30 May 2015

Jewelry made from baby teeth

When Victoria's oldest child, the Princess Victoria, Princess Royal (1840-1901), shed her first baby tooth, it, too, was preserved, though not in a lowly envelope. The seven-year-old princess's father, Prince Albert (1819- 1861) tugged the tooth free... Albert had the tooth made into a special brooch... for Victoria. Set in gold, the tooth forms the blossom of a gold and enamel thistle, the symbolic wildflower of Scotland.
Text and image via Two Nerdy History Girls, where there is a link to Susan Sarandon's bracelet made of her baby's teeth.

Several years ago I wrote a post with photos of necklaces made of human teeth, but those weren't baby teeth, so I searched further for this custom until I found this information at a dentist's website:
Though common, a small memory box is one way to preserve the occasion. Whether it’s something you and your child construct together or purchase, a small box is a neat and easy solution to storing those little perils. If you’re looking for a more visual reminder, you can always use little glass boxes or old jars to keep the teeth in. Storing the teeth in plastic or Ziploc bags taped to pages in a baby book is another fond way to look back, labeled and dated of course, so it’s easier to recall when the tooth fell out. Some businesses will bronze baby teeth just as you would baby’s first shoes or rattle. Bronzed teeth can be kept just as a keepsake or turned into a funky piece of jewelry. Turning teeth into jewelry is the latest trend for doing something creative, strong stomach pending. Bronzed or not, your baby’s first lost tooth can be placed on a necklace, bracelet, or even turned into a pair of earrings for your wearing pleasure.

3-D printing human body parts

The Libor scam - updated

First the definition:
The Libor scandal is a series of fraudulent actions connected to the Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) and also the resulting investigation and reaction. The Libor is an average interest rate calculated through submissions of interest rates by major banks in London. The scandal arose when it was discovered that banks were falsely inflating or deflating their rates so as to profit from trades, or to give the impression that they were more creditworthy than they were.
Now some excerpts from an article at Bloomberg:
Details are only now revealing just how far-reaching the scam was...
For years, traders at Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG, Barclays, RBS and other banks colluded with colleagues responsible for setting the benchmark and their counterparts at other firms to rig the price of money, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg and interviews with two dozen current and former traders, lawyers and regulators. UBS traders went as far as offering bribes to brokers to persuade others to make favorable submissions on their behalf, regulatory filings show...

We will never know the amounts of money involved, but it has to be the biggest financial fraud of all time,” says Adrian Blundell-Wignall, a special adviser to the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. “Libor is the basis for calculating practically every derivative known to man.”..

Some former regulators say they were surprised to learn about the scale of the cheating. “Through all of my experience, what I never contemplated was that there were bankers who would purposely misrepresent facts to banking authorities,” [facepalm] says Alan Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. “You were honorbound to report accurately, and it never entered my mind that, aside from a fringe element, it would be otherwise. I was wrong.”

Sheila Bair, who served as acting chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the 1990s and as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 2006 to 2011, says the scope of the scandal points to the flaws of light-touch regulation on both sides of the Atlantic. “When a bank can benefit financially from doing the wrong thing, it generally will,” Bair says. “The extent of the Libor manipulation was eye-popping.”..

Manipulating Libor was a common practice in an unregulated market big enough to span the world though small enough for most participants to know one another personally, investigators found.
The source link at Bloomberg is long and detailed.   Via Reddit.

Reposted from 2013 to add this information about the outcome of the trial and the resulting "punishment."
HENRY: The five biggest banks, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays, The Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS, have all pleaded guilty to multiple crimes involving foreign currencies, interest rates, and collusion... They set up a cartel to rig one of the largest financial markets in the world. The $5.3 trillion per day foreign exchange market. And some of them, most of them were also involved in rigging what's called the LIBOR interest rate market, as well...

PERIES: Now, explain further in terms of what this pleading guilty actually means, and what is expected in terms of the next steps in this case.

 HENRY: Well, they've agreed under this settlement to pay $5.89 billion in fines in disgorgement of profit. But they've also, the five institutions here, four of them have pleaded guilty. Which is a corporate plea submission. And that's really unusual. The problem is that in advance of this settlement, essentially the collateral consequences that would have applied to a guilty plea by a corporate institution such as losing the right to be a prime dealer for Federal Reserve securities, or losing other rights to represent the pension funds and the U.S. pension fund system, those rights were all shielded, protected. So essentially this is a plea that has been deprived of any collateral consequences. So we also see nobody going to jail here... if they describe this penalty as less than 3 percent of JP Morgan net income last year, it would come off as a more realistic appraisal of how light the penalty is...

HENRY: I think there's a mentality in the part of the Justice Department that they really can't hold senior bankers responsible. In the 1980s under the first Bush administration something like 880 bankers went to jail in the United States for the savings and loan crisis and the financial fraud that was committed there. Here we have banks that are engaged in much more damaging global activity, costing tens of billions of dollars to financial markets, and no one's going to jail. There may be jail for lower-level traders going forward. But none of the CEOs at these institutions have experienced any kind of penalties. In fact, their payment schedules are going up as the stock market increases. JP Morgan's stock price has appreciated 20 percent in the last year alone.

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure

American politicians and businessmen give lip service to "infrastructure" improvement, but always defer the funding to their successors.  That's why things like this happen.
A timber rail bridge burned and collapsed early Wednesday in Koochiching County, tipping two rail cars onto the banks of the Rat Root River and temporarily blocking a Canadian National rail artery that connects the Pacific Coast with Chicago... The route has made Ranier, Minn., just east of International Falls, one of the busiest rail crossings on the U.S.-Canada border.

The bridge across the Rainy River from Fort Frances, Ontario, to Ranier was built in 1907 and had long been a quiet crossing. But now it carries more than 20 trains a day that are up to two miles long, said Dennis Wagner, mayor of Ranier...

What happens when this other bridge that’s 120 years old collapses? Oh! Imagine that. And then it fills the whole Rainy River full of oil and gas,” he said. “Rail safety and bridge safety has been an issue of major concern around here.”
As Chevy Chase used to say when he anchored the news on Saturday Night Live, "let me repeat that for the hard of hearing" - WE ARE TRANSPORTING DANGEROUS MATERIALS OVER HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD WOODEN BRIDGES.

Please reblog this.

This is why you don't escape from a bear by climbing a tree

In Alberta, Canada, a bear was observed climbing this electric power transmission tower in order to gain access to the ravens' nest near the top.
"Over the next few minutes we watched him very skillfully climb the tower while the ravens were diving at him pecking at him, squawking, trying to do everything they could to discourage him, and he just climbed right to the top."
After raiding the nest, the bear was able to negotiate the tower framework to descend safely.

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath, where there are additional photos and a brief video.    

Image cropped for size from the original and lightened for clarity.

28 May 2015

Why did sand fall out of this old book?

"Today I looked at a handwritten account book from 1717. It listed a series of expenses paid by the city of Leiden (the Dutch city where I live) to various suppliers - of books, papers, pens. Being a medieval book historian, any source made after 1500 is alien. Because I am used to handling parchment books, it was odd to handle a book that was made out of paper - and a lot of it, for that matter. Also new to me was the fact that related materials were held together by needles and to see dozens of rare actual receipts, small slips that were crossed out when paid. The biggest surprise, however, was the material that came falling out of the account book: sand..."
Some readers here will already know the explanation for the sand; others can find the answer at Erik Kwakkel.

"Choreography" doesn't refer just to dancing

"Choreography is the art or practice of designing sequences of movements of physical bodies (or their depictions) in which motion, form, or both are specified...

Choreography is used in a variety of fields, including cheerleading, cinematography, gymnastics, fashion shows, ice skating, marching band, show choir, theatre, synchronized swimming, video game production and animated art...

The word choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words "χορεία" (circular dance, see choreia) and "γραφή" (writing). It first appeared in the American English dictionary in the 1950s..."

Rise of the Amish

Via the Data is Beautiful subreddit.

Children should read 1,000 books before kindergarten

That's the idea behind a new reading challenge being sponsored by our local library, as part of a nationwide program.

This painting just sold for $179,300,000 - updated

There are a lot of things a person could do with 179 million dollars.

Via BoingBoing.

Addendum:  A New York television station (MyFoxNY) felt it necessary to perform a digital mastectomy on the image when they broadcast the story:

Don't pour water on a grease or oil fire

The water sinks below the burning oil, vaporizes, and then... the slo-mo shows the result.


From a photo gallery at The Guardian.

23 May 2015


During the Great Depression in the United States, and again during WWII, many families in the United States coped with shortages by making clothing out of used feedsacks.  Some of the feed companies responded by printing decorative patterns on the sacks.  The photos in today's divertimento come from a large gallery at imgur (but I've been unable to TinEye the original source and would appreciate any info in order to give proper credit).  There is a review of this subject at Etsy,

Even Australians can't understand a strong Australian accent. (brief funny video at the link).

A map showing a state-by-state relative frequency of the use of "the n-word" in Google searches.  States with "much more than average" use are not where you might expect...

A gif of an impressive team juggling routine.

How to block an earworm.  "The data support a link between articulatory motor programming and the appearance in consciousness of both voluntary and unwanted musical recollections."

According to the QI elves, "in 1965 a US Senate Committee predicted that by the year 2000 the average working week would be 14 hours." (sourced from The Atlantic)

It is not mandatory for a chrysalis to be kept upright (or suspended) for a butterfly to develop normally - as long as the newly eclosed butterfly can climb somewhere to suspend his/her wings after emergence.  I was delighted to read this, because my wife and I have spent hours trying to tie the cremasters of errant chrysalises to a hanging position.

 "Alberta just elected a bunch of Keystone XL-hating socialists into office."

Donkey milk (and salmon hatchery water) are being touted as beauty ingredients:  "...this milk 'soothes sensitive skin and eczema,' thanks to its high protein and vitamin content."

"Rosen, 73, began his philanthropic efforts by paying for day care for parents in Tangelo Park, a community of about 3,000 people. When those children reached high school, he created a scholarship program in which he offered to pay free tuition to Florida state colleges for any students in the neighborhood.  In the two decades since starting the programs, Rosen has donated nearly $10 million, and the results have been remarkable. The high school graduation rate is now nearly 100 percent, and some property values have quadrupled. The crime rate has been cut in half, according to a study by the University of Central Florida."

"Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly."  At this moment I can't remember why I bookmarked that phrase from Proverbs 26:11.  It was relevant to something.   Perhaps politics.

A dashpot is "a mechanical device, a damper which resists motion via viscous friction."  That's the word for the doohickey that lets a door close slowly rather than slamming shut.  You learn something every day.  They are also common components of automobile shock absorbers.

How to tie your running/walking/hiking shoes to prevent your heel from slipping (use those extra two holes to make a "lace lock.")

"What's wrong with electric bicycles." (batteries, motors, mass distribution...)

A woman who flew Spitfires in WWII has an opportunity to do so again.  At age 92.  (video of a very happy lady at the link)

"The ten biggest lies you've been told about the Trans-Pacific Partnership."  There is another story at Rolling Stone explaining why Elizabeth Warren and many Democrats are opposing President Obama and the Republicans on this matter: "TPP could empower big companies to challenge the laws of sovereign governments  — including tough U.S. environmental regulations — through trade tribunals. The so-called "investor-state dispute settlement mechanism" could put taxpayers on the hook for paying out billions to multinational corporations who successfully make their case before trade arbitrators. "The only winners will be multinational corporations," Warren has written."

"Great minds discuss ideas.  Average minds discuss events.  Small minds discuss people."  A quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Pink Floyd's Roger Waters writes an open letter to Dionne Warwick: “You are showing yourself to be profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947.″

 The Telegraph offers what they call "the world's hardest geography quiz" (about obscure world capital cities).  I only scored 60% (9/15).

Amazing gif of what can happen when a lithium phone battery is punctured (for discussion scroll down in this Reddit thread).

"Brontology" is the study of... (if you don't know, try to remember the etymology of "brontosaurus.")

The Soviet Union developed "spy dust" for tracking people.  "...powder containing both luminol and a substance called nitrophenyl pentadien (NPPD) had been applied to doorknobs, the floor mats of cars, and other surfaces that Americans living in Moscow had touched. They would then track or smear the substance over every surface they subsequently touched."

There is a medical entity colloquially referred to as "bicyclist's vulva" (explicit photo at the British Medical Journal).  Interestingly it is not simple edema, but rather lymphedema.

Photos of fifteen celebrities when they were cheerleaders in school.

A "vindshield viper."

Showerthought for the day:  "Vampires are pretty well groomed considering they did it all without a mirror."

21 May 2015

People may sniff their hands for "chemosignals"

Why do people shake hands? A new Weizmann Institute study suggests one of the reasons for this ancient custom may be to check out each other’s odors. Even if we are not consciously aware of this, handshaking may provide people with a socially acceptable way of communicating via the sense of smell.

Not only do people often sniff their own hands, but they do so for a much longer time after shaking someone else’s hand, the study has found. As reported today in the journal eLife, the number of seconds the subjects spent sniffing their own right hand more than doubled after an  experimenter greeted them with a handshake...
Next, to explore the potential role of handshakes in communicating odors, the scientists used covert cameras to film some 280 volunteers before and after they were greeted by an experimenter, who either shook their hand or didn’t. The researchers found that after shaking hands with an experimenter of the same gender, subjects more than doubled the time they later spent sniffing their own right hand (the shaking one). In contrast, after shaking hands with an experimenter of the opposite gender, subjects increased the sniffing of their own left hand (the non-shaking one). “The sense of smell plays a particularly important role in interactions within gender, not only across gender as commonly assumed,” Frumin says.
At least we're more subtle than dogs.  More information here

"In the long run..."

Site-spoofing online reservation systems

As reported in the Washington Post:
The hotel industry... recently asked the Department of Justice to investigate travel sites that are “trying to pass themselves off as the actual hotel.”..

At best, these reservations are simply made on behalf of a third party instead of by the hotel and may have additional restrictions or booking fees. But at worst, they may be completely bogus bookings that won’t be recognized by a property.

Pinpointing the problem is easy, but a solution isn’t. It turns out the fake sites operate outside the country and can be difficult to identify as fraudulent.  Who are these companies? There are thousands of them, according to AH&LA, and they go by names like Reservationcounter.com, Reservationdesk.com and Hotelsone.com...

One of the most enduring “wrong site” examples is the National Park Reservations site, which is sometimes confused with the National Park Service site by consumers. It isn’t affiliated with the national parks, a fact that it now clearly discloses on its front page, and it charges a fee for reservations made through the site. It’s the first result on Google for a “national park reservation” search, but the site most people actually want is NPS.gov (go to “Find a Park”), which doesn’t have the fees.
More at the link.

The shortest scientific paper ever published

In keeping with the subject matter, I'll add no comments.

Via Real Clear Science and the New Shelton 'wet/dry.

Argentinian public service announcement

20 May 2015

Claims for "the face of Shakespeare" in the frontispiece of a botany book - updated

Excerpts from an interesting report in The Guardian:
The botanist and historian Mark Griffiths on Tuesday claimed that he had discovered what he firmly believes is the only demonstrably authentic portrait of Shakespeare made in his lifetime.

He argues that an engraving on the title page of a 400-year-old book about plants contains four identifiable figures - one of whom is the Bard aged 33 looking very different from the round-faced bald man we know from the First Folio of his collected works...

The work by William Rogers, England’s first great exponent of copperplate engraving, is on the title page of a groundbreaking 1598 book, The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, by the horticulturist John Gerard.

It is full of elaborate decorative devices, flowers and symbols which surround four male figures, who had generally been assumed to be allegorical.

Griffiths, in the course of writing a book about Gerard, decided to discover who the men might be. He had to crack an elaborate Tudor code of rebuses, ciphers, heraldic motifs and symbolic flowers, which were all clues pointing to the men’s identities.

The relatively easy ones were Gerard himself, the renowned Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens and Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister and closest adviser Lord Burghley, who was Gerard’s patron. That left the tricky fourth man, bottom right...
This claim has been disputed and childishly mocked ("So apparently Shakespeare went around in fancy dress holding a fritillary in one hand and a cob of corn in the other.") by various Shakespeare scholars.

What fascinates me is the juxtaposition of the images of Shakespeare and Lord Burghley:
Griffiths believes Shakespeare was given his literary start by Burghley, the most powerful man in the country and that he became almost a political propagandist for him.

If you accept that theory, then Shakespeare would have moved in the same circles as Gerard, as both men had Burghley to thank for their careers.

Griffiths said his theory was that Shakespeare helped Gerard with Greek and Latin translations in the book and acted as a kind of script doctor. So the four men are the writer himself, his patron, his inspiration (Dodoens) and his literary adviser.
"...the identification of Gerard, Burghley and Dodoens was straightforward because they look like existing portraits."
Lord Burghley was William Cecil, the chief advisor and spymaster for Queen Elizabeth, inarguably one of the most prominent, educated, and influential men of his time.  He was known as a book-lover, and his home contained one of the premier private libraries of Elizabethan England.  In 1562 John de Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford died; his son became a royal ward of the Queen and was placed in the household of William Cecil.  That 12-year-old boy was Edward de Vere, who would have been in his 30s when this herbal was published.

Addendum:  Here is the rebus under the figure in the frontispiece reputed to be Shakespeare:

From the full herbal, which can be viewed fulltext online at The Folger Shakespeare Library.  As noted at the Guardian link, Griffiths read the rebus as "In Elizabethan times, people would have used the Latin word “quater” as a slang term for a four in dice and cards. Put an e on the end and it becomes quatere, which is the infinitive of the Latin verb quatior, meaning shake."

Addendum:  Just for fun, I made a mashup of the face in the herbal with the "Hilliard miniature," previously claimed to be a portrait of Shakespeare:

I flipped the latter left-right to facilitate comparison.  Note also that the laurel wreath on the head of the left figure is a traditional item designating a poet.

I note that an article in The Spectator suggests that the face in the herbal could represent Sir Walter Raleigh.

Annoying magazine subscription renewal reminders

Although your subscription doesnt expire for another six months there are several benefits to renewing early:
You wont receive another annoying renewal notice again this year. You can avoid subscription price increases for up to two years. You will have the peace of mind of knowing that you won’t miss one single issue.
And now renewing is even easier, all you have to do is click on the link below, choose your renewal option, and youre done. It couldn’t get any easier.
Copied verbatim from the email I received from Harper's magazine.  I love the magazine for its varied content and the monthly cryptic puzzle, but I am recurrently annoyed when I am asked to renew six months before the subscription expires.

Maybe they could use my funds to hire a copyeditor to insert apostrophes* and remove comma splices...

*looking at their text as HTML, it appears that apostrophes were in the original, but didn't display at my end.

Hog droving

Before motorized trucks became common, nearly all livestock went to market on foot: cattle, horses, mules, sheep, goats, turkeys, ducks, and geese... Hogs, though, ruled the road. Americans raised more pigs than any other type of animal, so naturally swine crowded out other beasts on the turnpikes. The best estimates suggest that in the antebellum South, five times as many hogs were driven as all other animals combined...

A few farmers from the Bluegrass region of Kentucky—pig country before the horses took over—walked their hogs through the Cumberland Gap and all the way to Charleston, South Carolina, a distance of more than five hundred miles...

The start of the journey was especially difficult, for during that stage loud noises could send pigs stampeding back toward their home farms. One solution was to sew up their eyelids: temporarily blinded, the pigs clumped together and kept to the road by feel. At their destination, the stitch was clipped and their vision restored. (The young Abraham Lincoln, charged with driving a recalcitrant drove of hogs aboard a riverboat, pulled out a needle and thread and started sewing.)...

Because pigs could walk about ten miles a day, inns—often known as wagon stands—sprang up at ten-mile intervals along the roads, offering drovers and their pigs food and a place to sleep...

The largest cattle drives, from Texas to Kansas, involved as many as 600,000 cattle a year, but they lasted just fifteen years or so. Hog droving, by comparison, involved hundreds of thousands of animals during peak years and on some routes lasted nearly a century.
Excerpts from Lesser Beasts, via Atlas Obscura.

How to make morphine at home

Scientists have figured out how to brew morphine using the same kit used to make beer at home. They have genetically modified yeast to perform the complicated chemistry needed to convert sugar to morphine.

The findings, published in Nature Chemical Biology, raise promise for medicine but also concerns about "home-brewed" illegal drugs...

Brewed morphine could, eventually, be easier to produce. It could also allow scientists to tweak each of the steps to develop new types of painkiller...

"In principle, anyone with access to the yeast strain and basic skills in fermentation would be able to grow morphine producing yeast using a a home-brew kit for beer-making," reads a comment piece in Nature journal.

It calls for tight controls on such genetically modified yeasts.
More information at the BBC.

"Master of the Universe" trailer

Not to be confused with the "Masters of the Universe" fantasy, this is a documentary about the perilous state of interconnected global financial systems that rely on complex derivative instruments, from the viewpoint of a retired German securities trader.  Very sobering, though not fearmongering.  I don't know if the full-length (88 minute) version is accessible online; I found the movie in our local library in a version with audio auf Deutsch with English subtitles.  Released in 2013 and based on an earlier interview, but the subject matter is not out of date.

18 May 2015

The complex physics of flipping a phone

NFL teams were paid to "salute our troops"

It's a familiar scene to most Americans. The poignant moment when a soldier is honored for his or her service before a cheering crowd during halftime of an NFL game.  It turns out, however, that at least some of these patriotic displays are not what they seem.

A New Jersey-based website, NJ.com, has a detailed report that reveals the Department of Defense is paying millions of dollars to many NFL teams in what are essentially paid promotions to honor America's heroes...

This does not mean, of course, that all halftime events featuring troops or veterans are paid promotions. However, the fact that many are could undermine such efforts and "leaves a bad taste in your mouth" one lawmaker said.

"Those of us go to sporting events and see them honoring the heroes," said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in an interview with NJ.com. "You get a good feeling in your heart. Then to find out they're doing it because they're compensated for it, it leaves you underwhelmed. It seems a little unseemly."

It's hardly a secret that the NFL is one of the leading recruitment vehicles for the U.S. military. The problem, Flake implies, is that these events are portrayed as genuine moments of gratitude expressed to America's servicemen, not advertisements.
More at Scout and NJ.com, with a discussion at Reddit.

Data on National Football League players

More data and charts, including on race and salary (average over $2,000,000 per player per year) at BestTickets.

The bow for the octobass needs "lots of horsehair"

More on the instrument here.


Slate has an article about the increasing length of the names of racehorses:
I collected the names of every horse to ever compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, or Belmont Stakes between each race's inception and 2014. Going back all the way to 1867, when the first Belmont was won by Ruthless, there have been more than 3,200 horses to race in a Triple Crown event...

Then, starting in the 1960s, the names started to grow to their current lengths—just under 11 letters on average. It may not sound like a huge change, but it's an objective measure of the growing eccentricity of names...

Names can be rejected by the Jockey Club, which as a current rule sets the limit at 18 characters. Since this rule was created, four horses have reached that limit without the help of spaces or punctuation marks: Lookinforthebigone, Atswhatimtalknbout, Imawildandcrazyguy, and Sweetnorthernsaint.
The Slate article has a list of the 111 longest names, the shortest ones, and some grammatically troublesome ones.

Your tax money at work

A railgun is an electrically powered electromagnetic projectile launcher based on similar principles to the homopolar motor...

Railguns are being researched as a weapon with a projectile that would use neither explosives nor propellant, but rather rely on electromagnetic forces to achieve a very high kinetic energy... railguns can potentially exceed Mach 10, and thus far exceed conventionally delivered munitions in range and destructive force, with the absence of explosives to store and handle as an additional advantage.

Railguns have long existed as experimental technology but the mass, size and cost of the required power supplies have prevented railguns from becoming practical military weapons. However, in recent years, significant efforts have been made towards their development as feasible military technology.

Europa has more water than the Earth

An old APOD from NASA.
"...if all the water on [Jupiter's moon] Europa were gathered into a ball it would have a radius of 877 kilometers. To scale, this intriguing illustration compares that hypothetical ball of all the water on Europa to the size of Europa itself (left) - and similarly to all the water on planet Earth."

"Biker gang shootout" in Texas

As reported by the Washington Post:
Police in Waco, Tex., announced Monday that they have arrested 192 people following a spasm of biker-gang violence that left nine people dead over the weekend...

The confrontation began about noon Sunday in the Twin Peaks restroom and quickly escalated from hands and feet to knives and chains and then gunfire as it spilled into the crowded parking lot...

Swanton called it “one of the worst gun fights we’ve ever had in the city limits. They started shooting at our officers.” The officers returned fire, Swanton said, and some armed bikers were shot by police. Swanton defended the officers’ actions and said they prevented more deaths...

Another witness, Michelle Logan, told the Tribune-Herald: “There were maybe 30 guns being fired in the parking lot, maybe 100 rounds...

Randy DeWitt, chief executive of Twin Peaks, described the restaurant on the show as “a high-energy mountain-themed sports bar.” “We have an expression at Twin Peaks,” he adds: “It’s a place where you can let your man out.”
Offered without comment, and I'll close reader comments for this post because I already know what they will be.

15 May 2015


Here's why I'm not getting any more work done today.  Darn you, Miss C.

The image is a screencap of my score of 15 17 20 (finally, but this was in the alternate mode).  The game is here.

There is an alternate mode, which may be easier to start with because it is untimed, but the new tiles appear from above rather than below.  I've scored a 18 in that mode:

I know there are some very skilled games-players on board the blog here.  Have a go, and please share your strategies in the comments.

New epidemic decimating Italian olive trees

Across the stony heel of Italy, a peninsula ringed by the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean, olive trees have existed for centuries, shaping the landscape and producing some of the nation’s finest olive oils. Except now many of the trees are dying.

Sprinkled among the healthy trees are clusters of sick ones, denuded of leaves and standing like skeletons, their desiccated branches bereft of olives. The trees are succumbing to a bacterial outbreak that is sweeping across one of Italy’s most famous olive regions, as families that have manufactured olive oil for generations now fear ruin, even as officials in the rest of Europe fear a broader outbreak.

“It is devastating,” said Enzo Manni, director of ACLI-Racale, an olive cooperative in the heart of the outbreak area. “It is apocalyptic. I compare it to an earthquake.”

Today, scientists estimate that 1 million olive trees in the peninsula, known as the Salento, are infected with the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, a figure that could rise rapidly. The bacterium steadily restricts water flow from the roots of a tree to its branches and leaves.
More details at the StarTribune. The bacterium "is believed to have arrived with plants imported from Costa Rica and has destroyed citrus trees in Brazil and vineyards in California."

Photo credit: Davide Monteleone/The New York Times.

A mesmerizing cotton candy video

Filmed in ChongQing, China.  I'll bet creations like this will start showing up at state fairs.

If you're like me, this video will have you start wondering about cotton candy and how it's made...
Cotton candy was first recorded in Europe in the 19th century. At that time, spun sugar was an expensive, labor-intensive endeavor and was not generally available to the average person. Machine-spun cotton candy was invented in 1897 by the dentist William Morrison and confectioner John C. Wharton and first introduced to a wide audience at the 1904 World's Fair as "Fairy Floss" with great success, selling 68,655 boxes at 25¢ per box (equivalent to $6 per box today). Joseph Lascaux, a dentist from New Orleans, Louisiana, invented a similar cotton candy machine in 1921. In fact, the Lascaux patent named the sweet confection “cotton candy” and the "fairy floss" name faded away, although it retains this name in Australia. In the 1970s an automatic cotton candy machine was created which made the product and packaged it.
I didn't find a short, simple video of how the machine works, though there probably is one out there.

p.s. - I had to laugh when I read that the cotton-candy machine was first developed by a dentist !

Surfing amidst garbage

Indonesian surfer Dede Surinaya catches a wave in a remote but garbage-covered bay on Java, Indonesia, the world’s most populated island. Zak Noyle/A-Frame Media

Via WaPo, linking to a gallery of photos from the same book I featured in the last "divertimento."

The term "warm-blooded" is passe

Same with "cold-blooded," as per a comment quibbling with the title of a report on the discovery of the first warm-blooded fish:
"Just in case anybody doesn't know, warm-blooded and cold-blooded are now defunct terms in biology. This is because "cold-blooded" animals can actually have very hot blood e.g. lizards in the desert, and "warm-blooded" animals can actually have relatively cold blood e.g. bats during torpor. The terms I am aware of are homeotherm (maintains a steady body temperature e.g. humans) and poikilotherms (body temperature fluctuates with ambient temperature). It seems endotherm and ectotherm are two other terms that can be used, those being animals that generate their own internal heat and those that don't respectively. As far as I can tell endotherm, homeotherm and warm-blooded are synonymous, as are ectotherm, poikilotherm and cold-blooded. There may be subtleties that I am not aware of that distinguish endotherm from homeotherm etc."

14 May 2015

Transparent bridal gowns

As noted in The Atlantic:
The recent Bridal Fashion Week in New York, which previewed wedding gowns for the Spring 2016 season, featured all the things you'd expect: lace, crystals, tulle. (So much tulle!) It also featured, however, something you wouldn't, necessarily, expect: skin. (So much skin!) Skin not just of traditionally exposed bridal body parts—arms and shoulders and calves—but also of stomachs and sides and backs...

But the most revealing pieces in the latest bridal lines—revealing, in every sense of the word—were Vera Wang's mermaid-cut sheaths, staunchly traditional in their ribbons and lace, but innovative in their most striking features: The gowns are almost fully translucent, from their necklines to their hems. The lingerie their models wore, dainty and daring at the same time, was on full display under the fishnet and lace bodices of the gowns. The lingerie was, in fact, an elemental part of the dresses.
You could also read it, of course, as an overt rejection of the sexual mores at play in the traditional wedding dress. Wedding dresses have always been, on some level, about sex: the white as a sign (and a reassurance) of the bride's virginity; the expanse of fabric as a tacit promise that, while sex will be had, it will be had in the proper way. Women are getting married at older ages than they used to. Which means, among so much else, that they're less inclined to opt for princess-driven designs—and also that they're less inclined to designs that emphasize the virginal.

1% growth is not sustainable long-term

I was recently startled to read this assertion*:
If our species had started with just two people at the time of the earliest agricultural practices some 10,000 years ago, and increased by 1 percent per year, today humanity would be a solid ball of flesh many thousand light years in diameter, and expanding with a radial velocity that, neglecting relativity, would be many times faster than the speed of light." - Gabor Zovanyi
That didn't seem possible - until I did a rough approximation.  An increase of 1% per year, according to the rule of 72 (which may be accurate for such a small number), would mean a doubling every 72 years.  Lets be conservative and translate 1% annual growth to the population doubling every 100 years [and thus avoid the nitpicking argument that two people can't increase by 1%].

10,000 years would allow for 100 doublings, which according to a QI comment... "You should end up with a figure of roughly 3.27 x 10^43. Which is quite a lot."  It is, of course, another variant of the ancient puzzle of placing doubling grains of rice on a chessboard.

I often weary of every politician, businessman, sports coach, guidance counselor etc. mindlessly repeating a mantra that something has to get bigger to be better. Buildings have to taller, cars faster, bandwidth wider, budgets increased, growth is inevitable and necessary to progress.  

There are limits to growth.

*One of the forums at QI led me to the source of the quote: "his quote comes from the book The No-Growth Imperative by Gabor Zovanyi. In which he cites (141, p198) this example as taken from a calculation done by P C Putman taken from The Economic History of World Population by Carlo M. Cipolla."

The poaching of European songbirds for food

Discussed at length by Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker:
Migratory birds were an important seasonal source of protein in the countryside, and older Cypriots today remember being told by their mothers to go out to the garden and catch some dinner. In more recent decades, ambelopoulia became popular with affluent, urbanized Cypriots as a kind of nostalgic treat—you might bring a friend a jar of pickled birds as a house gift, or you might order a platter of them fried in a restaurant for a special occasion. By the mid-nineties, two decades after the country had outlawed all forms of bird trapping, as many as ten million songbirds a year were being killed...

The Republic of Malta, which consists of several densely populated chunks of limestone with collectively less than twice the area of the District of Columbia, is the most savagely bird-hostile place in Europe. There are twelve thousand registered hunters (about three per cent of the country’s population), a large number of whom consider it their birthright to shoot any bird unlucky enough to migrate over Malta, regardless of the season or the bird’s protection status. The Maltese shoot bee-eaters, hoopoes, golden orioles, shearwaters, storks, and herons. They stand outside the fences of the international airport and shoot swallows for target practice. They shoot from urban rooftops and from the side of busy roads. They stand in closely spaced cliffside bunkers and mow down flocks of migrating hawks. They shoot endangered raptors, such as lesser spotted eagles and pallid harriers, that governments farther north in Europe are spending millions of euros to conserve. Rarities are stuffed and added to trophy collections; non-rarities are left on the ground or buried under rocks, so as not to incriminate their shooters. When bird-watchers in Italy see a migrant that’s missing a chunk of its wing or its tail, they call it “Maltese plumage.”..

Canale discovered his predatory instinct as a child, while hunting indiscriminately with his grandfather, and he feels fortunate to have met people who taught him a better way. “I don’t mind not killing something on any given day,” he said, “but killing is the goal, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t."
Via Salon.

Larval food stress affects butterflies

Inadquate food supply for a caterpillar has a measureable effect on the morphology of the wings of adult butterflies:
We conducted an experiment to test the effects of food deprivation in the larval stage on multiple measures of adult wing morphology and coloration of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), a species in which long-distance migration makes flight efficiency critical. In a captive setting, we restricted food (milkweed) from late-stage larvae for either 24 hrs or 48 hrs, then after metamorphosis we used image analysis methods to measure forewing surface area and elongation (length/width), which are both important for migration... The clearest effect of food restriction was a reduction in adult wing size in the high stress group (by approximately 2%)... Although some patterns obtained in this study were unclear, our results concerning wing size have direct bearing on the monarch migration. We show that if milkweed is limited for monarch larvae, their wings become stunted, which could ultimately result in lower migration success.
The data and an extended discussion are at PLOS One.

Beheadings, classism, and religious intolerance

Forgotten aspects of the United States' colonial heritage:
Just as the Indians in Virginia were seen "defacing... and mangling [the colonists'] dead carcasses into many pieces, and carrying some parts away in derision," so the Virginians "ransaked their Temples, Tooke downe the Corpes of their deade kings from of[f] their Toambes," engaged freely in scalping, and did not hesitate to decapitate their enemies in campaigns of terror.  (Percy, casually: "I cawsed the Indians heade to be Cutt of[f]"; Kiefft, coolly: ten fathoms of wampum for a Raritan's head, twenty for a suspected murderer's.)
An excerpt (p. 502) from Bernard Bailyn's The Barbarous Years; The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675.

This practice was a carryover from the mayhem known to the colonists from their European forefathers' genocidal wars (p. 498):
The retaliatory executions in the conquered city of Mons, in Hainault, proceeded at a leisurely pace: for a full year "ten, twelve, twenty persons were often hanged, burned, or beheaded in a single day.  The experience and knowledge of such extreme but not uncommon events were carried to North America by the many veterans of the Dutch rebellion and the Thirty Years War who were sent to the colonies...

So closely linked were the incidences of racial conflict, so extended their dedly aftermaths, that one can conceive of a single, continuous Euro-Indian war - precisely the Virginia Company's hoped-for 'perpetuall Warr without peace or truce" - that lasted from 1607 to 1664 and beyond...
From this book I also learned about the extreme classism towards the poor practiced by the colonists:
They therefore prohibited anyone "whose visible estates, reall and personall, shall not exceed the true and indifferent valew of two hundred pounds, shall weare any gold or silver lace, or gold and silver buttons, or any bone lace above two shillings per yard, or silk hoods or scarfes, uppon the poenaltie of tenn shillings for every such offence."  Those who defied this ruling would be taxed at the level of wealth they pretended to - provided, they added in an elegiac conclusion that went to the heart of their discontents, that the law would not aply to anyone "whose education and imployments have binn above the ordinary degree, or whose estates have binn considerable, though now decaied." (p. 469)
It was interesting to learn that the colonists and the Native Americans freely exchanged children for prolonged periods of time in order to develop bilingual translators (p. 304).  There was also a lot of religious intolerance -
[The Jews] were, Stuyvesant wrote his superiors in Amsterdam, "a deceitful race," blasphemers who would infect the entire colony with their elemental corruption.  He appealed to the West India Company for permission to expel them forthwith... The colony had trouble enough, [Megapolensis] pointed out, with "Papists, Mennonites, and Lutherans among the Dutch; also many Puritans or Independents and many atheists and varioius other servants of Baal among the English under this government, who conceal themselves under the name of Christians; it would create a still greater confusion if the obstinate and immovable Jews came to settle here." (p. 252-4)
There's lots more in this comprehensive book about the often-suppressed "dark side" of the colonial existence in North America.
Later generations, reading back into the past the outcomes they knew, often gentrified this passage in the peopling of British North America, but there was nothing genteel about it. It was a brutal encounter—brutal not only between the Europeans and native peoples, despite occasional efforts at accommodation, and between Europeans and Africans, but among Europeans themselves...

13 May 2015

"Competitive vaping"

Welcome to the newest entrant in the extreme sports category: “cloud chasing.” Competitors play it... with electronic cigarettes. They are called cloud chasers, and their devoted fans are cloud gazers. Competitions like this have been heating up world-wide...

Competitions are straightforward. Cloud chasers inhale on the devices, which convert e-cigarette “juice” into vapor. They then toast the competition by blowing the biggest, densest vapor cloud possible. In less than two years, the sport has adopted all the trappings of professional athletics. It not only has fans but teams, sponsors and cash prizes...

The origins of this sport are somewhat foggy. E-cigarettes first arrived in the U.S. about eight years ago, but it wasn’t until two years ago, when vape shops took off, that shopkeepers started hosting contests to attract customers. Now, there are an estimated 8,500 vape shops in the U.S., doing $1.2 billion in sales, and the number of contests has exploded...
More information at the Wall Street Journal.

Liquid mercury under a Mexican pyramid

As reported in The Guardian:
An archaeologist has discovered liquid mercury at the end of a tunnel beneath a Mexican pyramid, a finding that could suggest the existence of a king’s tomb or a ritual chamber far below one of the most ancient cities of the Americas...

Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, said that archaeologists have found mercury at three other sites around Central America... Joyce said the ancient Mesoamericans could produce liquid mercury by heating mercury ore, known as cinnabar, which they also used for its blood-red pigment. The Maya used cinnabar to decorate jade objects.
I was fascinated by this report because it reminded me of the reports that the first Chinese emporer's tomb contains lakes and rivers of liquid mercury.    There is an extended discussion of this at ChemistryWorld.
Most enticing of all is a detail relayed by Qian: ‘Mercury was used to fashion the hundred rivers, the Yellow river and the Yangtze river, and the seas in such a way that they flowed’. This idea that the main chamber contains a kind of microcosm of all of China (as it was then recognised) with rivers, lakes and seas of shimmering mercury had long seemed too fantastic for modern historians to grant it credence...

In the 1980s Chinese researchers found that the soil in the burial mound above the tomb contains mercury concentrations way above those elsewhere in the vicinity. Now some archaeologists working on the site believe that the body of the First Emperor may indeed lie amidst vast puddles of the liquid metal.

Trenchant observations on American foreign policy

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents." -- Smedley Butler
1954 Guatemala - The CIA overthrows the democratically elected Jacob Arbenz in a military coup. Arbenz is replaced with a series of facist dictators whose bloodthirsty policies will kill over 100,000 Guatemalans in the next 40 years. Non of them are democratically elected.
1959 Haiti- The U.S. military helps "Papa Doc" Duvalier become dictator of Haiti. Not democratically elected
1961 Ecuador - The CIA-backed military forces the democratically elected President Jose Velasco to resign. Vice President Carlos Arosemana replaces him; the CIA fills the now vacant vice presidency with its own man. (who is a rightwing nut and is not democratically elected)
1963 Dominican Republic - The CIA overthrows the democratically elected Juan Bosch in a military coup. The CIA installs a repressive, right-wing junta. (not democratically elected)
1963 Ecuador - A CIA-backed military coup overthrows President Arosemana, whose independent (not socialist) policies have become unacceptable to Washington. A military junta assumes command. (not democratically elected)
1964 Brazil - A CIA-backed military coup overthrows the democratically elected government of Joao Goulart. Puts a millitary junta in power (Not democratically elected) and later it is revealed that the CIA trains the death squads of General Castelo Branco (who is one of the facist dictators US puts in power).
1965 Dominican Republic- A popular rebellion breaks out, promising to reinstall Juan Bosch as the country's elected leader. The revolution is crushed when U.S. Marines land to uphold the military regime by force. The CIA directs everything behind the scenes. Openly protect facist dictator that they had put in power AGAINST the wishes of the people.
1971 Bolivia - After half a decade of CIA-inspired political turmoil, a CIA-backed military coup overthrows the leftist President Juan Torres. In the next two years, dictator Hugo Banzer will have over 2,000 political opponents arrested without trial, then tortured, raped and executed. (The dictator is not democratically elected either)
1973 Chile - The CIA overthrows and assassinates Salvador Allende, Latin America's first democratically elected socialist leader. The CIA replaces Allende with General Augusto Pinochet, who will torture and murder thousands of his own countrymen in a crackdown on labor leaders and the political left. (not democratically elected)
Between 1973 and 1986 there are many different attempts to put facist dictators in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. But they mainly fail and just leads to civil war without US getting their facist puppet governments.
1986 Haiti- Rising popular revolt in Haiti means that "Baby Doc" Duvalier will remain "President for Life" only if he has a short one. The U.S., which hates instability in a puppet country, flies the despotic Duvalier to the South of France for a comfortable retirement. The CIA then rigs the upcoming elections in favor of another right-wing military strongman. However, violence keeps the country in political turmoil for another four years. The CIA tries to strengthen the military by creating the National Intelligence Service (SIN), which suppresses popular revolt through torture and assassination. (this does not happen by popular demand or democratic elections)
1989 Panama - The U.S. invades Panama to overthrow a dictator of its own making, General Manuel Noriega. Noriega has been on the CIA's payroll since 1966, and has been transporting drugs with the CIA's knowledge since 1972. By the late 80s, Noriega's growing independence and intransigence have angered Washington ... so out he goes. (Noriega was not democratically elected and his removal was not done by democratic means either, just US being US)
1990 Haiti - Competing against 10 comparatively wealthy candidates, leftist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide captures 68 percent of the vote. After only eight months in power, however, the CIA-backed military deposes him and put facist dictators to rule Haiti. (not democratically elected)
2002 Venezuela - The CIA attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela. America attempted to put Millitary dictators in power, however, the coup soon unravels when thousands of anti-coup protesters surround the presidential palace demanding Hugo Chavez's reinstatement.
And this is ONLY what the CIA admits to.  [note this list includes only actions in the Americas, not Asia or the Middle East]
Two extended excerpts from a Reddit thread discussing the Pope's recent comment that "many powerful people don't want peace because they live off war."

Posted for future reference.  Comments closed.

12 May 2015

The Fritillary Project begins

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my hobbies is photographing butterflies.  My preference is not to get images just of the adult, but to document the entire life cycle which includes the eggs, larval caterpillar, and the chrysalis/eclosion.

I can find eggs and such in the "wild," but as a photographer it's a whole world better to have the cycle occurring in your own yard.  That's why our home is surrounded by butterfly-related plants.  Every midsummer I see fritillaries nectaring in our yard -

- and we have lots of violets, which are their "host" plants (the ones they lay eggs on and the cats feed on).  But our violets are in the woods behind the house -

- and the fritillaries are mostly open-field flyers who tend to avoid the shady woods.  Several months ago I discovered that fritillaries will also make use of Viola tricolor -

commonly known as "Johnny Jump-up."  That member of the violet family thrives in full sun and springs up spontaneously in our yard (but gets whacked by the mower).

So this past week I started planting some designated Viola patches, some in the ground -

The Viola seeds are now planted in the black area behind the patch of Pearly Everlasting, which is host to the American Lady butterflies, and also in some planters, where the new seedlings are trying to push past the petals falling from our crabapple.

The chicken wire is to deter rabbits, and also the chipmunks which vigorously dig and bury stuff in any cultivated ground they find.

I hope to have a bumper crop of Johnny Jump-ups by late June when the fritillaries arrive.  Then it will be a matter of finding the eggs and the caterpillars (which are awesome) so we can bring them in to feed them on the screen porch away from parasitic wasps.

Time will tell.  I'll post updates if we have any success.

Update:  It's been two months since I started this project, and so far the results are mixed.  The viola planted in the ground did not thrive (in all fairness, that dirt is of marginal quality and the sun exposure was probably inadequate).  Those seeded into the planters in commercial potting mix have grown -

- and now are in full bloom.  But no fritillaries have arrived (or at least none that I've noticed).  I have seen Great Spangled Fritillaries and Aphrodite Fritillaries on field trips, so they are flying.  Even though the number of violas is modest, there are plenty of other nectar plants to lure the frits to our garden.  It's not unlike going fishing - you put the bait out and wait.  We'll see...
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