30 June 2015

Assassin bug - updated

I was out in our garden yesterday collecting Monarch butterfly eggs (found twelve of them).  The photo above shows the surprise I found under one leaf.  I came back later after she had finished to get this photo of the cluster of eggs: (click both images for fullscreen)

She appears to me to be from the group of true "bugs" but I don't know her precise identity.  I suppose I could search on BugGuide, but instead I'll leave it open for the readership to ponder.  Some reader out there will be knowledgeable enough to offer a proper name that I can put in the title.* 

*solved by readers bucaneer, Shrike, and William D. Richards, who recognized it as an assassin bug:
The most common assassin bugs in our area are members of the Zelus genus... They are slender, long-legged bugs that are usually found on leaves and flowers, where they hunt by ambush. Length is 10-15 mm. Zelus species can fly and will if frightened, but they usually stay put and rely on their camouflage to hide them from both predators and their prey. They capture prey with their front legs, which are coated with sticky hairs.

Zelus eggs are laid on leaves in a small cluster. They have white caps on top. When they hatch, the nymphs disperse very quickly, as they will eat their siblings if given the chance... 
I have seen slightly different (more robust) assassin bugs in our garden holding dead butterflies and moths.  Didn't know they preyed on caterpillars, but I'm not surprised.

Update:  I monitored the eggs every time I went to the mailbox.   Nothing happened until yesterday (July 16 - 18 days after they were deposited), when I saw the underside of the leaf was just boiling with a mass of baby assassins:

The photo quality is marginal, but o.k. for documentary if not artistic purposes.  I don't know why some of the nymphs are milky white while others are more translucent - whether this is a true dimorphism or whether some are older and their exoskeletons are maturing.


Piñatas bearing the likeness of the billionaire mogul have begun popping up in Mexico, a response to controversial comments Trump made about Mexican immigrants.
“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems,” Trump said during his Presidential campaign announcement speech. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
It's not like Trump said this in a moment of levity at a party.  This was part and parcel of his public announcement that he wants to be POTUS.  Incredible.

Elementary information about the Sherlock Holmes canon

 They left out my favorite:
Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, ... It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.
The Guardian has more sixteen more infographics, at least one of which will have some fact you didn't already know.

29 June 2015

An amazing walk down a driveway

Members of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association report their butterfly sightings to a website that is open to the public for viewing.  A set of companion pages provide information on the characteristics of butterflies of the region.

The above report from this past week caught my eye because of the abundance and the diversity of butterflies observed in just a couple hours in the space of only a half-mile walk down a driveway in southwestern Wisconsin.

Seeing butterflies on a driveway (on the sand/gravel - not on the adjacent vegetation) is not an unexpected experience in itself.  The phenomenon is called "puddling" because after a summer rainshower butterflies gather at barren locations in search of minerals (especially sodium) and other trace nutrients that are not obtainable from the nectar sources in flowers.  I photographed this cluster a couple summers ago at Crex Meadows -

- and I had difficulty driving down the roads there without running into butterflies.

What amazed me about the list at the top of this post was not the number of butterflies, but the diversity of species present.  With the exception of the large fritillaries and the Red Admiral and a couple others, these are not long-distance migratory butterflies.  Most of them have a rather limited range for their lifetime, and since their needs are specific with regard to food plants for their larva, the implication is that there must be a wide range of microhabitats present close to this driveway (woods, fields, meadows, wetlands, prairie).

Marcie O'Connor maintains Prairie Haven, a repurposed 500-acre farm that she has been "unfarming" for years.  Unfarming does not mean neglecting - it refers to an active and labor-intensive process of letting the land revert back to its natural set of habitats, which requires attention to invasives and selective controlled mowing and seeding.  She describes the process at this link; elsewhere on the website she provides inventories of the incredible variety of butterflies, moths (82 species in one night), and other animals (and plants) they have observed at Prairie Haven.  The website is well worth a visit for those interested in conservation of natural resources and habitats.

"He endured being called a girl..."

He endured being called a girl, playing sports with waist-length hair and attracting disapproving looks from adults — all for a child in need he's never met.

Eight-year-old Christian McPhilamy grew out his blond hair for more than two years so he could donate it to kids who have lost their locks.
More at the Today parenting column.

Three years without shampoo

"...you do the following instead of using shampoo: put baking soda in your hair, rinse it out, put apple-cider vinegar in your hair, rinse it out. Repeat once every 5–7 days, washing with just water in the meantime...

After about three years without shampoo, my hair is noticeably softer and fluffier than it used to be. I never use any product—I just blow-dry it with a finger diffuser and it stays in beautiful perfect waves all day...

Take a bottle and fill it with half baking soda, half water. Then take another bottle and fill it with half apple-cider vinegar, half water. Keep the bottles in your shower. This seems to be the optimal level of dilution—not too basic, not too acidic...

...my hair doesn’t smell like vinegar. It doesn’t smell like pomegranate rainwater or whatever, either. It just smells like nice, neutral, clean hair. People are always surprised, but seriously, diluted apple-cider vinegar is way less gross than your body. Shampoo, on the other hand, just makes you grosser. Quit it. I dare you.
More at The Hairpin.

If you enjoy mathematics, this video will be painful to watch

Music hath charms...

An article at Long+Short addresses the question "Can music offer the key to treating dementia?"
In most cases of dementia, regardless of whether or not people have had musical training, they retain their capacity to sing, play, whistle, tap, click, clap, drum and dance long after much of the rest of their cognitive apparatus is deeply compromised. Music is often the very last thing to go, especially the embodied memory of music to which people dance or tap out a rhythm. Music anchors patients, Sacks says, in a way that nothing else can, reconnecting them to that sense of self which is in danger of slipping through their fingers. So it can also connect them to other people from whom they often feel estranged.

This is because music is deeply ingrained in the way our brains have developed. Evolutionary psychologists, neuroscientists and experts in music cognition have not yet come up with an entirely convincing argument as to why human brains are so attuned to music. But a growing body of work, much of it only conducted over the last three decades using new techniques for seeing inside the brain while music is being played, suggests that our brains are fundamentally musical. That is why our capacity to play, enjoy and feel music can outlast the deterioration that dementia and other debilitating conditions bring with them...

As science writer Philip Ball argues in The Music Instinct, music is unlike language: it has no dedicated mental circuitry localised in a few areas. Making sense of music is a whole-brain activity: "No other activity seems to use so many parts of the brain at once, nor to promote their integration." When the brain is listening to music it engages the motor centres that govern movement; the primal emotion centres that govern feeling; the language modules that process syntax and semantics; and the cerebellum that helps to keep time. One of the reasons we are so drawn to music is that it is perfectly designed to allow us to make the fullest possible use of our brains...
More at the link.  My mother, who has advanced dementia, experiences special delight from hearing music.

27 June 2015


Awesome hair coloring.

A photo album of African Hero Rats - trained to detect landmines.  "The pouched rats are perfect for the job; intelligent with a keen sense of smell, they are small enough not to trigger mines and large enough to be easily identifiable in the field. No rat has been killed in a minefield."

An arctic hare filmed successfully crossing a moving avalanche.

"The catch-22 is people buy Bitcoins because they think the price will go to infinity and beyond once everybody uses them, but they don't spend their own Bitcoins because they think the price will go to infinity and beyond once everybody else uses them. And so nobody uses them. But if nobody uses them, then the price will stay stuck at something a lot less than infinity let alone beyond."

A long article about America's obsession with perfect teeth.  "Cosmetic dentistry now represents the largest nonsurgical beauty industry after makeup."

Why it would be nice for you to meet your UPS driver halfway before he/she walks up to your house/apartment.

Video of the world-record-holding limbo queen.

All about gin and tonic.

The Magna Carta Project - "Providing resources and commentary on Magna Carta and King John for scholars, schools, and the general public."

Augustinian theodicy "attempts to explain the probability of an omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnibenevolent (perfectly loving) God amid evidence of evil in the world... Evidence of evil can call into question God's nature or his existence – he is either not omnipotent, not benevolent, or does not exist. Theodicy is an attempt to reconcile the existence and nature of God with evidence of evil in the world by providing valid explanations for its occurrence."

Don't swim in this blue lagoon in a limestone quarry (the water of which has a pH of 11).

On the first anniversary of No Such Thing As A Fish, a collective biography of the QI elves (creators of my favorite podcast).

A video by the National Space Society about the anticipated encounter next month of the New Horizons spacecraft with Pluto.

From Krebs on Security: "LastPass, a company that offers users a way to centrally manage all of their passwords online with a single master password, disclosed Monday that intruders had broken into its databases and made off with user email addresses and password reminders, among other data."

The mass of a supermassive black hole measured in suns (gif).

"Germany agreed Thursday to turn more than 60 former military bases into nature preserves, with the aim of creating vast new green oases and sanctuaries for rare species of birds.  Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said an ongoing overhaul of the German armed forces had made it possible to set aside more than 31,000 hectares (76,600 acres) of forests, marshes, meadows and moors."

An update on Kennewick Man.

If you get hacked or your identity stolen, there is a way to change your Social Security number.

Murders of white and blacks by whites and blacks, per capita, for 2013, graphed.

Review of a recent book on the history and practice of postmortem photography.

Photos by someone who walked the Great Wall of China beyond the touristy areas.

The geomythology of Great Flood legends - this article focusing on Tibetan history.

"For almost 350 years Bishop Peder Winstrup lay quietly in his coffin in the crypt of the magnificent cathedral at Lund in Sweden, concealing a secret: the body of a tiny baby, tucked in under his feet."  It's presumed that the explanation is not scandalous, but rather a (successful) attempt by someone to have the baby buried in hallowed ground.

The oldest human footprints in North America.

Really tight "skinny jeans" can cause medical problems (nerve compression and paralysis).

Video of water trapped between the panes of a double-pane window on a moving bus.

It is now believed that there was water flowing on Mars at a time when proto-humans first appeared on Earth.

An ELI5 on the TPP.

"A 'rough ride' is a tactic used by police to injure an arrestee without laying a hand on him or her. In the past 30 years victims have sued police departments for the abuse they have suffered in the back of police vans, but the practice dates back to the Reconstruction."

The biology of the ACHOO Syndrome (sunlight-induced sneezing).


26 June 2015

The best state for business? High-tax Minnesota.

CNBC is the premier business channel on television.  Their views on public policy and national politics are predictable and emphatically expressed in online and televised editorials.  Each year they conduct a survey to determine the best (and worst) states for business.  This year, presumably to the surprise of many on the political right, the top-scoring state was Minnesota.
Minnesota, known for high taxes and for being sympathetic to labor unions, is the nation’s best state for conducting business in 2015, according to a new ranking from CNBC, the business news channel.

The state moved up from No. 6 last year and 15th in 2013.

Never since we began rating the states in 2007 has a high-tax, high-wage, union-friendly state made it to the top of our rankings,” CNBC said in a statement accompanying the rankings. “But Minnesota does so well in so many other areas — like education and quality of life — that its cost disadvantages fade away.”

The network’s study uses 60 measures of competitiveness, separated into 10 categories. The categories include workforce, economy, infrastructure and transportation, education, cost of living, cost of doing business, access to capital, innovation, business friendliness and quality of life...

CNBC also said Minnesota ranked third for quality of life, noting a low crime rate, clean air and water, and access to quality health care...
More details at the StarTribune.  I don't know whether these data will be publicized very widely, but they should be used in debates about tax policy to emphasize that taxes per se are not evil.  The pros and cons of taxes depend on how the tax money is used by the states (or country).  When used to improve the quality of life for the residents, the result can be good for everyone involved.

Public shaming

The malefactor parked his vehicle in a handicap spot in Brazil.

Most U.S. children under age 5 are minorities

Another chart showing race and ethnicity of this group is posted at Business Insider.

25 June 2015

Walmart has commissioned a new truck

Presumably the next step will be to make it driverless.  With a hat tip to my old classmate Wren.

24 June 2015

A guide to penis worm teeth

Palaeontology has published a detailed study of the teeth of priapulids in the Burgess Shale.
"As teeth are the most hardy and resilient parts of animals, they are much more common as fossils than whole soft-bodied specimens," he explained. "But when these teeth - which are only about a millimetre long - are found, they are easily misidentified as algal spores, rather than as parts of animals. Now that we understand the structure of these tiny fossils, we are much better placed to a wide suite of enigmatic fossils."
Not familiar with penis worms?  An article in Nature explains that understanding the anatomy of the priapulids is central to a proper understanding of evolution:
...a major step in evolution occurred when an embryonic ball of cells formed two indentations as opposed to one, giving way to a separate mouth and an anus rather than the single opening that creatures such as jellyfish and sea anemones have. In 1908, animals with a mouth and anus were divided into two groups. In the protostomes (from the Greek for ‘mouth first’), the mouth formed first, and the anus second. In the other, the deuterostomes (‘mouth second’), the mouth formed after the anus...

Today, the protostomes include priapulids and most other invertebrates. The deuterostomes include vertebrates such as humans and a few spineless animal lineages... Now, using molecular techniques to analyse gene expression, Hejnol and his team have revealed that a primitive protostome, the priapulid Priapus caudatus, develops like a deuterostome...
More details at the link, and at the Washington Post, where there is a video of a penis worm.  You learn something every day.

"Goldfish the size of dinner plates are multiplying like bunnies."

The Alberta government is launching a campaign this summer to stop people from flushing their aquariums down their toilets.

Goldfish the size of dinner plates are multiplying like bunnies from Lethbridge to Fort McMurray, the province says...

In one case, the municipality of Wood Buffalo pulled 40 of the domestic fish species from a stormwater pond.

"That's really scary because it means they're reproducing in the wild, they are getting quite large and they are surviving the winters that far north," said Wilson.
Further details at CBC News.   Photo credit Rebecca Baldwin / Alberta Environment and Parks.

Five parking spaces

Cropped for size from original at Reddit.

23 June 2015

Please vote in the TYWKIWDBI presidential preference poll

Everyone who is a regular reader of TYWKIWDBI is invited to go to the widget at the top of the right sidebar and click on the name of the person you would prefer to see become POTUS next year.  I've entered (alphabetically) the names of all of the declared candidates plus several expected entrants.  The poll will allow only one selection, and will close after two weeks, because I figure regular readers visit within that time frame.

One reason I'm doing this is to help me decide how (and whether) to blog politics over the coming year.  I have so little enthusiasm for the current slate of candidates that I've been tempted to declare this blog a politics-free zone and avoid all posts on the subject.

Non-U.S. readers are welcome to vote, because you make up fully 1/3 of the visits to this blog.  I set up a similar reader preference poll in 2008, with some interesting results.  I hope the poll results will provide me with a sense of the current readership, which I know varies from deeply conservative to bleedingly liberal - but I don't know the proportions, because I can only "see" the ones who write comments and I suspect they are not typical.

If you don't care to vote (i.e. you're a typical American), you can just click on the "show results" button to see how other readers have responded.

Addendum:  About 600 votes registered during the first day, with a markedly skewed distribution, which in itself is quite interesting.  I'm also taking note of your comments re your preferences on the content of the blog this coming year. 

Exotic animal auctions

As reported in the Texas Observer:
The crowd, a couple hundred strong, oohs and ahhs as the wallaby hops from one side of the enclosure to the other. A woman asks her family, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have one of those?”...

Kifaru is one of a handful of exotic animal auction houses in Texas, part of a robust billion-dollar U.S. trade in exotic animals... Saturdays are reserved for exotic hoofstock (blackbucks, fallow deer, zebras, giraffes, oryx, gazelles), domestic farm animals such as goats and alpacas, and primates and other unorthodox pets. Sundays are for birds—some exotic, some less so—and small animals including reptiles and rodents...

Exotic animals in Texas—including but not limited to monkeys and primates that don’t fall under the state’s dangerous wild animal laws—are in a sort of legal blind spot. Pet capuchin and macaque monkeys are often purchased as infants, but when the males reach sexual maturity and become aggressive, many are either handicapped (by removing their teeth and nails), chained or discarded. The lucky ones end up in animal sanctuaries. The Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary alone houses nearly 20 big cats, almost all of which came from private owners or facilities condemned by the USDA. According to Executive Director Patti Clark, the Austin Zoo receives lots of calls about exotic birds; she said buyers often don’t understand how long the birds live, how loud they can be and how messy they are...

Provost said that though he tries to weed out inexperienced or unqualified bidders, he can’t stop people from doing what they want with their money. “I would say there are probably some irresponsible purchases, but you can do that at Walmart. You can do that anywhere else, and I don’t know how to control or stop that other than what I do, which is to [warn people about special requirements]. However I can help the situation, I certainly do that verbally,” he said. “But if a 90-year-old grandma wants to come in and buy that big, bad water buffalo bull, it’s her money and this is America and she’s free to do that.”
More at the link.

Caution - slippery floor

Via Neatorama.

Fake rhino horn

A San Francisco biotech startup has managed to 3D print fake rhino horns that carry the same genetic fingerprint as the actual horn. It plans to flood Chinese market with these cheap horns to curb poaching.

Pembient, based in San Francisco uses keratin — a type of fibrous protein — and rhino DNA to produce a dried powder which is then 3D printed into synthetic rhino horns which is genetically and spectrographically similar to original rhino horns
More details at Digital Journal, discussed at Reddit.

21 June 2015

Surviving while the wife is away

142857 is an interesting number

  • 142857 × 2 = 285714
  • 142857 × 3 = 428571
  • 142857 × 4 = 571428
  • 142857 × 5 = 714285
  • 142857 × 6 = 857142
The pattern can also be visualized this way:

 | |2|8|5|7|1|4| | | | | |
 | | | | | | |4|2|8|5|7|1|
 | | | |5|7|1|4|2|8| | | |
 | | | | |7|1|4|2|8|5| | |
 | | |8|5|7|1|4|2| | | | |

Discussed at Reddit.

Unexpurgated fairy tales

I've recently been reading The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales, by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth, compiled by Erika Eichenseer, and translated and commented upon by Maria Tatar.

Here is an example - "The Wolves"
A wealthy prince was married to a beautiful woman. The two had no children, and that was a source of great sorrow for the prince. As for the princess, she was consumed with envy whenever anyone in the kingdom gave birth to a child.

One day the prince and the princess were visiting a village, and they looked on as a festive group made its way into the local church. A farmer was having his triplets baptized, and everyone in the village had gathered to celebrate. The princess was planning to put a stop to the festivities, but the prince made fun of her, mocking the fact that she was aching to have something that a mere peasant possessed. It was her own fault that she had no children, he added. The princess flew into a rage right then and there and accused the farmer’s wife of infidelity, claiming that a woman could never have more than one child at a time with her husband. When the prince returned home, he held a mirror up to the princess’s face so that she could see how ugly she looked. To her horror, she saw in the mirror the head of a shaggy wolf, red-eyed, baring its teeth.

It turned out that the princess, without knowing it, was actually pregnant at the time. She gave birth to seven boys in seven days, one after another. She remembered what she had said earlier to the farmer’s wife. The prince was not at home, and she decided to send the midwife out to a wolf’s lair, with the seven boys wrapped up in an apron. It happened that the prince was hunting right in that area, and he ran into the midwife. “What are you doing here?” he asked. She immediately owned up to her evil intentions, and the prince rewarded her by running her through with a sword. He had the boys raised by a loyal subject.

Eighteen years went by, and the prince was planning a grand feast. Seven boys with long hair, all equally handsome and dressed alike, appeared at the feast. The princess could feel her heart pounding when she set eyes on the boys, and she began to tremble.
During the meal the prince jokingly asked how to punish a mother who throws her sons to the wolves. “She should dance to death in red-hot iron shoes,” was the answer. And so the princess condemned herself to that very punishment. The prince acknowledged the boys as his legitimate children, and they became known as “the wolves.
As this excerpt demonstrates, the tales in this collection are often more graphic and violent than those popularized by the Brothers Grimm.

Image and text via Flavorwire.

20 June 2015

Featherbowling explained

"Featherbowling was born from that medieval family of games that endure, in no small part, because they can be played with a beverage in the shooter’s free hand. It’s Belgian shuffleboard. It’s horseshoes with a pigeon feather instead of an iron stake. It’s bocce, except you roll disks that have been weighted to roll unevenly across the earth, exposing the shooter’s secret divine grace for all to see. It’s pétanque, kubb, mölkky, curling, Cherokee marbles, Irish road bowls—the variations are endless—but none has the otherworldly mystery of this thing they’ve come to play on the east side of Detroit."

18 June 2015

Charleston newspaper the morning after the mass shooting

The sticky ad on the front of the Charleston Post and Courier promoted $30 shooting sessions at the ATP Gun Shop and Range in nearby Summerville.

The Post and Courier apologised on Facebook after images of the advert appeared on social media, explaining that it was a “regrettable coincidence”.

The distribution of people in Canada

Via Nag on the Lake.

The oldest bald eagle in the United States has died

At age 38!
A 38-year-old, Minnesota-born bald eagle — the oldest on record in the nation — has been killed by a vehicle in New York state.

The male eagle was captured as a chick in 1977 at Puposky Lake near Bemidji and transplanted to New York with three other eagle chicks as part of a national restoration effort. The young eagles were banded, and officials found No. 03142 earlier this month alongside a road, killed by a vehicle. Records show it was the oldest banded bald eagle recovered in the nation — by five years.

The eagle’s 38-year lifespan was remarkable, said Carrol Henderson, longtime head of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources nongame wildlife program. “I would never guess they would last that long,” he said. “Anything over 20 years would be considered old.”...

Minnesota had perhaps 600 to 800 bald eagles in 1977, Henderson said, and officials believed then that they could spare five chicks a year to contribute to restoration efforts elsewhere. Today, Minnesota has more than 10,000 bald eagles, more than any other state in the Lower 48.
I see them quite routinely when I go up north to Leech Lake.

The human tragedy of land mines

"Selected as Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009, Dos Sopheap tries on her prize, a titanium leg, 
with pageant organizer Morten Traavik..."

As reported by National Geographic:
The American position is complicated. The United States has not used antipersonnel land mines since 1991, not exported them since 1992, and not produced them since 1997. But the nation has a stockpile of some 10 million land mines, and prior to the '90s, it exported 4.4 million antipersonnel land mines, an unknown number of which are still in the ground. Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman, described the government's official position in 2009: "We would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we signed this convention." Nonetheless, under pressure from the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Obama Administration has been conducting a comprehensive review of its land mine policy.
For fox ache.  Just do it.

Photo cropped for size from the original.  Credit: Lynn Johnson

Addendum:  The above was from a 2012 National Geographic article.  A report in 2014 by Reuters indicates that the U.S. still supplies land mines to South Korea and "will begin destroying stockpiles..."

"Full-on glam" ... for half a face

A very educational video.  Especially for men.

Via The Independent.

17 June 2015

Did colonial Americans burn down old buildings to retrieve the nails?

On a recent podcast of No Such Thing As A Fish*, one of the elves asserted that nails were so valuable in colonial America that when a house was abandoned or otherwise unusable, it was burned down so that the nails used to build it could be harvested.  I found some details about this practice at Colonial Williamsburg, offered by the master blacksmith there:
By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, nail-making had become a specialized industry in advanced economies...

Throughout the colonial period, reasonably priced English nails were readily available in coastal cities, limiting the need to develop a substantial nail-making industry in the colonies.  That is not to say that nails were not made in the colonies, but rather that nails were readily available and reasonably priced as imports... William Allason, merchant of Falmouth, Virginia recorded in one inventory that he had about 750,000 nails on hand.  These were the product of workers back in England...

I often hear the statement that “Nails were so expensive that when moving, people would burn their houses down to save the nails.”  This is partially based in fact. In the 1640’s, here in Virginia, the legislature passed an act that “…forbade the burning of buildings for the nails…”. Some historians jumped to the conclusion that buildings were burned to save nails, because nails were horribly expensive. This seems like a logical explanation for such a drastic act, until you consider the circumstances in which an entire building would be worth less than the nails used to build it...

The act went on to specify that if you had a building that you intended to burn for the nails, you could have two honest men estimate the number of nails in the structure, and petition the legislature. The legislature would give you the estimated number of nails in exchange for NOT burning the building. I suspect that this law may have been aimed at controlling wildfires more than at the cost of nails.
*my favorite podcasts - highly recommended for TYWKIWDBI-type content.

$76,000,000,000 in overseas tax havens

And that's just Walmart -
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. owns more than $76 billion of assets through a web of units in offshore tax havens around the world, though you wouldn’t know it from reading the giant retailer’s annual report.

A new study has found Wal-Mart has at least 78 offshore subsidiaries and branches, more than 30 created since 2009 and none mentioned in U.S. securities filings. Overseas operations have helped the company cut more than $3.5 billion off its income tax bills in the past six years, its annual reports show.

The study, researched by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union and published Wednesday in a report by Americans for Tax Fairness, found 90 percent of Wal-Mart’s overseas assets are owned by subsidiaries in Luxembourg and the Netherlands, two of the most popular corporate tax havens.

Units in Luxembourg -- where the company has no stores -- reported $1.3 billion in profits between 2010 and 2013 and paid tax at a rate of less than 1 percent, according to the report...

Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman, called the report incomplete and “designed to mislead” by its union authors...

Nearly a decade ago, Wal-Mart ran into trouble over strategies to avoid U.S. state income taxes. It used a real estate investment trust to effectively pay rent to itself, generating big tax deductions, even though the rent payments never left the company. At least six states changed their tax laws after publicity about the tactics.

Since then, Wal-Mart has stepped up its use of offshore tax havens. It has created 20 new subsidiaries in Luxembourg alone since 2009, according to the report.
More details at Bloomberg Business.

"Daniel" - Elton John/Bernie Taupin

Bernie Taupin wrote "Daniel" while inspired by the events of the Vietnam War. The lyrics (including a verse in the original draft that was cut from the final version) describe a fictional veteran who was blinded as a result of the war ("your eyes have died"/"but you see more than I") and travels to Spain to escape those around him back home ("do you still feel the pain"/"of the scars that won't heal?"), including his brother, from whose point of view the story is told.

"'Daniel' had been the most misinterpreted song that we'd ever written," explained Taupin, in the Two Rooms tribute project. "The story was about a guy that went back to a small town in Texas, returning from the Vietnam War. They'd lauded him when he came home and treated him like a hero. But, he just wanted to go home, go back to the farm, and try to get back to the life that he'd led before. I wanted to write something that was sympathetic to the people that came home."

Don't pick up a desert tortoise

"Because desert tortoise live in an arid climate where most of the rainfall occurs during the monsoons, it is able to store water in its bladder for use during drought. It can go over a year without drinking. One of its defense mechanisms when handled or disturbed is to release the contents of its bladder, which can deplete its water supply and can cause harm or death during a drought. For this reason, if you find a desert tortoise, do not pick it up."
Interesting that it can harvest water from the bladder.  Mammalian bladders have a transitional epithelium that is virtually impermeable to water.  But I found an NCBI article that documents reabsorption of water from Gila monster bladders, so presumably the same adaptation has evolved in tortoises.

With a hat tip to the QI elves...

16 June 2015

"The present is their only shared realm"

What would happen if you combined a nursing home with a preschool?

Via ViralNova, with a tip of the blogging cap to Kirsten.

11 June 2015

Family first

Mid-June is prime time for graduations and other family and neighborhood activities.  As always, those things come first, so I'm unplugging for a week of blogcation. 

Those desperate for TYWKIWDBI-type material can explore the old archives or dig deeply in the "categories" in the right sidebar.

10 June 2015

Poofreader needed

The headline of this newspaper story shows why a spellchecker is not the same as a proofreader.

Via the carefully-proofread Nothing to do with Arbroath.

This is why children should play outdoors

"Hand print on a large TSA plate from my 8 1/2 year old son after playing outside."

Prepared by Tasha Sturm and posted at Microbe World.  Exposure to bacteria and other microbes is an essential element in the development of a healthy human immune system.

Via Neatorama.

Using "meat glue" to create a fake ribeye steak

07 June 2015


How do blind people clean up after a seeing-eye dog defecates?

An op-ed piece in the Washington Post is entitled "The double-standard of making the poor prove they’re worthy of government benefits," written in response to exposés of alleged food-stamp misuse.

A map depicts the most conservative and most liberal cities in each state (I don't see any advantage in having this presented as a map rather than a list).

Humorous one-minute video of a windy day in Iceland.

A New Republic article explores why white people like camping and hiking, while minorities don't. "Carol Cain, a 42-year-old New Jersey resident of Dominican and Puerto Rican roots, was apparently day-hiking in Washington's Olympic National Park when she told the paper, "We’ve been here for two days, walking around, and I can’t think of any brown person that I’ve seen.”"

Trypophobia is the term for a pathological fear of objects with irregular patterns of holes.

Debunking the bogus argument that the Iraq war was based on faulty intelligence.  And the same subject vehemently expressed by Rachel Maddow: "The Bush Administration was not passively lied to. They weren’t duped by the CIA! They made the case that they thought would be most persuasive even when it wasn’t true.”

Impressive gif of a man feeding snakes.  This guy is good at his job.

Sub fusc explained.  The term (new to me) is from the Latin subfuscus, "moderately dark."

Mental Floss offers a map of the most popular breed of dog in each state.

Books and journals published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with full-text and images online.  An incredible resource link for those interested in a wide variety of art.

"Supergrass is a British slang term for an informer, which originated in London. Informers had been referred to as "grasses" since the late-1930s, and the "super" prefix was coined by journalists in the early 1970s... The origin of the term "grass" being used as signifying a traitor, a person who informs on people he or she knows intimately, ostensibly can be traced to the expression "snake in the grass," which has a similar meaning.The phrase derives from the writings of Virgil... and has been known in the English language, meaning "traitor," since the late 17th century."

A riot in Minneapolis occurred when bicyclists used squirtguns to attack PedalPub users.  Six of the PedalPub users were cops; arrests ensued.

A gloomy economic forecast in The Telegraph: "The world economy is disturbingly close to stall speed. The United Nations has cut its global growth forecast for this year to 2.8pc, the latest of the multinational bodies to retreat... Stephen King from HSBC warns that the global authorities have alarmingly few tools to combat the next crunch, given that interest rates are already zero across most of the developed world, debts levels are at or near record highs, and there is little scope for fiscal stimulus. "The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency," he said."

A Norwegian sex-education video.

"Inside Bain's house, police found thousands of meticulously catalogued individual socks wrapped in sandwich bags with individual donors’ photographs attached. “They were everywhere and anywhere,” a police officer later testified. “They were all over the furniture, hanging from lampshades and even in the microwave, frying pan and cooker. It was like there had been an explosion in a sock factory and socks had blown all over the place.”... The master approached his slave-to-be at a spiritualist church and told him he’d been conversing with angels, who had told him that he had to collect 10,000 socks. So the promise of socks lured the sock gimp into subservience."

"A stretch of coast which is rich in wildlife and archaeology has been bought by the National Trust for more than £1 million as it launches a new vision for looking after the nation's coastlines." 

"A comprehensive guide to YouTube’s dumbest and most dangerous teen trends."  The Cinnamon Challenge, the Saltine Challenge, the No-Cry Challenge, the Condom Challenge...

Cory Booker: “When they told me I couldn’t sit on the Senate floor with an iPad—that the technology wasn’t even permitted—I breathed deep and knew that I was going to have to start pushing.”

The Margate Shell Grotto is an as-yet-unexplained mystery: "the 2000 square feet of mosaics, created from mussel, cockle, whelk and oyster shells have provoked a multitude of explanations none of which have been confirmed with any total surety... had the grotto been built in the 1700s then there would have been some vestigial local memory (or legend) of its construction.  In order to get millions of shells in to this underground passage many local people would have to have been involved in their transport.  Yet the discovery in 1835 was a surprise to all – no one stepped forward with any explanation... suggestion that the grotto was built by the Knights Templar or their associates sometime in the middle 1100s..."

A New Zealand sikh removed his turban to comfort a small boy who had been injured in an accident.  Some members of the local community responded in a heartwarming fashion.

Why Swiss cheese has holes.  "Agroscope scientists noted that Swiss cheeses had fewer holes over the past 10 to 15 years as open buckets were replaced by sealed milking machines which "completely did away with the presence of tiny hay particles in the milk.""

A brief (but incisive) comment on the latest revelations re Dennis Hastert: "If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy. (links at the primary link)

The "twenty most bike-friendly [large] cities on the planet."  One of them is in the United States.

Reaffirmation that airport security is for show: "An internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of the nation’s busiest airports... The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system. According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints

"As Savchuk and other former employees describe it, the Internet Research Agency had industrialized the art of trolling. Management was obsessed with statistics — page views, number of posts, a blog’s place on LiveJournal’s traffic charts — and team leaders compelled hard work through a system of bonuses and fines. “It was a very strong corporate feeling,” Savchuk says. Her schedule gave her two 12-hour days in a row, followed by two days off. Over those two shifts she had to meet a quota of five political posts, 10 nonpolitical posts and 150 to 200 comments on other workers’ posts. "

"1865. "Cold Harbor, Virginia. Unburied dead on the battlefield of Gaines' Mill." Photographs from the main Eastern theater of war, the Peninsular Campaign, May-August 1862."

"...the culture of growing giant vegetables to show off is decidedly British."

"A new $2.50 battery sleeve called the Batteriser, coming to Amazon this fall, promises to extend the life of your batteries up to eight times longer by drawing out their remaining power -- which you were about to throw in the garbage. The tiny, 0.1 millimeter-thick stainless steel Batteriser sleeve features an incredibly small circuit board, built to tap into the battery's remaining energy." - Probably nonsense.  Hat tip to reader Mark, who provides a debunking link in his comment. 

A little girl smiles at a baseball game (brief video at the link).

04 June 2015

American Lady butterfly caterpillars construct their homes

When I posted last month about the start of my "fritillary project," I included a photo of a segment of the garden that included a bed of Pearly Everlasting, planted for the Amerian Lady butterflies.

This past week I was out in the garden and noticed that some changes had occurred (see top photo).  The uppermost (and most tender) leaves, which are normally surfaced with a delicate downy fuzz, showed evidence of "scrapes," where the surface material had been removed.  Near the central stem in this image are a few strands of silk, and some black dots.  The latter are tiny bits of "frass," evidence of the presence of caterpillars - though the protagonists themselves were well hidden in the folds of the plant.

I returned yesterday to check the progress and found some elaborate "homes" constructed on the plants:

A small leaf that probably fortuitously happened to overhang another has now been sealed to the second leaf by a network of silk.  Bits of the "?epithelium" of the plant have been incorporated into the webwork to create basically a camouflage pattern.  But the perpetrator hasn't carried away his/her frass.  On another plant I found one of the caterpillars out for an evening stroll:

It's getting to be a pretty good size now.  The first instars were teeny and only able to scrape a few cells off the surface of the leaf.  This guy is capable of cutting some major defects in the leaves.  It is also capable of constructing those "houses" -

This one is bridging the gap between two leaves with silk.  I doubt it can pull the leaves together, but it will probably create a canopy over the space (like the area in the upper right) where it can dine at leisure out of the vision of birds and presumably with fewer worries about ants and spiders.  Note also that for a still immature caterpillar, this guy has a formidable array of defensive spines encircling its body.

Those in a hurry to see what happens next can peek at one of my old posts about the life cycle of American Lady butterflies (2010 and 2013).


 Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu
Long-time readers of TYWKIWDBI know that when warm weather arrives in the Upper Midwest, my blogging productivity falls off significantly.  Summer brings yard and garden chores and opportunities for hikes, butterfly photography, golf, and daytrips.  On my list of ThingsToDo, blogging isn't even on page one.  So if you've been coming here on a daily basis seeking refuge from the banality of the interwebs, now is the time to shift to a weekly visit.

02 June 2015

Coloring books for adults

The bestselling title on Amazon in the US right now is not Harper Lee’s hugely anticipated second novel, Go Set a Watchman, or George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, or even Zoella’s much-mocked but much-bought young adult hit, Girl Online. Instead, Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford is topping the charts, with her colouring books for adults taking top spots on Amazon.com’s bestseller lists...

And it is not just Basford who is reaping the benefits of the hordes of adults who, it turns out, just wanted something to colour in. In the UK, Richard Merritt’s Art Therapy Colouring Book sits in fourth spot on Amazon’s bestseller lists, Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom – detailed pictures of animals to colour – sits in seventh, and a mindfulness colouring book sits in ninth. Basford’s titles are in second and eighth place - that’s half of Amazon.co.uk’s top 10 taken up by colouring books for adults.

At independent UK publisher Michael O’Mara, which has sold almost 340,000 adult colouring books to date, head of publicity, marketing and online, Ana McLaughlin, attributes the craze to the way the category has been reimagined as a means of relaxation. “The first one we did was in 2012, Creative Colouring for Grown-Ups. It sold strongly and reprinted, but it was last year that it all really mushroomed with Art Therapy, in June. It really took off for us – selling the anti-stress angle gave people permission to enjoy something they might have felt was quite childish,” she said. 
I purchased an adult coloring book and a set of colored pencils for my elderly mother, who has quite advanced dementia.  It has been received with some measure of success.

Image from The Colour Therapy Colouring Book (Michael O'Mara Books), found in this gallery.

Rear gunners

Pointers named Tyree and Skeeter poke through portholes in a Plymouth. Notes accompanying the photograph—which was published in a 1958 National Geographic book about dogs—say the animals' owner, E. D. Todd of Victoria, British Columbia, installed the openings in the trunk "to give dogs light and air when he went driving."
Photo credit: Margaret G. Zackowitz

Perpetual war?

(Click to enlarge image)
Using somewhat subjective definitions of "at war" -- Korea counts but Kosovo doesn't in our analysis, for example -- we endeavored to figure out how much of each person's life has been spent with America at war. We used whole years for both the age and the war, so the brief Gulf War is given a full year, and World War II includes 1941. These are estimates.

But the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan in (late) 2001 means that anyone born in the past 13 years has never known an America that isn't at war. Anyone born after 1984 has likely seen America at war for at least half of his or her life.
Orwell's 1984 had Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia in a state of "perpetual war."
Some people... have inferred, insinuated, or suggested that entering a state of perpetual war becomes progressively easier in a modern democratic republic, such as the United States, due to the development of a relationship network between people who wield political and economic power also owning capital in companies that financially profit from war, lobby for war, and influence public opinion of war through influence of mass media outlets that control the presentation for the causes of war, the effects of war, and the censorship of war...

Thousands of new Scrabble words

A nightmare for prescriptivists:
Thousands of new words - including slang terms lolz, shizzle and obvs - have been added to the latest Scrabble word list, its publisher has said.

About 6,500 words have been added to the latest Collins Scrabble Word List, including a number of slang terms used on social media and in text messages. New words include twerking, emoji, bezzy and ridic - short for ridiculous.

Other new words now acceptable in the board game include onesie, devo - short for devolution - vape, and shootie, meaning a fashionable shoe that covers the ankle. New words involving technology include facetime, hashtag, and sexting, while exclamations such as augh, blech, eew, grr, waah and yeesh have also been added.

It is the first update to the list since 2011.
A clever ploy by the publishers to make me replace my Official Scrabble Players Dictionary.  Again.

"Marble run machine"

Big Marble Run Machine: 11 000 Marbles!!! (Kugelbahn, Knikkerbaan)

This Marble Run "Marble Tsunami" has 4 tipping containers holding totally more than 11 000 marbles. In this video you'll see the 10 000 marbles AND the 1000 marbles container will tipping together causing more than 11 000 marbles rolling down the giant tracks. The sound is deafening, because of the noise, it will be equipped with noise damping housing and glass panels on the front.


- Number of marbles total: around 13 000
- Number of paths: 4
- Number of tipping containers: 4 (10, 120, 1070 and 10 600 marbles)
- Construction started: 20 april 2015
- Construction completed: Expected begin june 2015 (only need some finetuning)
- Dimensions: L= 10 m (33 feet) W= 1,2 m (4 feet) H=1,8 m (6 feet)
- Location: Monkey Town (indoor playground), Gouda (NL)
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