28 February 2016


A gif of a diver freeing a whale shark from a girdling fishing net.

An unfortunate (?but prescient) 1978 ad for New York's World Trade Center.

Oklahoma continues to be rocked by earthquakes.  A recent one was magnitude 5.1 and felt as far away as Kansas City.  Historically (1978-2008) the state experienced two earthquakes per  year.  Since the institution of fracking for oil, the rate has increased to about 600X the baseline.

Whether you own a gun or not, if you know how to use one, this photo will make you very uncomfortable.

"Reversing the lasered bikini line: Why women are paying thousands to restore the hair 'down there'."

Ole! (gif from a bullring - safe for work and life).

The ten most redneck cities in Minnesota.  Criteria: Number of bars per city, Number of mobile home parks per capita, Number of tobacco stores per city, Number of places to get fishing gear, Number of guns and ammo stores per city, Walmarts, Golden Corrals, Bass Pro Shops, and dollar stores nearby.

A history of female ejaculation ("squirting").

It has been suggested that some raptors may deliberately spread wildfires by dropping burning twigs in other areas to flush out rodents.

"Bird's nest custody."  Instead of having the children of divorced parents shuffle between two homes, the children stay in one home and the parents alternate turns living there.  Makes sense to me.

"Burglar alarm staircases" were not intentionally created as such.  The uneven risers have other explanations.

The instrumentation that measures gravitational waves has a precision that is truly mind-boggling: "Each detector looks like a giant L, made up of two tunnels, each 2.5 miles long. When a gravitational wave passes through, it stretches space along the direction of one tunnel and squishes space along the direction of the other. That stretching and squishing effectively changes the tunnels' lengths, and that change can be detected by lasers inside each one. The system is so sensitive it can see fluctuations as small as 1/10,000 the diameter of a proton."

You can now purchase individually packaged bread and juice communion sets (not sanctified, of course, at the time of purchase).

A female-friendly guitar leaves "room for breasts."

A graph of the time interval between nomination and confirmation or rejection of all Supreme Court justices in the past 115 years.

Humorous sign at an old Academy Awards.

Revised thinking about how the inhabitants of Easter Island came to their doom: disease and slave raids, not ecological collapse.

A cogent argument for eliminating the $100 bill (and the 500 Euro note).  "... illicit activities are facilitated when a million dollars weighs 2.2 pounds as with the 500 euro note rather than more than 50 pounds as would be the case if the $20 bill was the high denomination note. And he is equally correct in arguing that technology is obviating whatever need there may ever have been for high denomination notes in legal commerce.

Do you want to read "doom and gloom" about the world economy to counter the cheerful forecasts of most investment professionals?  Here you go.

Some elementary schools are eliminating the cafeteria, so that students can have lunch in the relative peace and quiet of their classroom.  "Students describe their noon meal now as calmer, quieter and less rushed. Teachers say the children are better behaved and they eat more."

A rare football play: free kick field goal after a fair catch of a short kickoff.

NPR readers/viewers offer their suggestions for the top 100 science-fiction and fantasy booksPrintable version here.

A good article about corruption and presidential politics.

"Ossendrijver translated several Babylonian cuneiform tablets from 350 to 50 BCE and found that they contain a sophisticated calculation of the position of Jupiter. The method relies on determining the area of a trapezium under a graph. This technique was previously thought to have been invented at least 1400 years later in 14th-century Oxford."

"Why tumblr porn is great for women." "...a 2013 report showed that of Tumblr's 200,000 most-visited blogs, 11.4 percent of them host adult content... Even a cursory search turns up a whole host of sexy Tumblr blogs that are explicitly geared toward women, primarily straight women..."

Two girls with their hearts beating outside their chests get to meet one another.  (They were born with the Pentalogy of Cantrell).

Europe is experiencing mass deaths of sperm whales.  "From January to early February, 30 of the magnificent creatures died on the coasts of the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and northern France, all “bachelor” or juvenile males... They were far from their usual hunting habitat in the deep north Atlantic Ocean..."

Divers off the coast of Turkey have discovered a shipwreck from the Minoan civilization.

The globe of this lamppost focuses the sun's rays to burn a linear east-west line in the grass.

The photos for this week's divertimento were selected from a larger gallery of "places in London where you can no longer spend a penny," posted in the quite interesting Spitalfields Life.

Water fountain for draft horses

Photographed in Malden, Massachusetts, 1906.  Via Rob's Webstek.

A message for those who have difficulty posting comments on this blog

A couple times every year I get inquiries via email from readers who report being unable to write comments on the posts.  The problem does not lie with the way the blog is set up, or with the blogspot host.  Almost always the difficulty arises because of security settings in the reader's personal computer.

I was startled to encounter the problem myself this past week.  One morning I wanted to write a reply to a comment received overnight, but on several attempts to write a response, the computer simply refused to enter my comment.  No explanation was offered.

After several fruitless attempts, I did what I had advised readers to do in the past - switch to a different browser.  So I went from my standard Firefox to Safari and was able to enter the comment without any difficulty.

It took me a while to realize that the night before I had become frustrated by a paywall appearing at one of my favorite news sites.  I had been coping with this by deleting cookies after reading four or five links there, so I had decided to block cookies from the site by adjusting the Firefox settings to not accepting third-party cookies. 

So to fix the problem, I opened up Firefox Preferences' Privacy settings (they were checked as in the screencap at the top of the pos)t.  Then I revised the option regarding third-party cookies as follows:

... and once again my ability to write blog comments while on Firefox was restored.

There are more sophisticated ways to manage cookies, which is not really the subject of this post.  Just wanted to post a possible fixit for anyone out there still frustrated by being unable to write comments here, because useful and insightful comments are an integral part of TYWKIWDBI.

26 February 2016

Trdelníks explained

These are Trdelníks. They are tubes of sweet bread cooked over fire with sugar and cinnamon on the outside. The picture shows what some trendy new places have done, which is turn them into cones and fill them with stuff (some have meat and cheese in them). Saw the non-ice-cream-cone version all over Prague at Christmas markets, and saw a store in the touristy section selling exactly what is in the picture.
More at the Reddit discussion thread.  And this from Wikipedia:
Trdelník is a traditional Slovak cake and sweet pastry, originally coming from the Hungarian-speaking part of Transylvania, Romania. It is also known within the culinary heritages of other European countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria. It is made from rolled dough that is wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with sugar and walnut mix. Nowadays, trdelník is very popular among tourists as a sweet pastry in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.The name trdelník comes from trdlo, the wooden stake the cake is wrapped around for cooking which gives it its traditional hollow shape. 
At the link are a list of similar products from other European countries, including Swedish spettekaka.

Repeat after me: "wet wipes are NOT flushable"

"A massive blockage made up of wet wipes and sewage pulled from an underground pipe near Newcastle has highlighted the problem of the increasing use of wet wipes.

The Hunter Water Corporation tweeted a photo of the blockage, which was removed in January using a crane and buckets in the Lake Macquarie suburb of Eleebana."
Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.

This man is glad he wore underpants today

A spare e-cigarette lithium battery burst into flames in the pocket of a Kentucky man.  It presumably came into contact with coins or keys in his pocket, shorting the terminals and causing it to output all of its power quickly.  It is also recommended that lithium batteries not be stored in a car because high temperatures can cause them to overheat. 

Grammar is still important IRL

"A recent survey conducted by dating site Zoosk has found that grammar is incredibly important to millennials who participate in digital dating, meaning mostly everyone.

The survey found that 33% of those polled would give a potential flame the benefit of the doubt after using poor or improper grammar when messaging, but would opt to cease contact if the person habitually used bad grammar...

The most cringe-worthy infractions reported would make many middle and high school English teachers proud. Blatant spelling errors were the ultimate turn off, with the incorrect usage of there/their/they’re and your/you’re coming in second. Incorrect usage of punctuation wasn’t found to be too offensive, but when combined with spelling errors and improper forms of tenses produced many an eyeroll and reduced the likeliness of the person receiving a response... According to respondents, icky grammar is related to laziness and apathy. If a person can’t take the time to (correctly) spell out what they mean digitally, how much care will they put into a relationship IRL?"

Roads to Rome

"...we created an algorithm that calculates one route leading to Rome, Italy for every starting point in Europe. The more often a single street segment is used, the stronger it is drawn on the map...

...we adjusted our routing to find the closest Rome to every location in the USA. Each color represents routes leading to the closest Rome of this very starting point. Adjusting and coloring the routing to multiple destinations resulted in a very interesting territorial picture. Thus, every location is connected to the nearest Rome according to fastest travel time."

More European maps at the link. 

Via Gerard Vlemmings' The Presurfer.

25 February 2016

First Wisconsin butterfly sighting this year

An Eastern Comma was seen in Dodge County on February 20 - a full two weeks ahead of the earliest sighting ever previously recorded.  This species is one of the ones that overwinter here in hibernation, so the species is not surprising, but the timing is quite remarkable.

The game is afoot, Watson.

Image credit: cmatthewman at the photoshopbattles subreddit.

24 February 2016

A three-year old girl delivers a baby lamb

Rachel Nichols lives on a sheep farm in Wales, and at age three has already developed some remarkable skills.  This is the second lamb she has helped deliver, guided only by her mother's verbal instructions on how to rotate what apparently was a breech position.

With a hat tip to John Farrier at Neatorama for finding this remarkable video.

Crossing the uncanny valley

This video of the next generation robot from Boston Dynamics has been posted everywhere today, but I'm going to store it here in TYWKIWDBI also, not so much for the technology per se, but for the emotional response the robot generates.

I felt a certain warmth toward the robot while watching it walk in the woods, because its gait in that terrain is not that far removed from my own on my post-polio legs.

Many people have expressed an empathy while watching the robot being tormented by the human - but then there's a sudden emotional shift when the robot gets up from the floor - WOAH! - and you expect it to go find Mr. Hockey Stick and kick some human ass.

For those who missed them in previous years, here is Boston Dynamics' Big Dog (2008).  And here is their jumping "Sand Flea" (2012).

And for reference, scroll down here for a graph of the "uncanny valley."

23 February 2016

Phantom Corsair (1938)

The Phantom Corsair is a prototype automobile built in 1938. It is a six-passenger 2-door sedan that was designed by Rust Heinz of the H. J. Heinz family and Maurice Schwartz of the Bohman & Schwartz coachbuilding company in Pasadena, California.

The Phantom Corsair's steel-and-aluminum body measured just 57 in (140 cm) in height and incorporated fully skirted wheels and completely flush fenders while forgoing running boards. The car also lacked door handles, as the doors were instead opened electrically using push-buttons located on the exterior and the instrument panel

The body measured an impressive 237 in (600 cm) long and 76.5 in (194 cm) wide, enough to accommodate four people in the front row, including one person to the left of the driver.  The back seats could only hold two passengers, however, in large part because of space limitations posed by on-board beverage cabinets.  Though weighing a hefty 4,600 lb (2,100 kg), the Phantom Corsair could achieve speeds of up to 115 mph.

Heinz's death in a car accident in July 1939 ended those plans, leaving the prototype Corsair as the only one ever built.
1938.  Nineteen thirty-eight.  Amazing.

(How do the front wheels turn when they are fully skirted?  I presume the skirt moves with the wheel...)

Image via The Age of Diesel.

Dunwich is Britain's Atlantis

Coastal erosion has dropped most of the city of Dunwich into the sea.
Beyond the faded town and crumbling cliffside, past the skeleton of a long-abandoned church that was itself just one strong storm away from tumbling into the water, through the sand and scrubby sea grass and under the waves, lay the remains of a British Atlantis. There were shipyards and guild halls, mansions and market squares, two friaries, six or seven churches, an untold number of homes. Sear, a small child on vacation with his family, would perch on the ruins of the old church and listen for the bells that people said could still be heard tolling from the city’s submerged steeples...

Once among the most important cities in England, Dunwich was the victim of ferocious storms that lashed Britain’s eastern coast as Europe’s climate cooled going into the period now known as “the Little Ice Age.” Sonar maps, sediment samples and contemporary accounts revealed how the successive storms eroded the cliff the city once stood on, destroyed its economy and ultimately demoralized its inhabitants so thoroughly they all moved away.
More information and images at the Washington Post.

Minnesotans love hockey

On a mid-February afternoon, 50,000 fans attended a pro hockey match (Wild vs Blackhawks) at an outdoor rink on the University of Minnesota campus.

A tip of the blogging hat to photographers Robby Ankeny and Johnny Ankeny.

Kudos to the Prime Minister of India

"PM Narendra Modi on Sunday touched the feet of a 104-year-old woman from a village in Chhattisgarh's Dhamtari district who sold her goats to build two toilets at her home.

Felicitating Kunwar Bai from Kotabharri village at the launch of 'Rurban Mission' in the state's Naxal-hit Rajandgaon district, Modi said her efforts to make her village open defecation free was a big sign of changing India.

To build toilets at her residence, she had sold-off her 8-10 goats and then urged villagers to build lavatories too. "
And this explanation from the Reddit discussion thread: "For those questioning why he touched her feet, in India and Hindu culture it's a sign of respect. You're showing humility and asking for the person's blessings. You normally touch the feet of a parent, grandparent, elder or guru before you undertake any major event, like a job interview or an exam. Some even do it daily for no reason other than to show their respect."

Voter turnout trends

A sad graph of our national data for the past 50 years, from an article in the Washington Post discussing why Bernie Sanders didn't beat Hillary in Nevada despite his favorable ratings among younger voters.

21 February 2016


Stonework by Michael Eckerman.  Via Reddit, where there is discussion and criticism of the construction.

Incoming !

In the spring in Minnesota, the ice is supposed to "go out."  But sometimes, it comes in...

There are valid reasons why lake associations and building codes specify setbacks from lakeshore; most of these have to do with preservation of the riparian environment, but as the video above shows, a setback can help protect a home.

This event happened on Lake Mille Lacs, which is large enough to have a long fetch for the wind; the risks would be lower on a smaller lake unless repeated icejacking occurred.

There is a second video of the aftermath of the ice heave.

The Telegraph has a report (with video) of even more massive damage in Canada (12 homes destroyed by a 29-foot wall of ice)

Addendum:  Reposted from 2013 to add this visually-appealing video of ice stacking on Lake Superior:

Four hours of 12-15 mph steady winds from the SW led to the movement of the large sheets of ice on Lake Superior on February 13, 2016. The conditions during the two hours of filming ranged from -8°F to +3°F air temp (-20°F to -8°F windchill) with winds 5-10 mph from the SW. Due to the mild winter, Lake Superior has experienced less ice cover than usual, and consequently the ice has not formed as thick as typical winters. (Weather data courtesy of the National Weather Service in Duluth) [For our friends using the metric system: Celsius: - 22c to -29c; wind speed from: 19-24 km; ice thickness: .5cm - 7.5cm]

This video is being shown at normal speed. For those who have not witnessed an event like this in person, it may look as if this is time-lapse photography or video processed at a faster speed. Some ice stacking events move more slowly, especially when the wind is weaker or intermittent. The large sheets of ice shown in this video had pretty good momentum from sustained winds, but at one point the ice came to a groaning halt and the silence seemed almost deafening; it was a little eerie. Then the breeze picked up and the ice was on the move again, stacking plates. I enjoyed a two hour immersion in this experience at Brighton Beach, creating photographs and video footage and simply observing. This two minute compilation of excerpts is a small sampling of what was recorded.

"Do you mind if I smoke?"

This video was posted in memory of the magician, Tom Mullica, who died this week. 

Two trigger warnings seem appropriate.  If you are offended by people smoking, definitely give this a pass.  Additionally, those who tolerate smoking (or smoke) may find some of the maneuvers gross and disgusting. 

Chaise longue

A chaise longue is an upholstered sofa in the shape of a chair that is long enough to support the legs. In modern French the term chaise longue can refer to any long reclining chair such as a deckchair. A literal translation in English is "long chair".  In the United States, chaise longue is often written and pronounced as "chaise lounge", a 19th century folk anagrammatic adaptation of the term.
Image credit.

"Best Visual Effects" Oscar winners

Webbed fingers as swimming aids

Why didn't I think of this? Make them for maybe 2c, sell them for $3.  I could have been rich.

Via Neatorama.

17 February 2016


The frozen surface of Lake Baikal (National Geographic).

A "regumming factory"

(This post will be of interest only to stamp collectors)

I'd like to share some fascinating excerpts from an article published in the May 1988 issue of The Posthorn (the official journal of the Scandinavian Collectors Club).  The author, Gene Lesney, was visiting Hamburg and arranged to make a visit to a clandestine regumming workroom.
"Lined up on shelves like any kitchen spice rack were dozens of bottles of stamp gum - all labeled by country and year...

To show me the process, a technician wearing a lab coat picked up a rather clean copy of an old U.S. stamp with tongs.  It was a mint 1869 pictorial, 10c yellow Scott 116...

It had been treated first with hydrogen peroxide to refresh the slightly oxidized color before using a mild pure soap and soft bristle brush to cleanse it.

By the stamp's appearance of F-VF centering and full perfs, I would rate it worth approximately $150 to $250 on the auction market without gum.  But easily worth more than twice that amount if with full O.G. NH ! ...

Now the stamp was placed face down on a tiny rectangular plastic pallet... From an organized tray holding an assortment of thin, ruler-like strips of plastic with short perf pegs on both edges, the technician selected four pieces of perf 12 which he gently fitted on each side of the stamp.  The pegs filled in the perf grooves to prevent gum intrusion...

While the stamp was being mounted on a spindle, an apprentice mixed a solution of gum from a bottle marked "USA 1869/gewöhnlich gummi/#0023." This solution went into an air brush... five applications covered the stamp to the precise thickness desired...

It was explained that normally a  dozen or so stamps would be heat cured as a batch for better cost efficiency, however today's demonstration was special.  What was the price for this procedure?  The cost for a job just witnessed would be $6 to $10 depending on the numbers of items in the order...

The promotional mailer outlined various services; including cleaning, patching or replacing damaged papers, repairs to stamps and covers, removal of unwanted markings such as cancellations, replacing gum, and other improvements as requested... Most work cannot be detected using conventional inspection procedures."

Judging from what was seen in Hamburg, this has to be a fulltime production operation.  The supplies, equipment and personnel signify an ongoing profitable business.
This report was published in 1988.  Nowadays this stamp would catalog $750 without gum, $2000 with disturbed (previously hinged) original gum, and some multiple of that for mint never hinged status.

Image (of a comparable stamp) from The Swedish Tiger.

Minnesota tries to safeguard the money of vulnerable adults

In one Houston County case, the parents of a young man with cerebral palsy used his money to buy a truck for use on the family’s Alpaca ranch, noting that he enjoyed spending time with the animals. The judge ordered them to repay his estate $21,991 and post a bond of $200,000...

Auditors also raised concerns in several cases about professional conservators and their attorneys who charged high fees to handle simple tasks like opening e-mails and answering phone calls. One lawyer, working alongside a conservator in a Hennepin County case, billed $120 to drop a letter at the post office. He’s appealing an order that he repay $9,192 in fees...

[The Minnesota system] has evolved into the only mandatory, online financial reporting system for conservators in the country. It’s called MyMNConservator, and it alerts the court to red flags in a protected person’s financial reports. Under the old system, it was up to judges and their staff to wade through scanned financial reports, unverified receipts and sometimes handwritten account summaries. Anderson said the task was nearly impossible...

McBride said many times there’s a good explanation for expenses the auditors found suspect. But when the expenses involve substantial funds or valuable gifts that are going to the conservator or the conservator’s family, “then you get really suspicious,” he said. “Ultimately they have to manage the ward’s funds to the benefit of the ward and not to their own benefit.”

Walking cane

One of my prized possessions is a walking stick that was hand-carved for me by an elderly man in Kentucky when I used to live and work there.

The one above was carved by a craftsman in Oregon from a single stick of wood.  Here is his video documenting the process:

His Etsy webpage is here.

Red kidney bean poisoning

Many people are unaware that kidney beans, if consumed raw, contain a dangerous toxin... The toxin is named phytohemagglutinin (PHA), a member of a very common class of proteins called lectins. Lectins are glycoproteins that are present in a wide variety commonly-consumed plant foods, particularly in the seeds. In most cases, they are not harmful and possibly beneficial, but some lectins are known to be toxic. One of the most dangerous poisons known, ricin, is a lectin derived from the seeds of the castor bean Ricinus communis (not a true bean and totally unrelated to the legume family Fabaceae); this is not, however, the same lectin found in beans and other legumes...

PHA is known to be an insecticide, and plants probably developed it to keep their seeds from being destroyed by pests. In humans and other susceptible mammals (those of us without compound stomachs) PHA attacks and disables the epithelial cells lining the intestine. The body reacts to the threat by emptying the entire digestive tract as rapidly and completely as possible, to rid itself of the toxic substance...

For the safest results in cooking dried kidney beans, they should first be soaked for several hours, the soaking water discarded, then brought to the boil in fresh water and cooked for at least ten minutes...

Gardeners, in particular, should be a aware of the potential dangers of raw beans if they like to "graze" in their gardens, eating the fresh raw seeds directly from the shell. The level of PHA in all varieties is not known.

Green beans (snap beans) are a questionable matter. Many people do like to eat young green beans raw, and overcooking green beans until mushy is widely regarded as a sin against the vegetable. I can find no clear evidence that raw green beans have PHA levels high enough to make them unsafe for most of the population. It should be noted that the level of PHA is highest in seeds, and green beans are usually consumed for the sake of the green fleshy pod, at a stage when the seeds are only beginning to develop. 
And from another source:
The syndrome is usually caused by the ingestion of raw, soaked kidney beans, either alone or in salads or casseroles. As few as four or five raw beans can trigger symptoms. Several outbreaks have been associated with "slow cookers" or crock pots, or in casseroles which had not reached a high enough internal temperature to destroy the glycoprotein lectin.  It has been shown that heating to 80 degrees C. may potentiate the toxicity five-fold, so that these beans are more toxic than if eaten raw. In studies of casseroles cooked in slow cookers, internal temperatures often did not exceed 75 degrees C.


It looks like a "spider with hands."  It is, in fact, a "whip spider."

The name "amblypygid" means "blunt rump", a reference to a lack of the flagellum ("tail") that is otherwise seen in whip scorpions. They are harmless to humans.
Amblypygids possess no silk glands or venomous fangs. They rarely bite if threatened, but can grab fingers with pedipalps, resulting in thorn-like puncture injury.

14 February 2016


In a two-and-a-half-minute video, Carl Sagan lucidly explains how Eratosthenes not only deduced a spherical earth, but accurately calculated its diameter in 200 B.C.

Lament posted on a professor's door:  "When you are dead, you don't know that you are dead.  It is difficult only for others.  It is the same when you are stupid."

A hotel safe can be opened using a neodynium magnet and a sock.

Another "fake thumb" magic trick.

""You’d think we could have more influence,” Charles Koch told the F.T. last month over pulled-pork sandwiches at the staff commissary of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas. The wealthy industrialist and conservative impresario was giving a rare interview in support of his new book, but his disillusionment with the state of the Republican presidential race (and politics in general) was apparent."  Lots more discussion and analysis at Vanity Fair.

Stare at this image for 15 seconds and you will see a giraffe. [the image at the link, NOT the one above this entry...]

Winston Churchill did NOT say “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Darwin Award candidates:  ?Two teenagers in Robertson County, Tennessee, have died after drinking a liquid determined to be racing fuel mixed with Mountain Dew... Vanderbilt toxicologists called the liquid, “DewShine,” which is similar to moon shine only much more potent."

Click and hold the red square.  Don't let it get hit by the blue shapes or the wall.  (You can report your best time in the comments below).

Father of the Year candidate.

The etymology of serendipity.

Speculation about why people used to put the skulls of horses under the floorboards of their homes.

Why you should never ever clean a valuable coin.  Especially not an MS64 1850 $20 gold piece.

"...after researching this topic further, I am now convinced that the wisdom teeth industry is probably a scam."

"...[in New York City] there are three pay toilets, one in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, and one in Queens. Compare that to Singapore, which has fewer inhabitants and over 30,000 public bathrooms."

A high resolution photo of the moon's surface in true color.  Spoiler alert: boring.

Introducing the tiger quoll.

An explanation of which billionaires are supporting which presidential candidates.

Scripts that can be added to a blog or a webpage.

How to make a sled out a frozen towel (actually more like a toboggan).  But even better are strap-on leg sleds.

"Troy Haupt is a 47-year-old nurse anesthetist here in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He has a secret to reveal about Super Bowl I: He owns the only known recording of its broadcast."  The television stations don't have copies.  And they won't let him market his copy.

"Oregon... according to a new analysis of consumer phone calls—placed to businesses across the country, and recorded anonymously—is home to the [fastest] speakers in the nation. The second-fastest talkers? They’re in Minnesota. The third? In Massachusetts. The slowest talkers, for their part, can be found in the South: in South Carolina, Louisiana, and—the most laconically languaged state of them all—Mississippi."

Which foods to stock up if you want to be prepared for a food shortage crisis (civil disorder, natural disaster, etc).

A high school senior with Down Syndrome hits a 3-point shot in basketball.  The crowd reaction is priceless.

The New York Times has a recurrently-updated calendar of all the state presidential primaries and number of delegates awarded.

Here's the Rolling Stone obituary for Dan Hicks, founder of the Hot Licks. (and a bio from 1973). "My Old Timey Baby." "Sweetheart." "I Scare Myself" (with Sid Page on violin).

"A couple, aged 75 and 76, went down to the beach in Porsguen in Portsall on the French coast this past Monday. A wave surprised them and knocked the man down. As he was being swept out to sea, his wife chased after, and was soon swept under herself!"  No deaths, but a sobering video.

I selected today's photos from a larger group posted at Mashable.  The images were taken by North Vietnamese photographers during the war.  "One hundred eighty of these unseen photos and the stories of the courageous men who made them are collected in the book Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side."

This is a "Caroline cart"

Target stores across the U.S. are adding a new type of cart to their stores that will make shopping easier for those with kids or adults with special needs. The carts, which are called Caroline’s Carts, are a new option in addition to the traditional shopping cart and will be in stores nationwide starting March 19.

The Caroline’s Carts sport Target’s traditional bright red baskets, but on the driver’s side is a larger harness-equipped seat and foam covered handles that swing outward. The seat is designed so that parents or caretakers can transfer a wheelchair-bound child or adult into the front seat, so that he or she doesn’t have to maneuver both a cart and wheelchair.

Caroline’s Carts were created by Drew Ann Long, an Alabama resident who designed the cart for her daughter Caroline. Caroline has a neurological disorder called Rett syndrome, and she had outgrown the child’s seat in traditional shopping carts. Long needed a better solution to make shopping easier with her 7-year-old daughter.
Via Neatorama (whence the photo, cropped for size).

11 February 2016

This woman saves children

A woman from Denmark named Anja Ringgren Lovén has spent three years in Nigeria saving children from the worst cases of abuse. She is taking care of kids abandoned by their own very families for being witches.

A documentary on her work is coming up and she has been raising funds [via this link] from people in her country to assist the kids.   See what this woman is doing, it can’t be compared to some Nigerian NGO’s that are just eating UN’s money.

“I’ve seen much here in Nigeria over the last 3 years. I have spared you for many experiences when we’ve been on the rescue operations. Thousands of children are being accused of being witches and we’ve both seen torture of children, dead children and frightened children. This footage shows why I fight. Why I sold everything I own. Why I’m moving out in uncharted territory. Why the new documentary is so important for dinnødhjælps work so we can shout world leaders up so we can get focused on superstition in Nigeria! I hope you will all see with when ” Anja Africa ‘ is being shown on TV. Together we can make the biggest difference!
Photo and text from awomkenneth.com.

Via Reddit, where it is noted that this woman has raised a million dkr in a few days to help the children.

Hillary Clinton at Donald Trump's wedding

I'll defer commentary. 

Via Reddit, where the discussion thread includes plenty of commentary.

Thought for the day

09 February 2016

The destruction of Lisbon, 1755

In 1755, an earthquake of magnitude 8.5 -9.0 or greater struck in the Atlantic just west of Lisbon.  Three separate quakes caused many of the great buildings in Lisbon to collapse to the ground.  Shortly thereafter a set of three tsunamis crashed ashore and destroyed the shipping in the Tagus river.  After the waters receded, fires from candles and furnaces in damaged churches and workshops broke out and spread uncontrollably throughout the city. 
“One of the first structures to catch fire was the stately palace of the Marques de Lourical… it was a repository of countless treasures, including a collection of over two hundred paintings by such masters as Titian, Correggio, and Rubens, and a renowned library of eighteen thousand books, which contained a history composed by the Emperor Charles V in his own hand, a collection of preserved plants (a herbarium) once owned by King Matthias Hunyadi of Hungary, and a priceless assemblage of original manuscripts, maps, and charts from the Portuguese Age of Exploration

[at the Riverside Palace] “The fire burned all of the galleries, halls, rooms, antechambers, and offices of the palace, with all of its rich decorations and furniture covered in gold, silver, and rich jewels of inestimable value,” wrote Portal. (p. 155)

Gone forever were all the singular and extraordinary objects collected by the kings of Portugal over the centuries. Gone, too, was the Royal Library, “the most excellent in Europe” added Portal. The pride of the late Joao V, and indeed all of Portugal, the entire library and its seventy thousand volumes, reams of priceless manuscripts, including many of the original travel logs of Vasco da Gama and other Portuguese explorers, rare tapestries, oil paintings, and engravings were incinerated (though a few objects may have been pilfered by thieves and subsequently lost). In terms of cultural harm, the destruction of Portugal’s Biblioteca dos Reis (Library of the Kings) ranks as one of the great tragedies in the history of the West and can be likened to the burning of the Ancient Library of Alexandria. (p. 165)

 “… the court in Lisbon was the richest in Europe in precious stones and it lost all of them, except those that the royal family had with them at the time of the disaster.” Indeed, “the two streets, where the richest goldsmiths and diamond setters lived, were those that suffered the most in the earthquake and the fire. In Goudar’s estimation,"two hundred diamond shops were completely buried under the ruins.”

Also “lost were priceless suits of armor,” wrote Father Portal, “especially those from the Royal Treasury belonging to his Majesty, jewels of incomparable value, diamonds, pearls, emeralds, [and] every kind of precious stone, [as well as] gold, silver, paintings, and statues.” (p. 272-3)

“As to diamonds, “11 to 12 million [cruzados’ worth of] diamonds” were lost in the India House alone… (about 1/3 of the official value of all the diamonds extracted from Brazil between 1740 and 1755.) 
Prior to this tragedy, Portugal had been one of the maritime powers of the world; for centuries it had been harvesting the mineral wealth of Brazil and other colonies.  The tragedy also destroyed all the public records of baptisms, births, burials, genealogy, the account books of merchants, treaties, contracts, rents, receipts, financial and economic legislation, and much of the paper money.

I've transcribed the text excerpts above from This Gulf of Fire: The Destruction of Lisbon, or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason, by Mark Molesky. 

See also this post from last month: The Library of John V of Portugal.

Portugal's Reign of Terror

Most educated people are familiar with the Reign of Terror that accompanied the French Revolution.  I was not aware that a similar tragedy had previously taken place in Portugal.

The events unfolded in the aftermath of the tragedies (earthquakes, tsunamis, great fire) of 1755.  In the social turmoil that followed, several shots were fired into a carriage, wounding the king.  Pombal, the Secretary of State, rounded up "several of the most powerful and prominent nobles in Portugal. All were interrogated and many were tortured.”  They were then tried, and executed on a platform in Belem before thousands of spectators.
“The Marchioness of Tavora was the first that was brought upon the scaffold, where she was beheaded at one stroke… [three noblemen and three servants] were strangled at a stake, and afterwards their limbs broken with an iron instrument. The Marquis of Tavora and the Duke of Aveiro [illustration] had their limbs broken alive… The body and limbs of each of the criminals, after they were executed, were thrown upon a wheel… But when Antonio Alvares Ferreira was brought to the stake, whose sentence was to be burnt alive, the other bodies were exposed to his view. The combustible matter which had been laid under the scaffolding was set fire to, [and] the whole machine with the bodies was consumed to ashes, and then thrown into the sea.”
Unlike the French Revolution which lasted 11 months, the turmoil in Portugal continued for 18 years, from 1759-1777.

Quoted text (p. 351) from This Gulf of Fire: The Destruction of Lisbon, or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason, by Mark Molesky.   Illustration via Wikiwand.

Well, that settles that

Via Bad Newspaper.

James Garfield - president for only 200 days

I have a new favorite president. Before reading this book, literally the only things I knew about James Garfield were that he was featured on the 20c prexie stamp (because he was the 20th president) and that he was assassinated while in office. Now I can add the following...

He grew up in Ohio in abject poverty – a one-room log cabin with a plank floor and windowpanes made of oiled paper. When he was two years old, his father died at age 33, leaving his mother with four children to feed. She farmed the land with the aid of his 11-year-old brother and saved money so that by age four James was able to get a pair of shoes. At age sixteen he began working on the Erie and Ohio Canal, but returned home after contracting malaria. By then his mother had saved $17, which was used to send him to Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, a one-building prep school. During his first year he worked as a janitor in exchange for receiving an education.
So vigorously did Garfield apply himself during his first year at the Eclectic that, by his second year, the school had promoted him from janitor to assistant professor. Along with the subjects he was taking as a student, he was given a full roster of classes to teach, including literature, mathematics, and ancient languages. He taught six classes, which were so popular that he was asked to add two more – one on penmanship and the other on Virgil. (p. 23) 
From there he moved to Williams College in Massachusetts and graduated in two years. He entered state politics in Ohio, then served in the Civil War in the Union Army, after which he was elected to Congress. He did NOT want to be president. He attended a nominating convention which was hopelessly deadlocked. On the 34th ballot, some electors voted for him. He rose to protest and was told to sit down.  On the 36th ballot, he became the Republican nominee – against his will. He was described as shocked, sickened, and pale as death during the proceedings. (pp 40-46).

He never participated in the campaign which was conducted on his behalf, preferring to work and receive visitors on his 160-acre farm.
He built a barn, moved a large shed, planted an orchard, and even shopped for curtains for the house…. he added an entire story, a front porch, and a library. Even with the new library, Garfield’s books filled every room. “You can go nowhere in the general’s home without coming face to face with books,” one reporter marveled. “They confront you in the hall when you enter, in the parlor and the sitting room, in the dining-room and even in the bath-room…” (p. 58) 
His campaign platform as a Republican emphasized civil rights and the welfare of the freed slaves, in which endeavor he was supported by Frederick Douglass. Voter turnout for the election was 78%, and he was elected by a narrow margin.
In the days that followed… Garfield could not shake the feeling that the presidency would bring hi only loneliness and sorrow. As he watched everything he treasured – his time with his children, his books, and his farm – abruptly disappear, he understood that the life he had known was gone. The presidency seemed to him not a great accomplishment but a “bleak mountain” that he was obliged to ascend. (p. 64) 
The assassin, Charles Guiteau, was a religious fanatic who was delusional to the point of frank psychosis. He borrowed $10 to buy a gun, used it to shoot the president not for any political or philosophical reason, but because he believed God wanted him to do it.
His first and primary defense was “Insanity, in that it was God’s act and not mine. The Divine pressure on me to remove the president was so enormous that it destroyed my free agency and therefore I am not legally responsible for my act.” (p. 237) 
The “insanity defense” was well established at the time. Interestingly, everyone at the time agreed that Guiteau was insane and that insane people were not liable for their actions. Everyone on the jury knew this also, but they were so angry that they basically said “he’s guilty – hang him anyway.”

Other interesting tidbits from the book: After Garfield was shot, the second physician who responded to the event was Charles Purvis, surgeon in chief of the Freedmen’s Hospital, 39 years old, one of the first black men in the U.S. to receive medical training at a university, and obviously the first ever to treat a president. (p. 140)

The White House of that era was like a slum residence, perpetually damp with rotting wood and vermin-infested walls and the odor of raw untreated sewage, situated next to a malarial tidal marsh. (p. 176)

Garfield was a Republican who embodied the party’s enthusiasm for helping immigrants, freed slaves, and impoverished people. He believed the key to improving the country lay in educating those people. (182)

It has been said that Guiteau did not kill the President – he shot him, but the doctors killed him by repeatedly probing the wound with ungloved, unwashed fingers. Guiteau used this argument in his own futile defense (“General Garfield died from malpractice.”). The bullet had lodged on the left side of his body behind the pancreas, but the attempts to find it on the right side resulted in profound septic sequelae:
One cavity in particular, which began at the site of the wound, would eventually burrow a tunnel that stretched past Garfield’s right kidney, along the outer lining of his stomach, and down nearly to his groin. An enormous cavity, six inches by four inches, would form under his liver, filling with a greenish-yellow mixture of pus and bile. (p. 196) 
He apparently developed septic emboli:
Just two weeks after the surgery, another abscess formed, this one on Garfield’s right parotid gland… the abscess had become so filled with pus that it caused his eye and cheek to swell and paralyzed his face. Finally, it ruptured, flooding Garfield’s ear canal and mouth with so much pus… that it nearly drowned him. (p. 216) 
The woefully incompetent Dr. Bliss treating him [“Ignorance is Bliss”] tried to cope with the president's rapid cachexia by feeding him intrarectally. The eventual cause of death (determined by autopsy) was hypovolemic shock following a rupture of the splenic artery (probably from a septic aneurysm).

Garfield does not get credit for any particular legislative achievements, because his time in office was too brief. Rather, his legacy is reflected in how his illness and death united the people of the country during the fractious time in the aftermath of the Civil War. And since Guiteau’s act had arisen in connection with the corrupt “spoils system” for giving out lucrative government job contracts, the popular revolt after the death led to the establishment of the civil service system. After his death, Garfield’s widow assembled his books and papers in a wing of their farmhouse, establishing the nation’s first-ever presidential library. 

The book is Destiny of the Republic. A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard, published by Doubleday in 2011. I'm pleased to add it to my list of recommended books.

Addendum 2016:
I am delighted to report that the superb television series American Experience has just released a program entitled "Murder of a President," about President Garfield; it is based on the book I reviewed above in 2012.  The two-hour program is playing on PBS stations around the country, and it can be viewed online here.

06 February 2016


Secret doors and hiding places in homes.

Introducing the New York Public Library's erotica collection.  "For decades, they were kept in locked cages, accessible only with special permission and viewed in a small, secured area in the main research library. More recently, hundreds of works that make up the triple-star collection have been liberated from the restricted controls. An adult with a library card can simply fill out a request and peruse the material on the premises."

The use of microwaved tampons and WD-40 in food photography.

A game of Monopoly completed in 21 seconds (video).  "The shortest possible game of Monopoly requires only four turns, nine rolls of the dice, and twenty-one seconds."

The pronunciation of poinsettia is explained at Language Log.  "The journalist also wondered whether the "poinsetta" pronunciation is a mistake, and whether people who use it should be corrected. My response was that there are lots of similar cases of variants with a phoneme or two missing — february, surprise, etc. — and the fact that such variants are listed in dictionaries is a good reason not to correct people who prefer them. And there are other cases where pronouncing the lost phonemes is actually a mistake — wednesday (at least in the U.S.), worcester, etc."

A discussion thread about suspicious deaths occurring in the Scientology-owned Fort Harrison Hotel and the failure of police to investigate emergency calls from the hotel.

A humorous advertisement for butt plugs (SFW).

There seems to be no end to odd cake wrecks. " The birthday girl’s name is Starr. That’s Starr, with two “r”s. Got it?"

How to run out of a steep hole.

A video about the Helicobacter in Otzi's stomach.

"Heavy fighting breaks out in a refugee camp" (Serbian police vs. middle-eastern children).  A 30- second video you will enjoy.

"My late granddad had a quaint way of bidding people goodbye. He would say “Goodbye, and thank your mother for the rabbits”. Do you think that was just him being himself, or was it an expression in general use? He lived a bit further north than I do at the moment, in north-west Durham."  Explanation at World Wide Words.

Here's what's wrong with modern country music.

A wooden prosthesis for a medieval leg has been found in an Austrian archaeological site.

A Mary Sue for female characters and Gary Stu or Marty Stu for male characters is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities. Often this character is recognized as an author insert and/or wish-fulfillment

"Probably any aphid you have ever met was female. In some aphid species, males do not exist or at least have never been observed. In other species, males only occur during one of the many generations that occur during the season, late in the year."

A panoramic photo taken inside the Hatton Gardon heist bank vault.  Impressive.

Photos and thumbnail bioraphies of the ten tallest people currently alive.  If you were 8 feet tall, you'd only come in third.

The Oxford Words blog explains the origin of the phrase "currying favor" in a brief video.  "The original form of this phrase was actually ‘to curry Favel’, which probably sounds rather puzzling. Favel was the name of a chestnut horse in a 14th-century French tale who was renowned for his cunning and duplicity."

NPR reports that "The Onion" has been sold to Univision. (honest)

A gallery of photos of spiders that catch and eat bats.

The largest known prime number has been discovered.  The number is 274,207,281-1.  It has 22,338,618 digits.  Perhaps some reader can leave a comment on this post as to why this is important or relevant to real life.

A "life pro tip" - "when paying a friend cash, ask them to double check it so they don't feel awkward counting it in front of you."

I have some terrible news...

With only 18 lines of dialogue and equally as few minutes of screen time, [Aurora/Sleeping Beauty] speaks less than any other speaking main character in a full-length Disney animated feature film.

Trail running in the Scottish Highlands.  A five-minute video best enjoyed by clicking the full-screen icon.

There is a long-standing debate and some simmering animosity in Minnesota between muskie fishermen and walleye fishermen.  This article explains why and tries to calm the waters with some observations on biology and ecology.

Statistically speaking, six out of seven dwarfs are not Happy.  :.)

A gallery of 28 photos from North Korea, with some trenchant captions (note the computers with no electricity).

In The Warning, veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk unearths the hidden history of the nation's worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At the center of it all he finds Brooksley Born, who speaks for the first time on television about her failed campaign to regulate the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivatives market whose crash helped trigger the financial collapse in the fall of 2008.

Video of an immense "sneaker wave" coming ashore in Oregon.  Very impressive.  Not the same as a tsunami, btw.

The photos for today's linkdump come from Growing Ice - an Overview, which is the best webpage I've found so far on unusual ice formations (top photo credit bobbi fabellano from the Olympic Peninsula).  I've been fascinated by ice flowers ever since I saw my first one growing in my yard when I lived in Kentucky.  More photos, and lucid explanations at the link.
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