31 August 2015

Artichoke flower time-lapse


Offered without comment.  Context at The Telegraph's gallery of MTV Video Music Awards pix.

Chinese military tactics

Cropped for size from the original at imgur.  Probably destined for Bad Newspaper.

This man would consider building a wall on the U.S.-Canadian border

When presidential aspirants try to mindlessly out-Trump Trump, it can lead them into ridiculous positions:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is putting a new twist on the topic of securing the border, a staple among the GOP candidates running for president, by pointing north.

Walker said in an interview that aired Sunday that building a wall along the country's northern border with Canada is a legitimate issue that merits further review...

Walker said some people in New Hampshire have asked the campaign about the topic.

"They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at," Walker said.
More details at the StarTribune.  I do hope this is the last post I write about Scott Walker.

There are many kinds of buried treasure

There has been a lot of media attention to the possible discovery of a Nazi gold train, but this more prosaic discovery also generated a lot of wealth for the finders:
A cache of Atari game cartridges, including copies of one of the worst video games ever made, have sold for more then $100,000 (£64,828) after being discovered in a landfill site in the desert.

The discovery of the games 200 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico last year confirmed an urban legend that Atari had dumped hundreds of games more than 30 years ago due to poor sales.

Over the last several months 881 of the games found have been sold on the internet to collectors, includng museums, in 14 countries. The highest price paid was for a copy of ET The Extra-Terrestrial that went for $1,535
More information at The Telegraph.  Stories like this never fail to remind me that when I was young (the 1950s), my family used to take its trash to the local landfill.  While there I would scramble around looking for discarded comic books.  There must be an incredible number of comics and other collectible ephemera still in near-pristine condition in that anaerobic environment (which undoubtedly now has a subdivision of homes on top of it).

29 August 2015

Abdul and his daughter

The photos above were posted on Twitter by Gissur Simonarson. They depict Abdul, a single father with two children, and his daughter Reem, who is four.  They are Palestinian Syrians from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.  He is selling pens in an effort to support his family.

The photographer was swamped with offers to help the family, so he set up an Indiegogo account for them, which has now raised over $100,000 in 2 days.

Discussed at the Uplifting News subreddit.

Gissur Simonarson's twitter feed is here.  Warning: contains graphic images of war, including battlefield casualties and bloodied and dead children.

Refugee family at Hungarian-Serbian border

One of the "best photos of the week" at the Washington Post

Photo credit Csaba Segesvari/AFP/Getty Images [cropped for size].

28 August 2015

"Traverse board" for navigating at sea

The rounded top of the board bore a painted 32-point compass pattern. Each point featured a line of eight holes radiating from the center of a circle. The lower, square portion of the board had horizontal lines of holes under columns that represented the speed of the ship in knots.

During each standard four-hour watch, the crew measured the ship’s speed and direction eight times, every half hour, and recorded them using pegs: direction under the appropriate compass point on the rounded top; speed along the bottom. After each watch, the navigator collected the data, logged it, plotted it on a chart, cleared the board, and then began the process again.
The boards were widely used throughout Europe and Scandinavia from the late 15th century until the mid-19th century.
More information at Hakai Magazine.

Photo credit: Gjalt Kemp Scheepsantiek/ships-antiques.com

A tinfoil-wrapped house for those worried about mind control

A more prosaic explanation is offered at Nothing To Do With Arbroath.


More examples at The Telegraph's gallery of mistranslated Chinese phrases.

"So volatile that a mosquito landing on it will make it explode"

 This is why you won't find any nitrogen triiodide sitting around in the woods of northern Minnesota.

Popularity: Sanders 2016 = Obama 2008

Discussed in a thread at the Data Is Beautiful subreddit.

It's not the Spanish Armanda...

Can you guess what the unusual formations are in this nanosatellite photo? (The area being imaged is the Myeongnyang Strait - if that helps...)

Which brings us to the subject of "nanosatellites" -
On Nov. 26, 2013, Planet Labs, a private start-up company of San Francisco, CA, announced that it successfully launched its most recent nanosatellites, Dove 3 and Dove 4, into orbit on a Dnepr vehicle (launch on Nov. 21, 2013 from the Yasny Cosmodrome, Russia), completing a series of four prototype nanosatellites in 2013. Those proved successful, enabling the company to quickly follow up with the production of a 28-member network. The launch of Planet Labs' "Flock 1" fleet of 28 nanosatellites in December/January, which will be the largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites ever launched...

Their "Dove" nanosatellites are meant to be low-cost and rapidly deployable, and capable of taking pictures of Earth that provide a spatial resolution of 3-5 m. — On March 17, 2014, Planet Labs announced that it has confirmed launches for more than 100 satellites over the next 12 months. This full constellation of nanosatellites will allow Planet Labs to image the entire Earth every day
It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the concept that technology and data processing have progressed to the point that it is now possible to image the entire planet Earth every day at a resolution of a couple meters.

The answer to the initial question, btw, is at the link.

27 August 2015


Via Bad Newspaper, where there is always something funny.

Have you purchased Starkist tuna?

If so, you may be eligible to participate in one of those class-action lawsuits where the claimants get a pittance and the attorneys get rich:
If you’re a resident of the United States and bought at least one five-ounce can of any of these tunas from Starkist between February 19, 2009 and October 31, 2014, you’re eligible to file a claim...

As often happens with class actions for small items, they’re assuming that you haven’t saved your last five years’ worth of grocery receipts. They’re asking consumers to say on penalty of perjury when they file a claim that they have, indeed, purchased tuna during the period covered by the suit.  
More details and a link to the website for submitting a claim at Consumerist.

25 August 2015

Long-tailed broadbill

Photo credit, via Wikipedia.

This dog can sniff the location of hidden flash drives

Bear, you see, is no ordinary dog. He's able to sniff out things that most people may not even realize have a scent... During a police raid on Fogle's home in July, investigators seized multiple smartphones, MP3 players, tablets, laptops, CDs, memory cards and drives. But there was one crucial piece of evidence that would have gone undiscovered if it weren't for Bear and his incredible sense of smell. The dog, say prosecutors, was able to track down a flash drive Fogle had hidden that contained data important to the investigation. As it turns out, the rambunctious black Lab is one of only four K9 units in the country who has been specially trained to detect the smell of electronic storage devices. "Bear is unique because he can sniff out SD cards, thumb drives, external hard drives, iPads and micro SD cards..."
Image cropped for size from the original.

Ann Coulter "feels the Bern"

Republican support for Bernie Sanders is not quite the counterpart of Democrats cheering on Donald Trump.  The latter phenomenon is readily understandable as a desire to see Trump wreak havoc in the Republican primary process.

Republicans for Bernie Sanders apparently are quite different - they seem to actually like him.
"Despite its reputation as a place filled with liberal hippies, Vermont, like most of rural northern New England, is home to a lot of conservatives... Anyone running for statewide office there needs to win these conservatives’ votes, and Bernie is great at doing that... And as NPR’s “Morning Edition” found out last year, some of Bernie’s biggest fans are in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the poorest and most conservative part of the state.  It’s people from the Northeast Kingdom who’ve overwhelmingly elected Bernie to almost 20 years in Congress and two straight terms as senator..."
On a recent appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Ann Coulder expressed the situation this way:
I wish Fox News would go a little easier on Hillary Clinton. She’s the one we want to run against. Could you guys just back off? Because I feel like I’m living through this, I feel like this is déjà vu again. We used to say, ‘Oh, the next president isn’t going to be a guy named Barack Hussein Obama.’ Our next president could be Sen. Bernie Sanders, if you people keep this up.

Rhino rescues a zebra foal entrapped in a mudhole

The rhino bull, after being rebuffed by the cows numerous times, made his way down to the water and near to the muddy patch the foal was stuck in. The rhino started to prod the zebra with his horn out of curiosity. After a while he grew impatient and lifted the body out. The foal, still being alive but very weak, could only lift its head out of the mud. The rhino lifted the foal so quickly that it had no time to react. The rhino then dropped the foal and moved off.
More details about the encounter and its unfortunate outcome at Africa Geographic.

Treasure found in waist-deep water close to shore

I am so jealous...
Bartlett and the 1715 Fleet Queens Jewels Salvage Crew counted more than 300 gold coins valued at four point five million dollars. The larger coins-- called Royals-- tell an important story of the past. Royals were specifically made for King Phillip V and are  incredibly rare.  There were only 20 or so known to exist in the world before the crew found these 9.
The photo is a screencap from the video at the link, which I've posted to show how close the treasure was to shore and that it was within walking distance of hotels further down the shore in Vero Beach.

In other news, a metal detectorist in Germany has found a hoard of Nazi-era gold valued at €45,000.

And... two men claim to have found one of the legendary Nazi treasure trains.   "...the train might hold up to 300 tons of gold... (but)...There are reasons to doubt the existence of this mythical gold filled Nazi train..."  And if it does exist, there is a high probability that it is protected with land mines.

Re-solidified coconut oil forms hexagonal cylinders

A totally unexpected result is lucidly explained in the top comment at this AskScience subreddit thread.

Hint:  it's the same reason that Devil's Tower and the Giant's Causeway are formed of cylindrical hexagons... if that helps...

21 August 2015

This man is not committing suicide with a hair dryer

He's using a Nasal Ranger.  I didn't know there were such devices, discussed here, but it makes sense.

Photo credit Mark Peterson/Redux, via Politico.

Rube Goldberg machine

The best part is the eruption of the Post-It Notes at the end.

Fossil of a four-legged snake

Found... in a museum!
Fossil-hunters have found several extinct snakes with stunted hind legs, and modern boas and pythons still have a pair of little spurs. “But no snake has ever been found with four legs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.”

Martill called the creature Tetrapodophis: four-legged snake. “This little animal is the Archaeopteryx of the squamate world,” he says. (Squamates are the snakes and lizards.)
This finding has substantial implications regarding the evolution of snakes.  More details at Ed Yong's incomparable Not Exactly Rocket Science blog at National Geographic.

Ride the bus for free if you read a book

As reported by The Independent:
Those who can’t resist reading a good book on public transport have been rewarded by a city in Romania, which offered a free bus ride to anyone who read a book during their journey...

Miron said that he wanted to “encourage more people to read on public transportation”...

“I believe that it’s better to promote reading by rewarding those who read, instead of criticising the ones who don’t,” said Miron...
More details at the link.

18 August 2015

"The truth isn't what you want to see"

Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman perform The Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera.
Phantom began previews at Her Majesty's Theatre in London's West End on 27 September 1986 under the direction of Hal Prince, then opened on 9 October...  Michael Crawford starred in the title role with Sarah Brightman as Christine and Steve Barton as Raoul. The production, still playing at Her Majesty's, celebrated its 10,000th performance on 23 October 2010, with Lloyd Webber and the original Phantom, Michael Crawford, in attendance. It is the second longest-running musical in West End (and world) history behind Les Misérables, and third overall behind The Mousetrap.

"Spooning" - and "Prufrock" (updated)

The conventional definition involves sentimental love, but the photo source also offers this comment:
The word also had homosexual connotations, as in Stoppard’s The Invention of Love. Says old A. E. Housman to young A. E. Housman: “Centuries later in a play now lost, Aeschylus brought in Eros, which I suppose we may translate as extreme spooniness; showers of kisses, and unblemished thighs. Sophocles, too; he wrote The Loves of Achilles: more spooniness than you’d find in a cutlery drawer, I shouldn’t wonder.”
Found at Modern Foppery, via

Addendum: I originally posted this back in 2010.  This week I encountered the photo again while browsing the web, and decided to search for more information on the unusual imagery.  When I Googled several key words, the #1 hit was...

I have to admit that was a bit startling, especially since it was one of my favorite poems back when I was an English major in college (never could quite memorize it all, but I can still call up key passages).  And the connection to the photo? - just the coincidental presence of the keywords I selected ("women," "spoons," "behind," and "back.")

So I'm going to use this serendipitous event as an excuse to post the poem.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats        5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….        10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,        15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,        20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;        25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;        30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go        35
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—        40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare        45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,        50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—        55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?        60
  And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress        65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets        70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!        75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?        80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,        85
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,        90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—        95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,        100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:        105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,        115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …        120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.        125
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown        130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Composed by T.S. Eliot (1888–1965), and published in Prufrock and Other Observations (1920).

Addendum:  Here's a very interesting and perhaps relevant observation by reader frenchfarmer:
"Spoon" in french is "cuillère" and is pronounced "quee-er."
Addendum #2:
Reposted once again (August 2015) because this year marks the 100-year anniversary of "Prufrock."
When T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” made its first appearance in print 100 years ago, it did not in any way disturb the universe. Having languished in a drawer for four years, the poem was finally first published in the June 1915 issue of the Chicago journal Poetry, placed toward the back because the editor didn’t much like it... The reviews were a mix of indifference, confusion, and disdain. The Times Literary Supplement remarked that Eliot’s “observations” were “of the very smallest importance to anyone—even to himself.”...

Of course, it’s now clear that “Prufrock” is one of the great poems of the twentieth century. It is widely taught in schools, and its strange and subversive incantations are freely released into the unformed souls of adolescents without any regard for the consequences...

The nature of Eliot’s personal hell during his time in Paris was complicated and multifaceted, but the fact that he was still a virgin was undoubtedly part of it. Eliot suffered from a congenital double hernia, which meant he wore a truss from an early age. His cadaverous bookishness and universally remarked-on shyness didn’t help his cause with women at Harvard or anywhere else...
Continued at the link.

17 August 2015

"Rock picker"

Very cool.  My maternal grandfather would have been awestruck to be able to use a piece of equipment like this in his cornfield (instead he had my aunts and uncles fan out through the field each spring to "pick potatoes.")

When I was growing up I never quite figured out why every year rocks would emerge at the surface of the fields.  It wasn't until as a an adult when Michael Waters' Principles of Geoarchaeology that I finally understood how the dramatic freeze-thaw cycles of the Upper Midwest result in cryoturbation and "granular convection."

If you visit any old farm in Minnesota and Wisconsin and walk the fields, you will almost certainly see a pile of rocks off at the side - often under shade trees - where generations of a family have picked rocks and tossed them away from the tilled areas.

"Mental abacus"

The video above was posted at Neatorama several weeks ago.  Today I found some explanatory text at Wikipedia:
The abacus system of mental calculation is a system where users mentally visualize an abacus to do calculations.  No physical abacus is used; only the answers are written down. Calculations can be made at great speed in this way. For example, in the Flash Anzan event at the All Japan Soroban Championship, champion Takeo Sasano was able to add fifteen three-digit numbers in just 1.7 seconds.

This system is being propagated in China, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and India. Mental calculation is said to improve mental capability, increases speed of response, memory power, and concentration power.

Many veteran and prolific abacus users in China, Japan, South Korea, and others who use the abacus daily, naturally tend to not use the abacus anymore but perform calculations by visualizing the abacus. This was verified when the right brain measured heightened EEG activity when calculating and compared with non-veterans who were using the abacus to perform calculations. 
The technique demonstrated in the video seems to be quite different from the "finger math" using a mental abacus for counting.

Fractal crab claw

Cropped for emphasis from the original at imgur, via Reddit.

16 August 2015

Can you explain this vertical "beam of light" ?

The image was created when lightning struck while a photograph was taken during a storm.

It's not Photoshopped and hasn't undergone any post-imaging processing.  There is a perfectly logical explanation - detailed and illustrated at Metabunk.

Spare me "stylish"

... if that style consists of a lacy petticoat-like peplum cropped above the crotch.

Today I learn that a peplum has a long and respectable history in women's fashion:
Overskirts may serve various purposes, ranging from protecting the underlying clothing from mud and dirt, to being purely a decorative feature.

Overskirts first came into fashion during the Victorian Era in 1867, after the pre-hoop and hoop periods of multiple petticoats and crinoline, and before the bustle period...  Early skirts were often looped up for walking, showing a pretty petticoat underneath, which led to the introduction of the overskirt.

The term "peplum" originates with the ancient Greek peplos, a women's garment that had the same decorative detail as an overskirt.
A Google Image search shows a variety of attractive peplums, but also yielded this example of "flirty femininity" -

I'll defer any further comments...

Top photo cropped for size (credit Instagram/natashazinko) from the original at a Telegraph gallery of stylish fashions.

Use peanut butter to save a dog caught in a glue trap

Glue board traps are trays coated with an extremely sticky adhesive. They are often used for rat traps. Any animal that touches one of these traps is immediately caught and immobilised, and physically stuck to the board...
When the EAMTs arrived, Abby had already succumbed to exhaustion and was collapsed face down in the glue and was struggling to breathe, with glue lodged in her nasal passage and eyes...

Knowing that simply peeling the trap off of the small dog's face would cause severe pain and could even rip out her fur and/or skin in the process, Gallo tried a more humane and creative approach. He lathered the little dog’s face with peanut butter and the peanut oil loosened the glue's grip.  
More details here, via the incomparable Nothing to do with Arbroath.

13 August 2015

Is Nefertiti entombed behind Tutankhamn's burial chamber?

As published in the Amarna Royal Tombs Project:

Recently published, high-resolution scans of the walls of room J (the Burial Chamber) of Valley of the Kings tomb KV 62 (Tutankhamun) reveal, beneath the plastered surfaces of the painted scenes, distinct linear traces. These are here mapped, discussed, and tentatively identified as the "ghosts" of two hitherto unrecognized doorways. It is argued that these doorways give access to: (1) a still unexplored storage chamber on the west of room J, seemingly contemporary with the stocking of Tutankhamun's burial; and (2) a pre-Tutankhamun continuation of KV 62 towards the north, containing the undisturbed burial of the tomb's original owner -- Nefertiti.
From the text:
It begins to look as if Egyptology's traditional reading of KV 62 as a small, private tomb subsequently enlarged to four chambers for Tutankhamun's exclusive use has been very much in error. Rather, the indications are that what we now know as KV 62 represents merely the outermost portion of an extended, corridor-style "tomb-within-a-tomb" -- a considerably larger entity than previously understood, containing sequential burials of (1) an earlier queen who, by her employment of a nest of large sepulchral shrines had achieved full pharaonic status, and (2) a later male king, Tutankhamun himself, each interred within her (innermost) and his (outermost) dedicated burial apartments.
Much more at the quite interesting original publication, including images of the suspicious walls.
"Now, about the tomb of Nefertiti," [Omm Sety] continued, sounding a bit hesitant. "I did once ask His Majesty where it was, and he told me. He said, "Why do you want to know?" I said I would like to have it excavated, and he said, "No, you must not. We don't want anything more of this family known." But he did tell me where it was, and I can tell you this much. It's in the Valley of the Kings, and it's quite near to the Tutankhamun tomb. But it's in a place where nobody would ever think of looking for it," she laughed. "And apparently it is still intact..." -- el Zeini and Dees 2007, 265-266

Perhaps there's a mirror and the middle lady is a vampire?

Unfortunately, there's a simpler explanation.

"Cordwainer" explained

The word came up during a dinner conversation the other night.  It brought to mind the penname ("Cordwainer Smith") of the famous Wisconsin-born science fiction writer Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, but I didn't  know the term referred to the occupation of leatherworking.
Cordwainer is the English term for a shoemaker who makes shoes from new leather. The word is derived from "cordwain", or "cordovan", the leather historically produced in Moorish Córdoba, Spain in the middle ages. Medieval cordovan leather was used for the highest quality shoes, but English cordwainers also used domestically produced leathers and were not solely producers of luxury footwear.

The terms cordwainer and cobbler are not interchangeable. A cordwainer is someone who makes new shoes using new leather, and a cobbler is someone who repairs shoes. In the historic London guild system the cobblers and cordwainers were separate guilds, and the cobblers were forbidden from working in new leather. Historically cobblers also made shoes but only using old leather recovered from discarded or repaired shoes

Forty years ago

You're a teaser, you turn 'em on -
Leave them burning and then you're gone.
Looking out for another, anyone will do
You're in the mood for a dance,
And when you get the chance...

You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen.
Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine.
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life.
See that girl, watch that scene, digging the Dancing Queen...
It's hard to believe this song is 40 years old.
"Dancing Queen" is a pop song recorded by Swedish pop group ABBA.  It was released in August 1976, and is commonly regarded as one of the most successful singles of the 1970s. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine listed it as one of the greatest songs of all time...

The recording sessions for "Dancing Queen" began on 4 August 1975... After having been premiered on German and Japanese TV during the spring of 1976, "Dancing Queen" saw its first live and domestic performance, televised on Swedish TV on 18 June 1976, during an all-star gala staged by Kjerstin Dellert at the Royal Swedish Opera in honour of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and his bride to be, Silvia Sommerlath, who were to be married the next day...

"Dancing Queen" became a massive worldwide hit, topping the charts in more than a dozen countries including ABBA's native Sweden (where it spent 14 weeks at the top), Australia, Belgium, Brazil, West Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Mexico,[citation needed] the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway (where it charted for 32 weeks (VG-lista Top 10), making it the 11th best-performing single of all time in that country), South Africa and Rhodesia. "Dancing Queen" also topped the charts in the United States, ABBA's only #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was a Top 5 hit in Austria, Canada, Finland, France and Switzerland.

Pioneer life in the Boundary Waters

Several brief excerpts from Woman of the Boundary Waters, an autobiography by Justine Kerfoot, who moved to the Gunflint Trail in 1928 with her family and lived there for 50 years, setting up the famous Gunflint Lodge:
Invariably our loose dogs encountered porcupines, which always presented a challenge to them... The only effective method I found to remove quills was stringing the dog's hindquarters to the rafters, but low enough so the shoulders were on the floor, placing a stick through the dog's mouth for it to clamp down on and pulling out the quills one by one with pliers.  If the dog's hindquarters weren't lifted off the floor, there was no way of holding him steady."(p.38)

"The [telephone] line was as frail as a gossamer thread.  It became customary when traveling up and
down the Trail to watch for fallen trees on the line and stop to chop them or push them off.  We caried spare wire, pliers and an axe in our car at all times...

The first resorter to come along always patched a break.  To pull the wire ends together we hooked one end of the wire to the bumper of our car and drove ahead to stretch that side taut.  Then we would drag the other end by hand as close  as we could to the attached end and fill the remaining gap with a wire splice.  Later we would return with come-a-longs, sleeves, crimpers and a ladder to replace the makeshift patch and retie the line to the insulators... (p. 94)

Our 50-mile single circuit telephone line became efficient when everything was frozen during the winter months.  Once when Mother and I were coming back from town we found a break.  We had no wire along, so we filled the gap with an old tire chain.  The chain transmitted messages, both local and long distance for several weeks until we repaired the break. (p.97) 

10 August 2015

"Sea silk" and "byssus" explained

Sea silk is an extremely fine, rare, and valuable fabric that is made from the long silky filaments or byssus secreted by a gland in the foot of [bivalve molluscs]...

The cloth produced from these filaments can be woven even finer than silk, and is extremely light and warm; however, it attracts clothes moths, the larvae of which will eat it. It was said that a pair of women's gloves made from the fabric could fit into half a walnut shell.

Ancient Egyptian burial customs, byssus cloth (linen) was used to wrap mummies
Wisconsin is sadly a long way from the ocean; I had a hard time visualizing the "filaments" by which molluscs attach themselves to rocks (I thought they just glued themselves on...).  This image - cropped for emphasis from the original - helped:

The byssus is the tuft of filaments at the far left of the mollusk.

There are still a few remaining craftsmen who weave byssus into cloth:
I was ready to meet Chiara Vigo, the only woman in the world who still works the byssus, better known as the silk of the sea, the same way women in ancient Mesopotamia used to weave it...  The lab where Chiara works is also the only Museum of the Byssus in the world, and it sits on top of a little hill in downtown Sant’Antioco.

Once dry, Chiara combs it with a wool card and finally twists the fine filaments together with a spindle made of oleander, forming the gilded thread. The yarn is spun quite a few times in order to make it strong enough to be employed in the loom and woven with her slender fingers.
More details and photos at Sardinia Innovation.

With a tip of the blogging hat to reader Stuart Moulder, who sent me the link in response to my post about... what? I can't remember. I'm getting old...

Photo credit for both images to John Hill.

Res ipsa loquitur

Via imgur.

Massive ball of squid eggs

Never seen or photographed before...
On July 9th, 2015 a group of lucky divers happened upon something truly remarkable–A 4-meter-wide clear sphere floating off the coast of a small town in Turkey. The sphere was 22 meters below the sea surface, and even up close, it appears almost invisible.

These egg masses are likely found much deeper in the ocean and only occasionally drift to shallow water. Another factor is time. Dr. Staaf and colleagues found that the developing squid in the giant mass took just three days to hatch. That’s a pretty small window to find such a well-hidden target.

Rare albino raven

Albino ravens are some of the rarest birds in existence; the bird Bennett found at the CWC was believed to be one of just four albino ravens in the entire world. “These kind of creatures are more mythology than reality,” Bennett says. ..

A bullet had pierced her humerus, back quarters, and likely, says Bennett, a lung. Even though there wasn’t much blood, Pearl died on the way to the vet.

09 August 2015

What should be done with wildlife poachers ?

Police in Bangladesh killed six poachers during a gun battle:
The gunfight was reported two weeks after the census was released revealing that the number of the Sundarban’s famous Bengal Tiger population was far fewer than it was previously thought, sparking an uproar among environmentalists, who demanded intensified anti-poaching campaigns. 
Redditor Egg-imitations offered the following suggestion:
"They should capture poachers, put them in a special enclosure and then let dentists pay to hunt them. Everyone wins!"

08 August 2015


Can you decipher these letters?
A medieval sword that carries a mysterious inscription has baffled historians for centuries. Little is known about [the] double-edged weapon, least of all the meaning behind a cryptic 18-letter message running down the central groove which reads: NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI.
Now The British Library have appealed for the public’s help in cracking the conundrum...

The weapon was found at the bottom of the River Witham in Lincolnshire in 1825, but it’s believed the 13th century sword originally belonged to a medieval knight...

The indecipherable inscription is inlaid with gold wire and experts have speculated the letters are a religious invocation since the language is unknown...

Anne Robertson reckons the letters may be the first from each line of a poem – something that’s been seen on other medieval artefacts. A number of people have picked out certain letters which had particular meanings in Latin at the time, such as ND standing for ‘nostrum dominus’ meaning our Lord, and ‘X’ for Christ. Harrison thinks this is the most probable idea so far 'but then it gets more complicated'. 'It's been suggested in the past that it's a relgious inscription and the sword may have been dropped in the river on purpose [for religious reasons] which was not uncommon...'
More details, pix and a video at the link.  I should probably carve TYWKIWDBI on something...

Addendum:  Some good discussion at Language Log.  As ofl Feb 2024, no new info on the internet re possible solution.

07 August 2015

Doing a good deed for a stranger


Excerpts from a story published by the Union Pacific Railroad:
Josh Cyganik has waved to 75-year-old Leonard Bullock every morning for the past four years.

Bullock's house sits across the street from a portion of the Union Pacific main line in Pendleton, Oregon, where Cyganik meets his co-workers every day to begin his work maintaining tracks across UP's western region. "He sits on that front porch all day long," Cyganik said. "I never talked to him. Not until I heard what those two kids said."

It was a sunny day in July when Josh overheard two teenagers comment that the house should be burned down because it was in such bad shape. "I saw the look on Leonard's face. I could tell the comment bothered him," Cyganik said. "I don't think any elderly person should have to endure what I heard from those two kids' mouths. I kind of stewed about it for a couple days before I decided to do something."

Determined to right the situation, Cyganik asked a few fellow railroaders to help out. He also asked his friend, Brian Christensen, manager of Tum-a-Lum lumber, if he could donate some paint. "Brian was more than happy to donate supplies. After we had it all figured out, I went and asked Leonard if it would be all right if we painted his house," Cyganik said. "He was ecstatic."
He posted his project on Facebook, and more than a hundred people stopped by to help.
"It was just a good vibe! Everybody was happy and excited," Cyganik said. "We received a lot of additional donations from people who didn't come but wanted to help. People were dropping off food and drinks all day long. Starbucks even donated six gallons of water and iced tea."

The formerly white, blue and turquoise house now is a uniform warm beige, and thanks to more help from Tum-a-Lum Lumber, construction of a new porch is underway. Additional volunteers have purchased new outdoor furniture, and Cyganik and crew are looking for a roofer willing to donate time to complete the project.
Throughout this process, Cyganik learned quite a bit about Leonard Bullock. Bullock is a retired forklift driver. He met his wife, Dorothy, at a church in Walla Walla, Washington. They married in 2000. Bullock retired in 1995, but even with his monthly stipend he and Dorothy didn't have the funds to fix up their house. "They're great people," Cyganik said. "You never know about someone unless you get to know their struggles.
More details at the link.  Commentary at Reddit.  Those readers who have grown weary of the unending grim news they encounter exploring the internet will be relieved to know that there is an Uplifting News subreddit.

06 August 2015

This is a "Stockbridge damper"

A Stockbridge damper is a tuned mass damper used to suppress wind-induced vibrations on slender structures such as overhead power lines and long cantilevered signs. The dumbbell-shaped device consists of two masses at the ends of a short length of cable or flexible rod, which is clamped at its middle to the main cable. The damper is designed to dissipate the energy of oscillations in the main cable to an acceptable level. Its distinctive shape gives it the nickname "dog-bone damper".
Photo credit: Craig M. Story, via Slate.

New conspiracy theories

I've posted before that I love reading conspiracy theories, because they are so much more interesting than real life.  A recent Reddit thread presented some new (to me) theories:
That the government started the whole tin-foil hat idea because tin foil hats actually amplify, not block, signals.

Michael Jordan did not "retire" from basketball to play baseball for a couple of years. He was suspended by the commissioner for gambling on the sport, but they mutually agreed to not announce it because he was the game's biggest star, and it didn't do either of them any good to expose him.

Those funny "What is your Star Wars name?" type games on Facebook are used to collect your private information, especially answers to your security questions (mom's maiden name, childhood pet, etc...)

New Coke was a maneuver by Coca Cola to reinvigorate their sales by introducing a subpar product and then reintroducing "Coke Classic" to inspire nostalgia. Or it was a clever method to hide the switch from sugar to corn syrup.

That PETA is run by someone in the meat industry to paint animal rights activists as crazy people. They release massive campaigns over ridiculous topics to draw attention away from real issues and make real activists less credible.

Lost cosmonauts. The Russians lost men in space. Gagarin was just the first to return.

That laundry detergent companies put the line over where it needs to be so you'll run out faster.

Magic Johnson never had AIDS. He was paid by the government and insurance companies to say he had aids since he was the height of invincibility and admiration of youngsters at the time.
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