22 February 2015


Lots of conflicting demands for my time.   Need to get this stuff done now, while we're still gripped by the polar vortex, because as soon as spring arrives, outdoor activities will beckon. 

If you need something to read this week, try browing the "categories" in the right sidebar.


20 February 2015

Umbrella pines

A magnificent painting by Hendrik Voogd, from the Rijksmuseum, posted at Robs Webstek.

The trees are Pinus pinea, "also called Italian stone pine, umbrella pine and parasol pine."
Stone pines have been used and cultivated for their edible pine nuts since prehistoric times. They are widespread in horticultural cultivation as ornamental trees, planted in gardens and parks around the world.

In youth, it is a bushy globe, in mid-age an umbrella canopy on a thick trunk, and, in maturity, a broad and flat crown over 8 metres (26 ft) in width.

In Italy, the stone pine has been an aesthetic landscape element since the Italian Renaissance garden period.

It is also planted in western Europe up to southern Scotland, and on the East Coast of the United States up to New Jersey. Small specimens are used for Bonsai, and also grown in large pots and planters. The year-old seedlings are seasonally available as 20–30 centimetres (7.9–11.8 in) tall table-top Christmas trees.

There's a huge difference between "masticophilia" and "mastigophilia"

I learned from reading Collector's Weekly that there are people who collect chewing gum.
In the U.S., there are about half a dozen serious collectors of gum, and more than one serious enough to pay $350 for a stick of Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum, dating from 1900 to 1910...

“A fellow collector and I got a lead on a National Colgan’s Taffy Tolu gum vendor from a Chicago dealer who had found it in an old barn. We decided rather than try to outbid each
other, we would make a fair bid and purchase the machine together. Pleased with our $2,000 purchase, I took it home and opened it up and cleaned it. I was pleasantly surprised to find seventeen sticks of Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum inside... In the end, my partner and I sold thirteen sticks of the gum for $300 to $350 each, making a $4,000 profit without even selling the machine!”
I tried without success to find a word for "lover of gum."  The appropriate match for the Greek "-phile" would seem to be "mastic", which is also the word for a Mediterranean evergreen shrub which produces a resin ("mastic tears" at right) used to make varnish and chewing gum.  So it should be "masticophile."

But I wouldn't use the word to describe someone in public, because it would sound too much like "mastigophile" -
Mastigophilia: Paraphilic sexuoeroticism that hinges on punishment and humiliation.
A new word for me, but one that I suppose is going to pop up more frequently in the popular press and cyberspace now.

A new video series from The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History offers incomparable resources for anyone seriously interested in the natural world.  They are now producing a series of videos designed to highlight their mission and their astonishing array of source material.

I've embedded above the fourth video in the series - "Skull of the Olinguito" - which explains how new species can be discovered in archived specimens:
Considering the number of specimens collected during the trip, it’s little wonder that the olinguito—Mammal #66573, a raccoon relative originally identified as a kinkajou—spent nearly 90 years on the Museum’s shelves before being described as the new species Bassaricyon neblina in 2013.
The third video in the series was Six Ways to Prepare a Coelacanth.  The previous two, and subsequent ones to be released on a monthly basis, are available here.  These are concise, interesting, high-production-quality videos tailored for anyone with an interest in the natural world.

Limpet teeth - nature's strongest natural material

"Spider silk is famous for its amazing toughness, and until recently a tensile strength of 1.3 gigapascals (GPa) was enough to earn it the title of strongest natural material. However, researchers report online today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface that the record books need to be updated to properly recognize the incredible strength of the limpet teeth. Marine snails known as limpets (Patella vulgata) spend most of their lives scraping a set of small teeth along rocks in shallow ocean waters, looking for food. The constant grinding would be enough to quickly reduce most natural materials to nubs, but the limpets’ teeth boast a tensile strength of between 3 and 6.5 GPa..."
Microphotograph via the Washington Post, which offers these observations:
The teeth also bested several man-made materials, including Kevlar, a synthetic fiber used to make bulletproof vests and puncture-proof tires. The amount of weight it can withstand, Barber told the BBC, can be compared to a strand of spaghetti used to hold up more than 3,300 pounds, the weight of an adult female hippopotamus.

Their secret is in the size of their fibers, which are 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. The ultra-thin filaments avoid the holes and defects that plague larger strands — including man-made carbon fibers — meaning any structure they compose is also flawless, regardless of how big it gets.
The original publication is here.

17 nude people

Body-painting artist Emma Hack piled 17 naked models up on the floor before arranging their arms, heads and legs into the shape of a small hatchback. She covered them in shades of blue, white, black and silver paint to highlight every detail, including the alloy wheels and number plate...and she even made it look like the car had been involved in a small shunt [?] by exposing the "engine" and leaving the front "bumper" hanging off. 
One of the photos at The Week in Pictures at The Telegraph.

Photo credit: MAC/Emma Hack/Jacqui Way/Solent

Addendum: Reposted from 2012 to add this "making of" video:

19 February 2015

Fennec fox

This evocative photo by Bruno D'Amicis was one of the winning entries in the 2014 World Press Photo of the Year competition.  These are his notes:
An adult fennec fox crouches in a village sheep pen [in Tunisia]. The fox had been captured as a cub, and kept as a pet for over a year.

The fennec is the smallest of the Canidae (dog family) and is found in desert and semi-desert areas of North Africa. It is particularly well-adapted to desert conditions—its large ears help dissipate heat, furry under-paws provide insulation against hot sands, and it can live without water for long periods, deriving all it needs from its prey. Fennecs are not an endangered species, but—prized for their appearance—they are systematically being captured to be sold as pets, or used to make money from tourists wishing to pose for souvenir photographs.

The history of dunking in basketball

There have been a lot of repostings recently of the video above of Zach LaVine's between-the-legs dunk at the most recent NBA dunk contest.  More interesting to me, however, is the story at Vice Sports entitled "The Plot to Kill the Slam Dunk" -
The first thing you need to know is that the inventor of basketball never intended for the rim to be set at 10 feet...

From as early as 1930 until the late 1980s, not a year went by without talk of raising the rim—and with it, killing the dunk—in order to cure the game's ills...

When an all-time basketball greats list was assembled in 1940, the average height of the players was 5'10". Only gradually did people realize what an advantage size could be. ..

Sports Illustrated published a 1967 cover story, "The Case for the 12-Foot Basket." The magazine even staged an experimental game like Newell wanted, one of many during this era...

"No one was making a basket as the result of a hyperactive pituitary gland," Morrison said. "You had to develop skills.".. .A 1981 syndicated column complained, "Slam-dunking is how gorillas would play basketball if let out of the zoo." A 1981 LA Times column demonstrated that basketball players' heights have gotten out of hand by referring to old "suits of armor and the length of bunks in old slave ships." The racial politics of the dunk, and the sport, still had a ways to go...

The next most popular highlight is the three, which has the dunk to thank for its existence, and maybe vice versa. "The legalization of the dunk," Schultz suggested, "led to conversations about the three-point line."
Way more at the link.   Excellent fodder for March Madness party conversations.

My grandfather's encounter with M. bovis

While searching the 'net for something else, I ran across this blurb about my maternal grandfather.  I knew from oral family history that he had been a very active member of the local Holstein-Friesian Association (later the Holstein Association).  He would have been 31 years old at the time of this story - the archetypal "Norwegian bachelor farmer" joked about so often by Garrison Keillor.

Losing 30 of 40 cattle to tuberculosis would have been a major financial blow, and may be one reason why it was another 6 years before at age 37 he would be able to marry my grandmother. 

These early-generation immigrant Norwegians were a resilient lot, and I was not surprised to see a report further down in the same dairy newspaper that at a subsequent meeting of the Goodhue County Farmers' Progressive Association, grandpa Finseth had presented a paper entitled "My Experience with Tuberculosis."

Perhaps it's from him that I inherited my gene for teaching.

Wikipedia has a good entry on bovine tuberculosis.

There's a surprise inside

An interesting item posted in Rob's Webstek:
The mummified body of the Buddhist master Liuquan, a monk who lived around the year 1100 and who belonged to the Chinese Meditation School, is hidden in this precious reliquary dating from the eleventh or twelfth century.

In Amersfoort's main hospital, Meander Medical Centre, the nearly thousand year old mummy has been recently examined with a CT scan and an endoscope... A gastrointestinal and liver doctor took samples of yet unidentified material and examined the thoracic and abdominal cavities.
Results of the endoscopy at the link.  Photo credit M. Elsevier Stokmans.

"It depends on the size of the gun and the size of the guns"

As reported in The Telegraph:
Christina Bond, a 55-year-old mother of two, fatally shot herself in the eye while attempting to secure her handgun. 
"She was having trouble adjusting her bra holster, couldn't get it to fit the way she wanted it to," said St. Joseph Public Safety Director Mark Clapp. "She was looking down at it and accidentally discharged the weapon." ..

She was a local Republican official, and an obituary printed in the Herald-Palladium newspaper said she served two tours as a member of the United States Navy.  The obituary also describes Bond as having been "on fire for the lord", and an active member of the Christian Motorcycle Association...

Carrie Lightfoot, owner of the Well Armed Woman store, told the USA Today last year that bra holsters were growing in popularity.

"It's kind of a natural location depending on the size of the gun and the size of the 'guns,'" said Ms Lightfoot. "Women just need options because one day a woman is wearing a dress, the next day a suit and the next day exercise clothing." 
Photo via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.  Comments are closed for this post.

Your religious is ridiculous. Mine makes sense.

On June 9, 1603, Samuel de Champlain attended an Algonquin victory ceremony along the banks of the Ottawa River. He sat with the Grand Sagamore, Besouat, in front of a row of spikes topped with the heads of the defeated enemy, and watched as the Grand Sagamore’s wives and daughters danced before them entirely naked, wearing only necklaces of dyed porcupine quills.

After the dancing, the conversation turned to theology. The Grand Sagamore told Champlain that there was one sole God. After God had created all things, he stuck some arrows in the ground, and these turned into the men and women who populated the earth.
Champlain told the Grand Sagamore that this was pagan superstition, and false. There was indeed one sole God, but after he had created all things, he took a lump of clay and made a man, and then took one of the man’s ribs and made a woman. The Grand Sagamore looked doubtful, but, following the rules of hospitality, remained silent.
Originally encountered in the hard copy of Harper's (my favorite magazine).

18 February 2015

Eisenhower's 91% income tax rate

It wasn't that long ago:
[T]he most successful Republican of the 20th century up to that time, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had been quite happy with a top income tax rate on millionaires of 91 percent. As he wrote to his brother Edgar Eisenhower in a personal letter on November 8, 1954:
[T]o attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon ‘moderation’ in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt [you possibly know his background], a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
That was a marginal tax rate, of course, but still worth noting.

TBS compresses Seinfeld - updated

"Upper-right is a live feed from my tuner card from tonight's Seinfeld rerun. Lower-right is a digital recording from Fox Chicago about 10 years ago on the same hardware. TBS's broadcast gained 15 seconds in 3:22. This amounts to almost 2 full minutes for the entire episode."
Discussed at Reddit where there are comments that the image is cropped to make it "wide screen" and that the content is sometimes edited as well, and a notation that this is sometimes done with broadcast music.  The purpose apparently is to create more time for commercials.

Although the result is described as a "speeding up" of the program, I would think that even a 7.5% increase in speed would alter voice pitch, so I wonder if the process is instead some sort of computerized microediting - removing seconds of stares, views of a door about to open, shortening nonrolling credits, and such.  The process would be similar to time-compressed speech.

Confession:  I've never seen even a single episode of Seinfeld.  Apparently I'm the only living person with that distinction.

Addendum:  This video and the Reddit discussion generated a more-extended discussion of the technology at Digital Trends:
One provider is called Prime Image, which advertises a product called the Time Tailor. According to the site, the service “optimizes video runtime to seamlessly insert new ad spots, shrink content runtime without cutting scenes” and allow for several other solutions which alter programming to fit the network’s specifications. The service is automated, essentially allowing networks to program the time warping necessary, sit back, and collect that extra cash...

Otzi's copper axe

Readers of this blog should already be familiar with Ötzi the Iceman (his face) (his tattoos).  This is what his axe looked like.
Ötzi's copper axe was of particular interest. The axe's haft is 60 centimetres (24 in) long and made from carefully worked yew with a right-angled crook at the shoulder, leading to the blade. The 9.5 centimetres (3.7 in) long axe head is made of almost pure copper, produced by a combination of casting, cold forging, polishing, and sharpening. It was let into the forked end of the crook and fixed there using birch-tar and tight leather lashing. The blade part of the head extends out of the lashing and shows clear signs of having been used to chop and cut. At the time, such an axe would have been a valuable possession, important both as a tool and as a status symbol for the bearer.
Image cropped for emphasis from the original.  This is a replica; the original can be seen in this photo -

- from the Otzi website, where there are many more details about this tool.
The haft, i.e. the handle of the axe, was carved from the split wood of a yew tree. A nearly right-angled branch growing out of the trunk was used. The axe blade is held in a slit in the haft with birch tar. It was then bound in place with narrow strips of leather.  Using a replica of the axe, it took just over half an hour to fell a yew tree...

In Central Europe in the period around 3000 BC, a copper axe would have belonged to a man of high social status. This is confirmed by grave finds from this period. In the grave field at Remedello di Sotto southwest of Lake Garda, for example, only 17% of the axes placed in the men’s graves had a copper blade. The copper axe blades recovered from those graves are identical in shape and size to the Iceman’s.
If you would like to make one, someone else has posted a photo gallery of the steps required to craft the tool.

Where to find quiet

"Based on 1.5 million hours of acoustical monitoring from places as remote as Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and as urban as New York City, scientists have created a map of noise levels across the country on an average summer day. After feeding acoustic data into a computer algorithm, the researchers modeled sound levels across the country including variables such as air and street traffic."

5 minutes

Yesterday was the nonpartisan primary voting day in my town.  Because of the arctic cold, my wife and I drove rather than walk the mile-and-a-half to our local community center.  I took note of the time when we arrived:

12:42 - park car
  • walk into Community Center
  • give my name to ladies at the table, receive a number
  • take the number to the lady at the next table, receive ballot
  • enter booth, mark ballot
  • inset ballot into Marksense optical scanner, wait for beep
  • take "I voted" sticker, walk out of polling place
12:47 - back in car

Five minutes to complete my civic duty.  Can't complain about that.  There are many arguments for revising/updating/computerizing the voting system in this country - all of which are well beyond the scope of this post -  but shortening the time required to vote is not in my view a pressing need (even granting that this was just a primary).

If I could make one change, it would be to make the November presidential election a national holiday, so that more people could vote.  To placate the business owners who want employees in the workplace, I would compensate by deleting the February President'sDayLet'sGoShopping holiday and tell people to honor their presidents by voting instead.

15 February 2015

Let's visit Siberia

Those of us living in Wisconsin have been spared the incessant and record-setting snowfalls suffered by residents of the Northeast.  What we have is bone-chilling cold.   This week our normal high temperature would be at the freezing point, but we have had nights when, if the temperature rose 40 degrees, it would still be below freezing.

This seems like an appropriate time for me to post the material I've been collecting about Siberia.  Several months ago I started doing some online research about those "mysterious craters" that were appearing near the Arctic Circle in Siberia.  That reading very quickly led me to a new favorite source - The Siberian Times - a remarkably diverse and well-written news site with some refreshingly different material from that which is usually shared endlessly in the blogosphere.

I've written ten posts, with in retrospect a bit of an emphasis on archaeology, one of my hobbies.  But we'll start with those craters...

Siberian Bronze age armor made of bone

I thought "bone armor" was the fabrication of sword-and-sorcery stories, but in this case it is real:
Archeologists are intrigued by the discovery of the complete set of well-preserved bone armour which is seen as having belonged to an 'elite' warrior. The armour was in 'perfect condition' - and in its era was 'more precious than life', say experts.

It was buried separate from its owner and no other examples of such battle dress have been found around Omsk. Analysis is expected to determine its exact age but Siberian archeologists say it dates from 3,900 to 3,500 years ago...

Currently the experts say they do not know which creature's bones were used in making the armour. Found at a depth of 1.5 metres at a site of a sanatorium where there are now plans to build a five star hotel, the armour is now undergoing cleaning and restoration...

He is certain that the armour belonged to a 'hero', an 'elite warrior who knew special methods of battle' and would have 'given good protection from weapons that were used at the time - bone and stone arrowheads, bronze knives, spears tipped with bronze, and bronze axes'. 
Detailed photos at the link.

"Festival of Colours" in Siberia

A set of photos depicts activities at Siberia's first Festival of Colours, modeled after the Hindu festival Holi
Participants daubed each other with paint and coloured water in a mass frolic of colour. They also hosed each other and jumped into the vats with coloured water. There were performances of acrobats and jugglers and all visitors could make a mehendi, a temporary henna tattoo.

Organiser Anatoly Koptev said: 'The idea of the festival was met with such a great response that we ended up welcoming a lot more people than we expected; at some point we ran out of paint and had to bring an extra truckload in.

Siberian mummies adorned with copper

A fascinating discovery near the Arctic Circle:
The 34 shallow graves excavated by archeologists at Zeleniy Yar throw up many more questions than answers. But one thing seems clear: this remote spot, 29 km shy of the Arctic Circle, was a trading crossroads of some importance around one millennium ago.

The medieval necropolis include 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls, and smashed skeletons. Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Among the graves is just one female, a child, her face masked by copper plates. There are no adult women.

Nearby were found three copper masked infant mummies - all males. They were bound in four or five copper hoops, several centimeters wide.

Similarly, a red-haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear...

Artifacts included bronze bowls originating in Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west, dating from the tenth or eleventh centuries. One of the burials dates to 1282, according to a study of tree rings, while others are believed to be older. ..
Unlike other burial sites in Siberia, for example in the permafrost of the Altai Mountains, or those of the Egyptian pharaohs, the purpose did not seem to be to mummify the remains, hence the claim that their preservation until modern times was an accident.
The soil in this spot is sandy and not permanently frozen.  A combination of the use of copper, which prevented oxidation, and a sinking of the temperature in the 14th century, is behind the good condition of the remains today. 
More photos at the link.

Siberian luminous earthworms

They contain a novel form of luciferin:
Intriguingly, the luminous system of Siberian taiga earthworms is different from that of similar types of species, which means that not only have scientists found one more luminous protein, but they have made a step towards
decrypting the whole new luminous system.

Crucially it is revealed that 'the protein is simple in chemical synthesis, exceptionally stable and not toxic, which means it can be widely used in applied bioluminescence'.
Earthworms don't have eyes.  Do they have photosensitive cells somewhere on their bodies?   That would seem to be a prerequisite for developing this luciferin, because otherwise the luminescence would only be of benefit to voles and other predators.  I remember reading somewhere recently about reptiles or amphibians with photoreceptors on their tails which allow them to detect whether they are fully hidden within their burrows.

Siberian warrior with bear fang embedded in his nose - and fish in his eyes

As reported in The Siberian Times:
The remains of the fearsome warrior - who [at 5'10"] towered some 25 centimetres over his peers - were unearthed by archeologists near Omsk in an ancient burial mound. Experts are intrigued by his death mask and the elaborate nature of his grave which indicates his importance...

He was buried with the massive fang of a bear embedded in his nose, seen as a sign of his strength and power.  A decorated mirror - a bronze plate - lay on his chest, inside a birch bark cover... His death mask originally comprising fabric included caskets made of birch bark covering the eye sockets and mouth. Inside the caskets were metal figurines of fish with their heads broken off... It is interesting  that the fish figures were cast as one, and then broken in two

In the grave, too, were 25 war arrows - which are still sharp today - and bronze tools.

His left arm was severed in battle and placed near the body...

The first studies we made allow us to date the burial to approximately 11th-12th centuries AD.
More information and photos at the link.

Siberian "farmyard rap"

Created as a parody of a popular Russian hip-hop artist:
Local comedian and Monty Python fan Ayal Adamov (nickname Urui Ayalaa) and his team Suus Bies Suus decided on some gentle mockery of videos eulogising money and luxurious life beyond the reach of most people.

In particular they poked fun at Timati and the song GQ by visiting the village of Namtsy, 83 km from regional capital Yakutsk, and made this epic video.

'Six months ago, I heard the song 'GQ' for the first time, and thought, why not make a parody,' he said.  'Now all the popular videos are about money, a sumptuous life. Everything is so pathetic and I thought - why not to tell about simple things like the khoton (a cowshed in Yakutia, the largest region in the Russian Federation, also known as the Sakha republic) - and manure. Why not?'
"My cowshed is always fresh!
The dung is everywhere
It attracts money and dirt
It fascinates girls with flavor
Hey, baby, let's drink kumys
Oh, it's very tasty..."

Tattoos of the princess of the Sochi paralympics

The image above, broadcast worldwide on television during the Sochi paralympics, is a representation of one of the tattoos found on a Siberian mummy.  Her story has been featured three times in Siberian Times.  The first article, in August of 2014, provided this background:
The remains of the immaculately dressed 'princess', aged around 25 and preserved for several millennia in the Siberian permafrost, a natural freezer, were discovered in 1993 by Novosibirsk scientist Natalia Polosmak during an archeological expedition.

Buried around her were six horses, saddled and bridled, her spiritual escorts to the next world, and a symbol of her evident status, perhaps more likely a revered folk tale narrator, a healer or a holy woman than an ice princess.

There, too, was a meal of sheep and horse meat and ornaments made from felt, wood, bronze and gold.  And a small container of cannabis, say some accounts, along with a stone plate on which were the burned seeds of coriander.

'Compared to all tattoos found by archeologists around the world, those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated, and the most beautiful,' said Dr Polosmak. More ancient tattoos have been found, like the Ice Man found in the Alps [Otzi] - but he only had lines, not the perfect and highly artistic images one can see on the bodies of the Pazyryks. 
The mouth of a spotted panther with a long tail is seen at the legs of a sheep. She also has a deer's head on her wrist, with big antlers. There is a drawing on the animal's body on a thumb on her left hand.

On the man found close to the 'princess', the tattoos include the same fantastical creature, this time covering the right side of his body, across his right shoulder and stretching from his chest to his back...

We can say that most likely there was  - and is - one place on the body for everyone to start putting the tattoos on, and it was a left shoulder. I can assume so because all the mummies we found with just one tattoo had it on their left shoulders. 'And nowadays this is the same place where people try to put the tattoos on, thousands of years on.
The second report, later that month, offered more details re her garments and the burial chamber.
Now, thanks to pioneering work by academics in Novosibirsk, we also show how this ancient Pazyryk woman looked in real life and display not only her clothes but also the vivid colours she wore and her stylish headdress...

Archeologists even found items from her 'cosmetics bag', which lay inside her coffin next to her left hip, notably a face brush made from horse hair, and a fragment of an 'eyeliner pencil'. This was made from iron rings, inside which was vivianite, giving a deep blue-green colour on the skin.

There was also vivianite powder, derived from an iron phosphate mineral, apparently to be applied to the face...

'She was dressed in a long and wide woollen skirt, made from three horizontal strips of fabric. The skirt was 144 cm long, 90 cm wide on the top, and 112.5 cm at the base. 
'Each strip of  the fabric was coloured separately: the top one was crimson, the middle very slightly pinkish-yellowish, and the third of a very rich Bordeaux colour. 

Many more details at the link; it's very interesting reading.  Of course, our attention is drawn to that remarkable hairdo.
The real eye-opener for Dr Polosmak was the high and  distinctive head wear. And the linked discovery that the 'princess' in fact had a shaved head, with no hair, but instead wore an elaborate wig, that remains intact to this day, enabling detailed study...

It was put on a shaved head. The base of the wig was a felt 'hat', with two layers of women's hair sewn into it. Between the layers was a black flexible substance, which helped to fix and hold the shape and the volume of the wig.'..

On top of this mop was worn a red 'nakosnik' (a braided decoration made from threads), and atop of this structure was a bronze pin with a deer, standing on a sphere. The deer was made from wood, and was covered in golden foil.'

Yet it was more intricate, still.

'The wig had another very important detail,' she says. Its crowning glory looked like a giant feather, 68.5 cm long, made from felt and covered with black woollen fabric, with a stick inside it to help it stand straight.' she says.

'This feather had the figures of 15 birds attached to it, which like in modern Russian Matryoshkha dolls with one inside another, were each of smaller size compared to the previous one. The birds had leather wings, tails and legs, and long necks, which most likely meant they were swans.
And more information:
Remarkably she concludes that the source of the dyes is around 3,000  kilometres from Altai...

'This area can be Eastern Mediterranean - the only habitat of Kermes vermilio Planchon, a tiny insect, which is a source of nape acid, used in Pazyryk textiles colouring, and a neighbouring territory of the Armenian uplands - a source of Carminic acid. The third colourant - a source of alizarin and purpurin - was made from madder' (a Eurasian plant...

The fusion of influences, seen in her clothes, of Ancient Chinese, Iranian and Mediterranean cultures 'make the Pazyryks indeed one of the most ancient examples of synthesis between cultures of East and West'. 

Several hundred years later Alexander the Great was famed for 'mixing people by the power of his will, trying to unite East and West by pushing them together, and gluing them with political methods.

'At the same time in the middle of Asia, on an immeasurably smaller scale, that process which the great warrior was only dreaming about, has been happening all by itself. That same mixing of cultures, and the mixing of Caucasian and Mongoloid....This synthesis, on a small scale, proved to be very fruitful, and resulted in a formation and rise of Gorniy Altai Pazyryk culture...
Finally, the article concludes with a discussion of the male's costume ('First of all, it had trousers - which, to remind you, was part of a wardrobe considered to be 'barbaric' by Greeks and Romans, who did not accept and did not wear them. ).  I won't abstract any more details because I feel guilty about appropriating too much material from my primary sources.  Please go to Siberian Times to read more about this fascinating story.

A Siberian linkdump

The aerial photo above is of an immense geoglyph, thought to represent a moose.  Scientists there claim it is the oldest one in the world (c. 4,000 B.C.), based on analysis of lithic chipping in the area.  It was an immense project: "Initial fieldwork found simple techniques were used to create the moose, with turf and earth 10-metres-wide dug out to make its shape before being filled with stones. 'The figure would initially have looked white and slightly shiny against the green grass background,' he said.

 What is believed to be the "last" western Siberian crane ("snow crane") has arrived in Iran completing its 6,000 km migration successfully for the seventh consecutive year.  There used to be two others in this population, but over the years they have been shot.  There are still some eastern Siberian snow cranes.

A three-year-old girl and her dog survived alone for 11 days in the Siberian taiga, eating berries and drinking river water.  A separate article praises the mongrel dog, which finally left her and went for help.

Siberian scientists (and residents) are concerned about flooding resulting from climate change as the permafrost disappears. "The process of warming in Siberia goes faster than elsewhere; it is not just hypothesis, there is data and observational evidence to prove it. Siberia is warming faster than any other place in the world," Mr Meleshko told the The Siberian Times.

YouTube video of a Siberian throat-singer.

Photos of a man going swimming at in "Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited settlement in the world. The air temperature as he swam had dipped to minus 60C. " 

"A 26 year old Siberian woman is facing 15 years in jail after strangling a man with her bra after he refused to lend her money for a drinking binge."

A Siberian firm located in a city above the Arctic Circle offers pizzas delivered by drone. "Yulia Ignatova, 25, said: 'Syktyvkar became one step closer to Futurama today, hurray! I was there and ate pizza. The pizza was delivered in just 20 minutes, while usually it takes about an hour or even longer.'"

This restaurant will shatter your preconceived notions of Siberian life and cuisine:
"European, Japanese, Soviet, Russian home style cuisine... Whether you want a meal with friends, to enjoy a live rock, Irish or country band, watch live sports at any time of the day or night, or hold that key business lunch, Beerman & Grill offers all these possibilities, and more besides."

It's not Milliways (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) (but you can see it from there).

Readers who would like to share other interesting links about Siberia are welcome to post them in the Comments section of this post.

11 February 2015


Sigiriya must be an awesome place, both in terms of geography and in the way it has been modified.  I first learned about it in an article at When On Earth.
In Sri Lanka, ruins of an ancient city can be seen lying on the steep slopes and summit of a 200-meter high peak. This awe-inspiring city is called Sigiriya and is located at the Matale district near Dambulla in the Central Province of Sri Lanka...

During the 11 years of staying in Sigiriya [in the 5th century], Kassapa transformed the rock into a magnificent complex.  The rock-turned-city possessed areas designed for its defenses but it didn’t forget to be a place of beauty and splendor. Ramparts and moats were built around it. Royal Pleasure Gardens Water Gardens, Fountain Gardens, and Boulder Gardens can be found within its inner city...

You’re almost at the rock’s entrance when you see a stone staircase that takes you to the fortress, but be better prepared, for it has 1200 steps.

In 1150 AD, it was abandoned but during the 16th and 17th century it served as temporary outpost for the Kingdom of Kandy. In 1831, it was discovered by Major Jonathan Forbes of the 78th Highlanders of the British Army that led to the beginning of its archaeological work in the 1890s.
There are photos at the link, but for those interested I highly recommend the webpage of SriLankaView.  I opened a couple thumbnails and found myself clicking through scores of the several hundred photos, including these:

Access to the site is now provided by modern staircases, but note that adjacent to the stairs are hand-cut stone steps and cavities for ancient wooden railings and supports.

This is too far away to fit into the budget of my bucket list, so I was glad to be able to tour it online.  Amazing.

Here is the Wikipedia entry.

I was never invited to "chicken pox parties" - updated

"Chicken pox" (varicella) was in the news last month [November 2011] when offers for infected lollipops were posted on the internet:
Wendy Werkit, of Nashville, offered to send other parents a "fresh batch of pox" on lollipops or cotton-buds in return for $50 (£31) via PayPal...

Her advertisement was placed on a Facebook page intended to help parents find a "pox party" in their local area, where children can mix and pick up the virus, which can be more dangerous if suffered later.
Advice for the best way to send chickenpox emerged in a thread of postings on the site. "Tuck it inside a ziplock baggie then put it in the envelope," it said. "Don't put anything identifying it as pox." 
The photo above comes from a detailed article at Inhabitots, which discusses the pros and cons of naturally vs. vaccine-acquired immunity.
Not getting vaccinated against chicken pox can result in some serious health issues. For example, anyone who has gotten chicken pox naturally in their life (not been vaccinated) can later get shingles. While the chicken pox vaccine doesn’t guarantee immunity from shingles, it increases the odds you won’t get and if you do, it makes the disease less severe...
It's not a new topic; "Inside New York Chicken Pox Parties" was published in 2009.
More kids stopped by throughout the afternoon to play and rub elbows with the sick celebrants. The younger kids passed the time chasing each other, playing make-believe games about forest animals and gnomes and watching Snow White, while the older kids kept busy reading books, playing video games and practicing the guitar. " The 12-year-old son was joking about how, normally, his mother tells him to cover his mouth," Penelope says. "Now all of a sudden, his mom's trying to spread his germs. He was enjoying pointing out the hypocrisy of it all." On her way out several hours later, she had an idea. "I have a friend who couldn't find a pox party, so a mother in California overnighted her son's pajamas to her. Her kid slept in them and got chicken pox," Penelope says. "So I asked, 'Do you mind if I borrow some [dirty clothes]?' The mom gave me a pair of just-worn pajamas. My daughter slept in them that night and then I mailed them back." Alas, Dr. Gershon says this plan isn't likely to work: "Chicken pox does not spread by clothing. It requires being in direct contact with a person with active chicken pox or shingles." And, indeed, after all the trouble, Penelope's daughter remains pox-free, though she plans to try again.
Those of you with children may want to read more at one of the links.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2011 to incorporate this report of "measles parties."

She was approached recently by a friend who knew her kids were unvaccinated. The friend offered to help set up a play date with another child who was sick.

“She said, ‘I know someone who has the measles, would you like to be connected with them?’” Schiffman said.

Measles parties and chicken pox parties are practices that developed in eras before vaccines for those diseases were available... “People did this with chicken pox all the time,” said Art Reingold, an epidemiology professor at UC Berkeley who worked at the Centers for Disease Control in the 1980s. “Parents would have kids lick a lollipop and give it to other kids, or mail it to other kids.”

The chicken pox vaccine was licensed for use in 1995; for measles in 1963. Today, some parents are still deliberately getting their kids sick because they don’t believe in vaccines.

“The basic notion is ‘this is my opportunity for my kid to get immune the old fashioned way, the way God intended,’” Reingold said. “’The way nature intended.’”

I challenge you to a game of 2048 - updated

This will be the only post today, because this morning I found 2048 and have wasted an inordinate amount of time studying/playing it.  As noted by the embed above, so far my highest score is 3408(After another hour, 5616).  After another day 16,176.

I have to get some work done this weekend and can't afford to waste any more time.  But I don't mind wasting your time.

Have a go, and feel free to post your best score (and strategy tips) in the comments.

The embedded image is just a screencap.  THE GAME IS HERE.

??is there a way to predict in which empty square the new tile will appear?

Update:  Using the strategies outlined by readers in the Comments, I was finally able to view the 2048 tile -

- and maxed out at 33,800.  Finally I can quit and go do something productive.

Update 2:  Here is a near-perfect pre-2048-tile-appearance board:

Starting at the second 2 of the top row (or, in practice, at the top 16), one can then sweep all the way down in a sinuous curve to convert the 1024 into a 2048.  This kind of configuration is not necessary to generate a 2048, but it certainly is esthetically pleasing.

Update 3:  This will me my final addition to this post - a view of the black 4096 tile...

... which I finally saw on my way to a final score of 50,936.  I'm done with this game.  Time to move on.

Update 4: A tip of the hat to reader Matthew for sending me the link to this article about the strategies used by artificial intelligence to solve the puzzle. 
"Most instances ended with a score around 390,000 and a 16,384 tile, but the best instance built a 32,768 tile and stayed alive long enough to reach a score of 839,732."
Final (?) update:  I was informed by reader Jan Reynolds that a "Super 2048" now exists - an 8x8 board with immensely higher potential scores and time-wasting capability.  I gave up after creating the 16,384 tile:

 and then (wisely, I think) opted NOT to "keep going."  Jan reported that she had "been beavering away for several months, have a score of 128,386,728! Have 2 tiles with face value of 2,097152 which would give me the magic 4,194304 tile but they are not near each other :( "

The game is here (and other variants from the pull-down menu). Discretion advised.

10 February 2015

Poop-sniffing dogs as conservation tools

Wired reports on dogs trained to detect and locate the scat of specific animals.
Since 1997, the [Conservation Canines program at the University of Washington's] team of handlers has been working with a motley crew of former strays and misfits-turned-dog detectives, training them on the center’s vast 4,300 acres to pick up on poo from specific species. Over 40 four-legged participants have been trained to sniff out up to 12 species each: wolverines, tapirs, iguanas, and even orcas.

To create these singularly driven dogs, the center uses training similar to that used for narcotic detection: Take one ball-obsessed pooch and teach him to track threatened and endangered species. How? Treats, of course.
Details and a photo gallery at the link.  A related story at Scientific American reports on the use of African "hamsters" to detect land mines:
APOPO – which stands for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling in Dutch, or Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development in English – is an organisation that trains and deploys rats, named HeroRATS, for the detection of abandoned land mines and tuberculosis.

Since 2000, they’ve bred hundreds of trained and accredited rats that have so far found 1,500 buried land mines across an area of 240,000 metres squared in Tanzania, and 6,693 land mines, 26,934 small arms and ammunitions, and 1,087 bombs across 9,898,690 metres squared in Mozambique. They’re also operating in Thailand, Angola, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. And don’t panic – they’re too light to be setting off any buried explosives

The other side of the moon

It's not dark.  And there don't appear to be any Nazi encampments - at least on the surface.

Awesome imagery created by NASA using data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Review of an anti-vaccination book for children

Salon explains:
In 2012, a proactive Australian anti-vaxxer named Stephanie Messenger self-published a children’s book called “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles.” With the book, Messenger endeavored to “educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully.”
Amazon offers a disclaimer that the book is “provided by the publisher/author of this title and presents the subjective opinions of the publisher/author, which may not be substantiated.”

Comments on the book are more incisive.  This one by is my favorite:
“Don’t overlook the lesser known Dr. Seuss books in this series – ‘Horton hears an air raid siren’, ‘Oh the places you’ll itch’, ‘How the Grinch caught Chlamydia’, ‘And to Think That I Contracted It on Mulberry Street’, ‘Skull Fracture Mayzie’, ‘Hop on your remaining foot’, ‘The 500 days in ICU of Bartholomew Cubbins’, and ‘If I Ran the Mortuary.’” 

A product for avid bicyclists

These neon green stickers can be purchased from the manufacturer; they present an extended disclaimer at their website, including this cautionary note:
If you choose to participate, please be safe and aware of your actions - you may be confronted with aggression or legal implications from drivers. Please take caution and use your judgement.

Lord of the Rings mythology, continued

This is a sequel to the video I posted last month.

09 February 2015

"A cat walks into a bar"

I really don't want to clutter TYWKIWDBI with cat humor, but this one is so true.  Here's a relevant gif

Via Reddit.

08 February 2015

"Beware the fury of a patient man." - John Dryden

The photo above is of the parking entrance at the Estonian State Opera in Tallinn.   The batons are also visible on Google Street View.  Clever - although I'm not sure why in the first photo they seem to be in series rather than in parallel.

If you enjoy eating it, be aware that it is possible to be poisoned by black licorice - "It contains glycyrrhizin, which causes the candy to taste sweet. The ingredient is made from licorice root, consumption of which can prompt the kidneys to release too much potassium, disrupting cardiac function and sometimes causing palpitations. Glycyrrhizin is not present in red licorice or in some licorice-flavored candy that uses a sweetener other than licorice root."

The right is abandoning Sarah Palin.  Her recent speech was described thusly in the National Review: “The foreordained culmination of a slow and unseemly descent into farce."

An article explains how women can sell their used underpants for cash. "...more than half of those who participated in our survey only averaged between $50 – $100 a week, with those earning between $100 – $150 making up about 20%."

If for some reason you need taser-resistant clothing, buy a fencing jacket (video at the link).

Michelle Obama's lack of a headscarf while visiting Saudi Arabia was not a fashion glitch; it was intended as a deliberate snub of Saudi policy.

Several pix of the remarkable geography of Monemvasia, Greece.  Embedded photo at right cropped for size from the original panoramic view here.  Other pix here and here.

A clever way to cut a bell pepper.

Criminals in Britain are plundering ATMs by flooding them with flammable gas (acetylene and oxygen) and then exploding them.  "The combined take of almost £250,000, or about $375,000, was the group’s biggest score in a single night yet. Their MO, using cheap, common, and legal gas, was nearly impossible to trace, and they left precious little forensic evidence for the police. To stop the rampage, there was little Britain’s banks could do."

Andrew Sullivan is retiring from The Dish.  The first of several farewell posts is here.

Bloomberg Business explains "The Economics of being a U.S. ambassador."  "Just filling the flower vases for the embassy in London is very expensive.”

What do British nuclear engineers eat? Mouse over this for the answer:  Fission chips!!

There is no such thing as nacho cheese.

Sea lion pups are starving off the coast of California.

The Telegraph has a gallery of photos of extreme body modifications from a show in Caracas.

The map at the left shows which states are best and worst in terms of children receiving the full set of recommended vaccines (darker color = better).

A brief video explains how to clean copper cookware with salt and vinegar.

Anti-circumcision activists have developed techniques and tools for reversing circumcision.

A New Mexico toddler outdid the Walmart kid from last month.  The 3-year-old removed his mother's gun from her purse and wounded both his parents with one shot. "Police believe the shooting to be accidental."

Hotels can now track towels to find out if you are stealing them.  Microchips can now detect when a towel enters an elevator or goes out the door.  The data is currently used mostly for inventory control/restocking rather than for prosecution.

The history of quotation marks.

Many herbal supplements sold by national retailers contained none of the advertised product or were contaminated with other material.  We are shocked, shocked.

The airline advertising on this escalator is either egregriously badly placed or is just photoshopped (via Neatorama).

If you're tired of TSA horror stories, don't read this one.

You can't make things like this up.  "A shopper buying a pot of fruit at Tesco was asked for ID - because it could ferment and turn into alcohol... Miss Lancaster, from Plymouth, Devon, sent an email and was told a new policy meant "fruit will be age verified in case natural fermentation takes place".  A clever way to prevent children from buying fruit.

Bald eagles in Florida are being accidentally poisoned.  The carcasses of pets euthanized with phenobarbital were being dumped in locations where the eagles scavenged them.

A nice article at BoingBoing lists and discusses the best adventure books for children written in the 1960s.  Many adults who missed their chance then would like to read their way through this list now that they have the leisure time to do so.

Phthiria relativitae was a species of bee fly.  The name is pronounced \theory o’relativity\.

You really don't need to know that sometimes gastroenterologists find cockroaches during screening colonoscopy.

A list of the 86 Best Picture Academy Award winners.  With pix, data, and commentary.

The Morning Glory pool at Yellowstone National Park looks like this now:

Which seems spectacular - until you realize that in 1966 it looked like this:

The coloration change reflects in part an alteration in the microbial flora as a result of temperature change in the water, which may have resulted from tourists throwing coins and other debris into the pool.
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