30 July 2016

This is a "rain bomb"

The phenomenon is known in meteorology circles as the more sober “wet microburst.” They are supposed to happen rarely; conditions must be just right. A thunderstorm runs into a dry patch of air that sucks some moisture away. The air underneath the storm cloud cools, making it more dense than the air around it. The cooler air begins to drop into even warmer air and then accelerates. When the faucet really flips on, air can blast out of the sky at more than 115 miles per hour. It deflects off the ground and pushes winds outward, at or near tornado strength. 
More details about this event in Phoenix at Bloomberg.

Image credit: Chopperguy photographer Jerry Ferguson and pilot Andrew Park, via Bruce Haffner's Twitter feed and Bloomberg.

Armageddon in the garden

This summer I began writing a short series of posts about our local community garden and my plot in it.  This past week disaster struck.

South-central Wisconsin normally gets about 4" of rain in the entire month of July.  Last weekend, according to the admins, "...we received slightly over 4 inches of rain on one day, and then followed by another 3 inches the following day... One of the gardeners who went into the garden towards sunset of the first day reported that water was knee deep in places."  This community garden is located in an area that doesn't drain well, so most of the garden plots had standing water for 4-5 days.  The result was brutal for many of the vegetable crops.

The top photo shows someone's row of cabbages.  The leaves are dead and surrounded by not-yet-dry mud.   Here is someone's tomato patch:

The marsh hay covers the mud, but it's evident that all of the tomato plants are dying.  That surprised me a little, given how fleshy the fruits and the stems of tomatoes are, and how avidly they take up water in the summer.  But I think the standing water "drowns" the plant by cutting off oxygen to the root system and by facilitating the growth of fungi.

Someone else lost his/her tomatoes and the climbing legumes.

In my plot the tomatoes are dead, and these three rows of carrots are on death's doorstep.   The dill still stands, but is yellow.  The corn and squash look like survivors.

The least-affected plots in the community garden are (not surprisingly) the straw-bale gardens, like this one:

I can respond to this with some equanimity, since the garden was mostly designed for butterflies, and the tomatoes can be replaced with ones from our home garden (or the local farmers' market).

But as I surveyed the damage, I was forcefully reminded of an incident my mother related to me on several occasions.  She grew up in the 1930s on a Norwegian family farm in southern Minnesota, and remembers an incident where severe weather (I think a hailstorm) devastated one of the farm fields.  She remembers her mother nearly in tears saying to her "we really needed that crop."  Theirs was a life lived much closer to the edge than I will likely ever experience.  In an era before farm subsidies and crop insurance a single weather event (early or late freeze, wind lodging of the corn or grain, epidemic illness in the animals) went directly to the bottom line, especially in a cash-poor system where finished goods like clothing were sometimes obtained by barter.

What I lost amounted to several dozens of hours of labor.  Only two generations earlier a similar event would have been life-altering.  A sobering thought.

27 July 2016

Isle of the Dead ("Die Toteninsel")

Arnold Böcklin is best known for his five versions (painted in 1880-1886) of the Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried.

Aging without children

Some thoughts about an overlooked demographic group:
[People ageing without children] includes those who aren’t parents (either by choice or circumstance), as well as those who are estranged or geographically separated from their adult children; those whose children have care needs of their own; or whose children predeceased them.

Ageing without Children (AWOC) was set up in 2014 by Kirsty Woodard and three other campaigners to raise awareness and provide support to this significant, yet hidden, group in our society...

Indeed, the government line on ageing is that ‘families must do more’ - ignoring those for whom that isn’t an option...

Reactions to the issues of ageing without children can be surprisingly cruel and unsupportive, often along the lines of: ‘Well, you should have had kids then,’ without knowing anything of the individual’s experience...
More at The Telegraph.

Norway may build floating underwater traffic tunnels

Norway has hatched ambitious plans to install the world’s first floating underwater tunnels to help travelers easily cross the nation’s many fjords. At present, the only way to travel across the bodies of water involves taking a series of ferries – an inconvenient and time-consuming process. The “submerged floating bridges” would consist of large tubes suspended under 100 feet of water, and each one will be wide enough for two lanes of traffic...

Norway has so far committed $25 billion in funds to the project, which is expected to reach completion by 2035.
How can they spend $25,000,000,000 on this?  Because they're not spending $25,000,000,000 projecting their military strength around the world.  They understand the importance of maintaining and improving infrastructure, and their nation's political structure is not controlled by the military-industrial complex.

Addendum: a relevant video.

Scavenging fishing tackle

This video brings back fond memories.  When I was a youngster, my family spent a lot of time at Leech Lake in northern Minnesota.  From the time I was about 12 years old, I was allowed to take the boat out by myself (a heavy wooden 14-foot boat with a 7.5 hp Evinrude, laughable by today's standards of speed, but great for trolling and drifting).  I knew the locations of the logs on the lake bottom, and often tried to retrieve lures with home-made grappling hooks. 

Via Science Matters.

The chemistry of sexual excitement

The molecular structure of a silica gel, shown in this illustration of a chemistry textbook or syllabus, has been described as "the chemical composition of a latina orgasm."

World's deepest blue hole

After nearly a year of exploration, Chinese researchers have determined that the [deep blue “Dragon Hole” in the Paracel Islands, called the “eye” of the South China Sea] sinkhole is likely the world’s deepest, reaching about 987 feet below the surface and surpassing the previous record holder, Dean’s Blue Hole near the Bahamas, by more than 300 feet...

Researchers told the television station that after about 330 feet, the water is oxygen free and likely unable to support life.
I find the latter observation to be the most interesting aspect of this report.  I know of no reason why deoxygenated seawater would be heavier, so I presume the anaerobic environment develops because of consumption of oxygen during breakdown of organic matter that falls into the hole, and a lack of circulation of the water within the hole.  But I would think there would still be extremophiles down there, and that when they refer to "life" they are referring to oxygen-dependent life.

Addendum:  Here is a reply I received from a relative of mine who spent his professional career studying similar environments:
Some of these marine sink holes contain water that is more dense than normal seawater due to saltier ocean conditions in the past. If a full scientific report references a "chemocline" that's what is implied. There will certainly be microbial life, almost certainly based on use of sulfate or elemental sulfur in anaerobic respiration of organic matter that ends up in the hole. These are quite "garden variety" bacteria - well known from marine sediments a few meters below the sediment-water interface. They are not really even "extremophiles", just well known anaerobes. Fermentative bacteria would also be part of the microbial food chain.

24 July 2016

Christina's World (Andrew Wyeth, 1948)

Image via the Museum of Modern Art.  Text from an article in Mental Floss:
The 31-year-old Wyeth modeled the painting's frail-looking brunette after his neighbor in South Cushing, Maine. Anna Christina Olson suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder [Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease] that prevented her from walking. Rather than using a wheelchair, Olson crawled around her home and the surrounding grounds... The sight of Olson picking blueberries while crawling through her fields “like a crab on a New England shore” inspired Wyeth to paint Christina’s World.

Art historians have often snubbed Wyeth's works in their surveys, and some naysayers have attacked the painting's widespread popularity, deriding it as "a mandatory dorm room poster." Meanwhile, critics have chastised Wyeth's attention on Olson's infirmity and characterized it as exploitation. Still others claim there was no art in rendering realistic imagery in paint...

Christina's World remained her favorite to the end. Once when I asked her why, she simply smiled and said, 'You know pink is my favorite color.' 'But you're wearing a flowered pink dress in Miss Olson and holding a kitten. I thought you loved kittens.' 'Course I do, but in the other one Andy put me where he knew I wanted to be. Now that I can't be there anymore, all I do is think of that picture and I'm there.'

Van Gogh's ear

The Art Newspaper reports on an Amsterdam exhibition about Vincent van Gogh’s medical problems:
The exhibition also reveals new evidence discovered by the writer Bernadette Murphy, as revealed in her book Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story (Chatto & Windus). Murphy found a note and diagram from Dr Félix Rey, who had treated Van Gogh in Arles after he had mutilated his ear. This note was written on 18 August 1930 for the American novelist Irving Stone, author of Lust for Life (the document has been lent to the Amsterdam museum by the Bancroft Library at the University of California).

Rey’s diagram shows that virtually the entire ear was cut off, with a caption stating it showed “what remained of the lobe”...

Most importantly, Murphy says she has identified the young woman at the brothel to whom Van Gogh presented his ear...
More about that in this report:
The Institut Pasteur medical records reveal that 18-year-old Gabrielle Berlatier lived at the Mas de Faravelle in Moulès, a village ten kilometres east of Arles, in Provence. On 8 January 1888 she had been bitten on her left arm by a dog owned by the farm’s shepherd, Monsieur Moreau. The dog was shot and found to have had rabies. As Murphy’s book records, Gabrielle then suffered the painful process of having the wound cauterised with a red-hot iron, leaving a disfiguring scar. She was quickly taken to Paris, where she was treated with a new anti-rabies vaccine, saving her life...

Murphy writes in her book that Gabrielle was too young to be a registered prostitute, and she was only working as a maid in the brothel [and at the Café de la Gare].

How to blow a cow

I learned about this subject matter from a recent podcast of No Such Thing as a Fish:
Cow blowing, Kuhblasen, phooka, or doom dev, is a process used in many countries according to ethnographers, in which forceful blowing of air into a cow's vagina (or sometimes anus) is applied to induce her to produce more milk.

Cow blowing was the reason why Gandhi abjured cow milk, saying that "since I had come to know that the cow and the buffalo were subjected to the process of phooka, I had conceived a strong disgust for milk."
A brief search yielded a video of the process.   Frankly, I don't find the maneuver any more disgusting than American presidential politics, but in recognition of the more refined sensibilities of some of this blog's readers, I'll place the video below the fold:

Hillary Clinton channels Richard Nixon

An article written several months ago in Salon describes Hillary Clinton as being ideologically closer to Nixon than Donald Trump is:
Part of the problem is definitional and historical, and maybe even epistemological. What do we mean by “Republican”? A Republican where, and when? In broad strokes of politics and policy, Clinton is a lot closer to the worldview of Richard Nixon — the president who funded Planned Parenthood and proposed a national single-payer healthcare plan — than Donald Trump is...

She’s a Democrat — a Democrat of a specific vintage and a particular type. At least in her 2016 incarnation, Clinton is an old-school Cold War liberal out of the Scoop Jackson Way-Back Machine, a believer in global American hegemony and engineered American prosperity...

She faces a public ground down and demoralized by 15 years of pointless warfare and empty paranoia. Clinton’s version of liberalism — she has earned that label, in all fairness — has been rebranded and reconfigured so many times no one could possibly keep track of its current contents. Her politics are like Doctor Who’s flying phone booth: Until you open the door, you have no idea what’s inside... [good one!]

Cold War liberalism never really went away. It changed its form and its name but continued to drive the internal politics of the Democratic Party... Cold War liberals of the golden age were internationalist hawks who favored an aggressive global policy of American hegemony...

By the time Hillary Clinton had her famous undergraduate conversion, and resigned the presidency of Wellesley College’s Young Republicans to go ring doorbells for Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire, she had presumably turned against the Vietnam War. As an adult politician, however, she has come full circle, and now belongs to the tradition of mainstream war-hawk Democrats whom McCarthy attacked — the Cold War liberal cadre of Lyndon B. Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and the aforementioned Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington, aka “the senator from Boeing.”..

She’s been inside the defensive Democratic Party carapace of Cold War liberalism for so long, believing it to be the only possible reality, that she hadn’t noticed until right now how much the political landscape had shifted. There are voters who want war, no doubt, and voters who want liberalism. But they aren’t the same people; the connection has been severed. Cold War liberalism, in 2016, is a political philosophy with a constituency of one. To use a reference Hillary Clinton will get immediately, one pill makes you larger and one pill takes you small. Taking both at once doesn’t do anything at all.

"Trump that bitch"

From a story in the Washington Post:
As thousands of Donald Trump supporters streamed out of an evening rally here this week, they walked past a handful of vendors from Ohio selling simple white T-shirts featuring Hillary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and a vulgar joke. The back of the shirts read: “TRUMP THAT B----!”

One woman laughed and said to the man with her: “You have to get one!” A group of four middle-aged women pulled out their wallets and tried to bargain the vendors down from $20. One of the vendors shouted again and again: “Trump that b----! Trump that b----!” A guy walking past responded: “That’s right!”...

In an interview last month, Trump said he was unaware that his fans were using the term.
“They’re what? They’re calling her what?” Trump said, as the word was repeated to him a second time. “I have not heard that. I don’t like that. But I have not heard that. I would not be happy if I heard it.”...

“Everybody has gotten too sensitive with terminology,” said Amanda Michael, 27, who attended Trump’s Greensboro rally with her husband, who wore one of the shirts. “Everybody’s just so sensitive now. Trump supporters just go out and they just say how they feel. . . . I’m not offended by it. I mean, it just is what it is. It’s just a feel-good American-type thing. We are not over-analyzing every little thing that we say or do.”...

The company’s website includes this disclaimer: “All designs are created just to allow our customers to expres how they feel. FIRST AMENDMENT RULES!”...

The front of the shirt features images of Clinton and Lewinsky with the wording: “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.”

"Ancient bottom wipers"

After writing posts about politics, it seems appropriate to consider the topic of "bottom wipers."
Some bamboo sticks with scraps of grimy cloth wound around them have been identified as bottom wipers from a latrine pit in a 2,000-year-old Chinese relay station on the Silk Road. They have also preserved the first solid evidence of disease spread from east to west by travellers. Samples of ancient faeces scraped off the fabric and brought back to a laboratory in Cambridge have revealed eggs from four species of parasites, including Chinese liver fluke. The fluke needs marshy conditions to complete its life cycle, so could not have come from the desert area around the ancient Xuanquanzhi relay station.
I'm not sure why the cloth was attached to sticks for use.  I know the Romans used (and reused!) sponges on sticks, and similar contraptions are marketed nowadays for the severely obese or physically handicapped. 

Mike Pence: "Smoking doesn't kill"

"Time for a quick reality check.  Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill.  In fact 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness, and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer..." 

Monitoring the upcoming election via electoral votes

Personally,  I'm sick and tired of American politics.  Sick and tired of the way it is conducted, and sick and tired of reading about it.

But it is unquestionably important, and the outcome of the November elections will impact everyone's lives for the next 4+ years.  Michael Moore has recently opined publicly his "five reasons why Trump will win," and national polls show the race to be neck-and-neck.

National polls, however, don't decide the presidency, because the convoluted electoral system takes precedence (as Bush-Gore clearly showed).  The site I use to monitor trends in the electoral map is at Real Clear Politics (current map embedded above).

That link uses all available polls to indicate which states are "solid" (a subset of "likely" in the table above the map), "likely," "leaning," or a "toss-up."  It obviously is not predictive of the future, but it seems to be a reasonable reflection of best-available current data.  I don't know how often it is updated (hopefully every time a new poll result is added in the table under the map at the source).

There are undoubtedly other similar resources.  Please offer any suggestions in the Comments.

Addendum:  An anonymous reader correctly pointed out that I failed to mention Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website.  Here's the most recent electoral map from there:

538: "We'll be updating our forecasts every time new data is available, every day through Nov. 8."

Addendum:  Here's one more important map to monitor:

Updated versions are online at RealClearPolitics.

Addendum #2:  And finally (?TMI), the New York Times offers The Upshot, a frequently-updating page that looks at the Presidential race from a wide range of aspects. 

21 July 2016

Timgad - a Roman colony in Algeria

Photo via the Pics subreddit.

Grandmothers as wedding flower girls

What a nice idea.
The bride Maggie Wakefield, 22, explained that she and her groom wanted to do something special for their grandmothers, who both influenced their lives.

So, Wakefield said, "My husband, Josh, and I decided to honor our grandmothers at our wedding by having them be our flower girls." 
Full story here.  Photo cropped for size from original by Ashley Elizabeth Photography.

How to catch sea turtle egg poachers

"A conservation group has created 3D printed sea turtle eggs containing GPS trackers. The eggs are set to be deployed this fall in Central America during an arribada, or mass nesting event when 90 percent of eggs will be poached from certain beaches...

 The group plans to create a tracking map on the movement of eggs to help law enforcement officials and activists to crack down on the big players involved in poaching...

Sea turtle eggs are considered a delicacy and aphrodisiac in various cultures. Millions of sea turtle eggs are stolen each year with each one costing anywhere from $5 to $20 apiece causing severe threat to the endangered species. "
Hopefully just publicizing this maneuver will deter some of the poachers.  I hope law enforcement will focus on the enablers behind the poaching rather than just punishing the cowboys who take the eggs.

And it's amazing how every exotic or threatened species is considered an "aphrodisiac" by someone.

Be careful if you clean your barbecue grill witih a wire brush

"When Deborah Zvosec fished around in her mouth during dinner and pulled out a small grill brush bristle one recent evening, there was a terrifying moment around the table as her two guests looked down and found their own metal fibers sticking to the chicken and potatoes...

Zvosec went to Hennepin County Medical Center the day after the May 27 dinner because she felt discomfort. Imaging scans found a 1.7 centimeter wire segment embedded deep in her tongue near the back of her throat.  The south Minneapolis woman spent five hours under general anesthesia...

The hazard of a wire grill brush was news to Zvosec and her husband, Dr. Stephen Smith. But one of the first alerts came in 2012, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a cluster of six patients who received treatment at a Rhode Island hospital system.

Injuries ranged from a “puncture of the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain on swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract requiring [emergency] surgery,” according to the CDC.  The report triggered talk of federal legislation and safety guidelines or recalls by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, but nothing materialized.
More details at the link.

That apple you just bought in a grocery store is a year old

TL;DR viewers will probably want to speed-browse through the 5-minute video, but the concept is important.

Millenials are not afraid of socialism

A recent Reason-Rupe survey found that a majority of Americans under 30 have a more favorable view of socialism than of capitalism. Gallup finds that almost 70 percent of young Americans are ready to vote for a “socialist” president...

Indeed, the criticism most heard against the millennial generation’s evolving attachment to socialism is that they don’t understand what the term really means, indulging instead in warm fuzzy talk about cooperation and happiness. But this is precisely the larger meaning of socialism, which the millennial generation—as evidenced in the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements—totally comprehends...

While banks were bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars, the government was not interested in offering serious help to homeowners carrying underwater mortgages (the actual commitment of the U.S. government was $16 trillion to corporations and banks worldwide, as revealed in a 2011 audit prompted by Sanders and others). Facing crushing amounts of debt, millennials have been forced to cohabit with their parents and to downshift ambitions. They have had to relearn the habits of communal living, making do with less, and they are bartering necessary skills because of the permanent casualization of jobs. They are questioning the value of a capitalist education that prepares them for an ideology that is vanishing and an economy that doesn’t exist...

...the Keynesian insight that a certain level of equality must be maintained to preserve capitalism has been abandoned in favor of a neoliberal regime that has privatized, deregulated, and “liberalized” to the point where extreme inequality, a new form of serfdom, has come into being...

But millennials are done with blind faith in the market as the solution to all human problems. They question whether “economic growth” should even be the ultimate pursuit. Ironically, again, it is the extreme form capitalism has taken under neoliberalism that has put millennials under such pressure that they have started asking these questions seriously: Why not work fewer hours? Why not disengage from consumer capitalism? Why trust in capitalist goods to buy happiness? 
More at the Salon link.

Kudos to this Wisconsin sausage maker

Jose Moreno had serious concerns when he arrived for work...  He and his wife just had a baby and now his job appeared in jeopardy after an early morning fire destroyed the Johnsonville Sausage factory here where Moreno had worked for the past eight years.

Moreno, 37, is still working and being paid by the bratwurst giant. Only on Friday, instead of using a knife to process hogs, he wore green chest waders and slogged through the muck of Heiden Pond to search for debris in the cloudy water.

“I thought I was going to be unemployed,” Moreno, who lives in Lake Mills, said during a break. “You have a family and you have to support them.”

The work by Moreno and his co-workers is an effort by Johnsonville to retain the 120 employees at its Watertown plant as the company rebuilds its operations here. So instead of losing the workers, Johnsonville is keeping them busy and maintaining their pay and benefits...

Other community projects have included landscaping and brush removal at the Octagon House and at the municipal airport, sorting items at Bethesda Thrift Store and painting projects at City Hall.
The workers are also taking classes at the Watertown campus of Madison Area Technical College where they are learning computers and math skills and improving their English. A few, including Moreno, are working toward a high school equivalency certificate...

After the fire, which was ruled accidental, the company purchased a 68,000-square-foot facility in an industrial park on the city’s south side. The factory, which will include sausage production lines, is scheduled to be completed [a year after the fire]...

[H]is work site was the pond where he and his employees, many of them with more than 20 years with the company, worked to make a community a little better.  On Friday, Moreno and 15 other Johnsonville employees, pulled sunken logs, beer cans, a lawn chair, a broken milk crate and part of a steel barrel from the pond. They used chain saws and long-handled clippers to cut brush and a donated lawn tractor to haul the limbs and debris to a staging area for pickup by the city, which owns the pond...
This is a very smart business move by the company.  Had they not paid their workers to stay and do community work, many of them might have been forced by financial considerations to move away to look for jobs elsewhere. More details and a video at the link.

I seem to have entered the "dying role"

An excerpt from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,  by Atul Gawand:
Technological society has forgotten what scholars call the “dying role” and its importance to people as life approaches its end. People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, settle relationships, establish their legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay. They want to end their stories on their own terms. This role is, observers argue, among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left behind. And if it is, the way we deny people this role, out of obtuseness and neglect, is cause for everlasting shame. Over and over, we in medicine inflict deep gouges at the end of people’s lives and then stand oblivious to the harm done.
But I'm not dying.  As far as I know.

Half the population of Mongolia

"The population of Mongolia is just under 3 million. The northernmost dot is the city of Ulaanbaatar, with a population of over 1.3 million. The second dot is Darkhan, with 180,000 people."

From the Data is Beautiful subreddit.

How tennis balls are manufactured

There is something mesmerizing about watching machinery in a video.   But for the workers involved, it is an entirely different experience.  I have personal experience in that regard, having spent much of a summer earning minimum wage greasing cooker machines and pulling dented cans from an assembly line in a Green Giant corn- and pea-packing plant.

Melania Trump channels Michelle Obama

A mashup compiled by CNN.  This has gotten so much coverage in the media that I'll defer comments and close the post to comments.

18 July 2016


A six-second video claims to show "how to soothe a woman."
A remarkable disc golf shot - holing out from 850 feet around a dogleg, for four under par (in this case a 2 on a par-6).  The video begins with a drone flyover of the hole, followed by rear and forward footage of the shot.

An interactive graphic showing the amount of contributions made by the NRA to the current members of Congress.

A hippopotamus is faster than a human both on land and in the water - so your only chance to beat it in a triathlon is on the bicycle.

"Beyond drag." Inside Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls.

Frustrations of a millenial fisherman.  First the phone goes, then the pole... [gif]

Life Pro Tip:  "If somebody comes to your door selling a home security system and asks if you have one, always say yes."

An advertising history of Bovril (dozens of vintage ads).

"87% of Venezuelans say they do not have money to buy enough food."  "In the last two weeks alone, more than 50 food riots, protests and mass looting have erupted around the country. Scores of businesses have been stripped bare or destroyed."  Discussion thread here.

A firefighter from the 9/11 disaster finally received a funeral this year.  "The Catholic funeral Mass requires the presence of remains of the deceased. This requirement was satisfied, unknowingly, by the chief because he had added his name to the bone marrow registry as a possible donor in 2000, and, in doing so, gave a blood sample for type matching. Approached by the family last year, the New York Blood Center located the vial containing the sample in a facility in Minnesota."

A penguin in Nebraska is 39 years old.

What happens if a Presidential candidate dies?

"A fringe independent candidate for Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District erected a giant “Make America White Again” billboard this week that he claims was inspired by the signature tagline of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump."

An image to send to your anti-vaxxer friends.

How much does a "road-flagger" earn?  "...flaggers in Waukesha County making prevailing wage would earn "$96,646 a year if they worked full time for the full year" -- a figure that includes salary plus benefits." (but they typically do not work year round).

What you won't see about Rio in television coverage of the Olympics.  Or even as the average tourist.

A fleece blanket is essentially a treadmill for snakes.

A stroller collapses to a remarkably small size. [gif]

Wahhabism explained.

Dane County (Wisconsin) tests drunk drivers using fingernail clippings.

A warning not to eat raw cookie dough - because of contaminated flour, not contaminated eggs.  I fondly remember all the raw cookie dough my mother gave me as a kid...

"A Florida man is in big trouble for using a cell phone jammer while driving on the highway."

"It has become increasingly clear that the U.S. Constitution is in dire need of amendment. The purpose of having a government in the first place is to give the country a means to deal with pressing national problems, yet the seemingly permanent deadlock that has gripped our institutions for the past two decades makes it impossible to carry out this essential function. It is time for a change in how we govern ourselves, or rather in how we are currently failing to govern ourselves." (one person's op-ed piece).

Video of a new world record in speed-climbing a wall.  (brief video, obviously)

Why the growth of Antarctic ice does not negate the fact of global warming.

"A new study shows that today’s youth have overthrown the yoke of body-poking wire bras for seamless and activewear alternatives. According to the NPD Group, 41% of millennials say they wore a sports bra in the past seven days (compared to just 21% of older women). "..  Nowadays, however, women expect every part of their bra to be comfortable—"comfort has changed from slightly to completely..."

How does a Muslim conduct a Ramadan fast from dawn to dusk if they live in the Arctic?

gif of a giant water slide.

"It should be illegal to force small time "criminals" into dangerous situations like that. That's a job for experienced undercover police officers... I have long found it most curious that cops view coercion as wrong and illegal... unless THEY do it."

gif of the incredible astronavigation of the Juno mission - which required getting a slingshot boost from a return to earth flyby.

And we'll end with a naughty face-painting gif.

The embedded images are some of the winners in the American Society for Microbiology's annual agar art competition, via The Guardian (additional examples there).

The linguistic history of "dumpster fire"

With the Republican national convention underway, this seems to be an appropriate time to post some excerpts from an interesting article on the history of the usage of the term "dumpster fire."
"... more or less every politician, sports team, mediocre TV show and annoying celebrity has been compared to a receptacle full of burning waste...

The dumpster broke onto the scene in 1936, part of a brand-new patented trash-collection system that introduced the basic concept of the modern garbage truck, with containers that could be mechanically lifted and emptied into the vehicle from above. The system, invented by future mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, George Dempster, took its creator’s name, and the Dempster-Dumpster was born...

In British English, for example, one is more likely to hear the term “skip” to denote a large garbage receptacle, but does “skip fire” grab one as an equally startling and appealing barb to deploy on Twitter? What about “Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been a complete wheelie bin fire”? Not so much. ..

A Google search pulls up references to dumpster fires in local newspapers and fire department training documents as far back as the 1970s, but pinning down the derogatory use of the term is tricky. Even after one tries to filter out official reports of actual dumpster fires, it seems like the term just suddenly appeared everywhere in the last eight years, and before that was nowhere. Isolating a patient zero is a maddening task...

The most likely subcultural culprit, though, is the sports world. Linguist Mark Liberman, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a recent blog post, “A few years ago, I noticed hosts and callers on sports talk radio using the phrase ‘dumpster fire’ as a metaphor for chaotically bad situations.”  ...

Actually, the death knell for “dumpster fire,” rolling or stationary, seems to be due. Such over-saturation of a particular, visceral image or phrase typically leads it down the road to obsolescence, like the “epic fail” and “fml” of yesteryear. 
More at the link. 

14 July 2016

Interspecies fist-bumps are the best kind

"Rotterdam, Netherlands. A girl meets a polar bear at Blijdorp zoo." Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock." 

Badger Prairie Community Garden in midsummer

For a view of the gardens in spring, see my previous post in May.  Here's how some of the plots look now.  There are as many ways to garden as there are gardeners:

My own plot has met with what might charitably be called "mixed success."  On the back row the "Flint corn" ("Indian corn") has tasseled.  Underneath the corn I interplanted squash in the style of Native Americans.  It is growing vigorously, so I'm going to have to do something to keep it out of my neighbor's plot.

On the next row in, the dill is up nicely, but the other half of the row was fennel, and it never germinated; I've just replanted some, rather late in the season.  The carrots in the next row are doing well, but in the row proximal to that the parsley is having trouble competing with native weeds.  The tomatoes (outside the image) have been cropped on top by passing deer who probably laughed at the feeble fence (and they nipped some of the carrot tops for dessert).

No sign yet of Black Swallowtail eggs or caterpillars on the dill, carrots, or parsley.

Astronauts developing visual impairment

Before-and-after images of an astronaut’s eyes via spectral domain optical coherence tomography show choroidal folds (marked by arrows), which are similar to stretch marks. (Courtesy North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society)
From an interesting story in the Washington Post:
During Phillips’s post-flight physical, NASA found that his vision had gone from 20/20 to 20/100 in six months. 

Rigorous testing followed. Phillips got MRIs, retinal scans, neurological tests and a spinal tap. The tests showed that not only had his vision changed, but his eyes had changed as well.

The backs of his eyes had gotten flatter, pushing his retinas forward. He had choroidal folds, which are like stretch marks. His optic nerves were inflamed.

Phillips’s case became the first widely recognized one of a mysterious syndrome that affects 80 percent of astronauts on long- ­duration missions in space. The syndrome could interfere with plans for future crewed space missions, including any trips to Mars.

Visual impairment intracranial pressure syndrome (VIIP) is named for the leading theory to explain it. On Earth, gravity pulls bodily fluids down toward the feet. That doesn’t happen in space, and it is thought that extra fluid in the skull increases pressure on the brain and the back of the eye.VIIP has now been recognized as a widespread problem, and there has been a struggle to understand its cause — and even to study it.
More at the link.


"Hyper-Reality presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media."

Questions about the Clinton Foundation

Excerpts from an interview with Michael Hudson, a Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City :
"...the military-industrial complex is one of the big contributors to the Clinton Foundation, as is Saudi Arabia, and many of the parties who are directly affected by her decisions [as Secretary of State]. Now, my guess is what she didn’t want people to find out, whether on Freedom of Information Act or others, are the lobbying she’s doing for her own foundation, which in a way means her wealth, her husband’s wealth, Bill Clinton’s wealth, and the power that both of them have by getting a quarter billion dollars of grants into the foundation during her secretary of state... We don’t have any evidence one way or the other. So certainly there is no evidence. There is only the appearance of what looks to me to be an inherent conflict of interest with the foundation...

The advantage of being under charitable law is it’s in a foundation that–you can look at it in effect as your savings account. And you can treat it–you can do with a foundation whatever you want... This isn’t money that comes into them that goes into an offshore account in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. It’s hidden in plain sight. It’s all the foundation. It’s tax-exempt. It’s legitimate...

... there’s no direct link between the foundation that says it’s existing to promote various social purposes, and Hillary’s actions as secretary of state. But there’s such overlap there. I can’t think of any public official at cabinet level or above, in memory who’s ever had an overlapping between a foundation that they had and had control, personally, and their public job. So there’s never been so great a blurring of categories..."
The rest of the interview is at the not-politically-neutral website Counterpunch.

"Bess, you is my woman now"

"From Trevor Nunn's 1993 operatic revival [actually a 1986 production that was videotaped for TV in 1993] of The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess. In this heart-warming scene, Porgy (Willard White) declares his feelings for Bess (Cynthia Haymon) who finally realizes, embraces, and declares her feelings for him. Back Story: After everyone in the hamlet of Catfish Row understandably turned their backs on Bess (the then wild and loose girlfriend of the murderer Crown), Porgy - the village cripple - takes her in. What follows is a Bess' transformation into a lady. However, she still doesn't have feelings for Porgy until this magical exchange."
The Wikipedia entry notes that this musical has long been attended with controversy:
From the outset, the opera's depiction of African Americans attracted controversy. Problems with the racial aspects of the opera continue to this day. Virgil Thomson, a white American composer, stated that "Folklore subjects recounted by an outsider are only valid as long as the folk in question is unable to speak for itself, which is certainly not true of the American Negro in 1935." Duke Ellington stated "the times are here to debunk Gershwin's lampblack Negroisms." (Ellington's response to the 1952 Breen revival was, however, almost completely the opposite. His telegram to the producer read: "Your Porgy and Bess the superbest, singing the gonest, acting the craziest, Gershwin the greatest.") Several of the members of the original cast later stated that they, too, had concerns that their characters might play into a stereotype that African Americans lived in poverty, took drugs and solved their problems with their fists.

A planned production by the Negro Repertory Company of Seattle in the late 1930s, part of the Federal Theatre Project, was cancelled because actors were displeased with what they viewed as a racist portrayal of aspects of African American life. The director initially envisioned that they would perform the play in a "Negro dialect." These Pacific Northwest African American actors, who did not speak in such dialect, would be coached in it. Florence James attempted a compromise of dropping the use of dialect but the production was canceled.

Another production of Porgy and Bess, this time at the University of Minnesota in 1939, ran into similar troubles. According to Barbara Cyrus, one of the few black students then at the university, members of the local African-American community saw the play as "detrimental to the race" and as a vehicle that promoted racist stereotypes. The play was cancelled due to pressure from the African-American community, which saw their success as proof of the increasing political power of blacks in Minneapolis–St. Paul.
Posted not for the content, but for the harmony of this particular duet, which I've always enjoyed. 

“Everyone has their hair done, don’t they?”

"...now the balding pate of the French president is at the centre of an embarrassing scandal dubbed coiffeurgate after the weekly paper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that his personal hairdresser is on contract for almost €10,000 a month, paid from the public purse.

The publication of the contract with the hairdresser, named as Olivier B, has sparked a row over extravagant spending by a Socialist president who once liked to see himself as “Mr Normal”.

“I can understand the questions, I can understand that there are judgments,” said the government spokesman and Hollande ally Stephane Le Foll as he confirmed the hairdresser’s salary of €9,895 (£8,265) a month.

Everyone has their hair done, don’t they?” said Le Foll, known for his own bouffant style. “This hairdresser had to abandon his salon and he’s on tap 24 hours a day.”..

The Canard Enchaîné reported that in addition to his salary, Hollande’s hairdresser was entitled to a housing allowance and other family benefits... employed since Hollande took office and accompanying him on most of his foreign trips...
More at The Guardian.  It never ceases to amaze me how far removed "public servants" are from the realities of normal citizens.  In every country.

Photo cropped for size from the original at Time.  Credit Florian Gaertner—Photothek/Getty Images.

08 July 2016

"Jump scare" supercut

A jump scare is a technique often used in horror films and video games, intended to scare the audience by surprising them with an abrupt change in image or event, usually co-occurring with a loud, frightening sound. The jump scare has been described as "one of the most basic building blocks of horror movies".  Jump scares can surprise the viewer by appearing at a point in the film where the soundtrack is quiet and the viewer is not expecting anything alarming to happen, or can be the sudden payoff to a long period of suspense.  Some critics have described jump scares as a lazy way to frighten viewers, and believe that the horror genre has undergone a decline in recent years following an over-reliance on the trope. These are being referred as "Cheap Jump scares."
Best viewed fullscreen.  In a dark room.

Boston Dynamics presents "Spot Mini"

"SpotMini is a new smaller version of the Spot robot, weighing 55 lbs dripping wet (65 lbs if you include its arm.) SpotMini is all-electric (no hydraulics) and runs for about 90 minutes on a charge, depending on what it is doing. SpotMini is one of the quietest robots we have ever built. It has a variety of sensors, including depth cameras, a solid state gyro (IMU) and proprioception sensors in the limbs. These sensors help with navigation and mobile manipulation. SpotMini performs some tasks autonomously, but often uses a human for high-level guidance. For more information about SpotMini visit our website at www.BostonDynamics.com"

How to prevent poison ivy rashes - AFTER exposure

CRISPR explained


This is really quite amazing.  Those for whom an audio presentation is too linear and TLDR can browse a summary of the contents at this Radiolab page.
  • CRISPR is the sort of thing that gets drunk biologists at parties overly excited
  • CRISPR is a breakthrough approach to gene therapy that can turn Chihuahua into a Great Dane (and much much more)...

04 July 2016

Bernie refuses to concede to Hillary

The brave reptile refused to accept its fate..."

Photo credit Bryan Snyder/Caters News, via the Telegraph.

"The world is running out of helium." Not.

The discovery of a previously-unknown helium gas field resulted in a number of stories reminding us how critically low the world's helium reserves are.
For the first time ever, researchers have tracked and located a helium gas field. And the discovery, presented Tuesday during the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Japan, could help allay fears about a global helium shortage, which could affect such sectors as medicine and manufacturing...

Even though helium is one of the most abundant elements in the universe, there’s concern that it may be running dry here on planet Earth.
That was the understanding I had had for years.  That's why I understood the U.S. maintains its National Helium Reserve.  But the claim of a world shortage of the gas is hogwash, according to this report in Wired:
Most of the world’s helium comes from natural gas, where it can exist in very small quantities. A good source will be about 3 percent helium, but more often helium hovers between 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent—nothing compared to the relatively astronomical 10 percent pocket found in Tanzania. But worldwide, helium is about a thousand times less lucrative than gas, so even though removing (inert) helium makes the gas burn better, companies don’t usually bother to take it out. “Normally, it’s an afterthought,” says Samuel Burton, assistant field manager at the Federal Helium Program. “It’s something that they don’t even consider because the natural gas makes so much more money for them.”

When helium’s price goes up—like it has for most of the past few years—natural gas companies are incentivized to sell extracted helium on its own. Countries like Qatar mine so much natural gas that even though it has relatively little helium, they can crank out a decent percentage of the world’s demand as an afterthought...

There is actually so much helium that’s flooding the market that it’s not in short supply at all,” Burton says. And as for the future, “I’ve seen a lot of talk about this global shortage of helium—that’s actually not the case. In the United States, we’ve got at least 20 years of known supplies that are easily, readily available.” 

Beautiful horse

"The horse is an Akhal-Teke, which is known for its shiny, metallic coat... It was bred and guarded by Turkmenistan tribesmen in the deserts of Kara Kum, and it was only “discovered” by the modern era in 1881 when Turkmenistan was annexed by the Russian Empire. They are very sporty and the breed is found on the national emblem of Turkmenistan. Sadly, there are only about 1,250 of these horses remaining.

ISIS "hunting permit"

Eric Greitens, one of the four Republicans running for Missouri Governor, has issued an ‘ISIS Hunting Permit’ as part of his campaign. Greitens’ campaign started selling bumper stickers with the words “ISIS HUNTING PERMIT 2016” on Tuesday. The sticker says it expires when “we defeat this evil.”

The mock hunting permits are being sold for a $10 donation. For $100, donors can get stickers signed by a former Navy SEAL who claims he killed Osama bin Laden.
Via Gateway Pundit, whose readers do not find this campaign stunt inappropriate.

The versatile scythe

Inspired by this gif of a girl cutting grass with a scythe*, I searched further and found the video above.
Every day, over 1,300 Nepalese, mostly men, are leaving the country for employment in neighbouring countries. As a result, fewer people are working Nepal's land, which undermines the self-sufficiency and food security of the region. A means of speeding up the harvest would be of clear benefit to Nepali farmers.

Introducing the scythe to places where the sickle is traditionally used will result in several benefits. Scythes ease the burden of harvesting with a sickle, which involves bending or squatting for hours. At the same time, a scythe increases productivity without introducing petroleum-powered machinery
More on the scythe at Wikipedia:
The scythe was invented in about 500 BC and appeared in Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries. Initially used mostly for mowing hay, it had replaced the sickle for reaping crops by the 16th century as the scythe was better ergonomically and consequently more efficient. In about 1800 the grain cradle, was sometimes added to the standard scythe when mowing grain; the cradle was an addition of light wooden fingers above the scythe blade which kept the grain stems aligned and the heads together to make the collection and threshing easier.

The Greek and Roman harpe and the Egyptian khopesh were scythes or sickles modified as weapons or symbols of authority. An improvised conversion of the agricultural scythe to a war scythe by re-attaching the blade parallel to the snaith, similar to a bill has also been used throughout history as a weapon. 
"Peasant infantry armed with scythes pray before the battle of Racławice (1794) by Józef Chełmoński."

Those must have been incredibly bloody battles.  You can read more on the Polish Kosynierzy.

*Addendum:  A tip of the blogging hat to reader snotty, who located the video from which the gif was extracted:

It always fascinates me to watch a skilled person do their work.  This video, btw, apparently comes from the same family that filmed "The Hay Pusher" that I blogged last summer.
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