29 September 2014

Milkweed's spectacular autumn podcast

The final stage in milkweed's life cycle is a magnificent aerial dispersal of its seeds.  The dried pods, remants of those huge blossoms, crack open and several hundred aerodynamic seeds are exposed to the wind; this happens gradually, over a period of days rather than all at once, presumably to maximize the range of distribution of their landing sites.

I hope that every child (and the inner child of every adult) has had or will have the opportunity to hold a dried stem aloft and shake it gently on an autumn day.  One can't help but marvel at how this immensely effective dispersal mechanism has evolved over the millennia.

Those who raise milkweed in butterfly gardens need to be aware that neighbors may not share their enthusiasm for the plant.  We cut down the stems of all our plants just before the pods open. The seeds are then available for "stealth gardening" along roadsides or in wastelands.

For those who want to distribute the seeds by hand in a more controlled fashion, the seeds can be separated from the fluff (the coma), or even more simply just digitally removed from a mature but unopened pod (instructive video here).

(and yes, I know it's actually a "seedcast," not a podcast, but I couldn't resist using the word)

"Shellshock" - a scary new computer bug

From the BBC:
The flaw has been found in a software component known as Bash, which is a part of many Linux systems as well as Apple's Mac operating system. The bug, dubbed Shellshock, can be used to remotely take control of almost any system using Bash, researchers said...

"Whereas something like Heartbleed was all about sniffing what was going on, this was about giving you direct access to the system," Prof Alan Woodward, a security researcher from the University of Surrey, told the BBC.

"The door's wide open."

Some 500,000 machines worldwide were thought to have been vulnerable to Heartbleed. But early estimates, which experts said were conservative, suggest that Shellshock could hit at least 500 million machines...

"Using this vulnerability, attackers can potentially take over the operating system, access confidential information, make changes, et cetera," said Tod Beardsley, a Rapid7 engineer...

For general home users worried about security, Prof Woodward suggested simply keeping an eye on manufacturer websites for updates - particularly for hardware such as broadband routers.
More at the link. I would welcome comments from some of the informed readers of this blog.

Wasp nest on a window

Censorship of books in U.S. prisons

From a story in The Guardian:
There is “widespread censorship” of books in US prisons, according to a report submitted to a UN human rights review, which details the banning of works about artists from Botticelli to Van Gogh from Texan state prisons for containing “sexually explicit images”.
The report from two free-speech organisations, the New York-based National Coalition Against Censorship and the Copenhagen-based Freemuse, to the United Nation’s (UN) Universal Periodic Review states that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) lists 11,851 titles banned from its facilities. These range from the “ostensibly reasonable”, such as How to Create a New Identity, Essential Throwing and Grappling Techniques, and Art & Design of Custom Fixed Blades, to what it describes as “the telling”, including Write it in Arabic, and the “bizarre” (Arrival of the Gods: Revealing the Alien Landing Sites at Nazca was banned for reasons of “homosexuality”)...

“Of the 11,851 total blocked titles, 7,061 were blocked for ‘deviant sexual behaviour’ and 543 for sexually explicit images,” says the report, naming artists including Caravaggio, Cézanne, Dallí, Picasso, Raphael, Rembrandt and Renoir among those whose works have been kept out of Texas state prisons.

Anthologies on Greco-Roman art, the pre-Raphaelites, impressionism, Mexican muralists, pop surrealism, graffiti art, art deco, art nouveau and the National Museum of Women in the Arts are banned for the same reason, as are numerous textbooks on pencil drawing, watercolour, oil painting, photography, graphic design, architecture and anatomy for artists,” states the submission, with prohibited literary works by Gustav Flaubert, Langston Hughes, Flannery O’Connor, George Orwell, Ovid, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Shakespeare and Alice Walker also on the banned list.
More at the link.  The eagerness to ban pornography puzzles me.  These prisoners are capable of hiding razor blades in their mouths and knives in their rectums, and the  authorities are worried that the images might corrupt their minds or they might waste their time masturbating??

Green potato chips explained

Just a curious sign of inattention on the production line, as a Reddit commenter notes:
"Actually, these chips were dyed with green food coloring so they'd be easy to find coming out of the fryer. Several times a day the amount of time the chips spend in the fryer is tested, and this makes them easy to find. Someone missed them obviously."
Source: I work there.

27 September 2014

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

The world's fastest camera is capable of taking 4,000,000,000,000 pictures per second.

African vultures are being killed by poachers and are now as endangered as the rhinos.

The Guiness World Record for clapping hands belongs to Vanna White, hostess of Wheel of Fortune, who has accumulated approximately 3.5 million on-screen claps.

"Despite Legalization, Colorado Teenagers Stubbornly Refuse to Smoke More Pot."
...they are part of a general downward trend in Colorado that has continued despite the legalization of medical marijuana in 2001, the commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009 (when the industry took off after its legal status became more secure), and the legalization of recreational use (along with home cultivation and sharing among adults) at the end of 2012.
A supercut of careless or criminally negligent package deliveries by FedEx employees (I should note that the ones for our neighborhood are great).

A new online tracking device can monitor and record what websites you've visited.

The sad legacy of New Age fascination with the iconic Serpent Mound in Ohio (photo at right).

Video of immense smuggling tunnels between Mexico and the U.S.

"...tear gas is a chemical agent banned in warfare per the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which set forth agreements signed by nearly every nation in the world — including the United States. The catch, however, is that while it’s illegal in war, it’s legal in domestic riot control."

"Amazon’s profits for its entire existence [20 years] are still less than what ExxonMobil takes home every 2.5 weeks."

DNA used to track Michelle Obama's white ancestors - "The results showed that the two families were related. The DNA testing indicated that Melvinia’s owner’s son was the likely father of Melvinia’s biracial child, Dolphus Shields. (Dolphus Shields is the first lady’s great-great grandfather.)

Impressive stop-motion animation using carved foam.

A new major Mayan city has been discovered in the jungle of the Yucatan.

It’s illegal for drug companies to advertise their prescription drugs to consumers almost everywhere in the world. The only exceptions are the US and New Zealand.

"A Summerville High School student who says he was arrested and suspended after writing about killing a dinosaur using a gun in a class assignment has hired a lawyer... Investigators say the teacher contacted school officials after seeing the message containing the words "gun" and "take care of business," and police were then notified on Tuesday. Summerville police officials say Stone's book bag and locker were searched on Tuesday, and a gun was not found."

"At least 100,000 elephants have died in just the last three years. If this rate continues, African elephants could go extinct in a few decades."

Oceanic plankton have been found on the outside surface of the internatinal space station.

Jane Austen used straight pins to edit a manuscript (photo at left).
"With no calculated blank spaces and no obvious way of incorporating large revision or expansion she had to find other strategies – the three patches, small pieces of paper, each of which was filled closely and neatly with the new material, attached with straight pins to the precise spot where erased material was to be covered or where an insertion was required to expand the text."

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader explains the difference between ice cream,  frozen custard, gelato, sherbet, sorbet, and frozen yogurt.

An update on the unrest in Pakistan and the role of opposition leader Imran Kahn.

"A chef preparing a dish made from cobra flesh died when the snake's head he had severed 20 minutes earlier bit him on the hand."

The outfits for a Colombian women's cycling team have generated a storm of protest because of the use of flesh-colored fabric:

Video of the cyclists is available at The Telegraph.

Jon Stewart's tirade re "boobs on the ground"

Jon Stewart's wit is often acerbic, but for this piece he seems truly angry ("F*ck you and your false patriotism").

The Washington Post has a backstory about the woman combat pilot. The original "boobs on the ground" comment is here (and here is the related Reddit comment thread).

Via Mikeb30200.

26 September 2014

Norwegian landscape

Image credit Yury Pustovoy, whose remarkable photographs are assembled here.

"The Imitation Game" trailer

More information about the movie at the Wikipedia entry.

The Romanian Treasure

During World War I, since Bucharest was occupied by Germany, the Romanian administration moved to Iaşi, and with them, the most valuable objects which belonged to the Romanian state. Fearing an eventual German victory, the Romanian government decided to send the Treasure abroad...

The Romanian government signed a deal with the Russian government which stated that Russia would safe keep the Romanian Treasure in the Kremlin until the end of the war. At 3:00 AM during the night of December 14–15, 1916, a train with 21 carriages, full of gold bars and gold coins (around 120 tonnes), departed the Iaşi train station eastward. In four other carriages, two hundred gendarmes guarded the train. The gold load of this train has as of 2005 a value of $1.25 billion. Seven months later, in the summer of 1917, as the war situation was getting worse for Romania, another transport was sent to Moscow, containing the most precious objects of the Romanian state, including the archives of the Romanian Academy, many antique valuables, such as 3,500-year-old golden jewels found in Romania, ancient Dacian jewels, the jewels of the voivodes of Wallachia and Moldavia, as well as the jewels of the Romanian royalty, thousands of paintings, as well as precious cult objects owned by Romanian monasteries, such as 14th century icons and old Romanian manuscripts. It also contained various deposits of the Romanian people at the national banks. The value of this train is hard to estimate, especially because most of its contents are art objects, but most likely nowadays it could even surpass the value of the other train...

After the Romanian Army entered Bessarabia, at the time nominally part of Russia, in the early 1918, the new Soviet government severed all diplomatic relations and confiscated the Romanian treasure. The Romanian government tried to recover the treasure in 1922, but with little success. In 1935, the USSR did return a part of the archives, and in 1956 paintings and ancient objects, most notably, the Pietroasele treasure. All the governments of Romania since World War I, regardless of their political colour, have tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a return of the gold and of the culturally valuable objects, but all Soviet and Russian governments have refused
Posted as a reminder that during wartime, powerful and unscrupulous people amass immense fortunes.

"Dances with quadcopters"

"Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, and Verity Studios have partnered to develop a short film featuring 10 quadcopters in a flying dance performance. The collaboration resulted in a unique, interactive choreography where humans and drones move in sync. Precise computer control allows for a large performance and movement vocabulary of the quadcopters and opens the door to many more applications in the future."

Your children will eat jellyfish for dinner

From an article in Modern Farmer:
About five miles offshore a crewmate spots, floating near the surface, a mat of gyrating grapefruit-sized globs that stretch the length of five city blocks, a slick so thick it appears as if you could walk on it.

These are cannonball jellyfish. Locals call them “jellyballs.” And they will be dinner. “Jellyballs have been very, very good to me,” says King, who has worked as a state trooper for the last 20 years, and might be the only jelly-balling cop in the country. This past season was particularly robust: King and his men caught 
an estimated 5 million-plus pounds of cannonball jellyfish. At what King says is this year’s price (seven cents a pound), this equates to $350,000...

These brownish Cnidarians (from the Greek knide, or nettle, for their ability
to sting) are now the state of Georgia’s third biggest fishery by volume, behind crabs and shrimp. The first cannonball jellies were commercially harvested off the Gulf Coast of Florida in the early ’90s, and since then Darien, Georgia, has become the epicenter of the industry...

At the Golden Island plant, the jellies are dried and shipped to China and Japan, where they are cut into long, thin strips and served in salads with cabbage and teriyaki sauce. If prepared right, the jellyfish are crunchy, like a carrot. Jellyfish are popular in China, along with other sea creatures like geoducks (those gigantic phallic clams from the Pacific Northwest) for similar textural reasons.

But these sorts of foods are being embraced well beyond Asia. And as climate change and the global industrial agriculture system continue on what many view as a doomed course, we may have no choice but to eat foods that make sense ecologically — or can at least thrive in a changed environment.
More at the link.  Photo credit Mary Wong.

This 5-year old boy can do 20 pushups

90-degree pushups.

Palmer's amaranth - a "superweed"

Excerpts from an Associated Press article published in the somewhat-agriculture-oriented StarTribune:
A weed strong enough to stop combines and resist many herbicides has been confirmed in South Dakota for the first time, raising concerns it could spread and cut deeply into crop production in the Upper Midwest — one of the few areas it hadn't yet invaded.

The threat from palmer amaranth is so great that officials in North Dakota have named it the weed of the year, even though it has yet to be found in the state.

"If you think you find plants — kill it!" North Dakota State University Extension Weed Specialist Rich Zollinger said. "Don't even think. Just kill it."..

The weed some officials refer to as "Satan" has moved into the Midwest from cotton country, and was discovered in western Iowa soybean fields last year. It's native to desert regions of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico... The plants can grow as tall as 7 feet, each one producing as much as a million seeds. Its stems can grow as thick as baseball bats...

"The big concern is, in Southern states, it has developed — quickly — resistance to a considerable amount of herbicides," Johnson said.
And a more measured viewpoint from the Wikipedia entry:
Amaranthus palmeri is a species of edible flowering plant in the amaranth genus. It has several common names, including Palmer's amaranth, Palmer amaranth, Palmer's pigweed, and carelessweed. It is native to most of the southern half of North America...

The leaves, stems and seeds of Palmer amaranth, like those of other amaranths, are edible and highly nutritious. Palmer amaranth was once widely cultivated and eaten by Native Americans across North America, both for its abundant seeds and as a cooked or dried green vegetable. Other related Amaranthus species have been grown as crops for their greens and seeds for thousands of years in Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, Africa, India, and China. The plant can be toxic to livestock animals...

Palmer amaranth is considered a threat most specifically to the production of genetically modified cotton and soybean crops in the southern United States because in many places, the plant has developed resistance to glyphosate.
Photo by FireFlyForest, via Eat The Weeds.

25 September 2014

Wildfire in Yosemite

This remarkable photo by Darvin Atkeson enlarges to wallpaper size with a click.  Source.

The brutal death and postmortem mutilation of King Richard III

A sword or battleaxe spike was thrust four inches into the deposed monarch's head by King Henry VII's forces and appears to have claimed his life at the Battle of Bosworth, ending the War of the Roses.  He suffered a total of 11 wounds around the time of his death, nine to his skull and two to the rest of his body, according to the analysis...

Experts believe it was one of two blows to his head or an impact to his pelvis that claimed the Plantagenet King's life, although investigators hinted that the pelvis injuries might have been inflicted after death as an act of vindictive battlefield celebration.
A computer simulation appears to show Richard's injuries are consistent with accounts that his body was thrown over a horse and mutilated by angry bystanders...
Prof Hainsworth said: "Richard's injuries represent a sustained attack or an attack by several assailants with weapons from the later medieval period. The wounds to the skull suggest that he was not wearing a helmet, and the absence of defensive wounds on his arms and hands indicate that he was otherwise still armoured at the time of his death." 
From The Telegraph, where there is an informative video.

"Emblems of belief" approved for use on U.S. government headstones


Nobody's perfect

24 September 2014

Hagfish slime

First, this incredible information about the technology of the threads of slime:
In self-defense the hagfish produces from its glands a slime that is composed of nanometer width threads and what is likely sugar or glyco-modifications.  The slime is thought to impede capture by making the hagfish slippery, and possibly by clogging the gills of a predator.  The nanothreads are remarkable: comparable to spider silk in tensile strength (800 megapascals or near 1 gigapascal) and lightness, and 5 times stronger than steel on a weight basis. Moreover, each thread is only 12 nanometers wide but 15 centimeters long.  Amazingly, a full thread is wrapped up in so that it fits within a single cell, highly specialized and called a gland thread cell (GTC).

Scientists have uncovered, using electron microscopy, the organization of a single hagfish nano-sized thread, helping resolve the mystery of why extrusion of such a long (compared to its width) thread from the cell does not cause tangling.  The thread is coiled up in a conical “skein” in 15-20 layers.  As a GTC matures, its nucleus migrates to an extreme pole, leaving most of the cell volume packed with a single coil of thread.

For a quantitative comparison, spider drag line silk has a tensile strength of up to 1100 megapascals, whereas hagfish thread goes up to 800 megapascals.  Steel has higher tensile strength up to 5000 megapascals but it is also much denser.  Two rather unusual materials more recently discovered, graphene and carbon nanotubes, have stratospheric tensile strengths of 63 and 130 gigapascals.

The research was carried out by PhD student Timothy Winegard, a team of scientists, and led by senior author Professor Douglas Fudge at the University of Guelph.
Here's a scanning EM of a disrupted thread cell (from the Journal of Cellular Biology):

And finally a video of a hagfish defending itself with slime:


Requires strong teeth.

It's not actually incorrect, but I would have been happier had the signmaker put an "s" on the "edible" to clarify that the word is being used as a noun, not as an adjective.

(I wanted to put "something else" into the pit toilet)

Both signs photographed at the University of Minnesota's Landscape Arboretum this past week.

On the subject of ambiguity I'll also mention that several discussions of the current scandals involving the National Football League have included comments by "Domestic Abuse Advocates," who presumably would not refer to themselves in that fashion...

Dance partner

For students learning dance in the 1920s.  (Presumably her name would be Amelia).

Via gh2u.

Migrating monarch butterflies detectable on weather radar

Keen observers of our radar data probably noticed some fairly high returns moving south over southern Illinois and central Missouri. High differential reflectivity values as well as low correlation coefficient values indicate these are most likely biological targets. High differential reflectivity indicates these are oblate targets, and low correlation coefficient means the targets are changing shape. We think these targets are Monarch butterflies. A Monarch in flight would look oblate to the radar, and flapping wings would account for the changing shape! NWS St. Louis wishes good luck and a safe journey to these amazing little creatures on their long journey south!
From the Facebook page of the U.S. National Weather Service in St. Louis Missouri.

Let's have a lead party!

The front cover shows Dutch Boy, carrying his paint bucket, being greeted by a toy lead soldier, a shoe, a plate and a light bulb. The back cover features a hand that has made a broad brush stroke with the admonition "'Save the surface and you save all'; Paint & Varnish"... The first page shows the Dutch Boy talking to the lead soldier; it is followed by 14 images--7 in color and 7 in outline--of items that use lead. Items include a light bulb (lead glass), shoes and baseballs (lead in the rubber), and a bullet (entirely made of lead). Each outlined image was to be filled in using the complementary color image at its side as a guide.
Text via The Ethical Adman, where there is additional information; image via Sweet Dreams.

"Agafia's Taiga Life" - updated

"Taiga cleanses you."

Today I received an email from staff at Vice, informing me that they had posted the documentary about Agafia Lykov.  I've embedded it above.  For those new to this blog, or those with impaired short-term memory, the background story is here: Isolated for 40 years in the taiga.  I'm currently reading the book and will probably report on that later. [reviewed here].

This is a remarkable and captivating video.  The narration is modest, descriptive rather than judgmental, and consists primarily of the words of Agafia herself.

The images are awesome in terms of giving insight into a way of life that is absolutely and totally different from mine and your own, but perhaps somewhat like that of our great-grandparents.

Find the fullscreen button in the corner of the video and click it.  This is well worth your time.  Trust me.

Addendum:  A Redditor found Agafia's house on Google Maps.  Zoom out to gain some perspective on her isolation.

Reposted from 2013 to add an update on Agafia's current status:
This summer she has been bothered by a wild bear, which has sniffed around her huts in search of food.

'I scare it by banging on an empty bucket,' she said to a group led by Vladimir Makuta, head of Tashtagol district of Kemerovo region, who flew in by helicopter to bring her essential supplies of hay, grain, and potatoes, while also cutting firewood.

In some time the bear will hibernate but this is not the only problem. 'I don't know about how will I get through the coming winter,' said Agafya, who will be 70 on 23 April next year (though some accounts say she has reached this milestone already).

'I didn't manage to finish half of the hay I need for my goats, and some of them are not giving milk. I have six goats now, and I can only milk a couple of them.

'And my logs are not ready. I really don't know.'
Text and image from The Siberian Times.

23 September 2014

An awesomely elaborate cabinet

"One of the finest achievements of European furniture making, this cabinet is the most important product from Abraham (1711--1793) and David Roentgen's (1743--1807) workshop. A writing cabinet crowned with a chiming clock, it features finely designed marquetry panels and elaborate mechanisms that allow for doors and drawers to be opened automatically at the touch of a button. Owned by King Frederick William II, the Berlin cabinet is uniquely remarkable for its ornate decoration, mechanical complexity, and sheer size."
One of the featured items from an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum.

A remarkable 18th-century gaming table

"Elegant furniture incorporating intriguing mechanical devices was a trademark of the Roentgen workshop, which from 1768 until about 1793 was one of Europe's most successful cabinetmaking enterprises. The distinguished design and the innovative way prefabricated elements such as the detachable legs were assembled make this table an example par excellence of David Roentgen's ingenious creations. His objects are an amalgamation of superior technical skills, sophisticated looks, high quality materials, and multiple functions. Roentgen's patrons sought adaptable furnishings that could perform manifold tasks. This piece is a console, a desk for writing and reading, and a game table for cards and chess with a concealed spring-driven backgammon box. Yet when closed it took up only a small amount of space in the intimate interiors popular during the Age of Enlightenment. A set of eighteenth-century game pieces - twenty-nine stamped wooden medallions illustrating European monarchs and historical views - are associated with the table. "
From the  collections of the Metropolitan Museum.

I'm back

I had a delightful time at the 50th reunion of my high school class in Minneapolis.  Amazingly, about 2/3 of the class returned, arriving from as far away as California, Florida, Montana, Vermont, Texas, and nine other states for three days of renewing the best friendships of our lives.

Image via Seleene's Sandbox.

17 September 2014

15 September 2014

New Zealand basketball team's haka

Before their match with the United States team, the New Zealanders performed a traditional "haka"
The various types of haka include whakatu waewae, tutu ngarahu and peruperu. The peruperu is characterised by leaps during which the legs are pressed under the body. In former times, the peruperu was performed before a battle in order to invoke the god of war and to discourage and frighten the enemy. It involved fierce facial expressions and grimaces, poking out of the tongue, eye bulging, grunts and cries, and the waving of weapons. If the haka was not performed in total unison, this was regarded as a bad omen for the battle. Often, warriors went naked into battle, apart from a plaited flax belt around the waist.

The tutu ngarahu also involves jumping, but from side to side, while in the whakatu waewae no jumping occurs. Another kind of haka performed without weapons is the ngeri, the purpose of which was to motivate the warriors psychologically. The movements are very free, and each performer is expected to be expressive of their feelings. Manawa wera haka were generally associated with funerals or other occasions involving death. Like the ngeri they were performed without weapons, and there was little or no choreographed movement.

World-record tomato

Grown by a man in Ely, Minnesota, it weighed 8.41 pounds.
The Big Zac variety tends to have “megablooms,” with individual tomatoes growing fused together. MacCoy said his record-breaking tomato looks like five individual fruits wrapped into one.

He started the plants on April 15 indoors, then moved them to his greenhouse in early May. From there he carefully pruned the plants of all other growth except the vine supporting his tomato, using a theory that a small plant would produce larger tomatoes.
Dehydrated chicken manure, kelp meal, humic acid, triple-10 fertilizer and other “stuff like that” kept the soil nourished, said MacCoy. Even the watering was by design: he watered the plant by hand using rainwater he collected in a barrel. When the tomato’s weight became too much for the plant, Sara bought a pair of pantyhose to use as a sling to support it.

The death of Yiddish

I've never been one to share the agonies of those who despair over the death of languages, except insofar as the loss of ancient languages renders certain documents and artworks unreadable.  An entry at The Dish discusses the inclusion of Yiddish as a threatened language:
Frankel comments on how secular Judaism has contributed to the death of Yiddish and a simultaneous loss of traditional Jewish identity:

The secular community is dead, dead, dead. There’s no Yiddish press, no Yiddish theater [not quite accurate since there is one still-vibrant group, the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene]. Dead, dead, dead. There were hundreds of Sholem Aleichem schools, Peretz schools. Where are they? How many Yiddish books are being published? The secular people dominated everything and now they’ve lost. Hasidim are pushing everyone to be more religious, more Jewish.

Rabbi Frankel’s bemoaning of the potential extinction of Yiddish illuminates a greater issue: The language has become synonymous with Orthodox Judaism and has lost its meaning within the secular parts of the faith.

School principal inspires her students

Jody De St. Hubert, principal of Alice Smith Elementary in Hopkins, Minnesota, challenged her students last year to read over 10,000 books. She then lived up to her end of the deal - dyeing her hair purple and camping on top of the school's roof.

This is not a parrot

To speed up your re-orientation, note that the "eye" is painted on the center of the model's forehead.

Created by Johannes Stötter, whose website is here.

Learn about human decomposition at a "body farm"

"Excarnation in Texas" is an essay exploring a body farm in Texas.  This isn't the body farm I'm familiar with in Tennessee, but it serves a similar purpose:
Kate, an associate professor at Texas State University in San Marcos, does most of her work at their Forensic Anthropology Center (FACTS)—the centerpiece of which is the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF), the largest of America’s five “body farms.” Including Kate, FACTS has three full-time researchers, a rotating crew of anthropology graduate students and undergraduate volunteers, and a steady influx of cadaver donations from both individuals and their next of kin—brought in from Texas hospitals, hospices, medical examiners’ offices, and funeral homes. When I arrive, Kate is helping lead a weeklong forensics workshop for undergrads, spread out across five excavation sites where skeletal remains have been buried to simulate “crime scenes.”...

While grad students carry out the “intake” and “placement” of the bodies outdoors, about twenty-five undergrads volunteer to process the remains for free, from disarticulating the sun-dried cadavers to soaking them in the kettles to scrubbing the last bits of cartilage off with their gloved hands. They remove tendons with hemostats and toothbrushes, then they wash the bones again by hand, adding Dawn if still greasy. Finally, they leave them out on countertops to dry...

Perhaps surprisingly, his immediate reaction to the photos, and the details of the research—scientists “captured the vultures jumping up and down on the woman’s body, breaking some of her ribs”—was one of pride. “Just the amount of damage done to the body—it was hours, literally hours, and it was clean,” he says. “It was just this huge amount of unthought-of information.” In his enthusiasm, Ted posted a link on Facebook saying, “Hey, look! Mom got eaten by vultures! Awesome!” 

In a third-grade classroom at her elementary school, Mary was online and saw the note from her youngest brother. She clicked on the link—and had a typical Robinson family reaction: “I was like ‘Oh, cool! They’re talking about her!’” Then she saw the pictures. “And it was ‘Oh, there’s Mom’s face! There’s her teeth! Oh, there’s her ribs! Oh, wow.’”

Mary was deeply hurt when her friends and colleagues at work were unable to relate to her excitement at the news. “I have just hit revulsion, revulsion, revulsion—and it’s very lonely and hard. This is awesome—but it’s so out-of-the-box, there’s no paradigm. That’s your mom? What?
Much more at the interesting link.

12 September 2014

A walkway in Jerez

Apparently those are grapevines, not trees.
“Jerez” is the hispanicized version of “Sherish” which was its Moorish name when the town was under Islamic rule. The English speaking world modified the Arabic into “Sherry,” Jerez being the origin of Sherry wines.
Credit to Sue's Sevilla Sabattical, via The World Geography and Reddit.

Because physics

You can make your own pendulum wave device (and you don't have to use bowling balls).

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

A staggering intracranial deficit

New Scientist provides this image of a 24-year old woman who appears to have a form of cerebellar aplasia, with surprisingly minimal symptoms:
The discovery was made when the woman was admitted to the Chinese PLA General Hospital of Jinan Military Area Command in Shandong Province complaining of dizziness and nausea. She told doctors she'd had problems walking steadily for most of her life, and her mother reported that she hadn't walked until she was 7 and that her speech only became intelligible at the age of 6.

Doctors did a CAT scan and immediately identified the source of the problem – her entire cerebellum was missing. The space where it should be was empty of tissue.
More at the link.

Panoramic photo oddities - and a fake one

The image above was generated by Google Street View* (via Digital Spy).  Other interesting examples can be viewed at Neatorama and the links provided there.

*Addendum - a tip of the blogging cap to reader Drabkikker, who knew that the "half-cat" in the image above is a product of Photoshop, not a panorama fail.  The original image (from 2003, well before Google Street View) is available at Hoax-Slayer.

Words meaning "intoxicated"

The history of drinking vocabulary is an exercise in semantics rather than sociolinguistics. Terms for being drunk can’t usually be explained by referring to such variables as age, gender, social class, occupation, or regional background. Being drunk cuts across barriers. The list below shows only the occasional indication of a class preference (such as genteel whiffled vs thieves' cant suckey), and occupational origins are seen only in some nautical expressions (three sheets, oversparred, up the pole, tin hat, honkers), though the etymology is not always definite. There are very few formal terms in the list, apart from a few expressions fostered by the law (intoxicated, over the limit), and some early scholarly words (inebriate(d), temulent, ebrious). Local regional variations are sometimes apparent, such as from Scotland (fou, strut, swash, blootered, swacked), England (bottled, pissed, rat­arsed), and Australia (blue, rotten, shickery, plonked, on one’s ear); and since the eighteenth century most new words in this semantic field have started out in the United States. But it’s rare to find a word that stays in one country for long, and these days online slang dictionaries have largely broken down geographical boundaries....

There seems to be a universal trend to avoid stating the obvious. To describe someone as simply drunk, in drink, or in liquor is accurate but evidently uninspiring. One fruitful vein is to find terms that characterize drunken appearance (owl­eyed, pie­eyed, cock­eyed, lumpy, blue, lit) or behaviour, especially erratic movement (slewed, bumpsy, reeling ripe, tow­ row, rocky, on one’s ear, zigzag, tipped, looped) or lack of any movement at all (stiff, paralytic). Another is mental state, such as being muddled (fuddled, muzzed, queer, woozy), elated (high­flown, wired, pixilated), or worn down (whittled, half­shaved, rotten, crocked, the worse for wear)....

These days, though, the leading question for the lexicologist has to be: what exactly is the lexicon of drink? Many of the words formerly associated with drinking are now associated with drugs, such as high, loaded, pie­eyed, piped, potted, wasted, and blasted. Often it is simply unclear, without further context, what state a person is in. Indeed, sometimes there is a three-way ambiguity, as a further meaning has emerged that is to do with neither alcohol nor drugs. If someone says they are zonked, are they drunk, high, or just tired out?
Further details at The New Republic.

"Ohaguro" - fashionably black teeth

Ohaguro is the custom of dyeing one's teeth black. It was most popular in Japan until the Meiji era. Tooth painting was also known and practiced in the southeastern parts of China and Southeast Asia. Dyeing was mainly done by married women, though occasionally men did it as well. It was also beneficial, as it prevented tooth decay, in a similar fashion to modern dental sealants.

In 1873, the empress of Japan made a radical beauty statement, appearing in public with white teeth. For centuries, tooth blackening, known as ohaguro, signified wealth and sexual maturity especially for women in Japanese society, and they would drink an iron-based black dye tempered with cinnamon and other aromatic spices to achieve the lacquered look. 
Text and image via Deformutilation, where there are additional images.

11 September 2014

About 500 QI buzzers

Those unfamiliar with the show may note that the testing of the buzzers typically occurs in groups of four, culminating with Alan Davies.

These observations from the Wikipedia entry:
Each panellist has a buzzer, with the sounds of all four often being based on a theme. They are demonstrated at the beginning of the programme, but are sometimes changed in some way for repeated use. Davies' buzzer usually subverts the theme established by the preceding three. Comical twists include in the ninth episode of series B (Bats), when all the first 3 buzzers were bells, then Alan's buzzer turned out to be a male voice (Leslie Phillips) saying "Well hello! Ding dong!" ...

In episode 5 of Series A, rather than a comical buzzer, Davies set off the forfeit alarm, (suggesting he sets one every time he offers an answer) meaning he started the show on -10 points before a question was asked (it was later changed to the sound of a duck quacking)...

Sometimes questions are based on the buzzers themselves, usually Davies'. For example, one of his buzzer noises the Series D episode "Descendants" sounded like a Clanger, and the panel had to try and guess what was being said (the answer being "Oh sod it, the bloody thing's stuck again.") In the Series F episode "Fakes and Frauds," all the buzzers sounded like ordinary household objects, but then turned out to be the sound of the superb lyrebird mimicking the noises. Davies's however, was again an exception; his buzzer, which sounded like a telephone, really was a telephone and not a lyrebird mimicking one.

More than half of adults in the U.S. are unmarried

This is the first time the percentage has exceeded 50% since record-keeping began in 1976.
Some 124.6 million Americans were single in August, 50.2 percent of those who were 16 years or older, according to data used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its monthly job-market report...
Some of the financial implications are discussed at Bloomberg.

Word for the day: "knuckle-buster"

[A] 68-year-old Ohio businessman has stockpiled more than 8,000 of the old-fashioned credit-card-processing machines, known for their tendency to scrape the fingers of the merchants who operate them. Mr. Matthews keeps the machines boxed up individually on the shelves of his 12,000-square-foot warehouse, ready to be shipped at a moment's notice. He has enough spare parts to assemble another 2,000 if need be...

But Mr. Matthews has been ringing up a few more sales lately. He credits a series of high-profile security breaches—including an incident that prompted restaurant chain P.F. Chang's China Bistro Inc. in June to start using manual imprinters at its 200 restaurants—for easing the knuckle-buster bust, at least temporarily...

He says he recently was forced to pay cash at a bar while vacationing in Lake Tahoe because a sudden storm knocked out power and the restaurant didn't have a knuckle buster on hand. The devices are also sometimes used by merchants who don't have immediate access to an electronic system, such as a car-service driver or a seller at a street fair.
More at the Wall Street Journal.

Desks with pedals for preschoolers

Via Reddit.

High school Native American mascots

I searched the database and found 2,129 sports teams that reference Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Orangemen, Raiders, Redmen, Reds, Redskins, Savages, Squaws, Tribe and Warriors, as well as tribe names such as Apaches, Arapahoe, Aztecs, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Chinooks, Chippewas, Choctaws, Comanches, Eskimos, Mohawks, Mohicans, Seminoles, Sioux and Utes. (Not all teams with the names “Raiders” and “Warriors” are referencing Native Americans, but we spot-checked 20 schools with each name and a majority of each did.) Some 92 percent of those 2,129 team names belong to high schools (the rest were college, semi-pro, pro and amateur league teams). Of all the active high schools in the database, 8.2 percent have Native American team names.
From FiveThirtyEightSports, where the information is discussed in detail.

How the Star Wars' laser gun sounds were created

Explained at the 1:40 mark.

A medieval ring

From a private collection in London, with provenance not described, offered by Timeline Auctions:
"13th-16th century AD. A round-section penannular hoop with bulbs and opposed hands to the finials. 3.07 grams, 25 mm overall, 21.43 mm internal diameter."
Via Uncertain Times.
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