26 December 2015

Are there more stars in the sky of the Southern Hemisphere?

Again I quote from Borges' essay "The Divine Comedy," the content of which was a lecture he gave in Buenos Aires in 1977:
They [Ulysses and his crew] sail and leave behind Ceuta and Seville, enter the open sea, and turn toward the left... Then he tells us, "in the night I saw all the stars of the other hemisphere" -  our hemisphere, the Southern, full of stars.  (The great Irish poet Yeats speaks of the "starladen sky."  That is untrue in the Northern Hemisphere, where there are few stars compared to ours.)
I suppose I could search the answer online, but there must be a reader out there who has lived in both hemispheres, or who has a sufficient knowledge of astronomy to answer the question.

22 December 2015

And now we are eight

Today is TYWKIWDBI's eighth blogiversary.  The photo shows some celebratory "snowman" cookies designed to reflect the realities of this winter's climate in our part of the country.

I started this blog during Christmas week of 2007 as a way to save time ("if I put stuff in a blog, then I won't need to individually mail interesting things to Ted in Florida and to Skip up at the lake and to my cousins out west...").  It has of course morphed into the polar opposite - a beast capable of consuming vast numbers of precious hours (though to be quite honest the time expenditure comes from the attendant surfing of the web, not the creation of the posts).  I mused about that during my fifth blogiversary post:
I still struggle with motivation to keep blogging because of the seemingly unending distractions of real life.  But I do get a great deal of satisfaction from the depth and breadth of knowledge, the sophistication, and the almost always unfailing courtesy of readers who comment on the posts.  I learn things, I teach things, and every now and then I get help with my car or my computer for free.  Such a deal.
The numbers startle me when I stop to look at them:  13,400 posts, almost 19,000,000 pageviews.  I can never tell ahead of time what will tickle the fancy of the readership, because the most unexpected posts sometimes garner the most attention.  I put a lot of effort into dissecting hard science, but the fifth most popular post was this 2012 one about a waterfall braid (73,777 views) -

- which in turn was overshadowed by a text-only post in 2013 explaining how to break your wrist on purpose (91,400 pageviews, 121 comments !).

Not surprisingly, humor posts hold the top two spots: Watch out if your daddy likes physics (113,000 pageviews) and How to tease your dog (135,000 pageviews).

I don't know what the future holds for the blog.  I may make some changes to reflect the realities of my increasing age and the fact that the passage of time seems to be speeding up.  The recognition of love-hate relationships goes back at least as far as the Roman poet Catullus: “I hate and yet love. You may wonder how I manage it. I don't know, but feel it happen, and am in torment.”  I'm not in torment, but I am conflicted about the time I spend with my mouse and keyboard.

Now it's time for Christmas things.  Back to the blog next week.

Cookie photo cropped for composition from the one posted at imgur.

The Mercury (1938)

"Mercury was the name used by the New York Central Railroad for a family of daytime streamliner passenger trains operating between midwestern cities. The Mercury train sets were designed by the noted industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, and are considered a prime example of Art Deco design...

For the Mercury, he achieved a streamlined appearance by covering the exterior pipes, whistles, and other fittings in a smooth "bathtub" cowl. The sides of the cowl were cut away to show the driving wheels..."
Photo via imgur.

I heard "Desperado" this week...

Via Paul Douglas' incomparable weather blog.

Crouching snowmen, hidden panda

I gave up trying to locate the panda hidden among these snowmen.  The answer is shown at The Telegraph.

21 December 2015

This tick is "questing"

I've known since my childhood that deer ticks position themselves on the tips of blades of grass and wait for passing victims, but I didn't know until last week (hat tip NSTAAF) that there is a speific term for this behavior:
Hard ticks seek hosts by an interesting behavior called "questing." Questing ticks crawl up the stems of grass or perch on the edges of leaves on the ground in a typical posture with the front legs extended, especially in response to a host passing by. Certain biochemicals such as carbon dioxide as well as heat and movement serve as stimuli for questing behavior.
Photo credit via UMaine extension service.

"Hermetically sealed"

I heard the phrase recently and didn't understand how it could be connected to the Greek god Hermes.
Hermes Trismegistus... is the purported author of the Hermetic Corpus, a series of sacred texts that are the basis of Hermeticism... During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, known as Hermetica, enjoyed great prestige and were popular among alchemists. The "hermetic tradition" consequently refers to alchemy, magic, astrology and related subjects. The texts are usually divided into two categories: the "philosophical", and the "technical" hermetica. The former deals mainly with issues of philosophy, and the latter with practical magic, potions and alchemy. Spells to magically protect objects, for example, are the origin of the expression "Hermetically sealed". 
And of interest:
Hermes Trismegistus has a major place in Islamic tradition. He writes, "Hermes Trismegistus is mentioned in the Qur'an in verse 19:56-57:"Mention, in the Book, Idris, that he was truthful, a prophet. We took him up to a high place"...

Hermes Trismegistus is identified as Idris (prophet) the infallible Prophet who traveled to outer space from Egypt, to heaven, where Adam and the Black Stone he brought with him when he landed on earth in India, originated. According to ancient Arab genealogists, Muhammad the Prophet, who also is believed to have traveled to outer space on the night of Isra and Mi'raj to the heavens is a direct lineal descendant of Hermes Trismegistus...
And, for the English majors -
In the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne the narrator's father wishes to call his newborn son Trismegistus (after Hermes Trismegistus) because he considers the name particularly auspicious. Unfortunately, his wife's maid bungles the pronunciation of the name and the child is instead baptised Tristram, a name the father particularly despises.

The world needs more people like this

Emblematic of the European refugee crisis

"Piles of life jackets used by refugees and migrants to cross the Aegean sea from the Turkish coast remain stacked on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, on Dec. 16, 2015... --Santi Palacios / AP

Do you have anything like this in your attic?

Greenwich Time explains what it is:
Brendan Ryan...  recently visited the home of a Greenwich woman who was looking to sell some belongings, when his eyes lit on a yellowing sheet of music behind glass, stippled with notes. More than just a musical composition, the sheet was ferociously dotted with German words, directions and symbols that practically flew off the page with manic intensity...

The sheet music went from being a curio in a Greenwich home to a $100,000 windfall when it sold at auction last month. For music scholars, it’s become an exciting addition to the Beethoven canon...

Another detail that confirmed the sheet work’s authenticity were three small holes on the side of the paper. The holes match up exactly with known samples from the sketchbook in Bonn, Germany. Beethoven threaded pages of the sketchbook together himself with a needle and some twine.

The sketchbook had some 30 pages of lined paper in it, and it was with this pad that Beethoven, age 40, began work on “King Stephen.” It was a rush job — done in two weeks — to write incidental music for a ceremonial theater piece honoring the founder of Hungary, tied to the opening of a new concert hall in that nation’s capital city. Beethoven was at a spa in 1810 when he wrote the work.

It’s unclear what happened to the sketchbook after Beethoven’s death in 1827. At some point, it was broken up and cut into pieces and sold in portions to admirers. A few snippets have turned up in fragmentary form.
Via Neatorama.

18 December 2015

Orcas are "cosmopolitan" animals

Not because they live in cities (a common misuse of "cosmopolitan"), but because this is their range:

"Cosmopolitan" refers to a citizen ("polites") of the "kosmos" (in Greek times "the world" - not the universe).
The term "cosmopolitan distribution" usually should not be taken literally, because it often is applied loosely in various contexts. Commonly the intention is not to include polar regions, extreme altitudes, oceans, deserts, or small, isolated islands. For example, the housefly is nearly as cosmopolitan as any animal species, but it is neither oceanic nor polar in its distribution. Again, the term "cosmopolitan weed" implies no more than that the plant in question occurs on all continents except Antarctica; it is not meant to suggest that it covers the continents entirely.
Map credit.

There is a "Muslim Reform Movement"

Here is the preamble to their Declaration:
We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam. We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate. We seek to reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the 7th century to fast forward it into the 21st century. We support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.

We reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. Facing the threat of terrorism, intolerance, and social injustice in the name of Islam, we have reflected on how we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance. We are announcing today the formation of an international initiative: the Muslim Reform Movement.

We have courageous reformers from around the world who will outline our Declaration for Muslim Reform, a living document that we will continue to enhance as our journey continues. We invite our fellow Muslims and neighbors to join us.


This video was created as an advertisement, but I'm posting it for the skill of Luca Iaconi-Stewart, the plane model artist.

Amazing how many people get this math problem wrong

I'm not on Facebook, so I don't know the exact number of replies, but reportedly thousands of respondents thought the answer was "A."

Iron-fortified cereal

I thought maybe this video was faked (especially when the "food artist" narrator said that he had "assumed iron...was a naturally occurring protein..."), but now I'm going to go look for a magnet.

Via Neatorama.

The "left" and "right" of river tributaries and forks

For tributaries of rivers, the designations "right" and "left" are assigned based on a view looking downstream.

For forks of rivers, the designations "right" and "left" are assigned based on a view looking upstream.

17 December 2015

14th century art

The illustration above comes from the Luttrell Psalter, England ca. 1325-1340  (British Library, Add 42130, fol. 146v).

The one below depicts the world's most famous C-section.  "Birth of Julius Caesar, Les anciennes hystoires rommaines, Paris 14th century."  (British Library, Royal 16 G VII, fol. 219r)

Addendum - a tip of the blogging hat to reader Snotty, who offers this well-written article about The Truth About Julius Caesar and "Caesarean" Sections, which suggests that the term Caesarean derives not from the birth of Julius Caesar, but from the Lex Caesarea - a Roman law mandating surgical removal of the fetus from dying mothers.

Both items via the quite remarkable Discarding Images tumblr.

Stonehenge bluestone quarry confirmed in Wales

As reported at the website of University College London:
Excavation of two quarries in Wales by a UCL-led team of archaeologists and geologists has confirmed they are sources of Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’– and shed light on how they were quarried and transported...

The very large standing stones at Stonehenge are of ‘sarsen’, a local sandstone, but the smaller ones, known as ‘bluestones’, come from the Preseli hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills, but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came...

The special formation of the rock, which forms natural pillars at these outcrops, allowed the prehistoric quarry-workers to detach each megalith (standing stone) with a minimum of effort. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face” said Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton). “The quarry-workers then lowered the thin pillars onto platforms of earth and stone, a sort of ‘loading bay’ from where the huge stones could be dragged away along trackways leading out of each quarry.”..

“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC” said Professor Parker Pearson. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire."
A search is underway for the original Stonehenge.

Abstract of the research publication in Antiquity.

"Terminal agitation" in the dying person

Useful information from the Hospice Patients Alliance:
Many families may be surprised when a terminally ill (and usually calm) family member becomes restless or even agitated. The depth of such restlessness or agitation varies from patient to patient...

Those who work with the dying know this type of restlessness or agitation almost immediately... Patients may be too weak to walk or stand, but they insist on getting up from the bed to the chair, or from the chair back to the bed. Whatever position they are in, they complain they are not comfortable and demand to change positions, even if pain is well managed. They may yell out using uncharacteristic language, sometimes angrily accusing others around them. They appear extremely agitated and may not be objective about their own condition...

If, and only if, other obvious causes of restlessness and agitation have already been eliminated, then the physician may directly order medications to reduce the restlessness and agitation...

Terminal agitation is a hospice crisis and meets the criteria for starting the continuous nursing care level of care.
More at the link.

13 December 2015

Illustrations from the new edition of Harry Potter

Selections from a larger gallery at The Guardian.

I am a nemophilist

Surprised that I hadn't encountered the word before, I had to consult my OED, which cites usages dating back to the early 19th century.  The etymology is from a Greek word meaning wooded pasture or glade.  There is also adjectives nemorivagant ("wandering in woods") and nemorose ("full of woods") and nemorous ("woody" - dating to 1623).

Posted for some old friends with a garbin at Leech Lake.

There are now baby tortoises in the Galapagos

There hadn't been one single baby tortoise sighting in more than a century on the Galapagos Island of Pinzon, until a small group of the tiny, shelled youngsters were spotted this year... This is huge news for a species that has been struggling to survive for a century, relying on humans raising young tortoises bred in captivity until they are large enough to not fall prey to rats and predators...

"The incredible eradication of rats on this island, done by the park service and others, has created the opportunity for the tortoises to breed for the first time," he added. 
Photo via The Dodo.

Congratulations, Wyatt !

11 years of high school.  Found at Bad Newspaper.

Some protostars shoot out water

This report from National Geographic dates back to 2011, but I just heard about it this week on a podcast of NSTAAF.   I think it's worth sharing just for the jaw-dropping numbers.
Seven hundred and fifty light-years from Earth, a young, sunlike star has been found with jets that blast epic quantities of water into interstellar space, shooting out droplets that move faster than a speeding bullet.

The discovery suggests that protostars may be seeding the universe with water. These stellar embryos shoot jets of material from their north and south poles as their growth is fed by infalling dust that circles the bodies in vast disks.

"If we picture these jets as giant hoses and the water droplets as bullets, the amount shooting out equals a hundred million times the water flowing through the Amazon River every second," said Lars Kristensen, a postdoctoral astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands...

After tracing the paths of these atoms, the team concluded that water forms on the star, where temperatures are a few thousand degrees Celsius. But once the droplets enter the outward-spewing jets of gas, 180,000-degree-Fahrenheit (100,000-degree-Celsius) temperatures blast the water back into gaseous form.

Once the hot gases hit the much cooler surrounding material—at about 5,000 times the distance from the sun to Earth—they decelerate, creating a shock front where the gases cool down rapidly, condense, and reform as water, Kristensen said.

12 December 2015

Edwardian hairstyles

A collection of Edwardian photographs, depicting some of the hairstyles of the time, like the Low Pompadour. Hatpin Hairstyle. Side-Swirls. Flapper (The title ‘Flapper’ originally referred to teenage girls who wore their hair in single plait which often terminated in a wide ribbon bow.) & the pompadour.
Text and image from The Vintage Thimble (where there are additional photos), via Edwardian Era.

Victorian hairstyles

Found at The Vintage Thimble.

World record teddy bear toss

Reposted from 2011 with the insertion of a better-resolution video.  This year a recoerd 28,815 teddy bears were tossed onto the Calgary Hitmen's hockey rink.  Offered as a cheerful retreat from the grimmer news of the day.

Wikipedia has a page about teddy bear tosses for those unfamiliar with the ritual.

Don't insult a robot

Proud father

"A grandfather's dream come true: proud Aboriginal elder dances with granddaughter at graduation."

Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi speaks limited English, mostly conversing in traditional language of the Galpu clan.

He says "proud" as he touches his heart. His wife Jane Garrutju translates the rest. "It was his dream, to dance with his granddaughters here," she says.

He has flown down from remote Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island in north-east Arnhem Land. That's about 3,000 kilometres away from Worawa Aboriginal College in Healesville, north-east of Melbourne, where his granddaughter Sasha has been boarding for the past two and a half years. This is her year 10 graduation.
"I am proud of my grandchildren, Sasha and Alicia, I am proud that this college was taken care of and that they got a good education," Gali says.

Gali is a Yolngu Mala leader, known as the Morning Star dancer... The traditional dance called Lunggurrma, which means north wind, incorporates the feathered ceremonial Banumbirr (morning star pole).
The rest of the story, with additional photos (and a video of the dance) are at ABC News (Au), via Reddit.

08 December 2015


I'm back.  It'll take me a while to get "up to speed," so for today let's start with a linkdump to clean out some of the material I bookmarked during the past several weeks...

"Hanging out" at Preikestolen.

Headline of the day: "Lincoln Chafee quits quixotic presidential bid, disappointing tens of supporters."

Re Bernie Sanders' religious views: "First, Sanders would be our first Jewish president. And second, while Sanders is culturally Jewish, he has said that he's "not particularly religious" and has been described by some as agnostic."

A young man jumps across a road.  Pretty impressive; I wonder if his technique would be legal in a conventional long-jump competition.

"The Lonely Death of George Bell" - a long NYT photoessay about the death of a recluse with hoarding tendencies.  Interesting and sobering.

How to shop for marijuana in Denver.

“Over the past five years, the state of Nevada has transferred to other states approximately 1,500 patients discharged from its state-run Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, including 500 patients that Nevada sent by Greyhound bus to cities and counties in California,” said the lawsuit... The patients, many of whom were mentally ill indigent and not California residents, were sent to various destinations with no arrangements for when they arrived, according to the lawsuit."

Reversed video of a backwards-running competition.

gif of a clever Cinderella transformation.

Jerry Kill, coach of the University of Minnesota football team, announces his retirement mid-season because of epilepsy.  Moving.

gif of a seal getting incredible airtime when launched out of the water by an orca.

"Since the global financial crisis in 2008, a total of 26 bankers have been sentenced to a combined 74 years in prison."  In Iceland - not the United States (obviously).

"Joyce, 83, has spent the last few months walking several miles a day to his customers' homes to mow their lawns after the transmission died in his 1994 truck. Longtime customer Robert Norton and his wife Nikki Norton created a GoFundMe account hoping to help Joyce. They were stunned when people donated more than $13,000 in just a few weeks and they were able to give him the new ride."

gif of a crow using french fries as bait to fish for a minnow.

NOAA has posted predictions for temperatures and precipitation in the United States for the coming three months (Jan-Mar 2017).  Here in Wisconsin it will be warmer and drier than normal.  We already have public golf courses open in December for the first time ever.

Twenty-two shipwrecks have been found off the coast of Greece "dating from the Archaic Period (700-480 B.C.) through the Late Medieval Period (16th century), including some wrecks that are more than 2,500 years old. The small and relatively obscure region may be “the ancient shipwreck capital of the world,” the release says.

gif of a bubble freezing.

"The Atacama Desert in Chile, known as the driest place on Earth, is awash with color after a year’s worth of extreme rainfall." (Pix and video at the link)

Detailed background on the history of the Cuban "embargo."

There may be an unexpected risk in living next to a Civil-War-era graveyard.  "...homeowners should watch out for toxins [especially arsenic used in embalming fluid] leaking out of old graves that could be contaminating drinking water and causing serious health problems."

Rare footage of a Canadian being born (sfw).

The word "fascinate" has an unexpected etymology: From Latin fascinātus, perfect passive participle of fascinō ‎(enchant, bewitch, fascinate), from fascinum ‎(a phallus-shaped amulet worn around the neck used in Ancient Rome; witchcraft).  (Hat tip to the QI elves).

Fish chasing a laser pointer.

Feathered dinosaurs have recently been found in North America.  "This dinosaur was covered in down-like feathers throughout life, but only older individuals developed larger feathers on the arms, forming wing-like structures..." (so presumably the feathers were not used for flight).

"A year of legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado has brought the Rocky Mountain state significant savings, reduced crime rates and tax revenue gains from the sale of the plant and its byproducts..."

Should a driverless car be programmed to sacrifice its own passenger(s) in order to prevent killing pedestrian(s)?

Tesselated brick pavers shaped like the state of Texas.

A map from NOAA showing the historical date of first snow across the United States.

A clever way to store plastic bags.

"Video taken from Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle's Taser during the fatal shooting of David Kassick in February 2015. It was shown at her murder trial in November 2015. She was acquitted."  Warning: graphic violence/death.

"Rachel Franklin and her son Paul were at a beach in Orange County, California one day when Paul scraped his knee... then the wound turned black and started oozing, so Rachel decided to drain the wound herself and discovered that the cause of the infection was a sea snail hitching a ride inside the wound."

Perception can overwhelm knowledge.  In this video Paul Giamatti participates in a "rubber hand experiment."

"In recent years, a wave of zoos have purged themselves of peafowl."

Yet another theory on the identity of Jack the Ripper.

The Smithsonian offers a set of reports on "how polio changed us."

The dangers of the morcellation. "Morcellation is a technique for removing large body parts through small incisions. In the past, morcellation was done manually with a scalpel. But now there are special tools for the job called morcellators. They look like dainty power drills, with small, rapidly rotating cylindrical blades tucked inside the tip. Once slipped in through the tiny porthole, the device grasps and then grinds up the parts that need to be extracted, right there inside the abdominal cavity, and sucks the fragments out. Doctors occasionally do this to kidneys, spleens and adrenal glands, but it is in gynecological surgery where morcellation has flourished." Problems arise when the technique is inadvertently applied to a malignancy.

You can now buy "snowman kits" to help you construct and decorate a snowman.

A gif of "jackpoling." "From what I remember when I saw this on some NatGeo special, they use a special type of hook that doesn't catch in the fish's mouth but allows the fish to grab the lure. The fish hold on for a second and get pulled out of the water, then they let go when they realize it's not food and fall into the trough. They're constantly throwing bits of chum over the side so the fish get really aggressive and can't differentiate between food and lure."

A high-school football player pokes a player from the opposing team in the eyesHard.  Story here.

An ice-cream cone in Budapest.

"A wild raven perched himself on our fence and squawked for over an hour. I went to see what was up with him and saw that he had four porcupine quills stuck in him, three in the side of his face and one in his wing. This video shows my Mom taking out the ones in his face. Very bizarre he let us get that close and even more bizzare he let my Mom pull the quills out."

A waitress pays for the lunch for a pair of firefighters.  They return the favor in a remarkable way.

A 1,111-carat diamond has been found in Botswana.

"A pair of Dutch pranksters have scored a YouTube hit with their latest video in which they ask members of the public to offer their views on some 'shocking' verses from the Qur'an.  However, unknown to the participants, the verses are in fact from the Bible."

If your car's headlights seem dim, read this discussion thread.

A mall Santa signs to a deaf child.  Here's one attempt at translation (but words are probably unnecessary).

Images from a competition conducted by the American Society for Microbiology, 
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