24 September 2016


Gifs of children eating dark chocolate for the first time.

Last year a Washington Post columnist wrote an article describing Red Lake County, Minnesota as the "worst place to live" in the United States.  Now he lives there.  Happily.  He explains why in this post.

A bill being considered by Congress proposes to exempt Olympic athletes from paying taxes on the monetary value of their gold medals.   This op-ed column offers a logical dissent.

"'Arm doors, cross-check and all-call'? A former flight attendant helps decode cabin-crew jargon."

The BBC offers a list of the best 100 movies of the 21st century (i.e., the last 16 years).

"...there is a catch to the autonomous dream [of self-driving 18-wheel trucks] — these vehicles will not be impervious to hackers. In a paper they will present at the Usenix Workshop on Offensive Technologies in Austin next week, the researchers will show that even the long-haul vehicles currently on the road, with their comparatively modest autonomous systems, are vulnerable to attack.

Digg offers constantly updating threads of all news stories, tweets, etc. on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  By the time you get to the bottom of the thread, there are new ones at the top.

Yersinia pestis has now been confirmed (by DNA) as the cause of London's Great Plague of 1665.

Three Louisiana politicians who voted against disaster-relief funds for Hurricane Sandy victims in New Jersey and New York have requested disaster-relief funds for their own constituents.  You can read their excuses here.

Bad Lip Reading of the Democratic National Convention.

How to go faster on a bicycle.  

A 17-minute video details the construction of U.S. Bank stadium and offers a tour of the billion-dollar facility.  For Minnesotans and avid Vikings fans only.

In recent years, cholera has afflicted at least 770,000 Haitians and claimed over 9,200 lives. The Haitian epidemic alone resulted in an 85 percent increase in the number of cholera cases worldwide. The UN has not explicitly said it caused the cholera outbreak; however, the Secretary-General's office says peacekeepers who arrived in Haiti after the earthquake may have helped trigger the epidemic.

This is how to throw a hammer (gif and discussion thread).

A map of the locations of the 10,000 most powerful earthquakes.

"For the past several years, a group of researchers has been observing a seemingly impossible wood ant colony living in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker in Templewo, Poland, near the German border. Completely isolated from the outside world, these members of the species Formica polyctena have created an ant society unlike anything we've seen before." 

  Got a dead tree in your front yard?  This man will create an impressive sculpture from it.

Metabolic features of chronic fatigue syndrome (published in PNAS).

"A woman had never completed the first stage of the "American Ninja Warrior" national finals. Enter stuntwoman Jessie Graff, who not only completed the course, but absolutely crushed it."

Transporting massive wind turbine blades (video).

"Japan's Ministry of Home Affairs squashed publication of the tragic story of First Lieutenant Hajime Fujii, an instructor at Kumagaya Army Aviation School. In December 1944, Fujii's wife Fukuko committed suicide along with their two children, Kazuko(age 3) and Chieko (age 1), so that her husband could freely go on a special attack(suicide) mission."

Totally awesome kiteSpectacular (if you like dragons).

"There’s an incredibly pervasive myth that the best way to keep your battery healthy is to let it drain all the way to zero before recharging. Alas, like littering and the all-bread food pyramid, this is no longer considered a best practice. In fact, it’ll actually shorten the lifespan of your phone. Instead, to keep your battery healthy and ensure it’s able to maintain as much of a charge as possible, you want to give your phone regular charges..."

An extended read about the life of sportscaster Verne Lundquist.

"The playground set from Hell."  (downed power line)

"...bats (and, to a lesser extent, dogs and humans) waggle their heads to enhance their perception of sounds as they survey their environments... All creatures with two ears do this — humans, cats, dogs. That's why Wohlgemuth recognized the movement from his dog."

Interesting mailbox.  I'm guessing it's in Tennessee.  But apparently it's not unique.

The highest paid public employee in each state.

Hard-core socialists don't consider Bernie Sanders to be one of them.

The largest conservative newspaper in Texas has endorsed Hillary Clinton.  As has the Cincinnati Enquirer (the first time in a hundred years they have endorsed a Democrat).

Paramount is now streaming 175 movies online for free.

Collin Powell has said (in leaked emails) that Israel has 200 nuclear weapons.

"Fast-Swimming Swordfish Automatically Lubricate Themselves."  Full details at Ed Yong's amazing blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science.

"Here’s What Happens When You Give $1,000 to Someone in Extreme Poverty."

The Articles of Federation, which served as the U.S. first constitution, included "provided for a blanket acceptance of the Province of Quebec (referred to as "Canada" in the Articles) into the United States."

"If you had $1 for every year the universe has existed (approximately 13.8 billion years). You wouldn't even make the top 50 on the Forbes list."

The most interesting name I've seen this year: Equanimeous St. Brown.  "His father, John Brown, had a college friend... who was writing a book featuring a character named Equanimeous... his friend said it was inspired by the word equanimity, which... means “calm emotions when dealing with problems or pressure.” Brown liked the name so much that he vowed to bestow it on his first son."

The images embedded in this week's divertimento are illustrations from Renaissance maps, 
selected from a gallery at Elisandre - L'Oeuvre au Noir.

Disclaimer - updated

"The information contained in this blog has been compiled from sources believed to be reliable, but no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made by TYWKIWDBI, its affiliates or any other person as to its accuracy, completeness or correctness. All opinions and estimates contained in this blog constitute the blogger's judgment as of the date of the post, are subject to change without notice and are provided in good faith but without legal responsibility.

Nothing in this blog constitutes legal, accounting or tax advice or individually-tailored lifestyle management advice. These blog posts are prepared for general circulation to the broad public and have been prepared without regard to the individual financial, emotional, ethical, or political circumstances and objectives of persons who read it. The information or opinions contained in this blog may not be suitable for you, and it is recommended that you consult your priest, pastor, rabbi, or psychiatrist if you are in doubt about the suitability of such information or opinions. 

Past performance is not a guide to future performance, future success is not guaranteed, and reading this blog may result in a loss of your time or peace of mind. The information and services contained herein are intended only for individual humans with a modicum of common sense and a reasonable sense of humor. This report is not, and under no circumstances should be construed as, a solicitation to act as a financial, business, or marriage advisor in any way.

To the fullest extent permitted by law neither TYWKIWDBI nor any of its affiliates, nor any other person, accepts any liability whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from any use of this report or the information contained herein."

(Today I received from a brokerage firm an email with news about Treasury yields, employment data, crude oil supplies, a Federal Reserve meeting etc.  The accompanying CYA boilerplate was so classic that I couldn't resist adapting it for the blog, changing only a very few words to disguise the company and to adapt the sense to the blogosphere.)

Addendum:  Reposted to add this excerpt from the disclaimer at The Presurfer -
5. Accuracy of links.
The author of The Presurfer expressly disclaims responsibility for the accuracy of information originating from the links on The Presurfer and any problems you may experience resulting from the use of such information. Due to the number of sources from which information on The Presurfer is derived and correlated, the information on The Presurfer is provided 'as is' without any warranties, express or implied. The author of The Presurfer cannot and does not warrant the accuracy, completeness, currentness, non-infringement, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose of the information available. In no event will the author of The Presurfer be liable to you or anyone else for any consequential damages, even if advised of the possibility of such damages, for the use of this web site, the use of any hyperlinked website, any decision made as a result of such usage, or any action taken by you in reliance on such information, including, without limitation, any lost profits, business interruption, loss of programs or other data or otherwise.
More at the link.  Today, btw, is the sixteenth blogiversary of The Presurfer, which I have been visiting essentially since I started surfing the web.   Those of you who maintain blogs of your own might stop by Gerard's site today to congratulate him on his remarkable longevity.

Today's other blogiversary - and also the sixteenth, belongs to..

... Madame Jujujive's Everlasting Blort, which today offers the discovery of three poison Skittles, and a gif of this totally appropriate video  to celebrate her sixteen years of blogging:

Everlasting Blort has its own, classically eclectic, disclaimer:

All Natural, Fast Acting MeepZorp.Com is intended for grown-up use.

Everything in, on, over, under, linked, winked or alluded to on the meepzorp.com is intended for grown-up use.

This DOES NOT mean there is naked giggle-giggle nasty stuff here. This just means we are sick of looking at you damn kids. And you're ruining the lawn, for fuck's sake. This means if you are not a grown up, you must


That, or produce, prior to viewing the site, a certified, notarized letter of parental/guardian permission specifically indemnifying meepzorp.com, its hereditaments and appurtanances, successors and heirs, officers, executives, middle managers, engineers, secretaries, janitorial and cafeteria staff inclusive of the immediate families thereof against any liability arising in the event of any event whatsoever.

22 September 2016

Gleanings from The Pickwick Papers

I've recently returned from a four day trip, during which I had time finally to read the 900 pages of my paperback copy of Dickens' The Pickwick Papers.  I have kept that book on my shelf since the 1960s, primarily to be able to cite the many references to Joe ("the fat boy") as an example of obstructive sleep apnea.   It's quite a remarkable first novel, written at age only 24 (am I the only person who reflexly pictures Dickens as an old man, even though he didn't start out so?)  I'll defer the sleep apnea references for now in order to share some other observations from the book.

The etymology of "fall" as a season seems intuitive, but I've never seen the term fleshed out in full detail like this:
"My uncle's great journey was in the fall of the leaf, at which time he collected debts..." (from "the story of the bagman's uncle" in chapter 49).
The term reportedly came to denote the season in 16th century England, as a contraction of Middle English expressions such as "fall of the leaf."

This was the first time I've seen the word "fellow" used as an insult (chapter 15):
"And if any further ground of objection be wanting," continued Mr. PIckwick, "you are too fat, sir."
"Sir," said Mr. Tupman, his face suffused with a crimson glow, "this is an insult."
"Sir," replied Mr. Pickwick in the same tone, "it is not half the insult to you that your appearance in my presence in a green velvet jacket with a two-inch tail would be to me."
"Sir," said Mr. Tupman, "you're a fellow."
"Sir," said Mr. Pickwick, "you're another!"
Mr. Tupman advanced a step or two and glared at Mr. Pickwick.  Mr. Pickwick returned the glare...
One dictionary lists this as a secondary definition: "A man without good breeding or worth; an ignoble or mean man."

The phrase "... man is fire and woman tow" implies that "tow" is flammable material.  I found it listed as a secondary meaning: "An untwisted bundle of fibers such as cellulose acetate, flax, hemp or jute.

Other new words (for me):

Conversable    disposed to converse; sociable.
Wharfinger    the owner or manager of a wharf.
Chummage    payment made by prisoner to induce roommate to vacate a shared cell.
Jorum        large vessel for drinking usually alcoholic beverages (cf. jeroboam, jar).
Pipkin        three legged cooking pot of earthenware or metal.
Srub         alternative form of “shrub” = a drink of fruit juice and spirits (<shrub=liquor).
Somerset      somersault (<French somber (“over”) + salt (“jump”)).
Rampacious    rampageous (<rampage, orig Scottish); violent and boisterous.
Imperence     colloquial form of impertinence.
blucher       leather half-boot or high shoe (from Prussian Field-Marshal von Blucher).

Embedded image scanned by Philip V. Allingham and posted at The Victorian Web.

The first known use of indigo dye

This square of striped cotton, and a few others like it, represents the first known instance of people using indigo to dye a textile blue.

The ancient Peruvian fabric is more than 1,500 years older than the earliest known Egyptian fabrics with indigo-dyed borders and 3,000 years older than the first blue-dyed textiles in China, according to a study published this week in the journal Science Advances.

“It is possible it is the earliest known example of cloth dyeing in the world,” said Jeffrey Splitstoser, a textile expert in the department of anthropology at George Washington University. “I don’t know of anything older.”..

The blue-tinged pieces of cloth were unearthed at Huaca Prieta, an ancient ceremonial mound on the north coast of Peru that was occupied between 14,500 and 4,000 years ago. Thousands of squares of the prehistoric textiles have been found at the site. Splitstoser said he has personally examined 800 of them...

The cloth pieces were not used for clothing because they had no arm, leg or head holes, and the edges were not treated or hemmed the way you would expect for even a simple item of clothing like a poncho, he said. Instead, he suspects that they may have been used to carry items to the site.

“If you got to the Andes today people will take a square of fabric about the same size as what we saw, put whatever they want to carry in the center and then wrap it up,” he said. “I think they were carrying things in the bag to the temple and then ritually depositing or using them there and leaving the textiles there as well.” ..

He added that the find is a little surprising because indigo is not the most intuitive dye. Indigotin, the blue component in indigo, is not soluble in water, so it’s not like you can just throw some Indigofera flowers in a vat of boiling water and extract the dye. Instead, you have to ferment the leaves, which turns the indigotin into another chemical that is soluble in water, but is not blue.

“It’s actually kind of a yellowish color,” he said. “In order to get the blue, you dip the clothes in the water with the dissolved indigo molecule, then when you pull it out it oxidizes, and that’s when it turns blue.”
Further details at the Los Angeles Times.

Draft horse gear

Found at Modern Farmer.  Those interested should read Harness the Power of Draft Horses.
Cheaper than tractors, draft horses will toil for 30 to 40 hours a week on a simple diet of grass and hay, then export fertile manure—instead of guzzling fossil fuels and belching diesel exhaust...

In other words, horse-powered farming requires serious patience. Draft horses may be on the verge of a hipster renaissance, but dilettantes may find their romantic fantasies bumping up against the challenges of managing one-ton beasts. “Horses are not tractors with tails,” Volz cautions. “They need constant attention.” Instead of turning a key and pressing a gas pedal, Stephen Leslie of Cedar Mountain Farm in Hartland, Vermont, devotes about 45 minutes to readying his Fjords each morning: feeding and grooming; shoveling manure; plucking stones from hooves; getting the gang harnessed and hitched to a plow...

Expect to pay at least $2,000 for a trained horse, and count on a team of two animals for every two acres in intensive cultivation—up to 14 acres total (anything larger, and equine-fueled agriculture becomes impractical)...
Much more at the link.

Anticipating the first debate

"These debates would be must-watch TV because they would be the most extreme contrast of personal, intellectual, and political styles in America’s democratic history. Right brain versus left brain; gut versus any portion of the brain at all; impulse versus calculation; id versus superego; and of course man versus woman. The two parties’ conventions this summer were stark contrasts in tone, stagecraft, and lineup of speakers. But they took place in different cities at different times. The first debate will be a matter-meets-antimatter conjunction at a single point..."
Excerpted from a well-written Atlantic article by the always knowledgeable James Fallows.

18 September 2016

The "Pillars of Creation"

"The pillars are composed of cool molecular hydrogen and dust that are being eroded by photoevaporation from the ultraviolet light of relatively close and hot stars. The leftmost pillar is about four light years in length. The finger-like protrusions at the top of the clouds are larger than our solar system, and are made visible by the shadows of evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs), which shields the gas behind them from intense UV flux.  EGGs are themselves incubators of new stars. The stars then emerge from the EGGs, which then are evaporated.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), via Wikipedia.

A history of playground equipment

Excerpts from a longread at Collectors Weekly:
[R]emoving and replacing playground equipment takes money, so a certain amount of vintage playground equipment survived into the next millennium—but it’s vanishing fast. Fortunately, Brenda Biondo, a freelance journalist turned photographer, felt inspired to document these playscapes before they’ve all been melted down. Her photographs capture the sculptural beauty and creativity of the vintage apparatuses, as well as that feeling of nostalgia you get when you see a piece of your childhood. After a decade of hunting down old playgrounds, Biondo published a coffee-table book, 2014’s Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975, which includes both her photographs of vintage equipment and pages of old playground catalogs that sold it.
More discussion and a gallery of photos at Collector's Weekly. Top photo via imgur.

The problem with cold-pressed juice

The real cost of the juicing fad? Food waste. Tons of it.

Linked with fasting, “cleanses,” and the raw-food movement, these fruit and vegetable drinks continue to skyrocket in popularity, whether made-to-order like mine or bottled, pressure treated, and refrigerated for purchase within a few weeks. Such a short shelf life contributes to sky-high prices, which a certain demographic is more than willing to pay. Projected 2015 sales of bottled cold-pressed juices exceed $400 million. That’s nearly 15 times 2010’s actuals...

Because cold-pressed juices are squished, rather than shredded by blades, they may contain more of certain vitamins (like A and C) and bioactive phytochemicals (like carotenoids) than their mass-produced, heat-pasteurized counterparts. Compare sipping a green juice to simply eating greens, though, and it’s a different story: “Juices lose fiber and the nutrients attached to that fiber,” explains Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University. Moreover, one 16-ounce serving of cold-pressed fruit juice can contain twice as many calories as 2 cups of raw vegetables.

That same serving of juice generates up to 4.5 pounds of pulp, depending on the ingredients. So where does all the leftover cucumber, mint, kale, apple, and carrot go? In the worst nightmare of a zero-waste zealot, straight to a landfill. There, the pulp rots and generates methane.
Further details at Modern Farmer.

Photo credit Mike Mozart, via Wikipedia.

A solid gold toilet

And fully functional.
New York’s Guggenheim museum unveiled its latest installation on Friday – a solid gold toilet titled America.

The toilet, which the Guardian can confirm is fully functioning, is the work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan...

Visitors to the museum are able to use the golden toilet in much the same way as they would use a normal toilet. It is located in a standard, pre-existing bathroom on the fourth floor of the museum, a small placard the only indication of its presence...

Nathan Otterson, senior conservator, objects at the Guggenheim, is responsible for maintaining the toilet. He said a cleaning crew will attend to the toilet every 15 minutes... “We would hope no one would try to remove part of the toilet,” Otterson said. 
Image cropped for size from the original (credit William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images).

Aquagenic urticaria

Before reading this, I would not have believed that it would be possible to be hypersensitive to water.
This is the world of Rachel Warwick, who is allergic to water... Any contact with water whatsoever – even her own sweat – leaves Rachel with a painful, swollen and intensely itchy rash which can last for several hours... Otherwise known as aquagenic urticaria, the condition is like being stung by a bush of particularly pernicious nettles, combined with the malaise of hay fever, every single day...

Technically, the condition isn’t actually an allergy at all, since it’s likely caused by an immune reaction to something within the body, rather than an over-reaction to something foreign, such as pollen or peanuts... In theory, anti-histamines should work every time. In practice, the drugs have decidedly mixed results... All they needed was a drug which could block IgE’s effects. And as luck would have it, there was already a drug on the market which could do just that.  Omalizumab was originally developed as a treatment for asthma... Since then scientists have discovered omalizumab is effective against even the most obscure forms of urticaria – from reactions to sunlight to changes in temperature, to friction.
Here is the relevant page from the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center at the NIH.

A visit to the art museum

From a collection of several hundred of humorous photos from LIFE magazine.

16 September 2016

Lachryphagous lepidoptera and hymenoptera - updated

The incomparable David Attenborough narrates the video.

I've previously reported about lachryphagous moths, including this interesting cited observation:

"The highly specialized Lobocraspis griseifusa does not wait for an animal’s eyes to moisten. When it has landed, it sweeps its proboscis across the eye of its unfortunate host, irritating the eyeball, encouraging it to produce tears. It can even insert its proboscis between the eyelids, ensuring it can feed even while its host is sleeping. Whereas a moth of the genus Poncetia goes to the opposite extreme. It’s proboscis is so short it must cling to the eyeball itself to drink. But it must be careful. If its weeping host blinks, the moth is often crushed to death.”

I've never personally had butterflies come to my face, but it's not uncommon when in the field for them to land on a shirt or arm eager to get some salty sweat.  Here is a Common Wood Nymph exploring the interstices of the strap on my trekking pole:

Reposted from August 2010 to add this interesting photo of lachryphagous bees:

In a very few cases the approach was so gentle that the host (H.B.) did not realize he had a Lisotrigona attached to his lid, imbibing his tears. After landing and whilst sucking tears, H.B. often could barely feel the presence of a bee; indeed, checking by mirror was then required to make sure whether it was still there or had left.
However, when several bees were involved, the experience was rather unpleasant, causing strong tear flow. Once a bee had settled and more were approaching, these tended to settle near each other in a row. Closing the eye did not necessarily dislodge bees but some continued to suck at the slit. They were even able to find and settle at closed eyes.
Further details at Discover Magazine, via Neatorama.

Reposted from 2012 to add this remarkable photo of a caiman:

"While traveling through the Amazon to study reptile and amphibian diversity with the Herpetology Division at the University of Michigan, photographer Mark Cowan happened upon a strange sight: a caiman whose head was nearly covered in butterflies."
And this one of a Julia on a turtle's eye:

"Captured here by Ama la Vida TV, this photo shows two Dryas iulia drinking tears from the eyes of a few turtles."

Mommy, what's a polyamorous Christian socialist utopia ?

Founded in 1848, and in operation for just over three decades, the Oneida Community was profoundly revolutionary for its time, paving the way for advances in women’s and workers’ rights. At the commune headquartered on the Oneida River in upstate New York, women cut their hair short, ditched the corset, and did the same work as the men. Everyone worked four to six hours a day, and no one accumulated any material possessions—not furniture, not fine clothing, and certainly not silverware.

Most scandalously, commune members engaged in a system of “complex marriage,” believing that loving, open sexual relationships could bring them closer to God. They believed the liquid electricity of Jesus Christ’s spirit flowed through words and touch, and that a chain of sexual intercourse would create a spiritual battery so charged with God’s energy that the community would transcend into immortality, creating heaven on earth...

The first tenet of Noyes’ Bible Communism was to let go of emotional attachment to other people, be they spouses or even children, in exchange for a communal spirit fed by God’s love. Married couples who joined the commune were told to give up their “marriage spirit” of sexual possessiveness and jealousy. Mothers and children or pairs of lovers who showed too much attachment or “sticky love” would be punished with periods of separation... At Oneida, another building on the former farm was converted to the “Children’s House” where all the Community’s children, ages one and half to 12, would be raised by nurses and teachers. Noyes believed that favoring one’s own children over others, or “philoprogenitiveness,” was also a sin...

Noyes didn’t see any conflict between scientific progress and his brand of Christianity: Like many Victorians, he was mystified and enchanted by electricity and magnetism. Noyes combined ideas from Franz Anton Mesmer’s theories of animal magnetism and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s concept of the Over-Soul, wherein everyone and everything is a connected part of God. He asserted that Christ’s love was an electric fluid that could be passed through words, both written and spoken, as well as through touch. But the ultimate way to charge up the Community’s “God battery” was through sex, and if the members had enough electric sex in the name of Jesus, they could achieve immortality on earth...

Each boy coming of age, usually around 14, would be introduced to sex with a spiritually devout postmenopausal woman. Meanwhile, girls who’d gone through puberty—at that time, New York’s age of consent was 12—would lose their virginity to Noyes himself (who was already 37 when the Community settled in Oneida). While there are no records of brother-sister or child-parent partnering, the Oneidans accepted sexual relationships between uncles and nieces as well as first cousins.
Much more in the longread at Collectors Weekly, including an explanation of how the legacy of the word "Oneida" eventually came to be associated with flatware and silverware:
Oneida’s early enterprises included canning fruits and vegetables and manufacturing animal traps, chain link, and silk sewing thread. It was Wayland-Smith’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Cragin, who in 1877 suggested the community start making spoons at its colony in Wallingford, Connecticut, near the rushing Quinnipiac River. The original polyamorous religious commune broke up in 1880 and reorganized its assets into a corporation. In the 1890s, Oneida Community, Limited, started to drop its other products to focus on the cutlery market.

The origin of the phrase "No soap"

Explained at World Wide Words:
A speaker usually means by it that there’s no chance of something happening or no hope of some outcome, that the enquirer is out of luck or more generally that some request is being denied...

The first examples of the idiom appear near the end of the First World War in letters home from draftees. The more literate of such letters were often reprinted in small-town newspapers to let readers know how their boys were doing... the expression was widespread within the US Navy...

Recruits often complained they weren’t being supplied with soap, a need that was at times met by the Red Cross in the comfort kits they supplied. Soap was in short supply in the US at the time — as it was throughout Europe — because its raw materials of gelatine and fat were being diverted to make explosives. It seems likely that no soap, at first a rueful complaint, became for recruits a saying that meant — as early references confirmed — “you’re out of luck”. The slightly broader senses naturally followed.

How to put on a torc

Basically, you fit the torc around your neck by applying torque to it.  First the definition:
A torc, also spelled torq or torque, is a large rigid or at least stiff neck ring in metal, made either as a single piece or from strands twisted together. The great majority are open at the front, although some had hook and ring closures and a few mortice and tenon locking catches to close them. Many seem designed for near-permanent wear and would have been difficult to remove. Torcs are found in the Scythian, Illyrian, Thracian, Celtic, and other cultures of the European Iron Age from around the 8th century BC to the 3rd century AD. For the Iron Age Celts the gold torc seems to have been a key object, identifying the wearer as a person of high rank, and many of the finest works of ancient Celtic art are torcs...
 The word comes from Latin torquis (or torques), from torqueo, "to twist", because of the twisted shape many of the rings have. Typically, neck-rings that open at the front when worn are called "torcs" and those that open at the back "collars".
Now this explanation from a curator at the British Museum:
Although this [illustration embedded at top] is one of the most famous examples, the form is typical: open at the front, with a flexible neck-ring made of coiled or twisted wires. This type of torc is put on and taken off by being bent out of shape. You can see that one of the terminals of this torc has been pulled slightly forward compared to the other one. This is the result of it being repeatedly pulled open to be slipped on...

This constant flexing caused a lot of stress to the metal neck rings of the torc. When you bend metal in this way, it tends to harden and become brittle. You may have experienced this first hand if you have ever wanted to break off a piece of wire for hanging a picture or working in the garden and did this by bending it back and forth until it broke. The same thing happened to some torcs. We have many examples of truly beautiful neck-rings which were worn to destruction – taken on and off so many times that they broke at the back. They have often been somewhat clumsily repaired, as in this case:

On the Continent, there are other types of torc, which sometimes have clever hidden clasps, hinges, or removable sections... The idea of a hinge was taken up in later British neck-rings found in south-western Britain. They have a discreet hinge at the back, and a clasp at the front that was hidden when the terminals were closed... But there are some torcs which I don’t think could be opened up...
For details on those latter versions and relevant photos, see the entry at the British Museum's blog.

How the sugar industry influenced public policy

An abstract from this week's issue of JAMA:
Early warning signals of the coronary heart disease (CHD) risk of sugar (sucrose) emerged in the 1950s. We examined Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) internal documents, historical reports, and statements relevant to early debates about the dietary causes of CHD and assembled findings chronologically into a narrative case study. The SRF sponsored its first CHD research project in 1965, a literature review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD and downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor. The SRF set the review’s objective, contributed articles for inclusion, and received drafts. The SRF’s funding and role was not disclosed. Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD. Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry–funded studies and include mechanistic and animal studies as well as studies appraising the effect of added sugars on multiple CHD biomarkers and disease development.

"Weekend at Bernie's" reimagined

From the staff at Mad Magazine.  Those unfamiliar with the reference (from 1989) can view a reminder here.

11 September 2016

Proust views Chardin's self-portrait

"For the true artist, as for the natural scientist, every type is interesting, and even the smallest muscle has its importance. If you do not like seeing old people whose features lack some dignified or delicate regularity, old people whom age has pitted and reddened like rust, go and see, in the pastels gallery, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s self-portraits from when he was seventy. Above the enormous spectacles that have slipped down his nose, which they pinch with their brand-new lenses, his worn-out eyes turn upward in his diminished gaze, seeming to have done much looking, much bantering, and much loving, and to declare with a tender flourish: Hé bien, yes, I am old. Flecked with the gentle dimness of age, they have still kept their flame. But his eyelids, like clasps that have been overused, are fatigued, their rims red. Like the old garment that envelops his body, his skin has hardened and faded. Like the fabric, it has kept and almost heightened its pinkish tones, and is glazed here and there with a kind of golden nacre. And the wearing out of the one always recalls the worn tones of the other, these being the tones of all things nearing their end: dying embers, rotting leaves, the setting sun, clothes worn thin, and men who pass on, infinitely delicate, rich, and soft. It is astonishing to see how the creasing of the mouth is exactly governed by the aperture of the eyes, which also dictates the wrinkling of the nose. The slightest fold in the skin, the slightest protrusion of a vein, is the faithful, meticulous translation of three corresponding sources: the character, the life, and the emotion of the moment.

The carelessness of Chardin’s attire, a night bonnet already on his head, makes him look like an old woman, and, in another pastel of himself that Chardin has left us, approaches the droll outlandishness of an elderly English tourist. From the eyeshade pulled well down on his forehead to the Masulipatnam scarf knotted around his neck, everything makes you want to smile, without any thought of hiding the fact, at this old eccentric who must be so intelligent, so crazy, so gentle and docile in accepting this raillery. Above all, such an artist. For every detail of this formidable and careless outfit that equips him for the night seems as much an indication of taste as it is a defiance of propriety. If the Masulipatnam scarf is so old, it is because the old pink is softer. When you see the pink and yellow knots seemingly reflected in the pinkish-yellow skin, and recognize in the blue edge of the eyeshade the dark gleam of the steel-rimmed spectacles, your initial astonishment at the old man’s surprising garb melts into gentle delight and the aristocratic pleasure of finding, in the apparent disorder of an elderly citizen’s dishabille, the noble hierarchy of precious colors and the order of the laws of beauty..."
Text by Marcel Proust (1871–1922), from an essay included in Chardin and Rembrandt, which will be published next month by David Zwirner Books, via Harper's Magazine.

Image credit: By Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin - visipix.dynalias.com : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=534050

The spoils of war

Wars are fought over principles, right?  But there's also the matter of... looting...
Libyan fighters battling against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) discovered a hoard of stolen jewelry, suitcases stuffed with cash and an arsenal of weapons when they overran a jihadist storehouse in the city of Sirte.

Militia fighters said they discovered the haul in a building Isil referred to as "The House of Muslim funds" or more simply as "the accounting department".

The valuables are believed to have been looted from local homes, especially from residences of wealthy people who fled when Isil captured the town in May last year.

Photographs released by government-backed militias showed jewelry boxes stuffed with golden necklaces, bangles and earrings.

L. L. Bean's amazing return policy

This broadcast of This American Life had a remarkable segment about L.L. Bean's return policy.  I know everyone is always in a hurry, but just listen to the first five minutes and I think you'll finish the segment.  It begins at the 29:50 mark of the embedded video, or you can jump to that point automatically using this link: This American Life

The future of corporate cyberwar

"...white hat hacker Ang Cui demonstrates hacks on “embedded devices”—objects that contain computing systems but that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as computers.

At his office in New York, Cui shows us how he can turn an office phone or printer into a bugging device using a piece of malware he calls “funtenna.” This exploit makes the equipment transmit data over radio frequencies so it can be picked up by an antenna—without the hacker ever having to go near the device."
For example, you email a resume to a company. When the resume is viewed on one of their computers, code in the resume rewrites the firmware on their printer, which then morphs company telephones into transmitters.


"Optograms" - pictures developed from a corpse’s eye

Excerpts from an interesting post at Strange Remains:
He secured the heads of rabbits and frogs so they remained motionless and were forced to stare at windows or gas flames. After the animals had gazed at these objects for hours, Kühne cut off their heads, removed the eyes, and dissected the halves containing the retinas. To fix the rhodopsin, the light-sensitive tissue was hardened in an alum solution and then immersed in sulfuric acid in a dark room.

Kühne’s best-defined retinal images came from his rabbit experiments in 1878. He secured rabbits so that they were forced to stare at windows in the daylight. The resulting optograms were so distinct that individual windowpanes could be seen on the right side of the retina.

But optography was problematic for forensic investigations. Kühne conducted hundreds of experiments, and even in the most ideal circumstances most optograms were hazy and quickly faded. He also discovered that the eyes had to be removed very quickly after death otherwise the eye started to decompose and images couldn’t be retrieved...

Despite the objections of doctors and detectives early on, optograms were used occasionally in forensic contexts in the 20th century...
More at the link.

Patriotism and professional football

Today the beginning of the regular season for the National Football League coincides with the anniversary of 9/11.  Displays of patriotism will be everywhere.  This is a good time to post some excerpts from an essay at Moyers & company:
When the national anthem is playing at stadiums, fans don’t immediately drop what they are doing and stand to attention. Many unsubtly check their phones. Many are out buying hot dogs and beer (and don’t flinch in the line when the song begins). Many use the anthem as a chance to go and take a leak before kickoff. So, what? They’re all Kaepernick-esque traitors? (And, while we’re at it, let’s ask TV stations to zoom in on the owner’s luxury skyboxes during the national anthem to see exactly what is going on in there....)

This was all about sensitivity and feelings, we were told, and knowing when and where to make a stand so as not to offend the delicate, silent majority. We respect your right to voice an opinion, Colin, but won’t you think of the children?!? And what place could be more overflowing with sensitivity than an NFL stadium? 
More at the link.

09 September 2016

Monocolor woolly bears ?

Earlier this week one of my neighbors stopped by to visit, and inquired as to whether I had seen any unusual Woolly Bear caterpillars.  She had recently walked a couple miles on a local bicycle path and had seen lots of them - all of a single color (black or brown, perhaps one white) rather than the archetypal black-brown-black banded pattern.

Regional (and national) folklore holds that the width of the central brown or orange band is predictive of the severity of the coming winter.   The National Weather Service offers the following guidelines:
According to folklore, the amount of black on the woolly bear in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the locality where the caterpillar is found.  The longer the woolly bear's black bands, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be.  Similarly, the wider the middle brown band is associated with a milder upcoming winter.  The position of the longest dark bands supposedly indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest.  If the head end of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe.  If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold. In addition, the woolly bear caterpillar has 13 segments to its body, which traditional forecasters say correspond to the 13 weeks of winter.

As with most folklore, there are 2 other versions to this story.  The first one says that the woolly bear caterpillar's coat will indicate the upcoming winter's severity.  So, if its coat is very woolly, it will be a cold winter.  The final version deals with the woolly bear caterpillar's direction of travel of the worms.  It is said that woolly bear's crawling in a southerly direction are trying to escape the cold winter conditions of the north.  On the other hand, woolly bear's crawling on a northward path would indicate a mild winter.
So... a report of monocolored woolly bears has some serious implications.   Does it portend...
The onset of "end times" ?
A Donald Trump presidency ?
Some other catastrophe ?
Or, to hijack Steven Colbert's favorite meme...

Accordingly, I set off down that same bicycle/hiking path.  After about a mile I had encountered just one crossing the path (photo at top).  He/she is clearly bicolored, but not distinctly banded.  So, more research was in order. 

The Wikipedia page on Isabella Tiger Moths indicates that the "brown band grows with age."  I also found photos of yellow woolly bears (caterpillars of the Virginia Tiger Moth).  And, finally, this best answer:
The woolly bear caterpillar's coloring is based on how long caterpillar has been feeding, its age, and species.  The better the growing season is the bigger it will grow.  This results in narrower red-orange bands in its middle.  Thus, the width of the banding is an indicator of the current or past season's growth rather than an indicator of the severity of the upcoming winter.  Also, the coloring indicates the age of the woolly bear caterpillar.  The caterpillars shed their skins or molt six times before reaching adult size.  With each successive molt, their colors change, becoming less black and more reddish.  In addition, there are approximately 260 species of tiger moths (the adult of the woolly bear caterpillar) in North America, and each species has slightly different color patterns and hair coverings.  As a result, some of the color and hair variations that we see each fall are a result of these different species.
I could have done the research first, but then I would have missed out on a nice autumn hike.  You learn something every day.

I had to take down a post today - updated

I received the following email from my bloghost:
Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog is alleged to infringe upon the copyrights of others. As a result, we have reset the post(s) to "draft" status. (If we did not do so, we would be subject to a claim of copyright infringement, regardless of its merits. The URL(s) of the allegedly infringing post(s) may be found at the end of this message.) This means your post - and any images, links or other content - is not gone. You may edit the post to remove the offending content and republish, at which point the post in question will be visible to your readers again.

A bit of background: the DMCA is a United States copyright law that provides guidelines for online service provider liability in case of copyright infringement. If you believe you have the rights to post the content at issue here, you can file a counter-claim. In order to file a counter-claim, please see https://support.google.com/legal/contact/lr_counternotice?product=blogger.

The notice that we received, with any personally identifying information removed, will be posted online by a service called Lumen at https://www.lumendatabase.org. We do this in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). You can search for the DMCA notice associated with the removal of your content by going to the Lumen page, and entering in the URL of the blog post that was removed.

 If it is brought to our attention that you have republished the post without removing the content/link in question, then we will delete your post and count it as a violation on your account. Repeated violations to our Terms of Service may result in further remedial action taken against your Blogger account including deleting your blog and/or terminating your account. DMCA notices concerning content on your blog may also result in action taken against any associated AdSense accounts. If you have legal questions about this notification, you should retain your own legal counsel.

Sincerely, The Blogger Team

Affected URLs: http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/2014/10/motor-vehicle-services-looks-like-scam.html
I had originally written the post in 2014 to decry what I perceived as a marketing fraud related to an "expired factory warranty" on my car; I reposted the item in April of this year after receiving another similar item in the mail.  I hope the post served its purpose while it was up, because this is a hobby blog, not a business, and I don't have the time or energy to fight this kind of thing, and have therefore taken the post down.  You can't win.

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader J.H. Wagner, who recognized that what happened to me is a standard ploy of using copyright law to force takedowns of negative reviews:
As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure.

In fact, no copyright infringement had occurred at all. Instead, something weirder had happened. At some point after Narey posted her comments on Mumsnet, someone had copied the entire text of one of her posts and pasted it, verbatim, to a spammy blog titled “Home Improvement Tips and Tricks”. The post, headlined “Buildteam interior designers” was backdated to September 14 2015, three months before Narey had written it, and was signed by a “Douglas Bush” of South Bend, Indiana. The website was registered to someone quite different, though: Muhammed Ashraf, from Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Quite why Douglas Bush or Muhammed Ashraf would be reviewing a builder based in Clapham is not explained in “his” post.
Full details at The Guardian.

Also this, from AgencySpy at AdWeek (more at the link):
There are a number of firms specializing in “reputation maintenance” that engage in this sort of activity in the hope that an editor or legal advisor will do exactly what we did: Take a story down after receiving an official-sounding email complete with vaguely threatening legal jargon because they would rather not deal with it.
There's also a discussion of this tactic at TechDirt(more at the link):
It appears there's still no shortage of quasi-reputation management efforts being deployed in the form of bogus DMCA takedowns issued by bogus "news" websites.

Pissed Consumer uncovered this shady tactic back in April, noting that legitimate-sounding sites like the "Frankfort Herald" and the "Lewisburg Tribune" were issuing takedown notices on complaints posted to the gripe site. These fake news sites tended to be filled with a blend of scraped content and and negative reviews/posts from sites like Pissed Consumer and Ripoff Report copy-pasted in full and backdated to make them appear as if they'd appeared at the bogus sites first.

08 September 2016

So, what kind of underwear goes with this dress ?

Not even a conventional thong will work when the dress is slit to the waist.
Options include the C-string, which consists of the front of a thong-style pair of knickers, held up with wire at the back - or the Shibue: a strapless panty held in place using a soft adhesive gel.
Details (including photos of the C-string, Shibue, and other slashed dresses) at the Daily Mail.

"Matryoshka" fossil

Forty-eight million years ago, a snake ate a lizard with a bug in its belly, and all three fossilized... That fossil, recently described in Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments, is only the second of its kind ever found, revealing three levels of an ancient food chain nested one inside the other in paleontology’s version of Russian nesting dolls—or its culinary equivalent, a turducken.
Details (and explanation of the image) at National Geographic.

Crescent-shaped arrowheads

I had recently read in a Smithsonian article that Commodus (Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus) enjoyed shooting the heads off fowl using "crescent-shaped" arrowheads, so I tried looking it up.

The Friends of Dudley Castle has a webpage about ancient weapons.  The crescent-shaped arrow was real:  "The first two arrows are crescent-shaped arrows used for hunting birds and small game. A bodkin-type [needle-shaped] arrow could pass through the wing feathers of a bird in flight, but the crescent would take out a substantial section of the wing, bringing the bird to the ground."

So it was developed to hit the wings of birds in flight.  But as for severing the neck of a bird - that's another story:
The first four attempts only just missed, but I noticed that the fletchings were actually brushing the neck of the bird on its way past. When I retrieved the arrows from my target (that was positioned just behind the carcass), I noticed that the arrowhead entered the foam target Boss with the blade running vertically...This then suggests that it may well be true that Commodus slew the Ostriches in such a bizarre manner, but how well could anyone judge the correct distance for the spin, and actually hit the bird when it was moving?
So the crescent-shaped arrow rotates during flight. The author goes on to discuss whether such arrows were used effectively to cut sails and rigging during naval battles.  Those interested can continue reading at what amounts to a definitive website on warbow archery, in an article written by the Chairman of the English Warbow Society.

Of equal interest I thought were the other arrows shown in the first image:
The next two are fire-arrows, both used for setting fire to wooden and thatched buildings and were used against enemy ships.
     * The first has a basket into which a piece of red-hot charcoal is inserted. The speed of an arrow travelling at approximately 120mph causes the charcoal to ignite.
     * The next arrow is wrapped round with linen fastened with a copper wire. The linen has been soaked in "Greek Fire", a substance which is very difficult to extinguish. An acid solution, such as vinegar or stale urine, had to be used to put the fire out.
       The final arrow is known as a blunt arrow, used for target practice and hunting small game. The large, bulbous head would kill pheasant, partridge and woodcock, which could be hunted legally.
More at the links.

Summer is just beginning in Australia...

Via Neatorama.

The potential nightmare of "truck hacking"

The terrorist incident in France shows the devastation that can be created with a large truck.  Now imagine someone being able to "hack" an autonomous, driverless truck.
Consumer vehicles have been proven to be insecure; the addition of electronics to monitor and control vehicle functions have added complexity resulting in safety critical vulnerabilities. Heavy commercial vehicles have also begun adding electronic control systems similar to consumer vehicles. We show how the openness of the SAE J1939 standard used across all US heavy vehicle industries gives easy access for safety-critical attacks and that these attacks aren't limited to one specific make, model, or industry.

We test our attacks on a 2006 Class-8 semi tractor and 2001 school bus. With these two vehicles, we demonstrate how simple it is to replicate the kinds of attacks used on consumer vehicles and that it is possible to use the same attack on other vehicles that use the SAE J1939 standard. We show safety critical attacks that include the ability to accelerate a truck in motion, disable the driver's ability to accelerate, and disable the vehicle's engine brake. We conclude with a discussion for possibilities of additional attacks and potential remote attack vectors.
I saw a comment somewhere (link lost) that the hacking described above currently requires entry into the vehicle, but that it should be possible to accomplish the same effect externally unless improved security features are incorporated into vehicles.

Roman "livewell"

In an era long before refrigeration, wealthy Romans built holding tanks beside their coastal villas so they could eat fresh fish whenever they wished. Sluice gates positioned with their tops eight inches above the high-water mark let seawater in and out, flushing the tanks with the natural ebb and flow of the tides. To work, they had to be built at a precise level relative to high tide.
"Livewell" is a modern term for the tank on fishing boats designed to keep fish alive until the crew returns to shore.  Very clever, those Romans.
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