30 August 2016

A great conversation-starting dress

A young astronomer wears a dress printed with an image from the Hubble Deep Field.  She posted the photo at the Space subreddit.  Good for her.

Wallace and Gromit defeat Feathers McGraw

The classic scene from The Wrong Trousers.

No thanks

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A judge on Thursday rejected Citigroup Inc's bid for a preliminary injunction to stop AT&T Inc from using the phrase "AT&T thanks" on a customer loyalty program, which the bank called too similar to its trademarked "thankyou."

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan said Citigroup has not shown that customers would likely be confused, or that it would suffer irreparable harm, if AT&T kept saying "AT&T thanks" while the bank's lawsuit continued.

She also said AT&T provided solid evidence that forcing it to start saying something other than "AT&T thanks" would cause an "expensive and significant disruption."

Citigroup had no immediate comment. AT&T said in a statement it was pleased with the decision, and maintained that "the law does not allow one company to own the word 'thanks.'"

The fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets sued AT&T on June 9, one week after the Dallas-based phone company launched "AT&T thanks" in a dispute that threatened to damage a co-branding relationship dating to 1998.

Citigroup said AT&T went too far, having known it would object after the New York-based bank had since 2004 extensively used "thankyou" on its own customer loyalty and reward programs.
Offered without comment.

29 August 2016

"Forward! Forward"... "Retreat! Retreat!"

Responses to the banning of burkinis

In the one televised interview I have seen with a French official, he did not cite security risks, but rather tried to justify the ordinance on the basis that "seeing those outfits on the beach makes people uncomfortable."  There are other "justifications" -
For those on the right, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, the burkini is a “provocation,” a symbol of radical Islam in a country still reeling from the terrorist attacks in Paris last fall and in Nice in July. For those on the left, such as Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the burkini is a means of “enslavement,” the subjugation of women to a patriarchal religion.
But in France, that type of secularism, which is common in countries around the world, soon became a creed in its own right. The initial prohibition against the state — or any of its representatives — showing religious preference eventually became a prohibition against private citizens showing any religious preference in public.
Here's one counterpoint:
The women who wear burkinis, she said, cannot be called oppressed. They are not the women subservient to a conservative Islam; they are the women who sit on beaches unsupervised by men, enjoying their leisure time in mixed social company.
And here's an image posted by an Italian imam who suggested that these women will not be asked to remove their beach clothing:

Embedded images via The Independent.

AddendumResponses from five women who choose to wear a burkini.

The myth of "equal opportunity" in colonial America

Here's an extended excerpt from an "The Original Underclass," an article in the September issue of The Atlantic:
For England, the New World beckoned as more than a vast store of natural resources, Isenberg argues. It was also a place to dispose of the dregs of its own society. In the late 16th century, the geographer Richard Hakluyt argued that America could serve as a giant workhouse where the “fry [young children] of wandering beggars that grow up idly and hurtfully and burdenous to the Realm, might be unladen and better bred up.” The exportable poor, he wrote, were the “offals of our people.” In 1619, King James I was so fed up with vagrant boys milling around his Newmarket palace that he asked the Virginia Company to ship them overseas. Three years later, John Donne—yes, that John Donne—wrote about the colony of Virginia as if it were England’s spleen and liver, Isenberg writes, draining the “ill humours of the body … to breed good bloud.” Thus it was, she goes on, that the early settlers included so many “roguish highwaymen, mean vagrants, Irish rebels, known whores, and an assortment of convicts,” including one Elizabeth “Little Bess” Armstrong, sent to Virginia for stealing two spoons.

One of America’s founding myths, of course, is that the simple act of leaving England and boldly starting new lives in the colonies had an equalizing effect on the colonists, swiftly narrowing the distance between indentured servant and merchant, landowner and clerk—all except the African slave. Nonsense, Isenberg says: “Independence did not magically erase the British class system.” A “ruthless class order” was enforced at Jamestown, where one woman returned from 10 months of Indian captivity to be told that she owed 150 pounds of tobacco to her dead husband’s former master and would have to work off the debt. The Puritans were likewise “obsessed with class rank”—membership in the Church and its core elect were elite privileges—not least because the early Massachusetts settlers included far more nonreligious riffraff than is generally realized. A version of the North Carolina constitution probably co-authored by John Locke was designed to “avoid erecting a numerous democracy.” ...
Class distinctions were maintained above all in the apportionment of land. In Virginia in 1700, indentured servants had virtually no chance to own any, and by 1770, less than 10 percent of white Virginians had claim to more than half the land. In 1729 in North Carolina, a colony with 36,000 people, there were only 3,281 listed grants, and 309 grantees owned nearly half the land. “Land was the principal source of wealth, and those without any had little chance to escape servitude,” Isenberg writes. “It was the stigma of landlessness that would leave its mark on white trash from this day forward.”...
The Founding Fathers were, as Isenberg sees it, complicit in perpetuating these stark class divides. George Washington believed that only the “lower class of people” should serve as foot soldiers in the Continental Army. Thomas Jefferson envisioned his public schools educating talented students “raked from the rubbish” of the lower class, and argued that ranking humans like animal breeds was perfectly natural. “The circumstance of superior beauty is thought worthy of attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs and other domestic animals,” he wrote. “Why not that of man?” John Adams believed the “passion for distinction” was a powerful human force: “There must be one, indeed, who is the last and lowest of the human species.”
I have not read the book, but the review is enticing.

How "The Elephant Man" was exploited - updated

Not by the sideshow, but by the medical establishment:
There is another story that casts a different light on what happened. The memoirs of Tom Norman, Merrick’s London manager, are surely as biased as Treves’. But as one of the most respected showmen of his day, Norman’s account challenges head on Treves’ claim that Merrick was ultimately better off in the hospital than at the freakshow...

Most Victorian freaks, however, actually earned a comfortable living. Many were free agents who negotiated the terms of their exhibition and could ask for a salary or a share of the profits. They sold souvenirs to the crowds to make extra money. The freakshow was thus an important economic resource for working people whose deformities prevented them undertaking other forms of labour. Indeed, freak performers did not consider their exhibitions to be obscene or degrading. Rather, they saw themselves as little different from other entertainers...

During the two years he was on display in Europe, he was able to save more than £50 – a sizeable sum for a working-class man. In fact, Merrick earned more from his exhibition than his manager. They shared the take evenly, but Norman paid for the rent of the venue, food and lodging...

In the hospital, Merrick was kept largely confined to his rooms. When he ventured too far outside them, he was quickly shepherded back, lest he frighten other patients. Treves said his intention in providing for Merrick was to save him from the humiliation of public exhibition. However, his charge was constantly visited by curious members of high society. Like the masses who attended freakshows, they came out of a prurient fascination with Merrick’s grotesque body rather than merely to “cheer his confined existence”...

The Elephant Man’s hospitalisation sprang from a benevolent desire to help this “poor fellow”. But, for Merrick, it may have been little different from entering the workhouse. As a permanent resident, supported entirely by charitable donations, he was rendered a dependent member of “the deserving poor”. Norman argued that Merrick’s “only wish was to be free and independent”. This could not happen while he remained an inmate of the hospital where, his former manager argued, he must have felt as if “he were a prisoner and living on charity”. Treves maintained that Merrick was “happy every hour of the day”. But Norman’s son unearthed the testimony of a hospital porter who claimed that Merrick asked more than once: “Why can’t I go back to Mr Norman?” 
More information and illustrations at The Public Domain Review.

Reposted from 2013 to add this photo of the skull of Joseph Merrick:

Classic abuse of power

From a complaint filed in October 2014 on behalf of a woman who was harassed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Harris County, Texas. In October 2015, the officer, Patrick Quinn, pleaded guilty to official oppression and was sentenced to a year in jail.

Ms. S was traveling north when she observed a police car traveling south. She was doing the speed limit and not otherwise breaking any traffic laws. However, she noticed the car make a sharp U-turn and catch up to her. The officer pulled in behind her once she stopped, asked for her driver’s license and proof of insurance, and told her that her insurance was expired. The officer then told her that he smelled marijuana in her car. Ms. S consented to a search, and the officer had her sit in his car while he searched her vehicle. According to Ms. S, the officer told her that he found a marijuana grinder in the car. Ms. S told the officer that it was not hers. She began to get nervous and began shaking. The officer asked her what she would do in his position. She responded that she would give her a warning and let her go. The officer responded, asking if that was really what she would do. She said yes. The officer told her that he had a foot fetish. He would let her go if she let him smell her feet. If she refused, he would take her to jail. Ms. S began to take off her boots...
The rest of "Foot Patrol" is at Harper's.

The relevance of basketball to the Yup'ik community

I was surprised to learn that basketball was introduced to the Yukon about 70 years ago by a Jesuit priest.  If you like basketball and think that sports are more than just a game, you will want to see this video.  If not, skip it.

“To My Fellow Filthy Rich Americans: The Pitchforks Are Coming”

 Capitalism and the Reformer, by Art Young, 
from The Best of Art Young © 1936 The Vanguard Press, Inc., New York City, via Harper's.

Excerpts from an open letter:
You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries...

What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks.

At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind...

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last...

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when...

The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts...

Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around.
Fulltext of the letter here.  Via Jobsanger

26 August 2016

Offered without comment

Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

NPR is eliminating the "comment" feature from its websites

Good riddance to NPR’s comment section, which is shutting down Tuesday after eight years. There has to be a better way for news organizations to engage with the public.

NPR is joining a growing list of media organizations that have said “finito” to comments including, ‘This American Life,’ Reuters, Recode, Mic, The Chicago Sun-Times, Popular Science, CNN, The Toronto Star and The Week...

The trolls who rule the comment seas may actually have won because they often scare away people with their vicious attacks. An infinitesimal number of NPR’s 25 to 35 million unique monthly users bothered to join story-page conversations...

There are some sites that handle comments well, noted Alex Howard, a senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation. “Building a healthy online community is hard, but outlets like TechDirt and forums like MetaFilter show that it’s not only possible but sustainable,” said Howard. “At their best, good comments are improvements upon the journalism they’re focused upon, but they require convening a community and investing in editorial moderation and tools.”
TYWKIWDBI will continue to allow comments.   The need to delete spam every morning is a nuisance, but the readership here is reasonably sane and immensely well-informed on a huge range of topics, and I have had readers tell me that they routinely read most of the comments on the posts.  I will continue to "curate" comments, however, by weeding out the egregiously offensive ones.

More details at Moyers&Co (and 300+ comments).

Roombas can't detect dog poop

Details, if you want them, at Today.  I understand the Roomba also doesn't detect cat vomit.

Here are two bar bets you can almost always win

You're out having drinks with friends after work.  They are intelligent, sophisticated people, and nobody wants to talk about Trump/Clinton.  So you offer this:
"I'll bet you a (beer/bourbon/whatever) you can't guess how many time zones there are in Antarctica.  And I'll give you three guesses."
With three guesses they'll probably go for it (or someone in the group will).  One guess will be "24" because the continent spans all of the lines of longitude.  That's wrong.

A second guess will probably be "1" because Antarctica isn't a country.  But it does have time zones, established by the occupying countries.

Then they will have to make a wild guess.  It probably won't be the correct answer:  10 or 11.

"Which country - with its dependent territories - covers the most time zones?"
Russia, of course, with its immense east-west span, covers almost half the planet.  But it doesn't have territories in the other half.  So which country and its territories are in the most time zones?  Take a guess before looking at the link.

Wrong.  You owe me a drink.

23 August 2016

World's oldest gold artifact

Archaeologists dug up the gold artifact, which is just an eight of an inch in diameter and dates from 4,500–4,600 B.C., at what was believed to be the first urban settlement in Europe. It’s just outside of the modern town of Pazardzhik [Bulgaria].

What’s particularly interesting about the item is that researchers believe it to be 200 years older than gold jewelry discovered back in 1976 in the coastal town of Varna, thought to be the oldest in existence. That would make this speck-like bead the oldest piece of gold in the world.


Stuart Dunbar removed the 1.5kg black truffle, which he described as a "beast", from the earth on his property in Yarra Valley, in the state of Victoria.

It is thought to be the largest black truffle ever grown in [Australia], a delicacy which could also be a world-beater and estimated to be worth $3,700AUD (£2,100)...

Mr Dunbar’s truffle find beats a ‘world’s biggest’ 1.3kg black Périgord truffle unearthed in the south of France in 2012, if officially confirmed.

Highly improbable events are commonplace

In June 2001, on a small farm in Staffordshire, England, a 10-year-old girl named Laura Buxton was celebrating her grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. At one point, urged by her grandfather, Buxton wrote a note -- “Please return to Laura Buxton,” along with her address -- on a small card, attached it to a gold mylar balloon, and released it into cloudless sky...

Two days later, 140 miles away in a Milton Lilbourne, a farmer was checking on his cattle in a field and came across the deflated balloon in his neighbors’ hedge. He was about to discard it as trash, when he noticed the note; his neighbors had a daughter named Laura, so he passed it along to them...

The girl the farmer gave the balloon to was also named Laura Buxton, and was also just shy of ten years old... A three hour drive apart, the two Laura Buxtons not only shared the same name, but were nearly the exact same age, were the same height (which was unusual, considering they were both well above average for their age at 4 feet, 7 inches), had brown pigtails and blue eyes, and were in Year 5 in primary school. In a Radiolab interview, the girls recalled the astonishing similarities that arose as they spoke for the first time: they both had three-year-old female black labrador dogs, grey rabbits, and guinea pigs with identical markings (orange spots on hind legs). Upon meeting, they unintentionally chose to wear identical outfits -- a pink sweater, and jeans...
You can read the rest of the story at Priceonomics (or listed to that Radiolab story).

Res ipsa loquitur

The waitress who was stiffed on this tab was born in the United States to a bicultural family.  Details at the Washington Post.

"Bagpipe lung"

A newly-recognized occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been reported in Thorax:
This is the first case report identifying fungal exposure, from a bagpipe player, as a potential trigger for the development of HP. The clinical history of daily bagpipe-playing coupled with marked symptomatic improvement when this exposure was removed and the identification of multiple potential precipitating antigens isolated from the bagpipes make this the likely cause.

Many of the isolated fungi in this case have previously been implicated in the development of HP.  The moist environment of bagpipes promotes yeast and mould contamination, thereby making the chronic inhalation of offending antigens a likely trigger. This report highlights the importance of careful clinical history when assessing patients with respiratory symptoms. We often associate exposures to birds and pigeons, or living in environments contaminated with mould, as potential triggers for HP. In a significant proportion of patients, a trigger is not identified. In this case, playing the bagpipes, an important hobby in the history, was not initially realised as a potential trigger in the development of the disease, and subsequently, no serum-precipitating antibodies to moulds or fungi were performed. The temporal relationship with an improvement in symptoms while abroad and the subsequent identification that the patient was not playing the bagpipes highlighted this source as a potential trigger. 
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been reported in musicians playing other wind instruments:
There have been previous case reports of HP in saxophone and trombone players attributable to isolated fungi and Candida. In one case described by Metzger et al, Ulocladium botrytis and Phoma sp were isolated from the saxophone, and subsequent serum-specific antibodies to these fungi were tested and found to be positive. The patient began regular drying of the saxophone after use, and cleaning it with disinfectant. They were treated with 32 mg/day of methylprednisolone for 1 month. These measures led to marked improvement of symptoms and radiology after 2 months. Repeat samples from the saxophone were negative for moulds or fungi. In a further case described by Metersky et al, a trombone player developed suspected HP based on clinical and radiological findings. Symptoms showed the same temporal relationship as described in this case, as they significantly improved on cessation of playing the trombone for 2 weeks.
You learn something every day.

"Super fancy dorm rooms at Ole Miss are a thing"

As reported by the StarTribune:
Two first-year students [at the University of Mississippi] turned their drab dorm rooms into a lavish luxury suite complete with tufted upholstered head boards, gold-plated lamps and monogrammed satin pillows -- all coordinated better than a Pottery Barn Teen catalog...
Suddenly, other students started tweeting photos of their own luxuriously-decorated dorm rooms. The apparent trend of these interior design magazine-worthy dorm rooms has been reported on by BuzzFeed, USA Today, CBS News and TeenVogue.com.

I'll defer any commentary.  This is an alternate reality from my collegiate experience.

Flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict

When I watched this video, I tried to think whether it was "flotsam" or "jetsam" that was being created.  Neither, actually:
  • Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo.
  • Jetsam is part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is purposely cast overboard or jettisoned to lighten the load in time of distress and is washed ashore.
  • Lagan (also called ligan) is goods or wreckage that is lying on the bottom of the ocean, sometimes marked by a buoy, which can be reclaimed.
  • Derelict is cargo that is also on the bottom of the ocean, but which no one has any hope of reclaiming (in other maritime contexts, derelict may also refer to a drifting abandoned ship).
Much as one hates to see the ocean get trashed, if there are no toxic components in those pipes, this accident may have created some interesting microenvironments for marine creatures.

The Democrats will NOT retake the House of Representatives

As explained at Moyers&company:
The reason why is simple, structural and too often absent from the conversation: It’s the radical GOP gerrymander imposed after the 2010 census on purplish states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina – all of which are likely to go for Clinton, while also electing a bright-red Republican delegation to Congress. Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in a landslide, there are simply not enough competitive districts remaining to give the Democrats any chance at winning the House...

Democrats, however, prefer to raise false hopes — and raise money — by pretending the House is in play. The media, desperate for any suspenseful narrative, pretends that gerrymandering is politics as usual and that both sides do it — stubbornly refusing to understand how the brazen and technologically savvy 2011 remapping was different from any other in modern political history...

It takes no imagination at all to conjure suburban Republican voters in northern Virginia, Denver, Pennsylvania and elsewhere who believe Trump is a line too far — but who also cringe at the idea of giving Clinton a blank check in the House. Republican leaders and financiers are already planning on siphoning money away from Trump and using exactly this line to defend Congress.
TMI about gerrymandering.

"Reflections of My LIfe" - The Marmalade (1969)

"Reflections of My Life" was a 1969/1970 hit single for the Scottish band, The Marmalade... The song went on to chart worldwide, reaching number three in the UK in 1969, number 10 in the US in 1970 on the Billboard Hot 100...

The guitar solo in Reflections of My Life... was recorded thus: The first 4 bars were recorded as normal, with Campbell playing a long “G” note, tied over from the last beat of bar 3, through bar 4, with slight feedback sustaining the long note. The eight track tape was then turned over, and Campbell played against the reverse sound of the track, including his initial first four bars ensuring that he played another long “G” near the same point which could be cross-faded against the original – the tape was then turned over to normal setup, and he selected just 4 bars from the reverse recording which are bars 4-7 inclusive – this was cross-faded with the original at bar 4 – lhe then picked up from bar 8 through to bar 16 as normal, so in fact, only 4 bars are actually “reversed”.
I've chosen to embed the original 1969 performance.  Those wondering how the band changed over the years might want to glance at this 1992 rendition and one from 2009.

19 August 2016

How "honey-infused corpse medicine" is made

Corpse medicine was a type of remedy produced with the bones, organs, and blood from dead bodies. It is mentioned in ancient medical texts and histories from Greece, China, Mesopotamia, and India. One of the more peculiar accounts of corpse medicine comes from the 16th century Chinese materia medica, also known as the Bencao gangmu, written by Li-Shih-chen.

In the Bencao gangmu, Li-Shih-chen describes an ancient Arabic recipe to make a medicine called “mellified man.” To make “mellified man,” an elderly man volunteered to mummify himself from the inside out with honey until he died, then his corpse was placed in a coffin filled with honey. After 100 years, his coffin was opened so his remains were harvested for medicine...

Li-Shih-chen states that he does not know if the report of “mellified man” is true, and there is no archaeological proof (that I know of) of the practice. But there is plenty of evidence that corpses were harvested for medicine, honey was used for medicine and embalming, and self-mummification were each practiced separately.
Text from Strange Remains, where there are further details and discussion of the subject.  The "excreting honey" part is obviously fantasy.  See also Mellified man at Wikipedia.

Image: "Two apothecary vessels for axungia hominis (human fat), approx. 17th or 18th century," from the Wikipedia entry on Mellified man.

How Viennetta is made

The original Viennetta was a multi-layered product comprising layers of vanilla ice cream with sprayed-on layers of compound chocolate. The layers of ice cream were extruded, one after another, onto trays sitting on a moving belt. The rate of extrusion was greater than the speed of the belt which caused a deliberate "bunching" of the ice cream; each layer was extruded at a different speed from the previous layer. The final effect was akin to a series of waves rippling through the product. Allegedly, this effect was originally unintended by Kevin's team. However, it was swiftly recognised as a winner, and the product was launched with the "bunching".
I'd be happy to clean up that waste barrel near the end of the assembly line.

If you find a shoe in your wall...

... please notify the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery.
We keep a concealed shoe index here at the museum.  At the moment the index stands at approximately 1,900 entries from all over the U.K and also records concealed shoe finds in North America, Canada, and a number of countries in Europe including France, Spain and Poland.
They note:
  • The shoes are always worn out.
  • Very often there is only one shoe.
  • Many of the shoes are for children.
  • The shoes were often put in place when building work was being done to the house.
  • It may be that if the workmen found a shoe they replaced it with a new offering, or put the old shoe back together with a new one?
  • No one knows when and how this habit began.
  • The earliest shoes we know of were put in place about 1500.
Embedded image from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, via the Washington Post.

Addendum:  a tip of the blogging hat to reader "another phil" for providing the link to this comprehensive review of the subject.

Death by kite string

As reported by The Guardian:
Two children and a man have died in Delhi after their throats were slit by glass-coated strings used for flying kites on Indian independence day.

Sanchi Goyal, three, and a four-year-old identified only as Harry, both suffered fatal injuries while looking out of the sunroof of their cars in different parts of the Indian capital on Monday. Zafar Khan, 22, died after his neck became entangled in a string while he was on his motorbike... “The manja [kite string] had cut through her neck, including the windpipe. The cut was so deep she died instantly.”

In response to the spate of incidents, the Delhi government has banned metal or glass kite strings and offenders face up to five years in prison and/or a fine of 100,000 rupees (£1,146).
These injuries resulted from the use of fighter kites flown using abrasive string.  The phenomenon will be familiar to anyone who has read Khaled Hosseini's book The Kite Runner (which I rated 4+ when I read it in 2003 in the pre-blog era).

Manja injuries can be viewed on Google Images.

A vocabulary test for you

Ghent University offers an online vocabulary test designed to provide a valid estimate of your English vocabulary size.

The test does not require you to define or spell words.  Instead you are asked to determine whether an entry ("glyph," "moktam," "macrophage," "wookel" etc) is or is not a word in the English language.

There seemed to be about a hundred words in the test, which you can proceed through at your own pace, and you can retake it if you wish (with a different group of words on the retest).  At the end you can review your errors and see the definitions of the words you missed.

I don't know how to interpret my results (second trial shown).  I correctly recognized 94% of their offered words, but I almost certainly don't know 94% of all the words in the English language.  Or maybe I do.  Perhaps someone can drill down into their methodology.

16 August 2016

"Portrait of a Young Woman"

Portrait of a Young Woman is a painting which is commonly believed to be by the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, executed between 1480 and 1485. Others attribute authorship to Jacopo da Sellaio. The woman is shown in profile but with her bust turned in three-quarter view to reveal a cameo medallion she is wearing round her neck. The medallion is a copy in reverse of "Nero's Seal", a famous antique carnelian representing Apollo and Marsyas, which belonged to Lorenzo de' Medici.

A bride walks down the aisle...

This brief video has been posted widely, but I thought it was worth preserving here as well.  Grab a tissue.


I encountered this new (to me) word in Agatha Christie's The Clocks (1963):
"It was just after two o'clock that I walked into the station and asked for Dick.  I found him at his desk leafing over a pile of stuff...

"You've got a lot of bumf there."
I had to look it up:
  1. (Britain, obsolete) Toilet paper.
  2. Useless papers; now especially official documents, standardized forms, sales and marketing print material etc.
 The word was created as a "shortened form of bumfodder."

Two videos for Jon Stewart fans

These are a couple weeks old in one sense, but timeless in another.


Found at Jobsanger.  The numbers correspond to those published elsewhere:
The already astronomical ratio between the pay of CEOs and their workers climbed even higher in 2014, the AFL-CIO said Wednesday in its annual Executive Paywatch report.

The ratio jumped to 374-to-one in 2014, up from 331-to-one in 2013, the union report said, noting that back in 1980 it stood at 42-to-one.
The topic is discussed at the New York Times.
“When the C.E.O. of a company makes almost $20 million a year but then tries to outsource jobs, reduce wages and cut health benefits — that’s the kind of corporate greed we need to get rid of in America,” Mr. Sanders’s campaign wrote in an email to supporters recently. “And that’s exactly what Verizon is doing right now.”

Starting her campaign last year, Mrs. Clinton contrasted working Americans with chief executives. “Families have fought their way back from tough economic times,” she wrote in a campaign email. “But it’s not enough — not when the average C.E.O. makes about 300 times what the average worker makes.”

No less than Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee and a wealthy businessman himself, suggested that executive pay was, in some instances, excessive. “You see these guys making these enormous amounts of money,” Mr. Trump said on “Face the Nation” last year. “It’s a total and complete joke.”

The presidential contenders are responding to a sense of outrage among many working-class men and women.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/economy/article24784507.html#storylink=cpy

This used to be a beautiful home

From The Guardian's gallery of photos of the California wildfires. 

Which is slower - andante or adagio ?

This week while burning some music to CDs I realized that I had no idea what the answer was, so I had to look it up.  Here's an excerpt of the Wikipedia entry on tempo:

Basic tempo markings

By adding an -issimo ending, the word is amplified. By adding an -ino or -etto ending, the word is diminished. The beats per minute (bpm) values are rough approximations.
From slowest to fastest:
  • Larghissimo – very, very slow (24 bpm (beats per minute in a 4
    time) and under)
  • Grave – very slow (25–45 bpm)
  • Largo – broadly (40–60 bpm)
  • Lento – slowly (45–60 bpm)
  • Larghetto – rather broadly (60–66 bpm)
  • Adagio – slow and stately (literally, "at ease") (66–76 bpm)
  • Adagietto – slower than andante (72–76 bpm)
  • Andante – at a walking pace (76–108 bpm)
  • Andantino – slightly faster than Andante (although in some cases it can be taken to mean slightly slower than andante) (80–108 bpm)
  • Marcia moderato – moderately, in the manner of a march (83–85 bpm)
  • Andante moderato – between andante and moderato (thus the name andante moderato) (92–112 bpm)
  • Moderato – moderately (108–120 bpm)
  • Allegretto – moderately fast (112–120 bpm)
  • Allegro moderato – close to but not quite allegro (116–120 bpm)
  • Allegro – fast, quickly, and bright (120–168 bpm) (molto allegro is slightly faster than allegro, but always in its range)
  • Vivace – lively and fast (168–176 bpm)
  • Vivacissimo – very fast and lively (172–176 bpm)
  • Allegrissimo or Allegro vivace – very fast (172–176 bpm)
  • Presto – very, very fast (168–200 bpm)
  • Prestissimo – even faster than Presto (200 bpm and over)
Much more at Wikipedia.

Retro cool wheels

A 1941 Ford Western Flyer motorhome.  Via the Old School Cool subreddit, where there is a link to pictures of the interior.

More photos and information about early motorhomes at Hemmings Daily.


adjective: Giving opinions beyond one’s area of expertise.
noun: One who gives opinions beyond one’s area of expertise.

From Latin ultra (beyond) + crepidarius (shoemaker), from crepida (sandal). Earliest documented use: 1819.

The story goes that in ancient Greece there was a renowned painter named Apelles who used to display his paintings and hide behind them to listen to the comments. Once a cobbler pointed out that the sole of the shoe was not painted correctly. Apelles fixed it and encouraged by this the cobbler began offering comments about other parts of the painting. At this point the painter cut him off with “Ne sutor ultra crepidam” meaning “Shoemaker, not above the sandal” or one should stick to one’s area of expertise.
Addition: The story was told by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, hence Latin. 
I have heard this sentiment phrased as "Cobbler, stick to your last."

Via A.Word.A.Day

Totally amazing information about trees

"In this story, a dog introduces us to a strange creature that burrows beneath forests, building an underground network where deals are made and lives are saved (and lost) in a complex web of friendships, rivalries, and business relations. It’s a network that scientists are only just beginning to untangle and map, and it’s not only turning our understanding of forests upside down, it’s leading some researchers to rethink what it means to be intelligent."

I had downloaded this podcast and burned it to CD weeks ago, but hadn't listened to it until a road trip this past week.  The content totally blew me away.  For those interested in science and the complexities of the natural world, this is a must listen.

The content doesn't begin until the 2:20 mark - you can skip to there to save time.  If you don't have time to listen now, you can download the podcast at Radiolab and save it for later.

Worst bar graph ever - updated

Posted in a commentary on Brexit in The Telegraph

Addendum:  This one is even worse:

How does that even happen??  Via Reddit, where the discussion thread includes other examples.

Why American passenger trains are so bad

09 August 2016


How to make Google forget your embarrassing searches.

"Rowdy wanted to make the boom, and the boom got him." A fifteen-year old boy got reckless with Fourth-of-July sparklers.  "A friend of Rowdy’s was also injured in the blast, which blew a four-foot hole in the ground and was heard four miles away."

America's first known serial killers were the Harpe brothers.

Because of the effects of gravity, the core of the earth is younger (by two years) than the crust of the earth.

This video of a child interacting (unsuccessfully) with a basketball hoop is a prime example of resistentialism ("the belief that inanimate objects are out to get us").

A hypothesis that Mary Todd Lincoln's bizarre behavior was a result of Pernicious Anemia (B12 deficiency).

"I was playing Fritz Kreisler's "Tambourin Chinois" in a concert, and it all went on very well, but suddenly all my bow hair broke and fell off..."

A gruesome account of a "truck stop killer."  Sobering reading to share with any young women who are contemplating hitchhiking cross-country alone.

"Why Has It Taken the Menstrual Cup So Long to Go Mainstream?"

Netflix (and other companies) will know your new credit card account number even if you don't tell them (because of the Visa Account Updater Program).

Another indictment of Big Pharma: "The doctor began prescribing the opioid painkiller OxyContin – in extraordinary quantities. In a single week in September, she issued orders for 1,500 pills, more than entire pharmacies sold in a month. In October, it was 11,000 pills. By December, she had prescribed more than 73,000, with a street value of nearly $6 million... Purdue [Pharma] did not shut off the supply of highly addictive OxyContin and did not tell authorities what it knew about Lake Medical until several years later when the clinic was out of business and its leaders indicted. By that time, 1.1 million pills had spilled into the hands of Armenian mobsters, the Crips gang and other criminals."

OSX/Eleanor-A malware "pretends to be a utility called EasyDoc Converter," but it actually hooks your computer's webcam to the Dark Web.

A bullfighter in Spain has been gored to death on live television.

A new conspiracy theory: "Pokémon Go Is a Government Surveillance Psyop Conspiracy."

"More than 800,000 people turned out Monday in India to plant trees in hopes of breaking a world record."

Video of a bullfrog digging a channel from a drying mudpuddle to the main pond, allowing his offspring to escape death.

"We trace the lifecycle of six popular foodstuffs from farm to fork to get to the root of why so much is wasted."

How to make Mars great again.

A gif shows the traumatic results when a carwash employee is inattentive to the hazards around him.

A 13 year old girl contracted second degree burns from using her cell phone. "Gabbie was using her phone while it was plugged into a wall charger.  The charger touched her necklace, which transmitted an electrical current around her neck, effectively burning her." (photos at the link).

Here are the "long-classified '28 pages' on alleged Saudi ties to 9/11."  Here is the Reddit discussion thread on the subject.

"Single-user restrooms reduce waiting times, relieve social pressure that people with shy bladders feel in public restrooms, solve the problem faced by parents and opposite-sex caregivers waiting for their charges, and eliminate the controversy over where a transgender person should go."

Wedding cakes styled in the fashion of geodes.

"Unambiguous evidence" of Neanderthal cannibalism. "Nearly a third of the bones bore cut marks where they'd been hacked apart or the flesh had been torn away."

How did the Yucatan asteroid impact kill the dinosaurs?  Perhaps by igniting underground oil and releasing 3,000,000,000 tons of soot into the atmosphere.  (Late Cretaceous rocks "bore the molecular fingerprint of crude-oil combustion—a particular hydrocarbon called superbenzene, or coronene, for its six-ring structure.")

"If mountain lions returned to their eastern U.S. range, the study found, they could prevent 708,600 deer-vehicle collisions, 155 human deaths and 21,400 human injuries over 30 years. That would save at least $2.13 billion..."

“A chance observation—that older people have bigger ears—was at first controversial but has been shown to be true.”

Some rather interesting etymologies of words.

It takes about an hour for a snowflake to fall from a cloud.

A girl totally transforms her hair color in 5 seconds.

A mishap on a water slide that predated this weeks decapitation event.

A graph showing the marital status of Americans by age.

A clinic in the suburbs of Minneapolis Minnesota provides pet hospice volunteers.  “It can be very expensive to care for animals that are old, sick and fragile, and a lot of them are dumped at that point,” Mairose explained. “It’s unacceptable to us that they die alone. We as an organization accept the financial burden and cover their doctor visits and medications. The volunteers make sure these dogs live out their lives with dignity.” “We see dogs that are riddled with cancer, but they’re eating, drinking, peeing, pooping and wagging their tails,” said Dr. Susan Miller. “Their quality of life can still be quite good; for some of these animals, this is the first time in their lives they’ve been well cared for.”

A graph shows the "Percentage of Individuals in the United States Without Health Insurance, 1963-2015."  (It's at a new low).

A brief video of underground methane bubbles at Belyy Island off the Yamal peninsula.  You wouldn't want to fall through that turf; it would be an asphyxiant environment underneath.

"How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology. Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong."

"But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history? When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.
Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of? “Making America great again” was the casual reply."

gif of a bear cub meeting a fawn

Olympian Mary Carillo explains the difference between backyard badminton and the Olympic version.

The images in today's divertimento are illustrations from Urania's Mirror.

04 August 2016

Giant ammonite

(Dog for size comparison)
Few of the ammonites occurring in the lower and middle part of the Jurassic period reached a size exceeding 23 cm (9 in) in diameter. Much larger forms are found in the later rocks of the upper part of the Jurassic and the lower part of the Cretaceous, such as Titanites from the Portland Stone of Jurassic of southern England, which is often 53 cm (2 ft) in diameter, and Parapuzosia seppenradensis of the Cretaceous period of Germany, which is one of the largest known ammonites, sometimes reaching 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. The largest documented North American ammonite is Parapuzosia bradyi from the Cretaceous, with specimens measuring 137 cm (4.5 ft) in diameter.
Via the Pics subreddit.

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof"

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" is an aphorism which appears in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew — Matthew 6:34.  It also appears in the sermon at the temple in the Book of Mormon- 3 Nephi 13:34. Its meaning is the philosophy that one should live in the present, without a care for tomorrow.  The same words, in Hebrew, are used to express the same thought in the Rabbinic Jewish saying dyya l'tzara b'shaata (דיה לצרה בשעתה), "the suffering of the (present) hour is enough for it". It is also similar to the Epicurean advice of writers such as Anacreon and Horace — quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere (avoid asking what the future will bring) — but Jesus's point was that God knew the worldly needs of men and so it was more important to seek his kingdom.
I thought of this passage while reading a passage in this GetMotivated subreddit:
The human being is meant to bear the burden of 24 hours -- no more, no less. If you live in the future, you will get anxious; if you live in the past, you will get depressed. Twenty four hours is all that you have to live in. Give up all the other burdens to the universe, to god, to your cat, to whatever - but the burdens of the past are not yours. The burdens of the future aren't yours either. Let them go. The day is your material. It's what's in front of you, it's the only thing that you have the power to change or to shape or to use. It's your canvas. It's your material. So use it well. 
The other thoughts are also expressed rather well.

This airport reminds you that you don't have friends

A closed-circuit TV monitor at the Glasgow airport.

Image cropped for size from the original at Reddit Pics.

Urban flooding - and the aftermath

Many news outlets carried at least portions of the above video showing the response of restaurant patrons to the recent torrential street flooding in Ellicott City, Maryland.

I thought the one below was equally impressive.  It was filmed by someone walking down the street in the aftermath of the flood.  I'm pleased that he/she deferred commentary and let the images speak for themselves.  Note how the sidewalks are scoured away.

Third-party candidate

Window decal image cropped for size from the original at imgur.

Wikileaks' viewpoint of international trade agreements

During the Presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump expressed opposition to international trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership championed by Barack Obama and supported/opposed [depending on what day this is] by Hillary Clinton.

In stump speeches opposition to the TPP boils down to "free trade takes away jobs by having the labor done in the third world and shipping the products here."  This 8-minute Wikileaks video explains that it's more complicated (and more sinister) than that.

Informed discussion of this video at this Documentaries subreddit thread.
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