30 March 2015

Succulent cupcakes

This is just one of an abundance of culinary creations from the website of Alana Jones-Mann.  Details about how to craft these cupcakes in this tutorial. (embedded image cropped for size).

Scroll down her website for info on this citrus cake -

And this Lucky Charms cake -

"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a 2011 animated short film... Described as an "allegory about the curative powers of story," the film centers around bibliophile Lessmore and his custodianship of a magical library of flying books. It was created using computer animation, miniatures and traditional hand-drawn techniques. After winning over a dozen film festivals, the film was awarded the Best Animated Short Film at the 84th Academy Awards.

Morris Lessmore was visually modeled after the silent film actor Buster Keaton

The looting of Romania's Dacian gold

Sarmizegetusa, high in the central mountains, was once the capital and sacred center of the Dacians, a civilization crushed by the Roman Emperor Trajan in two bloody wars more than 1,900 years ago. The victory, Roman chroniclers boasted, yielded one of the largest treasures the ancient world had ever known: half a million pounds of gold and a million pounds of silver...

Sarmizegetusa was leveled and forgotten for centuries. But stories of Dacia's gold lived on, inspiring generations of peasants who lived nearby to dig in the steep valleys...

The full extent of the looting became clear years later, when some of the illegal excavators were arrested and confessed to police. The Lot 26 bracelet, they told police, was found in 1998, on top of a hoard of a thousand gold coins. To celebrate, the looters carved "Eureka" in the bark of a nearby tree—and kept digging. They showed no concern that they'd be caught: Another tree trunk bore an arrow and helpful directions: "Pits, 40 meters."

A small team of treasure hunters hit the mother lode in May 2000, according to Romanian police. Their metal detector pinged over a stone slab about two feet wide, embedded in a steep hillside. Underneath, in a small chamber made of flat stones propped against each other, they found ten spiraling, elaborately decorated Dacian bracelets—all solid gold. One weighed a hefty two and a half pounds (1.2 kilograms).
You can read more of this interesting story at National Geographic.

Child punished for being late to school

Photo taken by his mother, who was called to pick him up from school because he wouldn't stop crying.
Garloff and Cmelo spoke exclusively Wednesday night to NewsWatch 12’s Erin Maxson to explain why their son is tardy so often. According to the couple, riding the bus is not an option because the family lives within a mile of Lincoln Elementary. Hunter’s dad Mark says walking is not an option because the roads are too busy for someone his age. Hours after Mark leaves for work Nicole says she gets her son, three year old daughter and herself in the car. This, she says, can be delayed for a number of reasons. Sometimes Hunter isn’t ready, but most often the tardiness is not his fault. Nicole suffers from osteoporosis which makes it painful and difficult for her to function, especially in the morning. She said that is usually why they are late, but added that in January the tardiness increased because the family was also having trouble Nicole’s car starting regularly.
Via Reddit.  Several weeks ago New Republic posted an article about truancy laws:
More than 1,600 parents—most of them mothers—have been jailed in Berks County since 2000 for failure to pay truancy fines. In Pennsylvania, truancy is defined as more than three days of unexcused absence from school. After that, kids and parents can be referred to court and fined $300 per additional unexcused absence, in addition to court costs...

Absence from school is an undeniable problem. We know it is correlated with lower grades, with dropping out of high school, and with trouble with the law. What is less certain is if treating truancy as a crime addresses these underlying issues in an effective and reasonable way. Such interventions have not been proven to increase school attendance or decrease long-term criminal behavior. In fact, the criminalization of truancy often pushes students further away from school, and their families deeper into poverty. Lots more at the link.

Before the Golden Gate Bridge

A photo from 1935, found at Shorpy (click to embiggen).

28 March 2015

And now for something completely different...

"The Lost Thing" won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

A Monsanto apologist defends herbicides - LOL

When asked about the toxicity of Roundup (glyphosate), Patrick Moore asserts that it's "safe enough to drink."  Then...

(The verbal exchange reminds me of a classic John Clarke / Bryan Dawe sketch.)

Syrian child

Thinking the photographer's camera was a gun, the four-year-old child "surrendered."

Details here, discussed at Reddit.

Dementia and identity

Excerpts from an essay at Aeon:
Memory becomes like a flickering signal from a faraway shortwave radio station: people can do and say things, then promptly forget them, and then do and say them again. They can no longer read obvious social cues. They become easily distressed as a thickening fog descends upon them, causing them to lose track of everything. As the disease progresses, only fleeting glimpses of the once capable person can be seen; for the rest of the time, everyone is stuck with an uninvited guest. Eventually, the sufferer fails to recognise even loved ones.

Dementia raises deeply troubling issues about our obligations to care for people whose identity might have changed in the most disturbing ways...

It’s no wonder that carers feel everything from mild annoyance to profound grief as they take on ever more onerous responsibilities of shoring up someone’s fading sense of self. ... ‘The person I’m dealing with, the person I’m yelling at, the person who’s making me weep with frustration, is like a stranger. He looks like my husband, but Howard’s gone.’

...highlights the significance of physical routines, which, like recalling the steps in a dance, become more important as the ability to follow written instructions dwindles. Even the simple act of walking can restore a dementia sufferer to feeling fit, healthy and capable...

If the environment is cognitively overloaded, with bewildering signs, forms and instructions, not to mention smart devices, then it will make someone with dementia feel less capable and more distressed...

People with dementia need environments that are constant and reliable, and so require little new learning. Living with such people entails embracing the pleasures of patient repetition rather than constant novelty.

The difference between red oak and white oak

Explained (in a little too much detail) by a shipwright in terms relevant to boat building, but the principles illustrated would be of interest to anyone who works with wood.

"Let's meet on the corner at 60th and 60th"

If you are in Queens, NY, you have a multitude of choices - 9 intersections and 28 corners by my count.

Image cropped for size from the original at The Land of Maps.

26 March 2015

Paramilitary defender of African wildlife

The photo is of Kinessa Johnson, an "anti-poaching" advisor.  Here are the links to her Instagram posts and her Facebook page.

Kinessa works for VETPAW - "Veterans Employed To Protect African Wildlife."
VETPAW provides meaningful employment to post-9/11 veterans, utilizing their expertise to train and support Africa’s anti-poaching rangers to prevent the extermination of keystone African wildlife, and the disastrous economic and environmental impact it would have.
In a Reddit thread Ryan Tate, the co-founder of VETPAW responds to the somewhat misleading term "Poacher hunter" to explain that the goal is not simply manhunting:
I think you're slightly missing the point of paramilitary operations to save wildlife. Paramilitary operators do not go out with the intent to kill anyone that breaks laws, they go out with the intent of securing a location by use of a military structure and strategy, which means they cover more ground and are more effective in covering large areas of operation.

I run into this issue all the time because many think my organization (VETPAW) is just a bunch of American war mongering gunslingers coming to throw lead down range and shoot poachers in the face. In fact that's the complete opposite of what we provide- my team has spent so much time in war zones that they are the last to crack under pressure and pull the trigger. ..

What you'll find is that when poachers hear that any type of ex military or paramilitary operators are in the region, the poaching will cease in that area...
Kinessa has done an AMA on Reddit.  The weapon in the photo, btw is a SI Defense 300WM PETRA Rifle.

Factors influencing the size and shape of f-holes

The f-holes in the body of a violin have evolved to their current shape as the result of generations of trial and error by violin-makers, as reported in a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society:
Owing to its long-standing prominence in world culture, we find enough archaeological data exist for the violin and its ancestors to quantitatively trace design traits affecting radiated acoustic power at air cavity resonance across many centuries of previously unexplained change. By combining archaeological data with physical analysis, it is found that as sound hole geometry of the violin's ancestors slowly evolved over a period of centuries from simple circular openings of tenth century medieval fitheles to complex f-holes that characterize classical seventeenth–eighteenth century Cremonese violins of the Baroque period, the ratio of inefficient, acoustically inactive to total sound hole area was decimated, making air resonance power efficiency roughly double.

The corresponding evolution rates are found to be consistent with (a) instrument-to-instrument mutations arising within the range of accidental replication fluctuations from craftsmanship limitations and subsequent selection favouring instruments with higher air-resonance power, rather than (b) drastic preconceived design changes from instrument-to-instrument that went beyond errors expected from craftsmanship limitations.
Or, to put it another way...


Lots more at the primary link, and in an article in The Economist, via BoingBoing.

Fennec fox plays with two girls

Those who found the image of the captive fennec fox disturbing should enjoy this video of a fennec fox interacting with two little girls on his home turf, so to speak.  A hat tip to reader Ellen S. for locating the video.
Its name comes from the Arabic word فنك (fanak), which means fox, and the species name zerda comes from the Greek word xeros which means dry, referring to the fox's habitat.

Rich people complain that they are losing influence in national politics

To be more precise, the merely rich are losing influence to the super-rich.

The Washington Post focuses on the lost influence of the "bundlers":
Bundlers who used to carry platinum status have been downgraded, forced to temporarily watch the money race from the sidelines. They’ve been eclipsed by the uber-wealthy, who can dash off a seven-figure check to a super PAC without blinking...

But there is a palpable angst among mid-level fundraisers and donors that their rank has been permanently downgraded. One longtime bundler recently fielded a call from a dispirited executive on his yacht, who complained, “We just don’t count anymore.
We should clarify that the "bundlers" are not necessarily millionaires, but that millionaires are encountering the same problem.

Their response - to focus more on buying Congressmen rather than a president:
Other bundlers, on the left and the right, are turning their attention to congressional races, where they can get more personal attention.

“Senate candidates will call asking for $2,700, and they are eager to talk,” said David Rosen, a longtime Democratic fundraiser. “When they come to town, they’ll meet with you one-on-one. But $2,700 won’t even get you a parking spot at a super PAC event.”

"Smooshing" cards is an efficient way to shuffle

A Stanford University mathematician explains some of the nuances of shuffling playing cards.  Most of it is standard math (7 shuffles adequate, more superfluous), but the comment that "smushing" (1:00 in the video) works quickly and effectively was new to me.

Embrace your birthmarks

As a person born with a prominent birthmark, I've always been interested in how other people handle theirs.  This man accepted his ?vitiligo, and with the addition of some judiciously-placed pen ink, converted it into a map.

Via Neatorama.

Shopped at Radio Shack? Your data is for sale.

As reported by PC World:
For years, RadioShack made a habit of collecting customers’ contact information at checkout. Now, the bankrupt retailer is putting that data on the auction block. A list of RadioShack assets for sale includes more than 65 million customer names and physical addresses, and 13 million email addresses. Bloomberg reports that the asset sale may include phone numbers and information on shopping habits as well...

As Bloomberg points out, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that selling the data would be illegal under state law. Texas doesn’t allow companies to sell personal information in a way the violates their own privacy policies, and signage in RadioShack stores claims that “We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list.” Paxton believes that a data sale would affect 117 million people.

24 March 2015

Illustrations from "The Red Tree"

I found this visually interesting book by Shaun Tan (Simply Read Books, 2002, ISBN 0968876838) in our library.  You can also view the contents at the equally-interesting Poemas del Rio Wang.

Update on credit card skimmers

Over the past five years I've written three posts about credit card skimmers.  In 2009 an alert to the existence of skimmers that steal your credit card data at ATMs.  In 2010, photos of some virtually undetectable skimmers.   Then in 2011 reports of skimmers found inside hacked gasoline pumps.

This year's report comes from Krebs On Security, which reminds us that security tape on a card-accepting device (gas pump for example) is meaningless.
Tyler wanted to know what would prevent a scammer from simply removing the tape from one reader and placing it back on top of a compromised reader? Or, since most people probably wouldn’t know to look for the presence of tape around the card reader, how about just placing the skimming device right on top? I wondered that as well...

Of course, security tape wrapped around a card reader at a gas pump isn’t going to stop most pump skimming attacks, which start when someone with a master key for the pump opens it up and fiddles with the guts of the machine. The crooks figured out a long time ago that only a handful of master keys are needed to open the majority of the gas pumps in use today.

Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony ("Pathetique")

 I heard excerpts from this first movement last week while watching an old movie ("Now Voyager") and thought it deserves a place in the blog.
The second theme of the first movement formed the basis of a popular song in the 1940s, "(This is) The Story of a Starry Night" (by Mann Curtis, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston) which was popularized by Glenn Miller. This same theme is the music behind "Where," a 1959 hit for Tony Williams and the Platters as well as "In Time," by Steve Lawrence in 1961, and John O'Dreams by Bill Caddick. All four songs have completely different lyrics.

Excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Sixth can heard in a number of films, including Now, Voyager, the 1997 version of Anna Karenina, The Ruling Class, Minority Report, Sweet Bird of Youth, Soylent Green and The Aviator. It has also accompanied the cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show, specifically the episode 'Son of Stimpy' where the eponymous cat walks out into a blizzard. In addition, Tchaikovsky's Sixth is featured in the sci-fi video game Destiny, during the mission The Last Warmind, in which the player must defend Rasputin, an old planetary defense system.

Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony has also been featured during the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremony, being danced by Russia's national ballet company. Tchaikovsky's Sixth plays a major role in E. M. Forster's novel Maurice, where it serves as a veiled reference to homosexuality.

Cryovolcanism and the ocean of Enceladus - updated

Photo from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website.  And some related text from TIME:
Enceladus has always been thought of as one of the more remarkable members of Saturn's marble bag of satellites. For one thing, it's dazzlingly bright. The percentage of sunlight that a body in the solar system reflects back is known as its albedo, and it's determined mostly by the color of the body's ground cover. For all the silvery brilliance of a full moon on a cloudless night, the albedo of our own drab satellite is a muddy 12%, owing mostly to the gray dust that covers it. The albedo of Enceladus, on the other hand, approaches a mirror-like 100%. Such a high percentage likely means the surface is covered with ice crystals -- and, what's more, that those crystals get regularly replenished...

Most remarkably, Enceladus orbits within Saturn's E ring -- the widest of the planet's bands -- and just behind the moon is a visible bulge in the ring, the result of the sparkly exhaust from ice volcanoes that trails Enceladus like smoke from a steamship. It's that cryovolcanism that's responsible for the regular repaving...

In 2008, Cassini confirmed that the cryovolcanic exhaust is ordinary water, filled with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, potassium salts and other organic materials. Tidal pumping -- or gravitational squeezing -- by Saturn and the nearby sister moons Tethys and Dione keeps the interior of Enceladus warm, its water deposits liquid and the volcanoes erupting....
Addendum:  Reposted from 2012 to add new information from NASA - confirmation that the ocean underneath the surface ice is warm:
Sean Hsu, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder who helped to lead the team behind this new discovery, says the discovery happened in what was perhaps a counterintuitive way. He and his colleagues estimated the temperature, salinity, and approximate pH of Enceladus's ocean by studying the dust in Saturn's outermost ring...

"We've known from quite early on that Enceladus was the source of the material in Saturn's [outermost] ring… based on the ring's composition" Hsu says, "although we didn't know the exact mechanism for the material transfer." But the 2005 discovery of 125-mile-high icy geysers shouted out to scientists how Enceladus flung material skyward.

Hsu and his team analyzed a class of dust nanoparticles in this outermost ring. Using Cassini's mass spectrometer tool, they showed that these dust particles were made mostly of silica, and that they were the skeletons of evaporated geyser-flung saltwater. These particles point toward warm waters on Enceladus.
It just amazes me that we are now capable of studying nanoparticles in the rings of Saturn.

Rare (and counterfeit) PEZ dispensers

An article in Playboy details the sinister workings of the PEZ dispenser black market:
The tiny sugar bricks emerged in 1927 as adult breath mints, invented in Austria by Eduard Haas III. The name Pez comes from the German word Pfefferminz—peppermint. In 1948 Haas, a clean freak, introduced the “easy, hygienic dispenser.” In 1952 the Austrian hired Curtis Allina, a former spy who had operated for the Allies inside the Birkenau concentration camp, to bring the product to America... When the mints bombed, the Pez company put Mickey Mouse and Popeye heads on the dispensers and retargeted them at children. Bingo. By the 1990s, baby boomers who’d grown up with Pez had turned the dispensers into collector’s items...

Auctioneers at Christie’s in New York put aside Picassos to sell plastic candy pushers to Pez-heads. Collectors scrambled for rejects and prototypes such as the failed “Make-a-Face” dispenser, worth $3,000 because its small parts were deemed a choking hazard, and the coveted Coko Pez, an ill-advised blackface character...

During more than 70 wild missions to Europe, he persuaded factory workers to sell him priceless dead-stock dispensers and bribed factory bosses to make him kooky rejects, which he then sold for up to $500 each...

They paid less than a quarter for each rare Thumper the Rabbit and Wile E. Coyote dispenser, worth up to $75 apiece back in the U.S...
More at the link about the strange "war" between the company and those working the black market.

The embedded image is a screencap I took of recent eBay listings.  Note these are completed sales, not asking prices.  I thought the fad had died out ages ago, didn't know it was still a thing.

23 March 2015

Boulder opal

 Boulder Opal - Quilpie, Queensland, Australia
"Boulder opal consists of concretions and fracture fillings in a dark siliceous ironstone matrix. It is found sporadically in western Queensland."
Via the Minerals Minerals Minerals! tumblr. 

Immense lava tubes on the moon could house cities

Lava tubes large enough to house cities could be structurally stable on the moon, according to a theoretical study presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on Tuesday.

The volcanic features are an important target for future human space exploration because they could provide shelter from cosmic radiation, meteorite impacts and temperature extremes...

"We found that if lunar lava tubes existed with a strong arched shape like those on Earth, they would be stable at sizes up to 5,000 meters, or several miles wide, on the moon," Blair said. "This wouldn't be possible on Earth, but gravity is much lower on the moon and lunar rock doesn't have to withstand the same weathering and erosion. In theory, huge lava tubes - big enough to easily house a city - could be structurally sound on the moon."
A very cool concept.  I remember decades ago the thrill of exploring a not-officially-open-to-the-public lava tube in the desert outside Flagstaff - easily navigable thanks to the flat floor.  At an extraterrestrial site you wouldn't need to build a potentially-fragile dome over each structure.  If the lava tube porosity could be sealed, an atmosphere could be generated.   Now it's a matter of finding some tubes out there.  Ones that aren't already occupied...

Scatman Crothers and other "character actors"

A series of videos entitled "No Small Parts" presents biographies of those actors whose faces you recognize but who have never achieved "star" status.

Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic

On Wednesday, as Pine Bush High School was celebrating National Foreign Language Week, a teacher asked student Andrew Zink, who usually leads the school in the Pledge, if another student could do it instead, in another language. “I wanted to say yes because I felt this is the right thing to do,” Zink told the LA Times Thursday. But almost immediately, he says, the trouble began. “The anti-Muslim sentiment started to build,” he says. “The poor girl who read it, she’s so sweet and when she finished reading it people called her a terrorist. They told her to go back to the Middle East. They mercilessly degraded her and I felt awful for her.”

Andrew Zink, meanwhile, says he is now no longer permitted to lead the Pledge, and “may be impeached from his post as senior class president.” And on a blog post Friday, his mother shared some of the online vitriol that has been directed toward her and her “commie” son, from, she says, “adults across the country,” telling them to “just leave and join ISIS.”
More at Salon.   The story reminds me of Sarah Palin's comment: "If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance."

Having a bad day? Imagine living this young woman's life.

For those who prefer text, an introduction to the life of Lizzie Velasquez (5'2", 60#) is in the Washington Post.
Throughout her life, her condition has made her a target for bullies, who once dubbed her the “world’s ugliest woman” on social media... Velasquez is a motivational speaker who uses her experiences to fight bullying.

22 March 2015


A "chugger" is a portmanteau term for a "charity mugger."

NASA now reports that not only did Mars once have water, but that there was probably a vast ocean covering a fifth of the planet.

Prenatal genetic testing of a fetus sometimes reveals information that the mother has cancer: "...scientists from Sequenom said they have seen more than 40 cases in which the test revealed an abnormal genetic profile suggestive of cancer in the mother. At least 26 of these women were subsequently confirmed to have cancer... If she has cancer, then tumor cells may leak their DNA — lousy with chromosomal defects — into the bloodstream..."

 An easy way to make a heart-shaped cake (see pic at right)

Photos of a snow-covered bald eagle brooding her eggs.

Planthopper nymphs are totally bizarre-looking.  (Very brief video at the link)

Nestlé will only have to pay the Canadian government less than $600 per year for the use of 265,000,000 liters of groundwater.
The bird collection of Oslo's Natural History Museum is now available online.

The term "worry wart" became popular as the result of being used in a comic strip.  "... it didn’t mean what it does now — somebody who constantly worries about everything and anything. Instead it took its sense from the cartoon — a child who annoys everyone through being a pest or nuisance."

"Vog" is a combination of fog, smog, and volcanic gas.

Lindsey Graham has never sent an email.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials "have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting."  [Addendum:  FEMA has announced that "Starting next year, the agency will approve disaster-preparedness funds only for states whose governors approve hazard-mitigation plans that address climate change."

For a brief introduction to The Illuminati, The Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the Skull & Bones Society, and Bohemian Grove, see The Paranoid's Guide to Secret Societies.

A series of seven maps illustrates how Ukraine evolved into its present geographic arrangement.

Anyone who has had the privilege of eating at Betty's Pies on Minnesota's North Shore (just north of Two Harbors) will want to read this tribute to Betty Lessard, who recently passed away.  (Photo credit Neil McGahee)

Video of a mantidfly.

A wheelchair-bound 5-year-old girl scores a goal in ice hockey with the assistance of a Chicago Blackhawk.

A set of photos of the New York apartment Lauren Bacall lived in for over 50 years.

"Dairy farmers routinely feed their cows a finger-sized magnet, which settles in the digestive tract to help keep the cows healthy... To check if a cow already has a magnet, farmers use a compass."

The Export-Import Bank explained.

"Palcohol" is powdered alcohol.  Proponents say there is no risk of people snorting it, that it's no easier to sneak into events than liquid alcohol, and that it's difficult to spike people's drinks with it.

Video of a 95-year-old man setting the world record for the 200m sprint for his age group.

"Hunting competitions" are quite popular.  "Some $76,000 in prize money was at stake—more than $31,000 went to the team that bagged a 32 pound bobcat. Other jackpot winners were a four-man team that killed 63 foxes, a team that killed 8 bobcats, and another that killed 32 coyotes."

The famous "Patterson film" of a walking "bigfoot" has been image-stabilized, and it's obvious to anyone viewing it that this is a man wearing a costume.

An article at Lapham's Quarterly explains how establishments that buy your old gold and silver routinely rip off the customers.

Progressives who have mostly given up hope of getting Elizabeth Warren to run for president against Hillary Clinton are now pondering the possibility of Warren as a vice-president.  "Warren would bring a populist appeal to the ticket that Clinton does not possess."

Based on over 200,000 Jeopardy! questions used in the program, the most common Jeopardy! response is "What is China?" In Double Jeopardy, it is "What is Australia?" The most common category in Final Jeopardy! is "Word Origins."

"The White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act, making official a policy under Presidents Bush and Obama to reject requests for records to that office."

Members of a University of Michigan fraternity partying at a ski resort caused an estimated $400,000 of damage.  "There was damage to 45 rooms, and students destroyed ceiling tiles and exit signs, broke furniture and doors and urinated on carpeting."

A 26-minute video nicely explains the unique environmental features of the "driftless zone" in the Upper Midwest.

Was the plane crash that killed UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold an assassination?  Was it engineered by agents in the United States and Europe?  The UN is reopening an investigation.

Why is insulin so expensive in the United States.  "Greene decided to call some local pharmacies, to ask about low-cost options. He was told no such options existed.  Only then did I realize there is no such thing as generic insulin in the United States in the year 2015," he says.

Browse all 600 pages of the JC Penney 1982 Christmas catalogue.

Top photo: demantoid garnets - Jeffrey Mine, Canada
While garnets have been known since ancient times, the demantoid variety was not discovered until 1868 in Russia's western central Ural Mountains.   From the time of the demantoids find until about 1919, they were popular in Russia as the famous Peter Carl Fabergé made jewelry with them.

*I think I've finally come up with an appropriate title for this recurrent feature of the blog.  I've never liked the term "linkdump," since it carries connotations of garbage.  The best title - "I've Got Your Missing Links Right Here" - has already been claimed.  I've tried using quotations, aphorisms, puns, opening or final sentences from books, and just calling the posts smörgåsbords.  But earlier this week while listening to the radio I heard a piece by Mozart referred to as a "divertimento."
Divertimento (from the Italian divertire "to amuse") is a musical genre, with most of its examples from the 18th century. The mood of the divertimento is most often lighthearted (as a result of being played at social functions) and it is generally composed for a small ensemble.
Sounds about right as a description of this feature, although the number of links tends to be more orchestral in number rather than a small ensemble, and the mood is not always lighthearted.  But it will do for now.

20 March 2015

y = -x^3

Via imgur.

"Womb raiders"

The Washington Post has a report this morning about women who perform "Caesarean kidnapping" or fetal abduction.  The details are sufficiently grim that I will place the rest of this below the fold...

18 March 2015

Opalized wood

Rare American Opalized Wood “Conch Pattern” - Royal Peacock Mine,   Virgin Valley, Nevada.
Via the Minerals, Minerals, Minerals! tumblr.

El Caminito del Rey - the world's scariest hiking trail. Updated.

Intriguing and scenic, but I had to hold on to things just to watch the video.
El Caminito del Rey (The King's pathway, often shortened to El Camino del Rey) is a walkway, now fallen into disrepair, pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge in El Chorro, near Alora in Spain.

The walkway has now gone many years without maintenance, and is in a highly deteriorated and dangerous state. Some parts of the walkway have completely collapsed and have been replaced by a beam and a metallic wire on the wall.

Many people have lost their lives on the walkway in recent years. After four people died in two accidents in 1999 and 2000, the local government closed the entrances. However, adventurous tourists still find their way into the walkway. (credit to Presurfer).
2014 addendum: Reposted from 2008 to note that the famous walkway is undergoing an upgrade:
Caminito del Rey, the so-called world’s scariest hike, will reopen early next year after undergoing a multi-million pound restoration. However, the new version is likely to be much more sanitised than the walk that has become very well known online...

Work began in March this year, with authorities hoping the new walkway will provide a boost for tourism in the area. The 1.2kilometre trail was originally installed to allow workers access to the Guadalhorce dam. 
Before and (concept) after photos at The Telegraph.  This walkway is on my bucket list of things-I-never-want-to-do.

Update:   The Washington Post has a nice photogallery showing the updated walkway, which apparently was installed above, not in place of, the old one.

I still don't intend to go, but now I feel safe in asking my cousin in Barcelona to go on my behalf.

Photo: Jon Nazca/Reuters

A pretty penny

A U.S. penny forged in 1792 is up for auction at Stacks Bowers in Baltimore, with an estimated value of $2 million...

Named the “Birch Cent” after its designer, the coin is one of the first pieces of U.S. currency ever minted, and it's one of just seven of this particular design that remain...

It was considered a collector’s item as early as 1882, when it was offered as part of the collection of Charles I. Bushnell Esq., a collector of Americana. It popped up eight years later, in 1890, and again in 1921. Four years after that, in 1925, it was advertised for sale for $1,000 (approximately $13,500 today, adjusted for inflation). 
Also offered for sale in the same auction are a silver center cent -

and a Confederate half-dollar -

While writing the title I wondered about the etymology of the term "pretty penny" as an indication of amount rather than beauty.  It's not explained at Word Wizard; the Online Etymology Dictionary traces that usage to the 15th century and compares it to the modern phrase "pretty please as an emphatic plea."

Your package has arrived !!

It's a small world.  I forwarded the photo above to my brother-in-law in the TriCities area, who emailed back that the house involved belongs to a retired air-traffic-control colleague friend of his.

Apparently the FedEx driver had backed his truck up the steep driveway opposite to facilitate unloading a parcel, then forgot to set the emergency brake...

I like the homeowner's response:
"The first reaction is, "My goodness,'" said homeowner Phil Rickman, who arrived shortly after the van plowed into his foyer. "My second reaction is, 'Is anyone hurt?' It was an accident. Accidents happen. You have to keep everything in perspective."

Chance for Northern Lights tonight

The chart above is for last night but there might be a carry-over effect to tonight. 
A St. Patrick’s Day solar storm will send a torrent of green-hued northern lights across much of the United States on Tuesday evening, as a fierce solar storm impacts the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
If the storm holds up at its current strength for the rest of the evening, it could dazzle skywatchers as far south as Dallas and Atlanta, where it may appear low on the horizon. The dancing aurora borealis could be nearly overhead for Seattle, Chicago, and New York City. If it’s clear where you are, go outside. You won’t want to miss it.
For real-time updated forecasts, see the 30-minute forecast at NOAA.

"Punch cup filler" explained

I checked eBay and found one that sold last month for about $400 (it was Waterford, and NIB).  I enjoy prowling auctions and resale stores, so I'll keep my eyes peeled...

White people are "expats." Others are "immigrants."

From The Guardian:
What is an expat? And who is an expat? According to Wikipedia, “an expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (‘out of’) and patria (‘country, fatherland’)”.

Defined that way, you should expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat, regardless of his skin colour or country. But that is not the case in reality; expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad...

The Wall Street Journal, the leading financial information magazine in the world, has a blog dedicated to the life of expats and recently they featured a story ‘Who is an expat, anyway?’. Here are the main conclusions: “Some arrivals are described as expats; others as immigrants; and some simply as migrants. It depends on social class, country of origin and economic status. It’s strange to hear some people in Hong Kong described as expats, but not others. Anyone with roots in a western country is considered an expat … Filipino domestic helpers are just guests, even if they’ve been here for decades. Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese are rarely regarded as expats … It’s a double standard woven into official policy.” 
More at the link, which is an op-ed piece and reflects the opinion of the author.  I invite commentary from international readers of this blog as to whether the distinction hold in their country.

Tips for preparing eggs

Via Neatorama.

14 March 2015

Japanese paradise flycatcher

"A recent survey detected a steep decline in part of the Japanese breeding population which has presumably occurred because of forest loss and degradation in its winter range."  
That seems to be true for everything beautiful and awesome in our natural world.  Our grandchildren will have to be satisfied with jellyfish and cockroaches.

Photo credit: Nobby Clarke.

A photograph of Mozart's widow?

"Her hair severely parted, Constanze Weber Mozart looks unsmilingly away from the camera. She appears to be staring at her feet. Next to her is Max Keller, a Swiss composer and old family friend, surrounded by his daughters and the rest of his family. In the background is a cottage with two garden-facing windows.

The newly discovered black and white image is the only photograph ever taken of Constanze Mozart, the widow of the Austrian composer and genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The previously unknown print was discovered in archives in the southern German town of Altötting, local authorities said on Friday, and has now been authenticated as including Mrs. Mozart, on the far left.
More details at The Guardian.  The Wikipedia entry on Constanze Mozart notes that not everyone agrees with the identity of the woman in the photo:
...it is claimed that the image was taken with a short exposure that, for technical reasons, was not yet possible in 1840. Selby (1999) states that there is no evidence in any of Constanze's extensive diaries and letters that she had contact with Keller after 1826, and that she could not have traveled to visit Maximillian Keller during the period when the photograph was taken, as she suffered from crippling arthritis at the time.

Sudden appearance of mach_kernel

Yesterday, after permitting some recommended autoupdates to be installed on my Mac, two new items appeared on the menu of my hard disk.  One was a folder for "incompatible software" (empty, and dated 6 months ago, but never present at this level of my hierarchical menu).  I think this has appeared before after updates when the system replaces old components, but it's usually deeper down in the files.

Of more concern to me was a mysterious "mach_kernel" apparently dating from mid-December and described as a "Unix Executable file" - a scary virus-suggesting term.  I quickly did a Google search and found this:

The comment comes from a trustworthy Apple Support Community webpage.  I did type the requested command into terminal and received the favorable response of (?another) mach_kernel being in its proper place.  I'm tempted to delete this new one, but reluctant to do so.  I may have to defer blogging for a while until I get the details of this worked out.

FWIW, I've also found that I cannot now change the names of any of the folders in the image at the top without receiving a notice that "Finder wants to make changes" and then I have to type in my password.  That has never happened before, and it doesn't seem to be happening with other folders located deeper in the hierarchy.

Have any readers encountered this problem and dealt with it successfully?

Addendum:  I have also found this more recent advice:

- but I don't know whether to follow that advice since Terminal tells me I already have a mach_kernet elsewhere on the computer.  If I "hide" this new one, will it conflict with the other one?

Why must members of Congress fly first class?

Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Fla.) introduced legislation Tuesday that would prevent members of Congress from using taxpayer funds on first-class plane tickets. The bill would also ban lawmakers from using government funds for long-term car leases for personal use.

"It's a commonsense idea that Republicans and Democrats can both agree on: members of Congress shouldn't be able to charge taxpayers for first-class airfare or long-term personal car leases," said Graham, who will likely be one of the most vulnerable House Democrats in the next election cycle.
I cannot conceive of any "commonsense idea that Republicans and Democrats can both agree on," but I wish her the best of luck in pushing this legislation.

McDonald's menu, 1973

Via imgur.

A different red-blue split in the U.S.

"This map produced by NOAA shows the land-surface temperature anomaly: how the temperature deviated from normal, on average, over the month. The darkest red areas were 12 degrees Celsius (22 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, while the darkest blue areas were 12 degrees Celsius below average."
The thermal anomalies are the result of a deeper jet stream curvature, the genesis of which is explained as follows:
The jet stream is generated by a combination of Earth’s rotation and the flow of air down atmospheric gradients between high-pressure, mid-latitude warmth and low-pressure Arctic cold. Over the last several decades, the Arctic has warmed faster than any other region; during periods of especially heightened warming, as occurs when melting sea ice exposes dark, sunlight-absorbing waters, the north-to-south temperature difference shrinks. The pressure differences flatten.

This decreased gradient slows down the jet stream—and as it slows, it also seems to become wavier, plunging south or veering north when encountering atmospheric obstacles it would once have coursed straight through. “The best analogy is to think of a river. When it’s flowing down a steep mountainside, it flows fast and straight,” says Francis. “When it gets to the coastal plain where there’s little slope to the land, it flows slowly and is easily deflected from its path.”
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