26 December 2015

Are there more stars in the sky of the Southern Hemisphere?

Again I quote from Borges' essay "The Divine Comedy," the content of which was a lecture he gave in Buenos Aires in 1977:
They [Ulysses and his crew] sail and leave behind Ceuta and Seville, enter the open sea, and turn toward the left... Then he tells us, "in the night I saw all the stars of the other hemisphere" -  our hemisphere, the Southern, full of stars.  (The great Irish poet Yeats speaks of the "starladen sky."  That is untrue in the Northern Hemisphere, where there are few stars compared to ours.)
I suppose I could search the answer online, but there must be a reader out there who has lived in both hemispheres, or who has a sufficient knowledge of astronomy to answer the question.

22 December 2015

And now we are eight

Today is TYWKIWDBI's eighth blogiversary.  The photo shows some celebratory "snowman" cookies designed to reflect the realities of this winter's climate in our part of the country.

I started this blog during Christmas week of 2007 as a way to save time ("if I put stuff in a blog, then I won't need to individually mail interesting things to Ted in Florida and to Skip up at the lake and to my cousins out west...").  It has of course morphed into the polar opposite - a beast capable of consuming vast numbers of precious hours (though to be quite honest the time expenditure comes from the attendant surfing of the web, not the creation of the posts).  I mused about that during my fifth blogiversary post:
I still struggle with motivation to keep blogging because of the seemingly unending distractions of real life.  But I do get a great deal of satisfaction from the depth and breadth of knowledge, the sophistication, and the almost always unfailing courtesy of readers who comment on the posts.  I learn things, I teach things, and every now and then I get help with my car or my computer for free.  Such a deal.
The numbers startle me when I stop to look at them:  13,400 posts, almost 19,000,000 pageviews.  I can never tell ahead of time what will tickle the fancy of the readership, because the most unexpected posts sometimes garner the most attention.  I put a lot of effort into dissecting hard science, but the fifth most popular post was this 2012 one about a waterfall braid (73,777 views) -

- which in turn was overshadowed by a text-only post in 2013 explaining how to break your wrist on purpose (91,400 pageviews, 121 comments !).

Not surprisingly, humor posts hold the top two spots: Watch out if your daddy likes physics (113,000 pageviews) and How to tease your dog (135,000 pageviews).

I don't know what the future holds for the blog.  I may make some changes to reflect the realities of my increasing age and the fact that the passage of time seems to be speeding up.  The recognition of love-hate relationships goes back at least as far as the Roman poet Catullus: “I hate and yet love. You may wonder how I manage it. I don't know, but feel it happen, and am in torment.”  I'm not in torment, but I am conflicted about the time I spend with my mouse and keyboard.

Now it's time for Christmas things.  Back to the blog next week.

Cookie photo cropped for composition from the one posted at imgur.

The Mercury (1938)

"Mercury was the name used by the New York Central Railroad for a family of daytime streamliner passenger trains operating between midwestern cities. The Mercury train sets were designed by the noted industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, and are considered a prime example of Art Deco design...

For the Mercury, he achieved a streamlined appearance by covering the exterior pipes, whistles, and other fittings in a smooth "bathtub" cowl. The sides of the cowl were cut away to show the driving wheels..."
Photo via imgur.

I heard "Desperado" this week...

Via Paul Douglas' incomparable weather blog.

Crouching snowmen, hidden panda

I gave up trying to locate the panda hidden among these snowmen.  The answer is shown at The Telegraph.

21 December 2015

This tick is "questing"

I've known since my childhood that deer ticks position themselves on the tips of blades of grass and wait for passing victims, but I didn't know until last week (hat tip NSTAAF) that there is a speific term for this behavior:
Hard ticks seek hosts by an interesting behavior called "questing." Questing ticks crawl up the stems of grass or perch on the edges of leaves on the ground in a typical posture with the front legs extended, especially in response to a host passing by. Certain biochemicals such as carbon dioxide as well as heat and movement serve as stimuli for questing behavior.
Photo credit via UMaine extension service.

"Hermetically sealed"

I heard the phrase recently and didn't understand how it could be connected to the Greek god Hermes.
Hermes Trismegistus... is the purported author of the Hermetic Corpus, a series of sacred texts that are the basis of Hermeticism... During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, known as Hermetica, enjoyed great prestige and were popular among alchemists. The "hermetic tradition" consequently refers to alchemy, magic, astrology and related subjects. The texts are usually divided into two categories: the "philosophical", and the "technical" hermetica. The former deals mainly with issues of philosophy, and the latter with practical magic, potions and alchemy. Spells to magically protect objects, for example, are the origin of the expression "Hermetically sealed". 
And of interest:
Hermes Trismegistus has a major place in Islamic tradition. He writes, "Hermes Trismegistus is mentioned in the Qur'an in verse 19:56-57:"Mention, in the Book, Idris, that he was truthful, a prophet. We took him up to a high place"...

Hermes Trismegistus is identified as Idris (prophet) the infallible Prophet who traveled to outer space from Egypt, to heaven, where Adam and the Black Stone he brought with him when he landed on earth in India, originated. According to ancient Arab genealogists, Muhammad the Prophet, who also is believed to have traveled to outer space on the night of Isra and Mi'raj to the heavens is a direct lineal descendant of Hermes Trismegistus...
And, for the English majors -
In the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne the narrator's father wishes to call his newborn son Trismegistus (after Hermes Trismegistus) because he considers the name particularly auspicious. Unfortunately, his wife's maid bungles the pronunciation of the name and the child is instead baptised Tristram, a name the father particularly despises.

The world needs more people like this

Emblematic of the European refugee crisis

"Piles of life jackets used by refugees and migrants to cross the Aegean sea from the Turkish coast remain stacked on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, on Dec. 16, 2015... --Santi Palacios / AP

Do you have anything like this in your attic?

Greenwich Time explains what it is:
Brendan Ryan...  recently visited the home of a Greenwich woman who was looking to sell some belongings, when his eyes lit on a yellowing sheet of music behind glass, stippled with notes. More than just a musical composition, the sheet was ferociously dotted with German words, directions and symbols that practically flew off the page with manic intensity...

The sheet music went from being a curio in a Greenwich home to a $100,000 windfall when it sold at auction last month. For music scholars, it’s become an exciting addition to the Beethoven canon...

Another detail that confirmed the sheet work’s authenticity were three small holes on the side of the paper. The holes match up exactly with known samples from the sketchbook in Bonn, Germany. Beethoven threaded pages of the sketchbook together himself with a needle and some twine.

The sketchbook had some 30 pages of lined paper in it, and it was with this pad that Beethoven, age 40, began work on “King Stephen.” It was a rush job — done in two weeks — to write incidental music for a ceremonial theater piece honoring the founder of Hungary, tied to the opening of a new concert hall in that nation’s capital city. Beethoven was at a spa in 1810 when he wrote the work.

It’s unclear what happened to the sketchbook after Beethoven’s death in 1827. At some point, it was broken up and cut into pieces and sold in portions to admirers. A few snippets have turned up in fragmentary form.
Via Neatorama.

18 December 2015

Orcas are "cosmopolitan" animals

Not because they live in cities (a common misuse of "cosmopolitan"), but because this is their range:

"Cosmopolitan" refers to a citizen ("polites") of the "kosmos" (in Greek times "the world" - not the universe).
The term "cosmopolitan distribution" usually should not be taken literally, because it often is applied loosely in various contexts. Commonly the intention is not to include polar regions, extreme altitudes, oceans, deserts, or small, isolated islands. For example, the housefly is nearly as cosmopolitan as any animal species, but it is neither oceanic nor polar in its distribution. Again, the term "cosmopolitan weed" implies no more than that the plant in question occurs on all continents except Antarctica; it is not meant to suggest that it covers the continents entirely.
Map credit.

There is a "Muslim Reform Movement"

Here is the preamble to their Declaration:
We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam. We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate. We seek to reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the 7th century to fast forward it into the 21st century. We support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.

We reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. Facing the threat of terrorism, intolerance, and social injustice in the name of Islam, we have reflected on how we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance. We are announcing today the formation of an international initiative: the Muslim Reform Movement.

We have courageous reformers from around the world who will outline our Declaration for Muslim Reform, a living document that we will continue to enhance as our journey continues. We invite our fellow Muslims and neighbors to join us.


This video was created as an advertisement, but I'm posting it for the skill of Luca Iaconi-Stewart, the plane model artist.

Amazing how many people get this math problem wrong

I'm not on Facebook, so I don't know the exact number of replies, but reportedly thousands of respondents thought the answer was "A."

Iron-fortified cereal

I thought maybe this video was faked (especially when the "food artist" narrator said that he had "assumed iron...was a naturally occurring protein..."), but now I'm going to go look for a magnet.

Via Neatorama.

The "left" and "right" of river tributaries and forks

For tributaries of rivers, the designations "right" and "left" are assigned based on a view looking downstream.

For forks of rivers, the designations "right" and "left" are assigned based on a view looking upstream.

17 December 2015

14th century art

The illustration above comes from the Luttrell Psalter, England ca. 1325-1340  (British Library, Add 42130, fol. 146v).

The one below depicts the world's most famous C-section.  "Birth of Julius Caesar, Les anciennes hystoires rommaines, Paris 14th century."  (British Library, Royal 16 G VII, fol. 219r)

Addendum - a tip of the blogging hat to reader Snotty, who offers this well-written article about The Truth About Julius Caesar and "Caesarean" Sections, which suggests that the term Caesarean derives not from the birth of Julius Caesar, but from the Lex Caesarea - a Roman law mandating surgical removal of the fetus from dying mothers.

Both items via the quite remarkable Discarding Images tumblr.

Stonehenge bluestone quarry confirmed in Wales

As reported at the website of University College London:
Excavation of two quarries in Wales by a UCL-led team of archaeologists and geologists has confirmed they are sources of Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’– and shed light on how they were quarried and transported...

The very large standing stones at Stonehenge are of ‘sarsen’, a local sandstone, but the smaller ones, known as ‘bluestones’, come from the Preseli hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills, but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came...

The special formation of the rock, which forms natural pillars at these outcrops, allowed the prehistoric quarry-workers to detach each megalith (standing stone) with a minimum of effort. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face” said Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton). “The quarry-workers then lowered the thin pillars onto platforms of earth and stone, a sort of ‘loading bay’ from where the huge stones could be dragged away along trackways leading out of each quarry.”..

“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC” said Professor Parker Pearson. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire."
A search is underway for the original Stonehenge.

Abstract of the research publication in Antiquity.

"Terminal agitation" in the dying person

Useful information from the Hospice Patients Alliance:
Many families may be surprised when a terminally ill (and usually calm) family member becomes restless or even agitated. The depth of such restlessness or agitation varies from patient to patient...

Those who work with the dying know this type of restlessness or agitation almost immediately... Patients may be too weak to walk or stand, but they insist on getting up from the bed to the chair, or from the chair back to the bed. Whatever position they are in, they complain they are not comfortable and demand to change positions, even if pain is well managed. They may yell out using uncharacteristic language, sometimes angrily accusing others around them. They appear extremely agitated and may not be objective about their own condition...

If, and only if, other obvious causes of restlessness and agitation have already been eliminated, then the physician may directly order medications to reduce the restlessness and agitation...

Terminal agitation is a hospice crisis and meets the criteria for starting the continuous nursing care level of care.
More at the link.

13 December 2015

Illustrations from the new edition of Harry Potter

Selections from a larger gallery at The Guardian.

I am a nemophilist

Surprised that I hadn't encountered the word before, I had to consult my OED, which cites usages dating back to the early 19th century.  The etymology is from a Greek word meaning wooded pasture or glade.  There is also adjectives nemorivagant ("wandering in woods") and nemorose ("full of woods") and nemorous ("woody" - dating to 1623).

Posted for some old friends with a garbin at Leech Lake.

There are now baby tortoises in the Galapagos

There hadn't been one single baby tortoise sighting in more than a century on the Galapagos Island of Pinzon, until a small group of the tiny, shelled youngsters were spotted this year... This is huge news for a species that has been struggling to survive for a century, relying on humans raising young tortoises bred in captivity until they are large enough to not fall prey to rats and predators...

"The incredible eradication of rats on this island, done by the park service and others, has created the opportunity for the tortoises to breed for the first time," he added. 
Photo via The Dodo.

Congratulations, Wyatt !

11 years of high school.  Found at Bad Newspaper.

Some protostars shoot out water

This report from National Geographic dates back to 2011, but I just heard about it this week on a podcast of NSTAAF.   I think it's worth sharing just for the jaw-dropping numbers.
Seven hundred and fifty light-years from Earth, a young, sunlike star has been found with jets that blast epic quantities of water into interstellar space, shooting out droplets that move faster than a speeding bullet.

The discovery suggests that protostars may be seeding the universe with water. These stellar embryos shoot jets of material from their north and south poles as their growth is fed by infalling dust that circles the bodies in vast disks.

"If we picture these jets as giant hoses and the water droplets as bullets, the amount shooting out equals a hundred million times the water flowing through the Amazon River every second," said Lars Kristensen, a postdoctoral astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands...

After tracing the paths of these atoms, the team concluded that water forms on the star, where temperatures are a few thousand degrees Celsius. But once the droplets enter the outward-spewing jets of gas, 180,000-degree-Fahrenheit (100,000-degree-Celsius) temperatures blast the water back into gaseous form.

Once the hot gases hit the much cooler surrounding material—at about 5,000 times the distance from the sun to Earth—they decelerate, creating a shock front where the gases cool down rapidly, condense, and reform as water, Kristensen said.

12 December 2015

Edwardian hairstyles

A collection of Edwardian photographs, depicting some of the hairstyles of the time, like the Low Pompadour. Hatpin Hairstyle. Side-Swirls. Flapper (The title ‘Flapper’ originally referred to teenage girls who wore their hair in single plait which often terminated in a wide ribbon bow.) & the pompadour.
Text and image from The Vintage Thimble (where there are additional photos), via Edwardian Era.

Victorian hairstyles

Found at The Vintage Thimble.

World record teddy bear toss

Reposted from 2011 with the insertion of a better-resolution video.  This year a recoerd 28,815 teddy bears were tossed onto the Calgary Hitmen's hockey rink.  Offered as a cheerful retreat from the grimmer news of the day.

Wikipedia has a page about teddy bear tosses for those unfamiliar with the ritual.

Don't insult a robot

Proud father

"A grandfather's dream come true: proud Aboriginal elder dances with granddaughter at graduation."

Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi speaks limited English, mostly conversing in traditional language of the Galpu clan.

He says "proud" as he touches his heart. His wife Jane Garrutju translates the rest. "It was his dream, to dance with his granddaughters here," she says.

He has flown down from remote Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island in north-east Arnhem Land. That's about 3,000 kilometres away from Worawa Aboriginal College in Healesville, north-east of Melbourne, where his granddaughter Sasha has been boarding for the past two and a half years. This is her year 10 graduation.
"I am proud of my grandchildren, Sasha and Alicia, I am proud that this college was taken care of and that they got a good education," Gali says.

Gali is a Yolngu Mala leader, known as the Morning Star dancer... The traditional dance called Lunggurrma, which means north wind, incorporates the feathered ceremonial Banumbirr (morning star pole).
The rest of the story, with additional photos (and a video of the dance) are at ABC News (Au), via Reddit.

08 December 2015


I'm back.  It'll take me a while to get "up to speed," so for today let's start with a linkdump to clean out some of the material I bookmarked during the past several weeks...

"Hanging out" at Preikestolen.

Headline of the day: "Lincoln Chafee quits quixotic presidential bid, disappointing tens of supporters."

Re Bernie Sanders' religious views: "First, Sanders would be our first Jewish president. And second, while Sanders is culturally Jewish, he has said that he's "not particularly religious" and has been described by some as agnostic."

A young man jumps across a road.  Pretty impressive; I wonder if his technique would be legal in a conventional long-jump competition.

"The Lonely Death of George Bell" - a long NYT photoessay about the death of a recluse with hoarding tendencies.  Interesting and sobering.

How to shop for marijuana in Denver.

“Over the past five years, the state of Nevada has transferred to other states approximately 1,500 patients discharged from its state-run Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, including 500 patients that Nevada sent by Greyhound bus to cities and counties in California,” said the lawsuit... The patients, many of whom were mentally ill indigent and not California residents, were sent to various destinations with no arrangements for when they arrived, according to the lawsuit."

Reversed video of a backwards-running competition.

gif of a clever Cinderella transformation.

Jerry Kill, coach of the University of Minnesota football team, announces his retirement mid-season because of epilepsy.  Moving.

gif of a seal getting incredible airtime when launched out of the water by an orca.

"Since the global financial crisis in 2008, a total of 26 bankers have been sentenced to a combined 74 years in prison."  In Iceland - not the United States (obviously).

"Joyce, 83, has spent the last few months walking several miles a day to his customers' homes to mow their lawns after the transmission died in his 1994 truck. Longtime customer Robert Norton and his wife Nikki Norton created a GoFundMe account hoping to help Joyce. They were stunned when people donated more than $13,000 in just a few weeks and they were able to give him the new ride."

gif of a crow using french fries as bait to fish for a minnow.

NOAA has posted predictions for temperatures and precipitation in the United States for the coming three months (Jan-Mar 2017).  Here in Wisconsin it will be warmer and drier than normal.  We already have public golf courses open in December for the first time ever.

Twenty-two shipwrecks have been found off the coast of Greece "dating from the Archaic Period (700-480 B.C.) through the Late Medieval Period (16th century), including some wrecks that are more than 2,500 years old. The small and relatively obscure region may be “the ancient shipwreck capital of the world,” the release says.

gif of a bubble freezing.

"The Atacama Desert in Chile, known as the driest place on Earth, is awash with color after a year’s worth of extreme rainfall." (Pix and video at the link)

Detailed background on the history of the Cuban "embargo."

There may be an unexpected risk in living next to a Civil-War-era graveyard.  "...homeowners should watch out for toxins [especially arsenic used in embalming fluid] leaking out of old graves that could be contaminating drinking water and causing serious health problems."

Rare footage of a Canadian being born (sfw).

The word "fascinate" has an unexpected etymology: From Latin fascinātus, perfect passive participle of fascinō ‎(enchant, bewitch, fascinate), from fascinum ‎(a phallus-shaped amulet worn around the neck used in Ancient Rome; witchcraft).  (Hat tip to the QI elves).

Fish chasing a laser pointer.

Feathered dinosaurs have recently been found in North America.  "This dinosaur was covered in down-like feathers throughout life, but only older individuals developed larger feathers on the arms, forming wing-like structures..." (so presumably the feathers were not used for flight).

"A year of legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado has brought the Rocky Mountain state significant savings, reduced crime rates and tax revenue gains from the sale of the plant and its byproducts..."

Should a driverless car be programmed to sacrifice its own passenger(s) in order to prevent killing pedestrian(s)?

Tesselated brick pavers shaped like the state of Texas.

A map from NOAA showing the historical date of first snow across the United States.

A clever way to store plastic bags.

"Video taken from Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle's Taser during the fatal shooting of David Kassick in February 2015. It was shown at her murder trial in November 2015. She was acquitted."  Warning: graphic violence/death.

"Rachel Franklin and her son Paul were at a beach in Orange County, California one day when Paul scraped his knee... then the wound turned black and started oozing, so Rachel decided to drain the wound herself and discovered that the cause of the infection was a sea snail hitching a ride inside the wound."

Perception can overwhelm knowledge.  In this video Paul Giamatti participates in a "rubber hand experiment."

"In recent years, a wave of zoos have purged themselves of peafowl."

Yet another theory on the identity of Jack the Ripper.

The Smithsonian offers a set of reports on "how polio changed us."

The dangers of the morcellation. "Morcellation is a technique for removing large body parts through small incisions. In the past, morcellation was done manually with a scalpel. But now there are special tools for the job called morcellators. They look like dainty power drills, with small, rapidly rotating cylindrical blades tucked inside the tip. Once slipped in through the tiny porthole, the device grasps and then grinds up the parts that need to be extracted, right there inside the abdominal cavity, and sucks the fragments out. Doctors occasionally do this to kidneys, spleens and adrenal glands, but it is in gynecological surgery where morcellation has flourished." Problems arise when the technique is inadvertently applied to a malignancy.

You can now buy "snowman kits" to help you construct and decorate a snowman.

A gif of "jackpoling." "From what I remember when I saw this on some NatGeo special, they use a special type of hook that doesn't catch in the fish's mouth but allows the fish to grab the lure. The fish hold on for a second and get pulled out of the water, then they let go when they realize it's not food and fall into the trough. They're constantly throwing bits of chum over the side so the fish get really aggressive and can't differentiate between food and lure."

A high-school football player pokes a player from the opposing team in the eyesHard.  Story here.

An ice-cream cone in Budapest.

"A wild raven perched himself on our fence and squawked for over an hour. I went to see what was up with him and saw that he had four porcupine quills stuck in him, three in the side of his face and one in his wing. This video shows my Mom taking out the ones in his face. Very bizarre he let us get that close and even more bizzare he let my Mom pull the quills out."

A waitress pays for the lunch for a pair of firefighters.  They return the favor in a remarkable way.

A 1,111-carat diamond has been found in Botswana.

"A pair of Dutch pranksters have scored a YouTube hit with their latest video in which they ask members of the public to offer their views on some 'shocking' verses from the Qur'an.  However, unknown to the participants, the verses are in fact from the Bible."

If your car's headlights seem dim, read this discussion thread.

A mall Santa signs to a deaf child.  Here's one attempt at translation (but words are probably unnecessary).

Images from a competition conducted by the American Society for Microbiology, 

26 November 2015

I'm still here

My life is undergoing some changes right now, so the blog will appear inactive probably for a couple more weeks.  Nothing really really bad - just a lot of things to do that have to take priority over blogging. I have found time to surf and to bookmark, but not to create posts, so I'll have an abundance of material to share once these other matters get resolved.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving good wishes to all.  This is the day to count your blessings and be grateful for all that you have and for all the troubles you don't have.

Cartoon source.
The chrysalis is a Black Swallowtail.

11 November 2015

TYWKIWDBI is on an extended break

Those of you have been regular readers over the past eight years will have noticed a perceptible falloff in blog posts during the past week.

My elderly mother fell last Monday, sustaining one fracture of a metacarpal and additional injuries to her lower spine.  Her treatment is vastly complicated by advanced dementia, and I have been consumed with related activities since then.  I am therefore shutting down the blog for probably 3-4 weeks.

Those eager for TYWK material are invited to explore the "categories" in the right sidebar.  There are 13,366 old posts and certainly some you have missed or forgotten.

I'll close this post to comments and hope to rejoin you all at about the time of my December blogiversary.

07 November 2015

Photos from the opening of King Tut's tomb

Full gallery of 21 colorized images in The Telegraph.  More details and larger-sized images at Mashable.

Nonsurgical treatment for cataracts

Researchers... have developed a new drug that can be delivered directly into the eye via an eye dropper to shrink down and dissolve cataracts - the leading cause of blindness in humans. 

The new drug is based on a naturally-occurring steroid called lanosterol. The idea to test the effectiveness of lanosterol on cataracts came to the researchers when they became aware of two children in China who had inherited a congenital form of cataract, which had never affected their parents. The researchers discovered that these siblings shared a mutation that stopped the production of lanosterol, which their parents lacked...

They tested their lanosterol-based eye drops in three types of experiments. They worked with human lens in the lab and saw a decrease in cataract size. They then tested the effects on rabbits, and according to Hanae Armitage at Science Mag, after six days, all but two of their 13 [rabbits] had gone from having severe cataracts to mild cataracts or no cataracts at all. Finally, they tested the eye drops on dogs with naturally occurring cataracts. Just like the human lens in the lab and the rabbits, the dogs responded positively to the drug, with severe cataracts shrinking away to nothing, or almost nothing.  
Publication in Nature.  Discussion at Reddit.

05 November 2015

Xylitol in sugarless gum is toxic to dogs

Sam Caress and Jordan Pellett recently adopted Gunner. He's helped fill the hole in their hearts created when Luna, their two-year-old dog, died in April after getting into some chewing gum made with the sugar-substitute Xylitol.

Xylitol is safe for humans but can cause severe low blood sugar, seizures -- even liver failure -- in dogs.

Sugar-free gum is the biggest culprit. But Xylitol is also used in some sugar-free candies, chewable vitamins, even some baked goods and peanut butter.

The number of products is on the rise and so are the calls to the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, from 82 in 2004 to more than 3,700 last year.
More at CBS News; video at the link.

"You can lead a duck to water, but..."

"For the first time in their lives two dozen recently rescued ducks get their first taste of life in a pond. They had been living for years with a hoarder who had them in pens without adequate access to water or proper nutrition."
Backstory at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.


This photo of a mangrove swamp was part of a photoessay in the Washington Post, which focused on the lives of the children who harvest the cockles in the mangroves.
Ecuador is home to the tallest mangroves in the world: The Cayapas Mataje Reserve. Its soil is filled with small black cockles — a culinary delicacy prized in Ecuador — and the arduous task of searching for and picking those shelled creatures from the mangroves falls on the shoulders of children, who use their long limbs and agile bodies to scale the spindly branches of the trees and mine the thick mud that surrounds them.
My thoughts drifted to vague memories of reports of warfare conducted in such ecosystems and the pure hell that soldiers in combat must have endured.  I had thought I remembered battles in mangrove swamps in the U.S. Civil War, but for the moment the only reference I can find is to the Battle of Ramree Island in the South Pacific:
"That night [of the 19 February 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [motor launch] crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left. . . . Of about one thousand Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about twenty were found alive.
Some years ago I tried to hike through a tamarack swamp in northern Minnesota; the footing was treacherous and unpleasant, but presumably a log power easier than this mangrove tangle.  The other images in the photoessay give some insight into a life different from the ones you and I live.

Speed camera fail

"Got hit while at a red light, and had my car towed. 4 weeks later I get a speeding ticket in the mail."

Via imgur.

02 November 2015

Gimme shelter

"As it turns out, some octopuses, like this one, possess the foresight to actually pack along coconut shells to use as protective shelters when exploring areas without adequate places to hide."

A truly extraordinary football play

Eight laterals on the final play of the game to score the winning touchdown.

Copyeditor needed

My eye was first drawn to the unusual word "renoun" highlighted in the center of the page.  It's a word that would have been familiar to readers of Middle English right after the Norman conquest, but it was replaced by "renown/renowned" about five centuries ago.  (I had to check several references to make sure "Renoun" wasn't an extraordinarily subtle pun based on the name of the engraver or a person involved in the provenance of the stamp.  It wasn't.)

A comedy of errors is produced by the use - twice - of quotation marks for emphasis.  Boldface, underlining, font size, or some other alteration would have been better, but please not quotation marks, which are not only inappropriate, but which tend to suggest the opposite of what is written.

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks will never run out of material.

30 October 2015

In 1965 this dress shocked a nation

Jean Shrimpton wore this white shift dress to Derby Day in Melbourne in 1965.
In 1965, textile manufacturer DuPont de Nemours International engaged Jean Shrimpton, then the world's highest-paid model, to travel to Australia to be a judge in the 1965 "Fashions on the Field". Her fee for the two-week visit was £2,000, an enormous sum, equivalent to at least a year's wages for the average Australian man. Even The Beatles had been paid only £1,500 for their tour of Australia in 1964.

 It has been said that Shrimpton, more than any other model of the 1960s, can lay claim to having been the world's first supermodel... It was expected that when attending Derby Day, she would be wearing a beautiful hat and accessories, including gloves and stockings, which were de rigueur for the ultra-conservative Melbourne establishment.

The garment Shrimpton and Rolfe developed for Derby Day was a simple white shift dress. However, DuPont had not supplied enough fabric to complete the intended design, so at Shrimpton's suggestion, Rolfe improvised, by finishing the hemline a daring 4 in (10 cm) above the knee. Shrimpton later claimed to have told Rolfe that "nobody's going to take any notice…" She also later told The Australian Women's Weekly magazine "I always wear my day dresses above the knee."

Her skimpy outfit contrasted starkly with the conservative attire of the other racegoers, and she was openly scorned by them, particularly as she was defying protocol by wearing no hat, stockings or gloves. As well as being the target of catcalls from men and jeers from women, she was surrounded by kneeling cameramen, all shooting upwards to make the dress look even shorter.

Conservative Australia was shocked. Former Lady Mayoress of Melbourne, Lady Nathan, accused Shrimpton of being "a child," and even prominent Australian model and columnist Maggie Tabberer was critical. Radio stations and newspapers published editorials for and against the outfit, and Shrimpton defended it. "I don't see what was wrong with the way I looked. I wouldn't have dressed differently for a race meeting anywhere in the world", she was reported as saying at the time.

The controversy quickly spread to Britain, where the press angrily defended Shrimpton.  According to the Australian analysis, Shrimpton's Derby Day appearance was the moment when a global youth culture began to shape young Australians' sense of style.  A reviewer of that analysis has claimed that all the young girls wanted to be like "the Shrimp": free, cool, and elegant." 
Photo credit Ray Cranbournne via the Herald Sun.

"Coywolf" - a new species?

As reported in The Economist:
Like some people who might rather not admit it, wolves faced with a scarcity of potential sexual partners are not beneath lowering their standards. It was desperation of this sort, biologists reckon, that led dwindling wolf populations in southern Ontario to begin, a century or two ago, breeding widely with dogs and coyotes. The clearance of forests for farming, together with the deliberate persecution which wolves often suffer at the hand of man, had made life tough for the species. That same forest clearance, though, both permitted coyotes to spread from their prairie homeland into areas hitherto exclusively lupine, and brought the dogs that accompanied the farmers into the mix.

Interbreeding between animal species usually leads to offspring less vigorous than either parent—if they survive at all. But the combination of wolf, coyote and dog DNA that resulted from this reproductive necessity generated an exception. The consequence has been booming numbers of an extraordinarily fit new animal spreading through the eastern part of North America. Some call this creature the eastern coyote. Others, though, have dubbed it the “coywolf”. Whatever name it goes by, Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, reckons it now numbers in the millions...

He worked out that, though coyote DNA dominates, a tenth of the average coywolf’s genetic material is dog and a quarter is wolf... At 25kg or more, many coywolves have twice the heft of purebred coyotes. With larger jaws, more muscle and faster legs, individual coywolves can take down small deer...

The animal’s range has encompassed America’s entire north-east, urban areas included, for at least a decade, and is continuing to expand in the south-east following coywolves’ arrival there half a century ago... coywolves are now living even in large cities, like Boston, Washington and New York. According to Chris Nagy of the Gotham Coyote Project, which studies them in New York, the Big Apple already has about 20, and numbers are rising...

Some speculate that this adaptability to city life is because coywolves’ dog DNA has made them more tolerant of people and noise, perhaps counteracting the genetic material from wolves—an animal that dislikes humans. And interbreeding may have helped coywolves urbanise in another way, too, by broadening the animals’ diet.... Coywolves eat pumpkins, watermelons and other garden produce, as well as discarded food...

Whether the coywolf actually has evolved into a distinct species is debated...
More at the link, and a discussion thread at Reddit.  Quite interesting.

29 October 2015

A little girl and her horse

Why there is an "R" in "Mrs."

The abbreviation "Mrs." stands for the word "missus," which doesn't have an "R" in it.  So what's up?  Mental Floss explains:
Originally, Mrs. was an abbreviation for mistress, the female counterpart of master. There were various spellings for both forms—it might be maistresse/maistre or maystres/mayster—and variation in pronunciation too. The word mistress had a more general meaning of a woman who is in charge of something. A governess in charge of children was a mistress, as was a woman head of a household. The abbreviated form was used most frequently as a title for a married woman.

Eventually, the title form took on a contracted, 'r'-less pronunciation, and by the end of the 18th century “missis” was the most acceptable way to say it. (A 1791 pronouncing dictionary said that to pronounce it "mistress" would “appear quaint and pedantic.”) The full word mistress had by then come to stand for a paramour, someone who was explicitly not a Mrs.

Sometimes a title is not an abbreviation for a word, but a word all of its own.


She has been caught.
"21-year-old Sara Kanger was booked for possession of meth, flight to avoid arrest, theft by unlawful taking and two counts of theft by receiving."
And btw, the FedEx guy should have had the common sense to hide the box behind the wall. Although it's too bad that such precautions are necessary in this modern world.

U.S. still maintains embargo on Cuba

The entire world opposes the unilateral U.S. embargo on Cuba. Well, except for the U.S. and Israel.
The United Nations General Assembly voted on Tuesday on a resolution calling on Washington to end its embargo on Cuba. 191 of 193 countries voted for the resolution — 99 percent of the member states.

For the 24th year in a row, the U.S. and its allies were the only nations to vote against the measure. For the 24th year in a row, the U.S. has utterly defied the will of the entire international community.

An embargo of sugar, oil, and weapons was first imposed on Cuba by President Eisenhower in 1960. In 1962, two years later, the Kennedy administration expanded the embargo to impede virtually all imports...

The Obama administration has often tried to differentiate itself from the Bush administration by appealing to rhetoric concerning international law. Yet votes like these prove such statements to be hollow. Behind the veneer of Obama’s emphasis on international rules and norms is the cold logic of empire: The U.S., as the global economic and military hegemon, will do what it wants, when it wants.
Perhaps a reader here can explain to me why this embargo continues to exist.  Presumably it involves corporate $$$$$$$$$.

Addendum.  Here is a succinct and informed explanation provided by reader Con:
The word "embargo" is used by the US government, but in Cuba and other Latin American states it is known (more accurately) as a "blockade". The blockade is in fact illegal under international law as it extends far beyond restricting trade between the US and Cuba, imposing harsh sanctions on those outside of the US who would dare to trade freely with Cuba (i.e. an "extra-territorial" measure). Companies have been fined and had assets expropriated and the legal rights infringed in all manner of ways. Canada even has a law which is aimed to circumvent the application of the relevant US extra-territorial law as it applies to Canada; the "Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act." 
The blockade began during the Cold War and was designed to isolate Cuba and damage its economy, in order to undermine its socialist government and return it to the US sphere of influence. It was initially very successful, with almost every other country in the Americas breaking relations with Cuba, the exceptions being Canada and Mexico. The blockade was aimed not only at the Cuban people, but implicitly at any other Latin American nation which might have opted for socialism.

Cuba survived by trading with the USSR and Eastern European trading bloc (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, CMEA) and with China. After the collapse of the European socialist bloc, many supporters of the blockade had high hopes that the Cuban revolution would collapse, but instead it weathered the storm, and is now stronger than ever.

Over the decades the blockade has lost more and more ground in the rest of the Americas; and more generally, since the collapse of all the US-backed military regimes which were once so common, the prestige and political and military power of the US throughout the Americas has been eroded dramatically. Now it's the US which is isolated. Cuba has good diplomatic relations now with every other country in the Americas, and is increasingly connected to the wider Latin American economic system, and even, in some ways, a central component of it. Cuba is one of the main forces in the ALBA trading bloc that includes several countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean, and also has good trade links to Brazil. In recent years a submarine fibre optic cable linking Cuba and Jamaica to the South American mainland has broken the telecommunications blockade.

It has reached the point where the Obama administration has recognised the failure of their Cold War policy and are now negotiating an end to it. They have re-established diplomatic relations with the island, but the blockade is the biggest issue which needs to be resolved before relations are fully normalized. The other biggie being the illegal US military occupation of Guantanamo Bay, where they have a naval base, and the infamous prison camp and torture facility.

Darwin Award candidate

"Bravo star and fitness instructor Greg Plitt did NOT die from stumbling on a railroad track Saturday ... he was fatally struck by a train after trying to outrun it ... to prove the effectiveness of an energy drink.

Law enforcement sources tell TMZ ... they have reviewed video of the accident and it shows Plitt standing on the tracks as the train barrels toward him. Shortly before the train reaches Plitt he assumes a runners stance and bolts down the track...

And law enforcement tells us they found multiple energy drink bottles near the track and authorities think Plitt may have been hopped up from the caffeine. We're told he was shooting a commercial for the product."

"Aquafina" bottled water is tap water

And now that will be clarified on the label.  From ABC News:
The label on Aquafina water bottles will soon be changed to spell out that the drink comes from the same source as tap water, the brand's owner PepsiCo said Friday.

A group called Corporate Accountability International has been pressuring bottled water sellers to curb what it calls misleading marketing practices.

Aquafina is the single biggest bottled water brand, and its bottles are now labeled "P.W.S." The new labels will spell out "public water source."
See - there was nothing deceptive there.  Doesn't everybody know that "P.W.S." stands for "public water source"?
Aquafina is a brand of purified bottled water products produced by PepsiCo, consisting of both unflavored and flavored water... It was first distributed in Wichita, Kansas in 1994, before becoming more widely sold across the United States, Spain, Canada, Lebanon, Turkey, the GCC countries, Iran, Egypt, Vietnam, Pakistan and India to compete with The Coca-Cola Company's Dasani and Dr. Pepper Snapple's Deja Blue. As of 2009, Aquafina represented 13.4 percent of domestic bottled water sales in the United States, making it the number 1 bottled water brand as measured by retail sales.

The United States' "Persian rug" stamps

In the nineteenth century, "revenue stamps" were purchased and used to pay taxes on a variety of items and transactions - mortgages, deeds, cigarettes, wine, oleomargarine, life insurance, playing cards, etc.

Concerned about fraudulent cleaning and reuse of such stamps, the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1871 issued a new set of stamps (the "Second Issue') with elaborately detailed designs and colors and a special paper which incorporated silk fibers.   A most interesting article (pdf) in the American Philatelist offers more details:
The original tax schedule included several open-ended rates, and stamps were created that were, in principle at least, adequate to pay them. For example, a deed for real estate whose value exceeded $20,000 was taxed in multiples of $20 (at $20 for the first $20,000, plus an additional $20 for every additional $10,000 or fractional part thereof ), to be paid by $20 Conveyance stamps. In practice, though, this proved unwieldy. For a property with a $200,000 value, a total of 19 $20 stamps would be required; and for $500,000, 49 stamps.

When the First Issues were replaced by the Second Issues in September and October 1871, the $200 denomination (Scott R132) was retained and a $500 (Scott R133) added, to further facilitate payment of large taxes, on deeds or mortgages for amounts exceeding $500,000, or estates exceeding $1 million. To foil counterfeiters they were printed by a complicated tricolored process, the world’s only engraved tricolored stamps, considered by many as the most beautiful stamps ever printed. The abrupt repeal of the documentary stamp taxes effective October 1, 1872, ensured that these stamps would be as rare as they are beautiful: just 446 $200 stamps were sold, and 210 of the $500.
The article at the link has several awesome photos of multiples of these stamps being used on documents (deed for a silver mine, for example).

Photos for this post are of nonperforated die proof singles for these issues; I found them in The Stamp Collecting Forum.

26 October 2015

"Richard Cory"

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

A poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson, published in 1897 (text via the Poetry Foundation).
Robinson's early struggles led many of his poems to have a dark pessimism and his stories to deal with "an American dream gone awry." His eldest brother, Dean Robinson, was a doctor and had become addicted to laudanum while medicating himself for neuralgia. The middle brother, Herman, a handsome and charismatic man, married the woman Edwin loved, Emma Löehen Shepherd... Herman Robinson suffered business failures, became an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children. Herman died impoverished in 1909 of tuberculosis at Boston City Hospital Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" was thought by Emma (Herman's wife) to refer to God and her husband.
Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize three times in the 1920s.

World Chess Championship for Disabled, 2015

Home page for the event held in Dresden, via the Get Motivated subReddit.

Photo credit Jamie Kenmure on Twitter.
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