30 August 2014

A crosseyed planthopper

I need to take about a week off to tend to some urgent family matters.  When I come back I'll offer you a series of posts about Siberia.

Image (credit June Aubrey Young) via the QI elves' (creators of my favorite podcasts) Twitter feed.

Addendum:  An interesting comment from reader Steve -
Pseudopupils are pretty neat. What you're actually seeing is ommatidia that are oriented directly toward the viewer (camera lens). Instead of seeing the pigmented walls of the ommatidium you are seeing right into the photoreceptors. The dark spots will even appear to follow you as you move around the insect but the insect is not actually moving anything. Some spiders can move their retina to look around though, which is pretty awesome. 

Richard Feynman's lectures on physics are now online

As reported by Open Culture:
Last fall, we let you know that Caltech and The Feynman Lectures Website joined forces to create an online edition of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. They started with Volume 1. And now they’ve followed up with Volume 2 and Volume 3, making the collection complete...

The new online edition makes The Feynman Lectures on Physics available in HTML5. The text “has been designed for ease of reading on devices of any size or shape,” and you can zoom into text, figures and equations without degradation. 
More at the link.  The image is my screencap of part of one of the pages.

Misinformation in televised medical dramas

"It turns out that popular medical dramas don't always portray medical treatment accurately. A new study found that seizure care in particular was depicted appropriately less than half the time on major fictional medical shows...
The study looked at the depiction of seizure care for all episodes of "Grey's Anatomy," House, M.D.," and "Private Practice," and the last five seasons of "ER." The research will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Toronto, Ontario, in April.

In nearly 46 percent of seizure cases, characters on these shows delivered inappropriate treatments such as holding the person down, trying to stop involuntary movements or putting something in the person's mouth, the study said. The shows did show proper treatment about 29 percent of the time, and in the remaining 25 percent of the time, the accuracy of the portrayal couldn't be determined...

There have been other studies showing that television medical shows do a poor job of portraying procedures appropriately and accurately. Of concern is one about cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, Sanders said. A 1996 New England Journal of Medicine study of "ER," "Chicago Hope" and "Rescue 911" found that in the episodes viewed, 75 percent of patients survived cardiac arrest immediately, and 67 percent appeared to be well enough to leave the hospital. In real life, long-term survival rates vary from 2 to 30 percent for cardiac arrest outside a hospital and 6.5 to 15 percent for arrests inside a hospital, the study said.

False depictions of CPR are probably more alarming than misrepresented seizure care, Sanders said. Normally, seizure care is left to doctors, who don't get their information on treatments from television. But CPR is a procedure that lay people do learn how to do, and they might get false impressions from watching dramas, she said."

"Swatting" explained

Militarized local SWAT teams can be tricked by hackers into raiding homes of innocent people.  The Vice video above illustrates the problem, which is also discussed at Salon:
“The caller claimed to have shot two co-workers, held others hostage, and threatened to shoot them,” the Littleton Police Department said in a statement. “He stated that if the officers entered he would shoot them as well.”

What the cameras captured is a perilous new prank known as “swatting,” or making a false report to get the SWAT team to invade a rival gamer’s space. As evidenced by the Vice News report below, this can involve disguising the caller identity and making some potentially life-threatening claims.

Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda

"What is believed to be the only wooden toilet seat to be found in the Roman Empire has been unearthed at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall...

The seat was discovered by Dr Birley in the deep pre-Hadrianic trenches at Vindolanda. There are many examples of stone and marble toilet seat benches from across the Roman Empire but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat, almost perfectly preserved in the anaerobic, oxygen free, conditions which exist at Vindolanda.

Dr Birley said that in the chilly conditions of what was the northernmost limits of the Empire, a wooden seat would have been preferable to stone...

The seat has been well used and was decommissioned from its original location and discarded amongst the rubbish left behind in the fort before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall started in the early Second Century. "

Christianity-based health care

"...one way Americans can avoid buying private insurance or paying into the Affordable Care Act.

The deal, made possible by a little-known provision in the health-care law, has one particularly important requirement: The Duff household of nine must abstain from general debauchery.

Samaritan Ministries, a health-care sharing group, will charge its national network to cover the family’s medical bills, but only if they agree to forsake binge-drinking, extramarital sex, illegal drugs and tobacco (with the exception of celebratory, post-birth cigars). The organization describes itself as a “Biblical approach” to health-care, guided by Galatians 6:2: Bear one another’s burdens...

Samaritan’s rules, however, extend beyond the religious realm to the practical one of saving money. Sinful behavior threatens more than a soul’s entrance to Heaven, Duff and his cohorts believe: It damages the earthly body — and amplifies the price of health-care.
Christians are just healthier people,” he says. “Think of all the physical problems we can attribute to a sinful lifestyle.”

Obamacare, the Samaritan contract states, is undesirable because it covers costs that “result from immoral practices,” such as STD treatments or out-of-wedlock births. The law creates a moral dilemma for Duff, who now works as an assistant pastor in downtown Omaha.

Simply put,” he says, “I don’t want to pay for that or encourage it in any way.
Neither do the estimated 100,000 other Samaritan users.
More at the Washington Post.

American League teams win more interleague games

American League teams have won the majority of interleague games for 10 consecutive years; this year will likely be the 11th.  Graphic from the Wall Street Journal, where there is speculation about the reasons for this trend.

Movement of Death Valley's "racetrack" rocks finally explained

Rocks of various heft – some weighing 600 pounds or more – leave trails that wiggle like snakes or form complete loops or even rectangles. The trails are cut sharply into the earth but no other tracks are visible.

Theories over the decades have included sporadic hurricane-force winds when the surface is covered with rain water, or rocks carried across the mud by small rafts of ice, or UFOs.

But until the Norrises had an incredible stroke of luck that day last December, no one had scientifically verified the phenomenon. The findings were formally presented today in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE.
This video, posted at GrindTV has details and video of the rocks moving.

Additional details at that link (hat tip to reader Stan Banos for sending it in).
As part of the Slithering Stones Research Initiative, researchers custom built motion-activated GPS units and fitted them into 15 rocks and placed them on the playa in the winter of 2011, with permission from the National Park Service. They expected it would take five to 10 years before something happened.

Ralph Lorenz, one of the paper’s authors from Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University, called it “the most boring experiment ever.”

27 August 2014

The surprising effect of road salt on butterflies

Salting roads in winter can tweak the physiques of butterflies the next summer.

Milkweeds and oaks, plants that caterpillars graze on, collected from alongside a country road carried higher sodium concentrations than the same species growing at least 100 meters from the splash and drift of deicing salt, says Emilie Snell-Rood of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillars raised on the sodium-boosted plants turned into males with extra thoracic muscles and females with bigger eyes and probably bigger brains than butterflies reared on the more distant foliage, Snell-Rood and her colleagues found.

A different butterfly, the cabbage white, echoed these his-and-hers effects when reared on a sodium-boosted lab diet, researchers report June 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So is road salt good for butterflies? “I do not want that to be the take-home message,” Snell-Rood says. Instead, she says, the study demonstrates for the first time that road salt can alter how animals develop physically.
Text from Science News, with a tip of the hat to reader Bradley Ruben for bringing it to my attention.  Photo from our yard.

Related: The double-edged sword of salting roads in winter, and Cheese brine for icy roads.

"FreeD video"

The technology is explained in this video featuring tennis coverage.

Online versions are not saving newspapers

The blue line in the chart displays total annual print newspaper advertising revenue (for the categories national, retail and classified) based on actual annual data from 1950 to 2011, and estimated annual revenue for 2012 using quarterly data through the second quarter of this year, from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). The advertising revenues have been adjusted for inflation using the CPI, and appear in the chart as
millions of constant 2012 dollars. Estimated print advertising revenues of $19.0 billion in 2012 will be the lowest annual amount spent on print newspaper advertising since the NAA started tracking ad revenue in 1950...
Further details and analysis at Carpe Diem, via The Dish.

Bathing suit, 1916 - updated

In the photography category of this blog,  I've occasionally posted photos of beach scenes from the turn of the last century, and I suspect a modern person's responses are "what uncomfortable clothing to wear" and "what unattractive clothing to wear."

With regard to the latter (?mis)perception, I offer the above photo, from the camera of Alfred Stieglitz (‘Ellen Koeniger’, 1916, gelatin silver photograph, 11.1 x 9.1, J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), as a reminder that when wet, those staid bathing costumes must have shocked some Edwardian-era sensibilities.

Found at Consciousness is a Congenital Hallucination.

Reposted from 2010 to add a link to another of Stieglitz' photos.  The two images have different dates and names, but it appears to be the same suit.

The world's most famous iceberg

Because Titanic.
The iceberg lay at latitude 41-46N, longitude 50-14W, off the coast of Newfoundland. Newspaper reports of the time said that the visible part of the iceberg – that above the waterline – was anywhere between 50 to 100 feet high and 200 to 400 feet long.

The chief steward on board the Prinze Adelbert liner took the photo of the iceberg on the morning of the Titanic sinking.

Reports say he spotted a line of red paint along the bottom of the iceberg which experts believe show where it had made contact with Titanic.

Journal.ie reports that the steward was not aware at the time that it had been the iceberg that sunk the Titanic but the location, the marks on the iceberg and Titanic survivors’ descriptions of the iceberg triangulated to confirm that it was.
A tip of the blogging hat to the elves at QI, who made mention of this iceberg on their always-excellent podcast.

Calcified ectopic fetus

As reported by The Telegraph:
Doctors in India have removed the skeleton of a foetus that had been inside a woman for 36 years in what is believed to be the world's longest ectopic pregnancy...

A team of doctors in Nagpur successfully performed surgery to remove the mass that was lodged between the woman's uterus, intestines and bladder.

Skeletal remains that were removed are seen in video footage laid out on a hospital bed, and include numerous parts of a rib cage, leg and arm bones and sections of a skull, spine and pelvis.

25 August 2014

And the award for "Best Antennae" goes to...

"The beetle family Phengodidae, known also as glowworm beetles."

From Project Noah, via A London Salmagundi.

"Sand-activated' puppets

You pour the sand in at the top.  And it comes out... well, at the bottom.

Via A London Salmagundi.

Just follow the directions on the signs

For a brief time Thursday and Friday the parking regulation signs outside Linwood E. Howe Elementary School topped 15 feet.

The signs were meant to clarify a new drop-off and pick-up procedure for when classes resume at the school, but as CBS2’s Juan Fernandez reported, neighbors just found them confusing.

Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells said the plan was for the signs to only be displayed temporarily. “They just didn’t look temporary,” she said. “So they were going to be taken down. And it looked like … whoa. It was pretty impressive.”
Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

People wilil still climb over this sign

Discussed at a Reddit thread.  (Image cropped from original)

"A poetic remake of the strategic achievement of Hannibal"

Gimme a break.  Dragging a replica elephant on wheels along the Cavalla Pass in Italy is hardly a remake of Hannibal's achievement.

Via the Washington Post, with an additional photo here.  Credit: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images.

World record price for a Navajo blanket

 Only about 100 of these original "first-phase" chief's blankets are thought to exist.

Details at The Telegraph.  At the risk of throwing a wet blanket on a feel-good story, one has to wonder whether his ancestor in the 1860s spent four years' salary to purchase the blanket, as is postulated in the video.

Birds catching fire in mid-air

IVANPAH DRY LAKE, Calif. — Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.

Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group...
More than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect solar rays onto three boiler towers each looming up to 40 stories high
Federal wildlife officials said Ivanpah might act as a “mega-trap” for wildlife, with the bright light of the plant attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds that fly to their death in the intensely focused light rays...

BrightSource also is offering $1.8 million in compensation for anticipated bird deaths at Palen, Desmond said.
It's not clear to whom the company would pay the compensation.  Presumably to the families of the dead birds.

Further details at the Calgary Herald, via the QI elves.

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader Wales Larrison for providing a link to a detailed study of avian mortality at the facility.  I'm dismayed to note that the researchers also noted significant insect mortality, including many Monarch butterflies.

"Music" heard on the back side of the moon

During a podcast of No Such Thing as a Fish, the elves mentioned in passing a "symphony" heard by astronauts on the far side of the moon.  Today I found the following at Above Top Secret:
Most of us Conspiracy Researchers will recall the case of Apollo 10 Astronauts : Tom Stafford, Gene Cernan and John Young discussing the “outer-spacey” music they head while on the far side of the moon. This music happened during the LOS (loss of signal) period that occurred while the communications between themselves and mission control were temporarily unavailable due to their position behind the moon. Gene Cernan is the first to hear the music (in the LM) and the transcripts shows that he radios John Young in the CSM to confirm he is hearing the same thing. John young then replies “Yea, I got it too…….and see who was outside?” Not only does JY confirm he hears it, but look at his following statement, “and see who is outside” ! Now who could be “outside” the space vessels?! More importantly John Young is inferring that there may be a connection between the “music” and “who is outside” of their crafts. After a few minutes of dialogue regarding the mission Gene Cernan brings up the topic again, “boy, that sure is strange music” in which John Young replies “ Were going to have to find out about that. Nobody will Believe us.”

During their next orbit of the dark side the “music” RETURNS. Addressing Tom Stafford this time Gene Cernan asks “You hear music Tom? That crazy whistling?” In which Tom Stafford replies “I can hear it.” Gene replies “that’s really weird” and Tom replies “it is.” Further on Gene AGAIN brings up the subject by stating “Listen to eerie music”. They even continue random dialogue regarding the music and how eerie and weird it was, and that nobody is going to believe them. 
More at the link, where you can access Apollo 10 transcripts and experiences by other astronauts.  Here is one possible explanation:
There hasn't ever really been an "official" explanation of these sounds (described as whistling and buzz-saw sounds). But most scientists offer that it could be attributed to either radio interference in the lander or perhaps an artifact of the Sun's solar wind.
Since the most prominent example of this sound was when the Apollo 15 astronauts were on the far side of the Moon, it could be suggested that the Moon's gravity was gravitationally focusing the Sun's wind (a mix of high energy charged particles) onto the capsule. That interaction would created electromagnetic distortions, which could produce sounds inside the capsule.

"Some quality family bonding time right here..."

An instagram tweeted by a member of my cousin's family, who was in the process of packing to head off to college and taking some last pix of family she would leave behind.

It's sort of meta for me to now post it in the blog for them to see.  And now I'll email it to my wife.  My 95-year-old mother is forever amazed by "this modern world."

What is unusual about this penny?

It's a Lincoln head cent, issued in 1909 on the centennial of Lincoln's birth, and the first in a long series of gazillions of similar pennies differing only in date and mint marks.

But there is something about this penny that no other penny on earth shares.  Answer below the fold...

22 August 2014

This sculpture of Jesus has human teeth

The video is in Spanish, but details in English are available at The History Blog -
Restorers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) working on a polychrome statue of the Christ of Patience have found eight human teeth in the figure’s mouth. These types of statues often have teeth, but they’re carved out of wood or bone either as a plate or as individual teeth. This is the first time actual human teeth have been found...

According to Fanny Unikel, head restorer of INAH’s Restoration Workshop of Polychrome Sculpture of the National School of Conservation, Restoration and Museology (ENCRyM), the teeth were probably donations made by devout parishioners, a practice seen frequently with far less painful materials like hair for wigs or clothing...

The dental implant Christ is one of a group of 17th and 18th century statues of the saints belonging to the church of San Bartolo Cuautlalpan, a farming community in the central Mexico municipality of Zumpango...

Blind hunters

Not hunters in blinds, or people hunting for blinds.  The BBC has a report on blind hunters:
In the US, being blind is no bar to owning and carrying firearms. The blind people who do it say they are simply exercising their constitutional right, and present no danger to the public....

The day of the test came, and McWilliams duly went along to the police firing range with a friend who was also trying for a permit. The targets were half-size cut-outs of assailants, positioned seven yards (6.4m) away. McWilliams fired a series of shots with a .357 magnum, all of which landed in the heart region of his target. Clearly, he knew what he was doing...

Concealed carry permits - the licences required to carry a gun in public - are issued at state level, and the criteria and rules vary across the US. While there is nothing in North Dakota's statutes to prevent a blind person - or a person with any physical disability - carrying a gun, in Florida, for example, a "physical inability to handle a firearm safely" is listed as a reason for ineligibility. Yet even there, a blind person with a North Dakota licence would still be able to carry his or her gun, since Florida recognises permits from that state. ..

It's even more straightforward for blind people to own guns if they are content to leave them at home. In most states, you don't need to perform a shooting test or get a licence to buy a gun. Consequently, no-one knows how many blind Americans own guns for home defence, target practice or hunting. Carey McWilliams started hunting in 2008. When ducks fly across the sky, he says, they make a sound like bicycle tyres on a pavement, and he traces them with the barrels of his rifle. For other types of hunting, such as stalking elk, he goes out with a companion, who whispers directions - up a bit, left a bit, right a bit - but who is not permitted to touch his weapon. ..

Since then, McWilliams has killed a black bear and is now set on African game. He owns "eight or nine" guns, including an AR-15 machine gun...

At the same time, McWilliams says again and again that he would only use his weapon on someone at point blank range - "I consider my gun a blade with a bang." That is the only way, he says, that he can be sure he is under real attack and - his acoustic shooting skills notwithstanding - pick out his assailant. To minimise danger to passers-by, he says his gun is loaded with frangible ammunition, which would be of no danger after exiting an assailant's body. "Surgeons absolutely hate those type of shots that I use because they do a lot of a damage internally," he says. "It would make a bullet wound about the size of a dime and an exit wound about the size of a baseball, and wouldn't go very far beyond that."
(comments are closed for this post)

"Siri, where should I bury my roommate?"

A young man in Florida is accused of murdering his roommate (details at The Telegraph).  Evidence at his trial will include information retrieved from his PDA (screencap above).
The Siri device, which had been accessed via Facebook, allegedly responded with the question: "What kind of place are you looking for? Swamps. Reservoirs. Metal foundries. Dumps."..

Detectives who accessed Bravo's phone found that he had used the flashlight facility for 48 minutes on the day of Aguilar's disappearance. 

Buried treasure found in France

From a story in The Telegraph:
The men had been working at the property, situated in a village near Les Andelys and Vernon, for several days when they came across the hidden trove, estimated to be worth more than €900,000 (£700,200), hidden in glass jars...

Upon closer inspection, the workers unearthed several large glass jars containing 16 gold bars weighing 2.2lbs each, and 600 gold coins from 1924 and 1927. The stash had probably hidden for safekeeping during the Second World War, according to Paris Normandie.  
They didn't tell the homeowner, opting instead to divide up the treasure.  Then...
...tax officials homed in them after one of the men began depositing high-value cheques, including one for €270,000
Showing once again how utterly, abysmally stupid some thieves are.   But I'll bet there are quite a few family fortunes that were created not by a hardworking ancestor, but by a lucky and discreet one.  And I'm sure there are more stashes like this one scattered throughout the continent.


The StarTribune notes that this "sport" is gaining in popularity on Minnesota lakes.
A jet pack mounts onto his feet in heavy bindings that look like massive snowboard boots. Water pressure from a hose hooked into a water scooter lifts him into the air, allowing him to hover over the water, then dive or do back flips overhead...

It doesn’t come cheap, though. With the jet ski and all the equipment, he said it can quickly add up to $20,000. In two years of owning flyboards, he’s run through 10 water scooter engines due to the extra wear it takes with the flyboards.

He rents them out for $299 an hour. But more and more people are curious about the unusual sport, with Jansen doing 3,000 rentals last year.
I'm not thrilled by this development because I've never been a fan of the noise created by jet skis.  And I notice that every video I've found replaces ambient sound with hard rock to mask that noise.

Worldwide obesity

An amazing pair of numbers from the most recent Harper's Index:
Year in which the World Health Organization began keeping records on global obesity:  1980

Number of years since then in which at least one country has reduced its obesity rate:  0
There are a few details and some commentary at the New York Times; presumably there is more in-depth analysis elsewhere.

For homeowners: an open thread on "mudjacking"

If you own a house long enough, most of the components will need to be repaired or replaced (a fact often overlooked by young couples eager to purchase as much home as they can afford). Take my driveway.  Please.

Our house is only about 20-25 years old, situated near the crest of a hill overlooking woods.  It's clear that some regrading of the lot was necessary to position it where it is.  The driveway has a series of concrete slabs separated by tiny expansion grooves.  Over the past decade or so, some of the slabs have begun to shift.  These depressions first make themselves manifest in the winter when you are shoveling snow vigorously and the shovel comes to a sudden stop, sending a shudder through your body.

What's happening underneath may represent a "settling" of fill originally used to level the ground or perhaps some erosion as rainwater and winter meltwater work their way between the slabs, perhaps exacerbated by the burrowing of critters like chipmunks or the action of the roots of some nearby very large trees.

The traditional repair method is to hire a construction firm to jackhammer out the concrete, adjust the base as necessary and then pour new slabs.  The alternative is "mudjacking" (sandjacking, slabjacking).  This involves drilling a small hole in the concrete slabs and injecting under hydraulic pressure a material (originally mud or sand, but more recently a polyurethane foam) which fills the space and then lifts the slab until it is flush with its neighbors. (details at the link)

"Jacking" the slabs back up is generally faster, less labor intensive, less disruptive, and less expensive (probably by a factor of 3-5X - I'm still studying that) than removal and replacement of the driveway.  But when slabs are cracked (as some of ours are), there is a risk that the segments will separate, and even a smooth lift of an intact slab may not align perfectly with all the neighboring ones.

I'm writing this post to encourage readers who have dealt with similar driveway/sidewalk problems to respond with comments (for me and for other readers who have - or will someday have- the same problem to deal with), because this isn't the kind of information one learns in school.  Success stories and horror stories are equally welcome.

21 August 2014

A young boy with giant hands

Addendum:  the embedded video is no longer available.  A hat tip to reader Piper for finding a similar one at this UPI link.

The video tells the story in four minutes; here's the TL;DR for those in a hurry -
Eight-year-old Kaleem's hands weigh eight kilograms each and measure 13 inches from the base of his palm to the end of his middle finger.

The cricket fan, who lives in India, is unable to do many basic tasks – including tying his shoes laces – and has been bullied and shunned most of his life.

He said: "I do not go to school because the teacher says other kids are scared of my hands.
"Many of them used to bully me for my deformity. They would say 'let's beat up the kid with the large hands'."
The physician in the video is hopelessly out of his depth.  This is in no way a case of acromegaly (which is also not a disease of the thyroid).  Note the boy also has engorgement of the tissues of his upper chest.  I would favor a disorder of his lymphatic system - genetic rather than parasitic because of the early onset.

I'm also saddened by the responses of his childhood playmates, whose mockery and aggression remind me of the treatment accorded the "banjo goiter" man whom I previously blogged.

Tuberculosis as the cause of the American holocaust?

Recent research suggests that tuberculosis spread by seals may have been responsible for the deaths of millions of Native Americans in pre-contact America.
Disease-riddled Europeans, carrying tuberculosis across the Atlantic, have long been blamed for wiping out huge populations of Native Americans.

But new research has found that the deadly bugs which killed millions were probably spread by seals and sea lions, long before Christopher Columbus first arrived in the New World in 1492.
A study which looked at tuberculosis strains in bones discovered in Peru found they were closely linked to those found in sea mammals.
The research shows that tuberculosis is likely to have spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions, who then carried the disease to South America and transmitted it to Native populations long before Europeans landed on the continent...

"Our results show unequivocal evidence of human infection caused by sea lions and seals in pre-Columbian South America.

“Within the past 2,500 years, the marine animals likely contracted the disease from an African host species and carried it across the ocean to coastal people in South America.”
I can't comment on the history of South America; in North America it's true that there was evidence of depopulation (in the desert Southwest and at Cahokia) before the arrival of Europeans), but there is also well-documented eyewitness evidence of the ravages of diseases brought by the first Europeans.

I don't doubt that seals may have spread mycobacterial disease to humans (perhaps nontuberculous mycobacteria, labeled "tuberculosis" in the article), but I can't envision any mycobacteria (even M.Tb) causing the biblical-level depopulations experienced in North America.

"The times, they are a-changing"

According to The Moscow Times, Russia is demanding that Bulgaria take steps to prevent vandalism of soviet statuary.

This is what the Monument to the Soviet Army used to look like:

On June 17, 2011 the monument was painted overnight by unknown artists, who "dressed" the Soviet Army soldiers as American comics heroes and characters: Superman, Joker, Robin, Captain America, Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus, Wolverine, The Mask, and Wonder Woman, with a caption underneath which translates as "Abreast with the Times" (in Bulgarian "V krak s vremeto", literally "In pace with time"). The monument was cleaned in the late hours of June 20, 2011. The event was widely covered by the international media and provoked serious pro and anti-Russian discussion in the Bulgarian society. The story was filmed in the short documentary In Step With The Time directed by Anton Partalev and includes anonymous interviews with the artists. The film won the second prize in 2013 IN OUT FESTIVAL in Poland.
Top photo: Ignat Ignev / Wikicommons

Millions more personal records stolen

Community Health Systems, which operates 206 hospitals across the United States, announced on Monday that hackers recently broke into its computers and stole data on 4.5 million patients.

Hackers have gained access to their names, Social Security numbers, physical addresses, birthdays and telephone numbers.

Anyone who received treatment from a network-owned hospital in the last five years -- or was merely referred there by an outside doctor -- is affected.

The large data breach puts these people at heightened risk of identity fraud. That allows criminals open bank accounts and credit cards on their behalf, take out loans and ruin personal credit history.
It never ends...

Did someone hack Google Translate?

From Krebs on Security:
It all started a few months back when I received a note from Lance James, head of cyber intelligence at Deloitte. James pinged me to share something discovered by FireEye researcher Michael Shoukry and another researcher who wished to be identified only as “Kraeh3n.” They noticed a bizarre pattern in Google Translate: When one typed “lorem ipsum” into Google Translate, the default results (with the system auto-detecting Latin as the language) returned a single word: “China.”

Capitalizing the first letter of each word changed the output to “NATO” — the acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Reversing the words in both lower- and uppercase produced “The Internet” and “The Company” (the “Company” with a capital “C” has long been a code word for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency). Repeating and rearranging the word pair with a mix of capitalization generated even stranger results. For example, “lorem ipsum ipsum ipsum Lorem” generated the phrase “China is very very sexy.”
Until very recently, the words on the left were transformed to the words on the right using Google Translate.
Until very recently, the words on the left were transformed to the words on the right using Google Translate.

Kraeh3n said she discovered the strange behavior while proofreading a document for a colleague, a document that had the standard lorem ipsum placeholder text. When she began typing “l-o-r..e..” and saw “China” as the result, she knew something was strange.
More at the link.

Who should get trophies? all kids? or just winners?

I'm not familiar with the Reason-Rupe poll, but FYI here are some results as posted at Reason.com.

The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that when it comes to kids and their trophies, 57 percent of Americans think only the winning players should receive them. Another 40 percent say all kids on a sport team should receive a trophy for their participation.

The desire for “every kid to get a trophy” strongly correlates with political beliefs. Fully 66 percent of Republicans want only the kids who win to receive trophies, while 31 percent say all kids on the team should receive them. In contrast, Democrats are evenly divided with 48 percent who say all kids, and another 48 percent who say only the winners should receive a trophy.

The competitive desire for winners to be rewarded correlates with fiscal conservatism. Among those who only think winners should get a trophy, 64 percent have a favorable view of capitalism, 64 percent thinks markets better solve problems than government, and 63 percent favor smaller government providing fewer services. In contrast, among those who think all kids should get a trophy, a plurality (49%) have an unfavorable view of capitalism, 50 percent thinks a strong government better solves problems than the free market, and 54 percent favor larger government providing more services.

More info and graphics at the link.

19 August 2014

The story behind the "ice bucket challenge"

Anyone with access to visual media during the past month can't help but be aware of the "ice bucket challenge."  Most probably understand it as a fundraising campaign, but few know the details behind it.

This video from ESPN is worth watching - even if you are not a sports fan.

18 August 2014

Flour sack clothing

"When they realized women were using their sacks to make clothes for their children, flour mills of the 30s started using flowered fabric for their sacks, 1939"  Via Earthly Mission.
I found the following photo at Living History Farm:


And this image via Jennifer Lewis:

James Joyce's poor health

"One summer evening in 1917, James Joyce was walking down a street in Zurich when he developed a pain in his right eye so severe he couldn’t move. A bystander helped him to a nearby bench, where he gazed at halos around the streetlights. After twenty minutes, he was able to pull himself onto a tram and make his way home. Joyce was suffering from glaucoma brought on by acute anterior uveitis, an inflammation of the iris, which had eroded his optic nerves. He’d had two previous “eye attacks,” as he called them—the first in 1907—and now allowed a surgeon to cut away a small piece of his iris. Nora Barnacle, Joyce’s partner, wrote to Ezra Pound that Joyce’s eye was still bleeding painfully ten days on. Joyce’s attacks recurred intermittently for the next twenty years, and in that time he had about a dozen eye surgeries. By the age of forty-eight, he was essentially blind. The origin of Joyce’s decades-long battle with uveitis has never been definitively named. Before penicillin’s introduction, in the 1940s, the most common cause was syphilis (uveitis is now most often associated with autoimmune disorders), and Joyce began visiting prostitutes at age fourteen. Was his affliction sexually transmitted?"
An answer is offered in Harper's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Syphilitic.  I find the new information about his use of galyl (phospharsenamide) to be convincing.

The facts of life

From Real Life Adventures.

When the teeth treat your thigh like a big pizza pie, that a-moray...

YouTube link.

Moray eels have a second (pharyngeal) jaw.

How dry I am - updated

This is likely to have some effect on food prices in the United States.
Nearly the entire Golden State – 99.81 percent to be exact — is in the grip of drought, according to the latest update from the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly 70 percent of the state is suffering from an “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the two highest categories on the Monitor’s rating scale. The snowpack across the entire state is at a measly 35 percent of its normal level...

At this point last year, only a quarter of the state was in drought conditions; now, that much of the state is in exceptional drought alone — marking the first time the Monitor has used that rating in California since its inception in 1999...
I believe much of southern California was traditionally desert, before it was artificially watered by river diversion projects.  Those rivers and reservoirs are severely diminished.  Look for a variety of regional water wars to erupt.

I suspect a variety of already-stressed butterfly populations will also be threatened.

Addendum:  I posted the above in April of 2014.  Now (August) the Washington Post has some updated information:
Now, across California’s vital agricultural belt, nervousness over the state’s epic drought has given way to alarm. Streams and lakes have long since shriveled up in many parts of the state, and now the aquifers — always a backup source during the region’s periodic droughts — are being pumped away at rates that scientists say are both historic and unsustainable.

One state-owned well near Sacramento registered an astonishing 100-foot drop in three months as the water table, strained by new demand from farmers, homeowners and municipalities, sank to a record low. Other wells have simply dried up, in such numbers that local drilling companies are reporting backlogs of six to eight months to dig a new one.

In still other areas, aquifers are emptying so quickly that the land itself is subsiding, like cereal in a bowl after the milk has drained out...

Damage to aquifers is viewed as more serious because, once depleted, an aquifer takes far longer to replenish — often decades or more...

Why Medicare advantage plans want to send a doctor to your house

I recently received a phone message from someone calling "on behalf of my Medicare advantage plan provider," offering to have a medical person visit me in my home.  I knew the plan had offered such, but wasn't clear why.  Is their intention for our mutual benefit (to keep me healthy and lower their costs) or is it something more sinister?  A web search yielded all sorts of speculation on message boards ("they'll find something wrong and cut you off" "they'll spy on your home for excuses to discontinue your coverage" etc).

Today I found at The Center for Public Integrity what seems to be the most logical explanation:
Home visits have risen sharply at many private Medicare health plans, which treat close to 16 million elderly and disabled people under contracts with the federal government.

The health plans tout the voluntary, free annual physicals as a major new benefit that can help selected members stay fit and in their homes as long as possible. While the doctors and nurses don’t offer any treatment during their visit, they report their exam findings to the patient’s primary care physician.

Yet there’s more to this spurt in home visits than the appearance of enhanced elder care. The house calls can be money makers for health plans when they help document medical problems — from complications of diabetes to a history of heart trouble that’s flared up.
Health plans can profit because Medicare pays them higher rates for sicker patients using a billing formula known as a “risk score.” So when a home visit unearths a medical condition, as it often does, health plans may be able to raise a person’s risk score and collect thousands of dollars in added Medicare revenue over a year — even if they don’t incur any added expenses caring for that person...

The cottage industry is flourishing as federal officials struggle to prevent Medicare Advantage plans from overcharging the government by billions of dollars every year...
Lots more at the link.

The giraffe licked her and then kicked her in the face

This week at the Madison zoo, a woman from California was kicked in the face by a giraffe.
Amanda Hall, 24, of San Luis Obispo, climbed over one fence and was almost over the second fence encircling the giraffe enclosure when Wally, a 2-year-old, 12-foot-tall giraffe, licked her before turning and kicking her in the face, according to a Madison Police Department report...

She suffered injuries that were not life-threatening from the kick. Zoo staff told police Hall was lucky to not have been more seriously injured, as giraffes are capable of killing lions...

Hall was cited for harassment of zoo animals, which includes a $686 fine.

"Legs modified for chewing"

It's called Hallucigenia because researchers have scratched their heads over where it fits among life forms since its fossil was discovered in the Burgess Shale of Canada's Rocky Mountains in the early 1970s...

A new study of the claws at the end of all those legs revealed... an oddity observed in at least one other place, the weird jaws of velvet worms, which, in the university's synopsis of the report, "are no more than legs modified for chewing."..

The finding is a big deal, said Javier Ortega-Hernandez, a co-author of the study, because it turns what is known about the evolutionary tree of arthropods -- spiders, crustaceans and insects -- on its head. "Most gene-based studies suggest that arthropods and velvet worms are closely related," Ortega-Hernandez said. But "our results indicate that arthropods are actually closer to water bears," he said.
More at the Washington Post.  The full manuscript was published in Nature.

Analysis and discussion of "millennials"

From an article in the New York Times:
Suddenly, as you may have noticed, millennials are everywhere. Not that this group of people born after 1980 and before 2000 — a giant cohort now estimated to number at least 80 million Americans, more than the baby boom generation — was ever invisible. What’s changed is their status. Coddled and helicoptered, catered to by 24-hour TV cable networks, fussed over by marketers and college recruiters, dissected by psychologists, demographers and trend-spotters, the millennial generation has come fully into its own. The word “millennial,” whether as noun or adjective, has monopolized the nonstop cultural conversation, invariably freighted with zeitgeisty import...

What Pew found was not an entitled generation but a complex and introspective one — with a far higher proportion of nonwhites than its predecessors as well as a greater number of people raised by a single parent.
The Pew study is here.  And this is interesting:

16 August 2014

“And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time”

"Net neutrality" explained in a cartoon.

An op-ed piece in Time reports that the Iranian sanctions have cost the U.S. "between $134.7 and 175 billion in potential export revenue since 1995."

Here's what happens when you duct tape a GoPro camera to the hubcap of your car.

The Svakom Gaga sex toy vibrator that incorporates a GoPro-type camera; it has a light on the end to allow endoscopic function.  Instructional videos at the link are SFW.

About 5 million Lego pieces fell off a container ship off the coast of Cornwall in 1997.  Ever since then they have been washing up on the beach.

"A tree planted to honor of the memory of the Beatles songwriter George Harrison has been killed by actual beetles."

A boy had 232 teeth removed from his mouth (from an odontoma deep in his lower jaw).

Click here to see an awesome location for a park bench, situated in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia.  (And click again to embiggify).

Kuriositas has assembled a collection of a dozen photos of Skull Rock - a small island with a massive cave - off the coast of Victoria (sample at right).  Way cool.

Footgolf joins "big-hole golf" as another attempt to save the declining fortunes of the sport of golf.  Video at the link explains that you kick a soccer ball around the golf course to a 21-inch hole.  A round can be played in about an hour, which makes it more attractive to the public than the more prolonged time required for conventional golf.  It also allows golf courses to leverage their acreage into an additional revenue generating sport.

Here's the video showing that ice cream from Walmart doesn't melt in the sun.  It's true. And this article explains why - and why it's not intrinsically bad.

Colorado is tightening the rules on edible marijuana (requiring standardized and better labeled doses) to prevent the accidental overconsumption that has generated some bad press.

A 15-minute video explains how to cut an immense wheel of cheese.

Despite the Ebola crisis, illegal bush meat continues to stream into Europe.  "Researchers discovered 11 different types of bush meat from African forests, including whole sheep and calves that were wrapped in plastic and kept in holdalls during flights."  How does someone carry an entire sheep onto an aircraft in their carryon baggage??

If you have any doubts about how corporations own, read about how Nike reprimanded a college coach because his son wore a sweatshirt made by a different company.  " Can we please ask Jimbo to eliminate that from the son's wardrobe in the future! Let me know if I can help w anything. Thx guys."

Prisoners are asked what view they would like to have from their cell.  Volunteers then photograph that view and create wallpaper-size prints for the prisoners' walls.

If you are like me and enjoy going to estate auctions looking for bargains, you should read about "uranium glass" ("Vaseline glass') and why it is so popular.

A group of photographs stuck together can be separated using a mixture of glycerine and water.

If your name is Collier, here is a detailed explanation of some of your remote ancestors' occupations.

An interview with a man alleged to have the "world's largest penis."  He doesn't do porn; his day job is data entry.  Photo at the link (of his face).

A Reddit thread assembled "the worst jokes ever." ("Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted." - that kind of joke).

Top photo credit Ross Hamilton of Peebles, Ohio with a hat tip to Ted Sokja for sending it along.  The Great Serpent Mound is one of the wonders of the North American continent, a massive logistical and awesome artistic achievement that has graced our landscape for about three millennia.

12 August 2014

Hyperlapse video

Discussed at Reddit.

I have made my own hyperlapse videos using Google Street View images at this link, but haven't figured out how to slow down the replay (other than pausing with a spacebar).  Any ideas?

Millenials are abandoning political parties

From the Pew Research Center:
The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood. Now ranging in age from 18 to 33, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion... Pew Research Center surveys show that half of Millennials (50%) now describe themselves as political independents and about three-in-ten (29%) say they are not affiliated with any religion. These are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics.

At the same time, however, Millennials stand out for voting heavily Democratic and for liberal views on many political and social issues...

Using pine sap for indoor lighting

Indoors, pine sap was seldom made into candles.  It was unnecessary.  A piece of sap cut or pulled from a tree—about the size of a little finger from the tip of it to the knuckle—would burn for longer than an hour.  It was laid on something flat that was heatproof, like a carefully chosen rock with a depression in the top of it.  A lamp in a seashell would not drip tar on a table or cause the shell to break from the heat.  A wick of twisted thread or string was pressed into the sap and lit.  The flame would char the wick until it reached the sap and then set it on fire.  
Text and image from an article about colonial indoor lighting at Colonial American Digressions.

Why you might want to have an eel in your well

A 155-year-old eel living in a Swedish well has died.
"My family bought the cottage in 1962, and we always knew the housepet was included," Mr Kjellman said.
Before public water systems were developed in the 1960s, it was common practice to drop eels in to household wells to get rid of flies and bugs.

"Eels normally only live to be seven years old, they usually get so fat and their intestinal canals stop working. But this one just lived and lived and lived,” said Mr Kjellman...

Åle became something of a celebrity during his decades at the bottom of the well, featuring in numerous Swedish books and TV programmes. 
For some of my years in Kentucky I lived in a semi-rural location with the home's water provided by a cistern rather than a well.  The cistern was recharged by runoff from the roof of an outbuilding.  Because I was not meticulous in cleaning the gutters of leaves and other organic debris, various insect larvae would get washed down the downspout into the cistern and eventually appear in my tapwater.

I should have kept an eel in the cistern.

This bridge is supposed to look like this

It's a stressed ribbon bridge.

George Washington's infertility discussed

Excerpts from an interesting article at the website of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine:
Discussion of George and Martha Washington’s infertility begins with an examination of Washington’s marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731–1802) in 1759. At the time of their marriage, Martha was a widow. She had married Daniel Custis at age 17 and had four children by him in 8 years...

These facts make it seem unlikely that George and Martha’s infertility was attributable to Martha: her considerable fecundity is evidenced by the birth of four children in 8 years of marriage to Daniel Custis. Furthermore, no evidence exists that her last pregnancy was complicated by postpartum infection or hemorrhage leading to uterine fibrosis or Asherman’s syndrome, which might have made additional pregnancies impossible...

From his writings, it is clear that Washington desired a child an heir. This, in combination with his intimate relationship with a fertile partner, makes it likely that Washington suffered from male infertility...

The differential diagnosis in the table above is discussed at the link; the article then goes on to discuss the implications of his infertility:
One wonders about the impact of Washington’s infertility on the course of history. Most tempting is to speculate as to whether his lack of an heir impacted on his willingness to return power to the relatively weak Congress at the end of the Revolutionary War. At the war’s conclusion he easily could have contemplated becoming a military dictator or even installing himself as king. Indeed, many on his own general staff urged him to do so (9, p. 403). To his credit, however, Washington resigned his commission and returned to his Virginia farm. This act, wherein the leader of a successful military revolution voluntarily returns power to a civil authority is almost unique in history and is one of the reasons Washington was so revered by his contemporaries and eventually unanimously selected to become the nation’s first president 5 years later in 1788.

A more likely effect of Washington’s infertility was that he tended to nurture promising young men to whom he was not related. Most prominent of these was his favorite, the Marquis de Lafayette...
 More at the link - an interesting read.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid

A tourist seeking to take pictures of Yellowstone National Park crashed a camera-equipped drone into its largest hot spring, possibly damaging the prized geothermal feature, a park official said on Wednesday...

It was not clear if the drone that crashed Grand Prismatic Spring on Saturday and sank into its depths would damage the geothermal feature, park spokesman Al Nash said, and officials were still trying to decide whether to remove it.
More at The Raw Story, including this interesting tidbit:
Fishing Cone Geyser on the edge of Yellowstone Lake was a popular catch-and-cook site for anglers.  “People would... catch a fish and then drop that fish into the thermal feature where it would cook,” said Nash.

He added: “Once it was determined there was arsenic in the geyser water, that practice stopped."

Restaurant adds "minimum wage fee" to its bills

A small cafe in Stillwater has thrown itself into the big battle over Minnesota’s minimum wage increases, inundating the cafe with dozens of phone calls and online comments this week after it tacked on a 35-cent fee to meal tabs.

Oasis Cafe owner Craig Beemer said the fee is needed to offset the 75-cent wage hike that took effect Aug. 1, the first time Minnesota’s minimum wage has increased in a decade. Even with only half a dozen servers, Beemer says it will cost him $10,000 more a year to pay servers $8 an hour instead of the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. Instead of adding it on to food prices, he added the “minimum wage fee” — the only restaurant known to do so in Minnesota so far.
The rest of the story is in the StarTribune.   Photo credit Kelly Smith.

Addendum:  A followup story, also in the StarTribune, on August 20:
Since then, over two weeks ago, Beemer says he has been flooded with criticism and support, and he's even appeared on national television political talk shows. ..

However, Beemer says his business the past two weeks is the best his restaurant has ever experienced. Beemer says every one of his employees supported the surcharge idea before he implemented it.
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