roll on exposed X-ray film salvaged from hospital waste bins and archives...
"They would cut the X-ray into a crude circle with manicure scissors and use a cigarette to burn a hole," says author Anya von Bremzen. "You'd have Elvis on the lungs, Duke Ellington on Aunt Masha's brain scan — forbidden Western music captured on the interiors of Soviet citizens."
You learn something every day.  Image and text from NPR.

Abraham Lincoln's swollen right hand

Chicago artist Leonard Volk produced... the casts of Lincoln’s hands on May 20, two days after the Republican Party nominated him for the presidency. Lincoln’s right hand was still swollen from shaking hands with supporters. To steady his hand in the mold, Lincoln went out to the woodshed and cut off a piece of broom handle. Volk later placed the piece of handle in the cast displayed here.
Further information at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Choctaw code talkers - from World War I

Most readers will already be familiar with the Navajo code talkers who served vital roles during the second World War.  I, for one, however, didn't realize that code talking was first made use of during the Great War.
In the autumn of 1918, US troops were involved in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on the Western Front. It was one of the largest frontline commitments of American soldiers in WW1, but communications in the field were compromised. The Germans had successfully tapped telephone lines, were deciphering codes and repeatedly capturing runners sent out to deliver messages directly...

The solution was stumbled upon by chance, an overheard conversation between two Choctaw soldiers in the 142nd Infantry Regiment. The pair were chatting in camp when a captain walked by and asked what language they were speaking...

"Using the Choctaw language had huge advantages," says Dr William Meadows of Missouri State University, the only academic to have studied and written extensively on the Choctaw code talkers. "It was a largely unknown language. Only a few American Indian tribes had more than 20,000 people so their languages weren't widely spoken and most weren't written down...

Even if the Germans were listening, they couldn't understand. It was also the quickest way of coding and decoding information, faster than any machine, giving US troops a crucial edge over the enemy... It is believed none of the languages or codes used have ever been broken by an enemy.
Further details at the BBC, where note is made of this irony:
But at the same time,the Choctaw language was under pressure back in the US. It was a time of cultural assimilation. Government attempts to "civilise" American Indians involved putting their children in state-run boarding schools, where they were often severely punished for speaking in their native tongue.

Texas school forbids children taking sunscreen on field trips

After several decades of surfing the web it has become progressively more difficult to be shocked by reports of unusual behavior.  But every now and then one encounters an example of human stupidity so egregious, so far below two standard deviations of normal intellectual activity, that one can't help but wonder at the complexities of human psychology.  To wit...
Riggs said her 10-year-old daughter went on a school field trip recently and came back sun-burned. Riggs said district policy didn’t allow her daughter to bring sunscreen to reapply... Riggs said skin cancer runs in her family and her father recently passed away from it.

But, North East Independent School District spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said sunscreen is considered a medication, something children need a doctor’s note to have at school.

“Typically, sunscreen is a toxic substance, and we can’t allow toxic things in to be in our schools,” Chancellor said.
“We have to look at the safety of all of our students and we can’t allow children to share sunscreen,” she said. “They could possibly have an allergic reaction (or) they could ingest it. It’s really a dangerous situation.”
It's Texas.  It's institutional educational systems.  It's zero-tolerance policy running amok.  It's stupid.  It's irrational.  But it's real life.  God help us.

06 June 2014

Preserved tapeworm necklace

Commercially available from MyParasites.

Quebec has passed a "death with dignity" bill

Congratulations to the enlightened legislators of Quebec.
Terminally ill patients in Quebec now have the right to choose to die. The non-partisan Bill 52, also known as an act respecting end-of-life care, passed Thursday afternoon in a free vote at the National Assembly in Quebec City.  The bill passed 94-22. There were no abstentions.

The main indicator for requesting medical aid in dying is "an incurable disease, an incurable illness, which is causing unbearable suffering."


"The bunyip, or kianpraty, is a large mythical creature from Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes. The origin of the word bunyip has been traced to the Wemba-Wemba or Wergaia language of Aboriginal people of South-Eastern Australia...

 [One] suggestion is that the bunyip may be a cultural memory of extinct Australian marsupials such as the Diprotodon, Zygomaturus, Nototherium or Palorchestes. This connection was first formally made by Dr George Bennett of the Australian Museum in 1871, but in the early 1990s, palaeontologist Pat Vickers-Rich and geologist Neil Archbold also cautiously suggested that Aboriginal legends "perhaps had stemmed from an acquaintance with prehistoric bones or even living prehistoric animals themselves... When confronted with the remains of some of the now extinct Australian marsupials, Aborigines would often identify them as the bunyip.""

Why would a dog repeatedly bury live frogs?

The following story was published in Dog Stories From The Spectator : Being Anecdotes Of The Intelligence, Reasoning Power, Affection And Sympathy Of Dogs, Selected From The Correspondence Columns Of The Spectator by J St Loe Strachey (1895):
[Feb. 2, 1895.] I venture to send you the following story I have lately heard from an eye-witness, and to ask whether you or any of your readers can throw any light upon the dog’s probable object. The dog in question was a Scotch terrier. He was one day observed to appear from a corner of the garden carrying in his mouth, very gently and tenderly, a live frog. He proceeded to lay the frog down upon a flower-bed, and at once began to dig a hole in the earth, keeping one eye upon the frog to see that it did not escape. If it went more than a few feet from him, he fetched it back, and then continued his work. Having dug the hole a certain depth, he then laid the frog, still alive, at the bottom of it, and promptly scratched the loose earth back into the hole, and friend froggy was buried alive! The dog then went off to the corner of the garden, and returned with another frog, which he treated in the same way. This occurred on more than one occasion; in fact, as often as he could find frogs he occupied himself in burying them alive.
The rest of the 1895 story, and one possible explanation, is at The Public Domain Review.
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