28 April 2016

She was fired for saying the word "vagina" without previous approval

Allison Wint, a substitute teacher at a middle school in Battle Creek, Mich., told the Detroit Free Press that she was hoping to provoke a thoughtful dialogue about historical interpretations of O’Keeffe’s work on Friday when she used the word “vagina” during a discussion with eighth graders...

Wint told the Free Press that, in total, she estimates she used the word 10 times during the course of the lecture, prompting giggles from her students, but eventually a substantive discussion...

The next day, according to Wint, she was reprimanded by a school official, who noted that she had said the word “vagina … without previous approval.”

The official told her that referring to female reproductive organs without approval violated school policy, Wint told the Free Press.

She told the paper that she was instructed to gather her belongings and leave the school within one hour.
Good thing they got her out of the school "within one hour."  No telling how much damage she might have inflicted had she stayed until the end of the day.

Re the painting:
Flower of Life II - along with many to follow - presented the sexual anatomy of the flower in sharp focus. By drawing attention to the inherent androgyny of this subject, O'Keeffe could have been attempting to contradict the critical notion that her subject matter was related exclusively to her gender.

But if so, the critics in 1925 missed O'Keeffe's point (as most still do). They interpreted her flowers as they had interpreted her earlier abstractions, as expressions of her sexuality. In 1943, O'Keeffe finally responded: Well - I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower - and I don't. ”

Spanish accents

Test your ability to distinguish Spanish accents by taking the test here (the image above is just a screencap).  I was correct on 6 of the 26 examples (equivalent to random chance); my expat cousin in Barcelona hit 50%.  Feel free to post your scores in the Comments.

How military "tanks" got their name

The British developed the tank in response to the trench warfare of World War I. In 1914, a British army colonel named Ernest Swinton and William Hankey, secretary of the Committee for Imperial Defence, championed the idea of an armored vehicle with conveyor-belt-like tracks over its wheels that could break through enemy lines and traverse difficult territory. The men appealed to British navy minister Winston Churchill, who believed in the concept of a “land boat” and organized a Landships Committee to begin developing a prototype. To keep the project secret from enemies, production workers were reportedly told the vehicles they were building would be used to carry water on the battlefield (alternate theories suggest the shells of the new vehicles resembled water tanks). Either way, the new vehicles were shipped in crates labeled “tank” and the name stuck.
With a tip of the blogging hat to the elves at NSTAAF.

Official trailer for "Snowden"

Bison s/p lightning strike

While doing a survey of bison on the refuge in late July 2013, Wildlife Biologist Karen Viste-Sparkman noticed a bull standing by himself. On closer inspection, it was clear that he had been struck by lightning and burned over a large area of his body. “Sparky” was thin after the strike and wasn't expected to live long. Since a lightning strike is something that could happen to wild bison anywhere, the refuge let nature take its course. But two years later, Sparky is going strong!

Sparky is just one of the bison that call Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge home. The refuge was established to protect, restore, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna and sedge meadow.
The rest of the story is at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   Photo credit Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS.

This fracking river is on fire

"Gas first started bubbling though the river shortly after the coal seam gas industry took off in the Chinchilla area. Since then the volume of gas bubbling through the river has massively increased and has spread along the river.

You can see stakes in the river bank were the Queensland Government has marked each gas seep. You can also see pipework near the river where Origin Energy has installed for monitoring the gas bubbling through the river."

25 April 2016

This is not a long-legged fox

It's a "maned wolf."  But it's not a wolf.

It is the unique entity in the genus Chrysocyon.  "There are no known extant or extinct species that come close" (because it's the only one that survived the mass extinctions of the Pleistocene).

Explained at Biomedical Ephemera, or: A Frog For Your Boils.

Addendum:  The evolutionary advantage of those long legs can be seen in this video of it in its natural environment (hat tip to Brazilian reader Binho).

NASA video of global carbon dioxide dynamics

 Via the Curiously Krulwich column at National Geographic, where the phenomenon is explained.

"Daddy, what's a 'global steel war'?"

As reported in The Telegraph:
China is on a collision course with the world’s leading powers over excess steel output after it refused to sign up to an emergency global plan to cut capacity and eliminate subsidies. The clash comes as fresh data confirms fears that China is still cranking up production and even reopening shuttered plants supposedly due for closure, despite the massive glut on the world market. Chinese mills produced a record 70.65m tonnes in March, 51pc of global output and five times as much as the whole EU...

“The scale of the emergency in the sector means it is now life or death for many companies,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU trade commissioner... Brussels has been slow to roll out anti-dumping sanctions, partly due to pressure from Britain and other states courting China for their own political reasons. While the US has imposed penalties of 266pc on Chinese cold-rolled steel, the EU has acted more slowly and stopped at 13pc...

Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, said Europe can no longer tolerate the flood of Chinese supply. “You do not respect the rules of world trade. Your steel output is subsidised, and the excess capacity is dumped below cost. It is destroying our productive capacity, and it is unacceptable,” he said...

“The American steel industry faces the greatest import crisis in modern history,” said Tim Murphy, head of the Congressional steel caucus. “We’re at the tipping point, with US mills averaging only 70pc of capacity utilisation, a level that is simply not sustainable. We are in real danger of losing this industry and becoming dependent on foreign countries. We can’t let that happen.”..

China is still selling steel in the EU market at prices below its own production costs, and that does not even take into account transport...”

Yet any sanctions risk setting off tit-for-tat retaliation, and a slide towards 1930s-style protectionism.

Pope Francis channels Pink Floyd

Try listening to the first minute or two.  I guarantee you'll be surprised.

A tip of the blogging hat to Dan Schreiber and the other elves of NSTAAF for alerting me to the existence of this album, which I otherwise would never have known about.

285,000 businesses use this building as their address

Also Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  An article at The Guardian explains how tax avoidance works:
This squat, yellow brick office building just north of Wilmington’s rundown downtown is the registered address of more than 285,000 companies. That’s more than any other known address in the world, and 15 times more than the 18,000 registered in Ugland House, a five-storey building in the Cayman Islands that Barack Obama called “either the biggest building in the world, or the biggest tax scam on record”.

Officially, 1209 North Orange is home to Apple, American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Walmart and dozens of other companies in the Fortune 500 list of America’s biggest companies. Being registered in Delaware lets companies take advantage of strict corporate secrecy rules, business-friendly courts and the “Delaware loophole”, which can allow companies to legally shift earnings from other states to Delaware, where they are not taxed on non-physical incomes generated outside of the state.

The loophole is said to have cost other states more than $9bn in lost taxes over the past decade and led to Delaware to be described as “one of the world’s biggest havens for tax avoidance and evasion”.

But it’s not just big corporations that have chosen to make 1209 North Orange their official home.
Both the leading candidates for president – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – have companies registered at 1209 North Orange, and have refused to explain why...

Several accounting experts said there are many legitimate reasons why US and foreign companies incorporate in Delaware, particularly because of its highly respected Court of Chancery and business-friendly state government. The process of setting up a company in the state can be completed in just a few hours and requires less paperwork than registering for a library card in the state. There are more than 1m companies registered in the state – more than Delaware’s population of 935,000.
I am so very, very, very tired of this.  It's been going on for generations and will never end because the wealthy and the corporations of this country own the politicians who make the laws that enable these arrangements.  Let's call it what it is - pure bullshit.

It's not even secret.  And it will not end under a Clinton or a Trump or a Cruz or a Kasich presidency.  

The counterpart to these domestic loopholes is the holding of assets overseas.
More than any other American company, Apple holds $181.1 billion in offshore accounts, according to a Tuesday report released by Citizens for Tax Justice, an advocacy group.

Other major American tech firms—including Cisco, Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Oracle—are among the largest companies that are using legal but questionable tax tricks to keep money overseas and effectively pay little to no American federal corporate taxes...

"Losing $90 billion of potential tax revenues every year is a very big deal," Neil Buchanan, a professor at George Washington University, said... Politicians who respond to proposals to fund these programs by saying that ‘we can't afford it’ are simply saying, ‘I'd rather cut Apple's tax bill than educate our children.’"...

"US corporate tax collection as a percentage of GDP is currently at an all time low. This means the U.S. government has to compensate for the shortfall from other sources (read: domestic taxpayers with no multinational activity) and cut public spending. There is, of course, an alternative: to change the law so Apple actually pays taxes on this income. In current Congressional environment, this will happen immediately after hell freezes over."
 I know I'm repeating myself, but...

It just never ends.

Today is Red Hat Society Day

If you are unfamiliar with the Red Hat Society, you can read aboutit at Wikipedia or at their website.  The idea for the organization came from the second line of the poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.


This is why I didn't get any blogging done this weekend.

Slither.io is a multi-player game in which you are a vermiform creature.  You control its non-stop motion with your mouse cursor, towards which it always moves (the head stays in the center of the field-of-view). 

You get bigger by eating the colored dots.   You can briefly speed up your motion by left-clicking, but that uses energy and diminishes your size.  You die instantly if you bump into another "worm," as happened to me in the screencap below when the blue-and-yellow "lucky punch" darted in front of my face before I could move.  The resultant bright dots resulting from a death are particularly nutritious, so any death creates a feeding frenzy of nearby "worms."   One way to kill another worm (when you are big enough) is to encircle them and then coil smaller until they are forced to bump into you.  As soon as you die, you can click to be reborn until you've wasted an entire day.  There is no pause option.

That's basically all there is to it.  At the bottom right is a "map" showing your location in a circular world (if you fall of the end you die).  At the bottom left is your status (length and comparison to other participants at that moment).  At the top right is the leaderboard.

This was my best score last night:

That was good enough for the #2 rank at the moment.  I achieved that mostly by letting others fight and die and then scooting in to eat the dots; I spend a lot of time in a defensive coil with my head inside the coil, where nobody could make me bump into them.  I was killed by a tiny little guy who darted in front of me.

All of the above are screencaps.  The game can be played here (and presumably at many other locations).  Some strategy tips are here and here.  Readers are invited to leave their own suggestions, relevant links, and a report of their best score in the Comments below.

19 April 2016


Known informally as Undulatus asperatus clouds, they can be stunning in appearance, unusual in occurrence, are relatively unstudied, and have even been suggested as a new type of cloud. Whereas most low cloud decks are flat bottomed, asperatus clouds appear to have significant vertical structure underneath. Speculation therefore holds that asperatus clouds might be related to lenticular clouds that form near mountains, or mammatus clouds associated with thunderstorms, or perhaps a foehn wind -- a type of dry downward wind that flows off mountains. Such a wind called the Canterbury arch streams toward the east coast of New Zealand's South Island. The featured image, taken above Hanmer Springs in Canterbury, New Zealand, in 2005, shows great detail partly because sunlight illuminates the undulating clouds from the side. 
This was NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Free medical care for homeless people's pets

As reported by JustForMedia:
A pet can enrich a homeless person’s life, and vice versa. This is precisely why the nonprofit Pets Of The Homeless, provides those in need with free food and medical services to keep their pups and cats happy and healthy...

The homeless pets are with their owners 24/7, and they have a way bigger bond than you and I have with our pets.”

... she began to do research and discovered that homeless individuals with pets often have to make hard decisions. Because many shelters do not allow pets, many people have to choose between staying with their companion animals or having a roof over their heads. Many choose the only thing they’ve got left — their pets...

The nonprofit has hundreds of volunteer pet food donation sites that collect food and supplies and distribute them at food banks, pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The organization also hosts clinics at food pantries by partnering with veterinarians that donate their time to provide free exams, vaccinations, vouchers for spay or neuter surgeries, nail trimmings and ear cleanings to those in need.

Another Real Life Adventure

All of the Real Life Adventures comics can be accessed here.  Some favorites here, here, and here.

For those unfamiliar with colloquial English: dip ‎(plural dips):  1. A foolish person.  (back-formation from dippy = "lacking common sense.")

The Eiffel Tower isn't very heavy

The lattice structure of the tower generates strength out of proportion to weight:
...The most startling piece of trivia that I’ve heard about the tower is that it weighs less than the cylindrical column of air that it sits in! That’s right, if cylindrical tube were placed over the tower, the weight of the volume if air inside the tube would exceed that of the metal in the tower...

The density of wrought iron is approximately: 7.70 g/cm3
At a weight of 7,300 tonnes, this amount of iron has a volume of approximately: 948 m3
  • If melted down into a sphere of iron, this ball would have a radius of just 6.1 m
  • If flattened into a coin with a diameter the circumscribes the base of the tower, it will be just 4 cm thick!
...Using the dimensions of the foot of the tower, the diameter of the cylinder can be calculated...

Knowing the height of the tower, combined with the disc diameter we determined above allows us to calculate the volume of the cylinder. There is approximately 7.96 million m3 of air in this tube. [adjusting here for the varying density of air at different altitudes] ...we can take a simple average for the density of the air to give a value of 1.19 kg/m3.

Multiplying by the volume we get a value of approx 9,400 for the mass of the air. Even with our approximations, this is certainly greater than the quoted 7,300 tonnes for the mass of the iron.

It's true - the mass of the air in the cylinder surrounding the Eiffel Tower, is heavier than the tower itself!

The youngest starting pitcher in baseball history

Image cropped for size from the original at imgur.

The word "citys" can be grammatically correct

This post will be of interest only to "grammar Nazis" and English majors (like me...).

Yesterday I ran across "citys" as a properly-used word (not a typo for "cities" or "city's.")  Ponder for a while under what circumstances that might be appropriate (the photo above is a clue), and no fair Googling.  The answer is beneath the fold...

17 April 2016

Overheard at the zoo yesterday

On the path between the polar bear enclosure and the penguin exhibit: a mother pushing a stroller, a father and a small boy...
Father:  "Now we'll go up this hill and see the penguins."
Petulant son:  "But I don't WANNA see the penguins."
Father:  "Well, then, you don't have to LOOK."
+1 for dad.

The polar bear, btw, was having a grand old time, swimming the length of its pool underwater, rising at the far side, and with one kick of the back paws, floating on its back across the pool again.

Hubble photo of the "Red Rectangle"

This strikingly detailed Hubble image reveals how, when seen from space, the nebula, rather than being rectangular, is shaped like an X with additional complex structures of spaced lines of glowing gas, a little like the rungs of a ladder.

The star at the center is similar to the sun, but at the end of its lifetime, pumping out gas and other material to make the nebula, and giving it the distinctive shape. It also appears that the star is a close binary that is surrounded by a dense area of dust—both of which may help to explain the very curious shape.

The Red Rectangle is an unusual example of what is known as a proto-planetary nebula. These are old stars, on their way to becoming planetary nebulae. Once the expulsion of mass is complete a very hot white dwarf star will remain and its brilliant ultraviolet radiation will cause the surrounding gas to glow. The Red Rectangle is found about 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn).
Additional information at PhysOrg.

Incredibly unusual hockey goal

I've watched a lot of hockey - I was even the (reluctant) manager of a collegiate hockey team in the 1960s - but I have never seen one as bizarre as this.  Watch beyond the initial action for the replays...  Unreal.

Reposted from 2013 to add this image from a 2016 playoff game between Detroit and Tampa Bay -

- which reminds me of why I stopped watching professional hockey.

Station Eleven

I've been a fan of postapocalyptic fiction ever since first encountering A Canticle for Leibowitz over 50 years ago.  Station Eleven fits nicely into that genre, although the author apparently dislikes the term "science fiction," since she relies so little on science and wants to focus on developing the characters and their interlaced stories.

The novel follows a group of actors and musicians who have formed a "traveling symphony" around the Great Lakes region "because survival is insufficient."  The underlying premise of a pandemic plague was in my view difficult to accept because of the extent of the depopulation (99.9%) and thre rapidity with which such occurs (several months), but I'm willing to grant the author that concession in order to let her set her world in motion, because she has a pleasant way with words - as, for example, when the protagonist is having a mild disagreement with her significant other: "The... argument had lost all of its sting over the years and had become something like a familiar room where they met."

This was an easy read and a pleasant one, postapocalyptic in the sense that the order of the world has been disturbed, but the novelist after describing the chaos and lawlessness and incorporating it into the story, doesn't dwell on the dystopian features (unlike for example Cormac McCarthy's The Road).

The novel won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Toronto Book Award in 2015 and was nominated for the National Book Award.  Readers of this blog are invited to offer mini-reviews in the Comments.

Piebald robin

Images cropped for size from the originals, with full credit to naturalist/photographer Dan Sonnenberg who spotted the bird here in central Wisconsin.

A quick web search reveals numerous reports and one compilation of sightings of similar birds.  The terms used vary from albino to leucistic to piebald.  I favor the latter as being descriptive without implying a mechanism, and for the etymological reference to magpies.

11 April 2016

"Because... tradition"

The map used by Augusta National as the official logo of the Masters displays a grossly distorted representation of the geography of the United States.
Augusta spokesman Steve Ethun says there is no documented history of the logo’s origins. But it seems to date at least as far back as a 1934 poster advertising the First Annual Invitation Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club...

As for why the logo has remained largely unchanged through the decades, the answer is simple: tradition... Augusta didn’t allow its first black member until 1991, and only began admitting women in 2012, after years of public pressure, when it extended an invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. So don’t expect the club to change its logo anytime soon, cartographers’ outrage notwithstanding. 

How do you pronounce "Celtic" ?

"Celtic pronounced “Keltic” is an outlier in English phonology. Nearly every other English word beginning ce- has a soft-c sound: cedar, ceiling, cell, cement, cent, cereal, certain, cesspit, and so on (cello, with its “ch-” onset, is another anomaly). So it shouldn’t surprise us that “Seltic” was once overwhelmingly the norm. The now-dominant pronunciation “Keltic” is a modern innovation...

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, “the closer you get to circles substantively concerned with Celtic lore and languages, the more likely you are to hear \'kel-tik\”—though “Seltic” may be heard “at times from very well-educated speakers.”..

English is a hotchpotch of languages and lexicons, originally Germanic but with strong Scandinavian, French, and Latin influences. This can lead to specious arguments based on supposedly self-evident logic: It must be “Seltic” because phonology; It must be “Keltic” because etymology. But neither phonology nor etymology dictates usage—that’s down to us, and we’re a contrary bunch.

Claims about correctness in language can’t override the facts of usage, and the important fact here is that both pronunciations are standard and correct. Don’t believe me? Scroll up and consult the dictionaries. Critics are entitled to dislike “Seltic” or “Keltic,” but they have no business saying either pronunciation is wrong. Because they’re both right."

Is "The Hum" a mass delusion ?

Sue Taylor first started hearing it at night in 2009. A retired psychiatric nurse, Taylor lives in Roslin, Scotland, a small village seven miles outside of Edinburgh. “A thick, low hum,” is how she described it, something “permeating the entire house,” keeping her awake. At first she thought it was from a nearby factory, or perhaps a generator of some kind. She began spending her evenings looking for the source, listening outside her neighbors’ homes in the early hours of the morning. She couldn’t find anything definitive. She had her hearing checked and was told it was perfect, but the noise persisted. She became dizzy and nauseous, overcome, she says, by a crushing sense of despair and hopelessness at her inability to locate or escape the sound. When things got bad, it felt to Taylor like the bed—and the whole house—was vibrating. Like her head was going to explode. Her husband, who had tinnitus, didn’t hear a thing. “People looked at me like I was mad,” she said.

 Lori Steinborn lives in Tavares, Florida, outside of Orlando, and in 2006 she had started hearing a noise similar to the one Taylor was hearing. Steinborn thought it was her neighbors at first: some nearby stereo blasting, the bass coming through the walls. It would start most nights between 7 and 8 p.m. and last until the early hours of the morning. Like Taylor, she began searching for the sound; leaving town helped her get away from it, but it was waiting when she returned...

The experience described by Steinborn and Taylor, and many others, is what’s come to be known as “the Hum,” a mysterious auditory phenomenon that, by some estimates, 2 percent of the population can hear...

After it was first reported in Bristol, it emerged in Taos, New Mexico; Kokomo, Indiana; Largs, Scotland. A small city newspaper would publish a report of a local person suffering from an unidentified noise, followed by a torrent of letters to the editor with similar complaints...

Hum sufferers have been consistently written off as either delusional or simply suffering from tinnitus...

Further confusing matters is the fact that some reports of the Hum have been definitively traced to specific sources and corrected. The Hum was heard in Sausalito, California, in the mid-1980s, but was eventually found to be the result of the mating sounds of a fish called the plainfin midshipman, whose call could penetrate the steel hulls of the houseboats in the marina. The Windsor Hum was investigated by the Canadian government and ultimately traced to factories on Zug Island, across the Detroit River in Michigan. After an extensive study of the Hum in Kokomo, Indiana, researchers determined that it was caused by two nearby manufacturing plants whose production facilities were emitting specific low frequencies...

Crucially, Deming was able to distinguish the Hum from tinnitus. Tinnitus, usually a ringing in the ear, can take a number of forms, but while its intensity may wax and wane, it is more or less omnipresent, and those who suffer from it tend to hear it in any environment. The Hum, which is constant but only under certain circumstances (indoors, rural areas, etc.), defies a simple correlation with tinnitus. Additionally, Deming notes that if the Hum were related to tinnitus, one would expect a fairly normal geographic distribution rather than clusters in small towns.
For a long read on the subject, see the source article at The New Republic.  The embedded image is a screencap from the World Hum Map (zoomable at the source).

Hillary vs. Bernie - national poll update

As reported by RealClearPolitics.  The graph shows the trend of voter preferences over the past twelve months.  The data points used are the means of the most recent national polls (enumerated in the table at the top).

The website also has links for the Republican candidates and for individual states whose primaries are still pending, and for potential head-to-head match-ups, such as Clinton vs. Trump or Sanders vs. Trump.

Thank you, but I'll just have the salad...

Via Bad Newspaper.

A majority of Norwegians don't believe in God

This is the first time ever for such a response:
A new survey from the annual social-cultural study Norwegian Monitor (Norsk Monitor) shows an historic level of Norwegians who don’t believe in the existence of God, Vårt Land reported. 
The survey, which was sent to 4,000 Norwegians by post, marks the first time that non-believers outnumber the religious. Two years ago, the number of believers and non-believers was equal. When the question was first asked in 1985, a full 50 percent said they believed in God while just 20 percent did not...

Jan-Paul Brekke of Ipsos Norway, who led the survey, said the question did not define who ‘God’ is. “It could be the Christian god, an independent god  or one from other faiths... “There are quite a few immigrants included [in the survey] but the majority of them come from Western religious traditions.
My grandfather Knut must be rolling in his grave.

Chicken game

Image cropped for size from the original at The New Shelton wet/dry.

"Cow trekking"

At Bolderhof Farm in Hemishofen, Switzerland, visitors participate in cow trekking, an opportunity to climb onto a dairy cow and ride through the rivers and woods of the Rhine lowlands. Riders can choose between an hour-and-a-half ride and a four-hour, half-day excursion through the Alpine landscape.
I'm guessing that an hour-and-a-half ride would cover a distance of about 200 meters...

Should the word "internet" be capitalized ?

Not in this blog.  But apparently there are different styles, as reported in the Oxford Dictionaries blog:
The latest salvo in the capitalization wars came from the Associated Press Stylebook, which announced that as of June 1, the AP’s style will stipulate that internet and web (with reference to the World Wide Web) should be lowercased. The AP’s is not the first style guide to insist on downcasing internet; many other publications prefer the lowercase form as well. And yet, attentive readers may notice that the headword form in Oxford Dictionaries continues to harbor a capital I (at least for now).

The reason Oxford has retained the capital I is simple: evidence. Our research samples continue to show that the capitalized form of the word is slightly more common. Over the past few years, the proportion of evidence for the two forms in our monitor corpus has remained relatively steady from month to month, with capital-I Internet accounting for about 54% of all examples. Dictionaries are lagging indicators of language change, waiting for new usages to become settled before recording them, and this particular change is still underway...

Why did Internet come to be capitalized in the first place? In fact, the earliest use of the word, cited in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1974, was with a lowercase i. Initially, there were many internets—the word was used to refer to any computer network comprising or connecting a number of smaller networks; it later came to refer specifically to the global network we know today, which was distinguished as “the Internet” as opposed to “an internet”. It isn’t uncommon for words to take on a capitalized form in a particular meaning regarded as a proper noun (for instance, Americans style the foundational document of their federal government as “the Constitution”); however, in the case of “the Internet”, by the mid-1990s the original need for disambiguation was largely obsolete, and the capitalization convention began to strike some writers and editors as unnecessary, dated, and aesthetically unappealing.

We are now in the midst of stylistic change with respect to the capitalization of Internet, but the process is proceeding in patchwork fashion and is far from complete.

09 April 2016

Hosta is edible

From a story in the StarTribune:
Hostas are one of the world’s most popular shade plants. In the United States, we grow them for their perennial beauty, but in Asia, hosta is grown as a commercial crop.
...the taste varies among species and cultivars, but all are safe to eat. The newest, tightest shoots are the most tender, so it’s best to harvest them before the leaves start to unfurl.
Although there’s no cookbooks devoted to hosta recipes — at least, not yet — those who eat it said hosta can be cooked much like asparagus or green beans. In Japan, hosta is often skinned, parboiled, chopped and served over rice with soy sauce.
If you have any doubts about eating hosta, ask any deer - or the rabbits in our woods:

Photos from our woodland garden.

Your culinary future: fake shrimp made from algae

Two years ago, Dominique Barnes, the founder of a startup called New Wave Foods, was growing increasingly concerned about the environmental and human-rights costs of fresh seafood....They thought up an unusual way to do it: By making it out of plants and algae, in a lab....

Now, they say they are about eight months away from launching their first product, a popcorn “shrimp” that never touches an ocean... they are breaking down red algae, a food prawns eat to give them their pinkish color, and combining it with plant-based protein powder. The faux-shrimp, Barnes says, looks and tastes like the real thing, down to the elasticity and fishy tang....

Its first product will be a small shrimp that’s disguised in breading, but they ultimately hope to create a “naked” shrimp that can be used for shrimp cocktails and expand to other types of fish as well.
Further details at The Atlantic, where I found this statement that is so emblematic of the typical American diet:
Shrimp is now the most popular seafood Americans eat... “Americans love shrimp because of its low price and conduciveness to being heavily breaded and fried,” said Emily Balsamo, a research analyst...

Bernie Sanders' television ads

"America" is a song by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel from their fourth studio album, Bookends (1968)... The song was written by Paul Simon and concerns young lovers hitchhiking their way across the United States, in search of "America," one both literal and figurative... "America" is a protest song that "creates a cinematic vista that tells of the singer's search for a literal and physical America that seems to have disappeared, along with the country’s beauty and ideals."

The campaign sought permission to use from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel themselves, who both agreed to let them use it. Garfunkel stated that he was a supporter of Sanders and his campaign, and that the usage of "America" did not take away from the song's original premise.

Ribose could arise in an extraterrestrial location

The molecular building blocks of life are organic compounds that can be assembled into proteins, RNA and DNA in living cells. To date, scientists have found most of these compounds in meteorites, comets, and interstellar dust. But the sugar ribose, which forms the backbone of RNA, has never been detected in this context. Now experimental results, published in the journal Science, suggest that even ribose can form in comets...

The new experiment mimics the conditions of the “protoplanetary disk” that formed both comets and the planets in our solar system. The researchers cooled down a mix of water, methanol and ammonia to a temperature of -195°C inside a vacuum chamber. While the mixture condensed into ice it was irradiated with ultraviolet light. This is basically what happens when icy grains – the raw material of a comet – form in a protoplanetary disk. Eventually, the ice was heated back up to room temperature, representing what happens when a comet approaches the sun. The experiment resulted in the formation of a large variety of organic compounds, including ribose and other sugar molecules.
Further details at the Christian Science Monitor and the Science link.

Trooper proselytised during a traffic stop

"Indiana State Police trooper Brian Hamilton pulled over Wendy Pyle in January, according to a lawsuit filed this week. He told Pyle that she had been speeding, went back to his patrol car and returned with a warning ticket.

Then, the lawsuit alleges, Hamilton asked Pyle where she attended church — and whether she had been “saved.”... He invited Pyle to his church and gave her directions, the lawsuit alleges. Later, it states, “Ms. Pyle was approached by someone who attended church with Trooper Hamilton who informed her that Trooper Hamilton had placed her on a prayer list.”...

On Thursday, Hamilton — a 14-year veteran — was fired for neglect of duty and insubordination, state police announced... As the state police indicated, this isn’t the first time Hamilton has been sued for on-the-job displays of faith. In 2014, another driver, Ellen Bogan, filed suit after Hamilton gave her a warning ticket during a traffic stop — and a pamphlet for a church..."

Does Canada need a subtropical province?

Some have proposed that the Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean should become part of Canada.
[T]he prospect of political union has been discussed in both places for quite some time -- ever since 1917, in fact, when then Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden unsuccessfully floated the idea with London. And it'll be on the docket at this weekend's convention of the New Democratic Party, which has the third-most seats in the Canadian Parliament...

There is a kind of logic to the argument. Over the course of its history, Canada subsumed various other British territories under its dominion. Unlike the United States' own battle for independence, Canada's political separation from Britain was an evolution by mutual consent. If certain British-run islands in the Pacific can fall under the jurisdiction of New Zealand or Australia, surely the same could in principle be true for Canada with territories in the Atlantic.
Some pros and cons are discussed at the Washington Post.

07 April 2016

Visiting Florida in the 1950s

This inverted map was created in 1955 for the benefit of tourists driving down to Florida from northern states.
Nearly all road maps point North. But we've found that many travelers turn their maps upside when going South. It helps them to know whether to turn right or left. Naturally its hard to read anything upside down. 
I'm old enough to remember the pleasure of driving with my family from Minnesota to Florida for spring break in the 1950s.  As the map indicates, there were fewer cities and towns.  My cousins lived in Naples, which is indicated on this map by an insignificant dot on the Gulf Coast.  Florida had long stretches of two-lane highway traversing forest and scrubland and swamp with nary a subdivision in sight.  Roadside stands sold oranges with a straw punched into them to drink from while driving.  All the motels had neon lights (and no air conditioning).  Many beaches were empty and their shell bounty unharvested.  It was a different world.

Image lightened for readability and cropped for emphasis from the original posted at Neatorama.

Addendum:  I got to thinking about that Florida trip quite a bit today, so after a quick search of my office I located a photograph from then.   Herewith your faithful blogger with his sister, sitting on the back bumper of our family's Nash Ambassador, on an idyllic beach somewhere in Florida in 1956.

Earthworm anatomy

An earthworm's digestive system runs through the length of its body. It conducts respiration through its skin. It has a double transport system composed of coelomic fluid that moves within the fluid-filled coelom and a simple, closed blood circulatory system. It has a central and a peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system consists of two ganglia above the mouth, one on either side, connected to a nerve cord running back along its length to motor neurons and sensory cells in each segment. Large numbers of chemoreceptors are concentrated near its mouth. Circumferential and longitudinal muscles on the periphery of each segment enable the worm to move. 
And this is why they wiggle:
Touching an earthworm, which causes a "pressure" response as well as (often) a response to the dehydrating quality of the salt on human skin (toxic to earthworms), stimulates the subepidermal nerve plexus which connects to the intermuscular plexus and causes the longitudinal muscles to contact, thereby the writhing movements when we pick up an earthworm. This behaviour is a reflex and does not require the CNS; it occurs even if the nerve cord is removed. Each segment of the earthworm has its own nerve plexus. The plexus of one segment is not connected directly to that of adjacent segments.
I never knew that.  You learn something every day.

Colorful weather

Emblematic of recent weather in the Upper Midwest.  There may be a thousand things wrong with the internet, but The Weather Channel isn't one of them.

Is the Republican party incurring lasting damage ?

Excerpts from an op-ed piece in the New York Times:
In a national survey led by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, 1,000 people 18 to 26 were asked: “Out of today’s major political figures, who do you like and respect the most?” Thirty-one percent chose Bernie Sanders, followed by 18 percent for Barack Obama and 11 percent for Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Trump scored highest among Republicans, at 9 percent. In USA Today, Mr. Luntz called it a “a chasm of disconnection that renders every prominent national Republican irrelevant with the voting bloc that could control campaigns for the next 30 years.”...

A Pew Research Center report in 2014 noted that “some 43 percent of millennial adults are nonwhite, the highest share of any generation,” and that “the racial makeup of today’s young adults is one of the key factors in explaining their political liberalism.”...

Some Republicans might take comfort in the thought that people become more conservative as they age. But evidence for that is unclear, and a statistical model by Yair Ghitza and Andrew Gelman found that preferences in politics are typically set at an early age, with lasting influence...

"Gayness is built into Batman."

After all, if a character isn’t written as gay, then that character can’t possibly be gay, right? We all agree on that? Good, then we can move on to more important matters, and…

… Sorry? Was there a comment in the back?

… Yes, you, Grant Morrison, writer of several Batman comics (Arkham Asylum, JLA, Batman, Batman Inc.) over the course of the past three decades? You had something you wish to add? Something you said to Playboy magazine in 2012?
Gayness is built into Batman.
… Um.
Batman is VERY, very gay.  
OK great super helpful thanks for that—
Obviously as a fictional character he’s intended to be heterosexual…
Yes! My point! THANK you. Now—
… but the whole basis of the concept is utterly gay.
You can read more at a very interesting article at Slate.

Sand marble race

Location: Klimduin School (near Alkmaar, the Netherlands)
Track length: ±230 meter (±750 feet)
Height difference: ± 40 meter (±125 feet)
Music: Riding the Sunrise (royalty free, coming from my partner program)
A clever way to have fun at the beach (if only I had a beach...).  A hat tip for finding this to reader Catalin.

Death-with-dignity advocates battle Big Pharma

Washington state Death with Dignity advocates have found a way to thwart a drug company that abruptly doubled the price — to more than $3,000 — of the lethal medication some terminally ill patients use to end their lives.

They’ve come up with a new mix of medications that induces death for about $500... Now doctors in Oregon have adopted the drug mix, too, as a way to ensure that cost doesn’t prevent terminally ill patients from making the choice they want under the state’s right-to-die law. And in California, where a similar law takes effect later this year, officials are considering it as well...

The issue arose last year, when Valeant Pharmaceuticals International of Quebec acquired the rights to Seconal, the trade name of secobarbital sodium, the most commonly prescribed drug for aid-in-dying patients. The firm quickly doubled the cost, from $1,500 to more than $3,000 — and up to $5,000. That’s on top of previous retail price increases for the nearly 90-year-old sedative that once sold for $150 for a lethal 10-gram dose.
More details at the Seattle Times.

"Cobble" defined

A cobble (sometimes a cobblestone) is a clast of rock defined on the Udden–Wentworth scale [below] as having a particle size of 64–256 millimeters (2.5–10.1 in), larger than a pebble and smaller than a boulder. Other scales define a cobble's size in slightly different terms. A rock made predominantly of cobbles is termed a conglomerate.

φ scale Size range
Size range
(approx. inches)
Aggregate name
(Wentworth class)
Other names
<−8 >256 mm >10.1 in Boulder
−6 to −8 64–256 mm 2.5–10.1 in Cobble
−5 to −6 32–64 mm 1.26–2.5 in Very coarse gravel Pebble
−4 to −5 16–32 mm 0.63–1.26 in Coarse gravel Pebble
−3 to −4 8–16 mm 0.31–0.63 in Medium gravel Pebble
−2 to −3 4–8 mm 0.157–0.31 in Fine gravel Pebble
−1 to −2 2–4 mm 0.079–0.157 in Very fine gravel Granule
0 to −1 1–2 mm 0.039–0.079 in Very coarse sand
1 to 0 0.5–1 mm 0.020–0.039 in Coarse sand
2 to 1 0.25–0.5 mm 0.010–0.020 in Medium sand
3 to 2 125–250 µm 0.0049–0.010 in Fine sand
4 to 3 62.5–125 µm 0.0025–0.0049 in Very fine sand
8 to 4 3.9–62.5 µm 0.00015–0.0025 in Silt Mud
10 to 8 0.98–3.9 µm 3.8×10−5–0.00015 in Clay Mud
20 to 10 0.95–977 nm 3.8×10−8–3.8×10−5 in Colloid Mud
I looked this up because something I read caused me to wonder whether the word "cobbler" and the phrase "cobble something together" were related to cobblestones.  The answer (from the more-convenient-than-the-OED Online Etymology Dictionary) seems to be "maybe."
cobbler (n.1)
late 13c., cobelere "one who mends shoes," of uncertain origin. It and cobble (v.) "evidently go together etymologically" [OED], but the historical record presents some difficulties. "The cobbler should stick to his last" (ne sutor ultra crepidam) is from the anecdote of Greek painter Apelles.
cobble (v.)
"to mend clumsily," late 15c., perhaps a back-formation from cobbler (n.1), or from cob, via a notion of lumps.
cobbler (n.2)
"deep-dish fruit pie," 1859, American English, perhaps related to 14c. cobeler "wooden bowl."
cob (n.)
a word or set of identical words with a wide range of meanings, many seeming to derive from notions of "heap, lump, rounded object," also "head" and its metaphoric extensions. With cognates in other Germanic languages; of uncertain origin and development. "The N.E.D. recognizes eight nouns cob, with numerous sub-groups. Like other monosyllables common in the dial[ect] its hist[ory] is inextricable" [Weekley]. In the 2nd print edition, the number stands at 11. Some senses are probably from Old English copp "top, head," others probably from Old Norse kubbi or Low German, all perhaps from a Proto-Germanic base *kubb- "something rounded." Among the earliest attested English senses are "headman, chief," and "male swan," both early 15c., but the surname Cobb (1066) suggests Old English used a form of the word as a nickname for "big, leading man." The "corn shoot" sense is attested by 1680s.

06 April 2016

Merle Haggard (1937-2016)

Merle Ronald Haggard (April 6, 1937 – April 6, 2016) was an American country and Western songwriter, singer, guitarist, fiddler, and instrumentalist. Along with Buck Owens, Haggard and his band The Strangers helped create the Bakersfield sound, which is characterized by the unique twang of Fender Telecaster and the unique mix with the traditional country steel guitar sound, new vocal harmony styles in which the words are minimal, and a rough edge not heard on the more polished Nashville sound recordings of the same era.

An open thread on clothes washers

We had a service call this morning for a water leak that developed recently in our clothes washing machine.  A quick inspection revealed that the internal rubber hoses had undergone deterioration after 15 years of service (the external hoses we had replaced years ago with stainless steel versions).  Patching the hoses was not possible because of the high pressures involved during use, and a quick calculation suggested that the $275 replacement cost for the internal components would be illogical on such an old appliance.  So we need to replace the washer.

The serviceman was knowledgeable and helpful in answering a lot of our questions regarding new clothes washers.  He indicated that the nationally-mandated changeover to high-efficiency washers is resulting in some consumer dissatisfaction.  The new ones use only 10 gallons of water for a full load (vs. 50 gallons on our old Kenmore one), they often have no center agitator, and they do not offer pre-soak cycles.  In his experience the Samsung washers are experiencing problems even after just a few years of use.  Whirlpool is no longer available, having been bought by Maytag.  LG machines he views as the most reliable.

I would welcome readers' comments re clothes washers (and dryers), including opinions of specific brands/models, top-loading vs front-loading, and user tips.  This will be a totally unscientific survey, but over the years I have found the readership here to be diverse and uncommonly intelligent and well-informed.

05 April 2016

Those hand prints on cave walls? Lizard hands.

Not all hand silhouettes - but apparently some of these...
Wadi Sura II is considered one of the greatest rock art sites of the Sahara, although it lacks the popular fame of nearby Wadi Sura I, the "Cave of the Swimmers," which was discovered by Hungarian count Láslo Almásy in 1933 and popularized in "The English Patient."...

Anthropologist Emmanuelle Honoré of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research describes how she was "shocked" by the shape of the unusually small hand outlines when she saw them at her first visit to Wadi Sura II in 2006. "They were much smaller than human baby hands, and the fingers were too long," she explains....

 Honoré initially suspected monkey paws, but when those proportions were also off, colleagues at the Museum of Natural History in Paris suggested she take a look at reptiles. So far, the examples that have proportions closest to the "baby" hands come from the forelegs of desert monitor lizards or, possibly, the feet of young crocodiles. (The crocodile study is still in progress.) Monitor lizards still live in the region today and are considered protective creatures by nomadic tribes in the area.  

The revelation that the small hand images from Wadi Sura II are not even human is a big surprise for researchers who study Saharan rock art. "Animal stenciling is mostly considered an Australian or South American thing," Honoré explains.   
The story continues at National Geographic, via Smithsonian.

"He ate a bird!"

Found at Nothing To Do With Arbroath, where Blitherypoop has  posted a quite interesting link about herbivores becoming opportunistically omnivorous (and especially note the comments at that link).

Reposted from 2011 to place it adjacent to the post about the bird-eating squirrel.

03 April 2016

Squirrel eating a bird

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the image above (source unknown, but it has been circulating on the 'net since at least 2005). Squirrels are, after all, rodents and therefore at least potentially omnivorous. The photo depicts a wintertime event, when opportunistic carnivorous behavior might be predicted. Googling the phrase yields only 13 hits, typically to blogs where writers express their surprise and sometimes dismay/disgust.

The most extreme example of carnivory I encountered was a BBC report of a pack of squirrels attacking, killing, and eating a stray dog.

On a lighter note, and of perhaps more interest is the etymology of the word "squirrel" - "via Anglo-Norman esquirel from the Old French escurel… The word itself comes from the Greek word skiouros, which means shadow-tailed, because they use their tail to shade their whole body."

Update Feb 2011:  the reports continue to accumulate, and a Google search of the phrase now yields over 2,000 hits (though some re bird egg, or bird seed).

Update June 2012:  a report (at comment #51) of a squirrel eating a baby rabbit.

Reposted from 2009 because this post keeps getting interesting comments.

How much does the wife know?

In the stretch run My Wife Knows Everything battles The Wife Doesn't Know.
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