25 November 2016

"Flaming June"

"Flaming June is a painting by Sir Frederic Leighton, produced in 1895... The painting's first owners, Graphic magazine, bought it to create a high-quality reproduction which was given away as a Christmas gift. When Leighton died it was put in their office window which was passed by the funeral procession. It was loaned to the Ashmolean Museum in early 1900s...

Flaming June disappeared from view in the early 1900s and was only rediscovered in the 1960s. It was auctioned shortly after, during a period of time known to be difficult for selling Victorian era paintings, where it failed to sell for its low reserve price of US$140 (the equivalent of $840 in modern prices). After the auction, it was promptly purchased by the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where it currently resides."

Despicable - updated

"A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered to help police throw the book at whoever torched a “Little Free Library” — a wooden house-shaped box atop a post — along a residential street in south Minneapolis...  Anyone with information is urged to call the Minnesota Arson Reward Project at 1-800-723-2020.

There are more than 12,000 Little Free Libraries around the world, a movement started in 2009 by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks of Wisconsin when Bol built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former teacher who loved reading."
Photo: Provided by Minneapolis Police. 

Reposted from 2014 to note that some people are now stealing books from Little Free Libraries in order to resell them:
But about two months ago she noticed her little library had been cleaned out, which was unusual. This has since happened more than a dozen times. Gladhill restocked each time, but soon found her large inventory of giveaway volumes in her Summit-University residence depleted.

“Our Little Free Library has been totally pillaged,” she lamented on Facebook this week. “I think we’re going to close it down for awhile, which bums me out.”..

Across the Twin Cities, others who have put up free-book stations have seen them emptied — sometimes repeatedly — in recent months...

It’s a mystery who is doing this, in many cases, and why — though there is speculation the books are being stolen to be sold.  Rhone has, in his own case, confirmed this by subtly marking books and later finding the volumes on the shelves of local used-book stores.

Stamping the books — often inside the front cover or on the first page — is said to be critical, based on the assumption that the volumes are being stolen to be sold off at places like Half-Price Books.

The Dallas-based used-book store chain said it has trained its staffers to turn away people who attempt to offer clearly stamped volumes.

Pink halibut

From a thread in the Mildly Interesting subreddit:
Fishery scientist here, it probably ate a bunch of cured eggs (fish roe), which is used as sport salmon bait in AK. The pink dye used in the roe can come through the skin. I've seen this happen to others salmon, but never a halibut...

Halibut often feed near river deltas during the salmon run. Cured roe is mostly used in rivers to catch King salmon, not far from the ocean. I imagine it could have simply drifted downstream, where the halibut picked it up. If you've ever been to the Kenai River during sport King season, it's not hard to imagine this happening with the hundreds of pounds of cured bait used every day.

The problem with "open access" publications

From a report in The Guardian back in 2014:
An open-access “predatory” academic journal has accepted a bogus research paper submitted by an Australian computer scientist titled Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List.

The paper, originally written by American researchers David Mazières and Eddie Kohle in 2005, consisted of the title’s seven words repeated over and over again.

Dr Peter Vamplew, a lecturer and researcher in computer science at Federation University in Victoria, submitted the paper to the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology earlier this year after receiving dozens of unsolicited emails from the publication and other journals of dubious repute.

“There’s been this move to open-access publishing which has often meant essentially a user-pays system,” Vamplew said. “So you pay to have the paper published and it’s available to the public for free.”..

Vamplew said he submitted the paper expecting the journal’s editors would “read it, ignore it, and at best take me off their mailing list”.

Weeks later he received good news: “It was accepted for publication. I pretty much fell off my chair.”
My career was in the academic world, including doing peer-review of manuscripts submitted to several professional journals.  There is a role for open-access publications in the scientific community, but they are subject to all sorts of abuse.  Some people in academia (or those pretending to be so) pad their curriculum vitae with "publications" that have never been peer-reviewed and have no scientific credibility.  It's also a way for corporations or politicians or anyone who wants to sway public opinion to bring fake "facts" to the public's attention.  These journals may also contribute to the public's distrust of "scientists" and "researchers."

The story above happened in 2014.  Here's a more recent example, also reported in The Guardian:
A nonsensical academic paper on nuclear physics written only by iOS autocomplete has been accepted for a scientific conference... “Since I have practically no knowledge of nuclear physics I resorted to iOS autocomplete function to help me writing the paper,” he wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “I started a sentence with ‘atomic’ or ‘nuclear’ and then randomly hit the autocomplete suggestions.
“The atoms of a better universe will have the right for the same as you are the way we shall have to be a great place for a great time to enjoy the day you are a wonderful person to your great time to take the fun and take a great time and enjoy the great day you will be a wonderful time for your parents and kids,” is a sample sentence from the abstract.
The nonsensical paper was accepted only three hours later, in an email asking Bartneck to confirm his slot for the “oral presentation” at the international conference.
Further details at The Guardian.

Disney's deceptive "White Wilderness"

The video above has exited excerpts from the 1958 classic, which was recently discussed in a report on nature documentaries:
But most infamous of all was the lemming sequence, also in White Wilderness. Ironically, the film-makers set out of disprove the myth that the animals sometimes commit mass suicide. Instead, they show what appears to be hundreds of lemmings “migrating” senselessly into the sea. “It’s not given to man to understand all of nature’s mysteries,” says Winston Hibler in his best fireside tones. “But, as nearly as he can surmise, it would appear that these lemmings consider this body of water just another lake.”

In fact, man did know better, or some men did – because the footage was shot in Alberta, Canada, where there aren’t any lemmings. To fix this problem, the crew paid children in Canada’s northern Manitoba region 25¢ per lemming to round some up. The animals were then driven south and placed on purpose-built turntables to make it seem like a horde of them was passing the camera. Finally, they were taken to the Bow river and shovelled off the bank. “Soon,” we are told, to the sound of a mournful clarinet, “the Arctic Sea is dotted with tiny bobbing bodies.”

Despite drowning very convincingly, the brown lemmings were actually miscast, because that species does not migrate. It’s the yellow-tufted Norway lemming they should have had. Whatever. White Wilderness and The Living Desert each won an Oscar, and Disney continues to market the films, and other True-Life Adventures, despite Roy Disney himself having said: “There was a time when we were presenting a lot of footage – that we knew was staged – as having occurred naturally.”

Plutocracy and oligarchy

Not a new problem:
  • "The real difficulty is with the vast wealth and power in the hands of the few and the unscrupulous who represent or control capital. Hundreds of laws of Congress and the state legislatures are in the interest of these men and against the interests of workingmen. These need to be exposed and repealed. All laws on corporations, on taxation, on trusts, wills, descent, and the like, need examination and extensive change. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations..."

23 November 2016

Why this bird is called a "turkey"

There are two theories for the derivation of the name "turkey" for this bird, according to Columbia University professor of Romance languages Mario Pei. One theory is that when Europeans first encountered turkeys in America, they incorrectly identified the birds as a type of guineafowl, which were already being imported into Europe by Turkey merchants via Constantinople and were therefore nicknamed Turkey coqs. The name of the North American bird thus became "turkey fowl" or "Indian turkeys," which was then shortened to just "turkeys".

The other theory arises from the fact that turkeys came to England from the Americas via merchant ships from the Middle East where they were domesticated successfully. Again the importers lent the name to the bird: because these merchants were called "Turkey merchants" as much of the area was part of the Ottoman Empire. Hence the name “Turkey birds” or, soon thereafter, “turkeys”.

In many countries, the names for turkeys have different derivations. Ironically, many of these names incorporate an assumed Indian origin, such as diiq Hindi ("Indian rooster") in Arabian countries, dinde ("from India") in French, Indjushka ("bird of India") in Russia, indyk in Poland, and Hindi ("India") in Turkey. These are thought to arise from the thought that Christopher Columbus had originally believed that he had reached India rather than the Americas on his voyage. In Portuguese a turkey is a peru; the name is thought to derive from the eponymous country Perú.

Several other birds that are sometimes called turkeys are not particularly closely related: the brushturkeys are megapodes, and the bird sometimes known as the "Australian turkey" is the Australian bustard (Ardeotis australis). The anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) is sometimes called a water turkey, from the shape of its tail when the feathers are fully spread for drying.
Image credit: By John James Audubon - University of Pittsburgh, Public Domain.

Rare gold coin found in child's toy box

One of Britain's rarest coins will go under the hammer at an Essex auction house next month after being discovered in a little boy's toy box...

The coin is one of only twenty made from the 7.5lbs of gold seized from Spanish treasure ships by the British in Vigo Bay, northern Spain, on October 23, 1702...

"My grandad had travelled all over the world during his working life and had collected many coins from the various countries he had been," the vendor said. "He gave me bags of coins to play with throughout my early years because I was into pirate treasure. "I looked back through the coins, remembering the stories I made up about them when I was small, and then gave them to my own son to play with and put into his own treasure box. "My little boy has been playing with this coin as I did all those years ago."..

 The coin, only the sixth example of its type to be offered for sale in the last 50 years, is expected to break Boningtons' record of £200,000, set by the sale of a painting by Sir Winston Churchill earlier this year. 
Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

Harper's Weekly "Notes"

November 17, 2016
By Joe Kloc
Donald Trump, a real-estate developer endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, was elected president of the United States. Following the election, the Canadian government's immigration website crashed, the Dow Jones temporarily plummeted, two LGBT suicide hotlines reported a spike in call volume, and more than 4.3 million Americans signed a petition asking state electors to pick as president former candidate Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote by a margin of at least a million but failed to win a majority in the Electoral College. "The Electoral College is a disaster for democracy," Trump tweeted in 2012. Trump appointed the editor of an alt-right news site as his chief strategist, and more than 400 hate crimes were reported across the country. The mayor of Clay, West Virginia, resigned after commenting favorably on a Facebook post that compared First Lady Michelle Obama to an "Ape in heels"; the deputy director of a corrections center in Memphis, Tennessee, resigned after writing on Facebook that "the KKK is more American" than Barack Obama; a school-board member in Little Rock, Arkansas, was investigated by the superintendent for wearing blackface; students in Indiana, Michigan, and Texas chanted variations of "Build a wall!" during their lunch periods; middle-schoolers in Oregon shouted "Go back to Mexico!" at an 11-year-old Colombian American; a banner that read "Death to Diversity" was hung in a Colorado library; a high-school student in Redding, California, handed out fake "deportation orders" to his minority classmates; a Maryland elementary-school bathroom was vandalized with the message "KILL KILL KILL BLACKS"; a Maryland Episcopal church sign advertising Spanish services was vandalized with the message "Trump Nation Whites Only"; an LGBT-friendly Episcopal church in Indiana was vandalized with a swastika and the words "Heil Trump"; a note reading "You can all go home now" was posted on a Muslim family's front door in Iowa City; a Muslim teacher in Atlanta found a note in her classroom telling her to hang herself with her headscarf; Muslim girls in San Jose and Albuquerque reported having their hijabs forcibly removed from their heads; a Muslim student at the University of Michigan was threatened with immolation; swastikas were drawn on the dorm-room doors of Jewish students at the New School in New York City; "Trump!" was written on the door of a Muslim prayer room at New York University; a college student in Oklahoma threatened in a group messaging app to lynch black students at the University of Pennsylvania; a boy in Pennsylvania carried a Trump sign through the halls of his high school shouting "White power!"; signs advising white women not to date black men appeared on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas; a teacher in a Tampa Bay high school was placed on leave for allegedly threatening to "call Donald Trump and get you sent back to Africa"; a neo-Nazi blogger declared New Balance the "official shoes of white people"; and a neo-Nazi leader of the alt-right movement enjoined his followers to make "brown people ... feel that everything around them is against them." In Orlando, a bald eagle flew into a sewer and died.

Mars has a Lake-Superior-size mass of water

It doesn't seem that long ago when reports about water being found in extraterrestrial sites was amazing news.  Now it's beginning to seem that water on other planetary bodies is not at all uncommon.  Here are some excerpts from NASA re their new find on Mars:
Frozen beneath a region of cracked and pitted plains on Mars lies about as much water as what's in Lake Superior, largest of the Great Lakes, researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have determined.

Scientists examined part of Mars' Utopia Planitia region, in the mid-northern latitudes, with the orbiter's ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument. Analyses of data from more than 600 overhead passes with the onboard radar instrument reveal a deposit more extensive in area than the state of New Mexico. The deposit ranges in thickness from about 260 feet (80 meters) to about 560 feet (170 meters), with a composition that's 50 to 85 percent water ice, mixed with dust or larger rocky particles.

At the latitude of this deposit -- about halfway from the equator to the pole -- water ice cannot persist on the surface of Mars today. It sublimes into water vapor in the planet's thin, dry atmosphere. The Utopia deposit is shielded from the atmosphere by a soil covering estimated to be about 3 to 33 feet (1 to 10 meters) thick...

"This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice," said Jack Holt of the University of Texas, a co-author of the Utopia paper who is a SHARAD co-investigator and has previously used radar to study Martian ice in buried glaciers and the polar caps.

The Utopian water is all frozen now. If there were a melted layer -- which would be significant for the possibility of life on Mars -- it would have been evident in the radar scans. However, some melting can't be ruled out during different climate conditions when the planet's axis was more tilted. "Where water ice has been around for a long time, we just don't know whether there could have been enough liquid water at some point for supporting microbial life," Holt said.
And just to clarify the size of Lake Superior - In terms of volume, it is the third largest on earth (after Lake Baikal and Lake Tanganyika) and has enough water to cover the entire land mass of North and South America to a depth of 30 centimetres (12 in).

 And IIRC, Europa also contains a water volume greater than all the water on earth. 

22 November 2016

Letchworth State Park, New York

Via the Earth Port subreddit.

Two-headed snake

Found in Croatia.  Photo credit Vedran Glavan/Barcroft, via The Telegraph.

Yemen in a nutshell

It’s not just Al-Qaeda. Water shortages, collapsing oil supplies, war, refugees, pirates, poverty—why Yemen is failing.

At the heart of all these problems is Yemen’s looming economic collapse. Already the poorest country in the Arab world, Yemen is rapidly depleting its oil reserves and lacks any options for creating a sustainable post-oil economy. Unemployment is estimated at 35 percent, higher than what the U.S. faced during the Great Depression.

Accelerating the economic decline is a protracted civil war in the north between Shia insurgents and the Sana’a-based government. The war has caused a refugee crisis and extensive damage to infrastructure...
The map/graphics embedded above is excellent - click for bigger to read the details.

No commentary from me; I'm just posting for future use/reference.

Reposted from 2010 to add the following from an article by Andrew Cockburn in the Sept 2016 issue of Harper's:
Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Such was the dire condition of the country before Saudi Arabia unleashed a bombing campaign in March 2015, which has destroyed warehouses, factories, power plants, ports, hospitals, water tanks, gas stations, and bridges, along with miscellaneous targets ranging from donkey carts to wedding parties to archaeological monuments. Thousands of civilians — no one knows how many — have been killed or wounded. Along with the bombing, the Saudis have enforced a blockade, cutting off supplies of food, fuel, and medicine. A year and a half into the war, the health system has largely broken down, and much of the country is on the brink of starvation.

This rain of destruction was made possible by the material and moral support of the United States, which supplied most of the bombers, bombs, and missiles required for the aerial onslaught. (Admittedly, the United Kingdom, France, and other NATO arms exporters eagerly did their bit.) U.S. Navy ships aided the blockade. But no one that I talked to in Washington suggested that the war was in any way necessary to our national security. The best answer I got came from Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California who has been one of the few public officials to speak out about the devastation we were enabling far away. “Honestly,” he told me, “I think it’s because Saudi Arabia asked.”
Much more at the link.

Rebuilding America's infrastructure

From an op-ed piece in the New York Times:
To understand what’s going on, it may be helpful to start with what we should be doing. The federal government can indeed borrow very cheaply; meanwhile, we really need to spend money on everything from sewage treatment to transit. The indicated course of action, then, is simple: borrow at those low, low rates, and use the funds raised to fix what needs fixing.

But that’s not what the Trump team is proposing. Instead, it’s calling for huge tax credits: billions of dollars in checks written to private companies that invest in approved projects, which they would end up owning. For example, imagine a private consortium building a toll road for $1 billion. Under the Trump plan, the consortium might borrow $800 million while putting up $200 million in equity — but it would get a tax credit of 82 percent of that sum, so that its actual outlays would only be $36 million. And any future revenue from tolls would go to the people who put up that $36 million...
More at the link.

A modern wise man bearing... myrrhijuana ?

Image cropped for size from the original posted at the Funny subreddit.

"Take the head of a black crow and scoop out its brain..."

"Take the head of a black crow and scoop out its brain. In place of the brain, put some dirt taken from the spot where the woman whom you seek sits, and also a little detritus from the bath, along with seven grains of barley. Bury the crow’s head in the ground, in a moist place. Once the barley grows to the height of four fingers, take some of it and rub it on your hand, wipe it on your face and forearms, and then approach the woman without speaking to her. She will chase after you and will not be able to live without you."
From The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, a fourteenth-century encyclopedia by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri, an Egyptian scholar, via Harper's, where additional excerpts are available.

21 November 2016


Bangles are circular in shape, and, unlike bracelets, are not flexible. The word is derived from Hindi bungri (glass). They are made of numerous precious as well as non-precious materials such as gold, silver, platinum, glass, wood, ferrous metals, plastic, etc. Bangles made from sea shell, which are white colour, are worn by married Bengali and Oriya Hindu women...

Bangles are part of traditional Indian jewellery. They are usually worn in pairs by women, one or more on each arm. Most Indian women prefer wearing either gold or glass bangles or combination of both. Inexpensive bangles made from plastic are slowly replacing those made by glass, but the ones made of glass are still preferred at traditional occasions such as marriages and on festivals.

The value of your email account to hackers

Excerpts from Krebs on Security:
"... many people do not fully realize how much they have invested in their email accounts until those accounts are in the hands of cyber thieves...

Sign up with any service online, and it will almost certainly require you to supply an email address. In nearly all cases, the person who is in control of that address can reset the password of any associated services or accounts –merely by requesting a password reset email...

Even if your email isn’t tied to online merchants, it is probably connected to other accounts you care about. Hacked email accounts are not only used to blast junk messages: They are harvested for the email addresses of your contacts, who can then be inundated with malware spam and phishing attacks. Those same contacts may even receive a message claiming you are stranded, penniless in some foreign country and asking them to wire money somewhere...

If your inbox was held for ransom, would you pay to get it back? If your Webmail account gets hacked and was used as the backup account to receive password reset emails for another Webmail account, guess what? Attackers can now seize both accounts.

If you have corresponded with your financial institution via email, chances are decent that your account will eventually be used in an impersonation attempt to siphon funds from your bank account.
Scary.  And more at the link.

Hen's nest woven from straw

"Woven out of plaited straw, this hen’s nest represents an object that was once commonly seen on Irish farms. Typically oaten straw was used to weave the objects, but on occasion wheat or barley straw was also employed. The nests were normally placed in a dark room/space, often in an outhouse, where the hens were more likely to lay their eggs. This particular example comes from Drumcliffe in Co. Sligo and now resides at the Museum of Country Life, near Castlebar, Co. Mayo."
Impressive craftsmanship.  Via Irish Archaeology

Islamic silver coins found in Sweden

"An interesting find from Uppland in Sweden where archaeologist working for Arkeologikonsult have uncovered a hoard of 163 Islamic coins. Fashioned out of silver, the coins contain Arabic script and the majority were minted in Samarkand, an Islamic state which was located in modern day Uzbekistan and Iran. They date from the mid-10th century AD and were discovered in a much older, prehistoric mound that was erected during the Swedish Bronze Age. This is not overly surprising as such monuments were often reused during the Viking age for votive offerings."
More details at Irish Archaeology.

The geography of blue and red America

"...we took the election results and created two new imaginary nations by slicing the country along the sharp divide between Republican and Democratic Americas."
From the New York Times.  Interesting to see this done at a county or district level rather than at the state level.

20 November 2016

The Democratic Party as one of Trump's "enablers"

In an essay at his website, Robert Reich lists three entities that enabled Donald Trump to acquire the presidency.  The first two are the Republican Party and the "media."  Here are his observations re the third enabler - the Democratic Party.
Democrats once represented the working class. But over the last three decades the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers, bundlers, analysts, and pollsters who have focused instead on raising big money from corporate and Wall Street executives, and getting votes from upper middle-class households in “swing” suburbs...

Democrats have occupied the White House for sixteen of the last twenty-four years, and for four of those years had control of both houses of congress. But in that time they failed to reverse the decline in working-class wages and jobs.

Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.

They stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class – failing to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violate them, or help workers form unions with a simple up-or-down votes.

Partly as a result, union membership sank from 22 percent of all workers when Bill Clinton was elected president to fewer than 12 percent today, and the working class lost bargaining leverage to get a share of the economy’s gains.

Both Clinton and Obama also allowed antitrust enforcement to ossify – with the result that large corporations have grown far larger, and major industries more concentrated.

The unsurprising result has been to shift political and economic power to big corporations and the wealthy, and to shaft the working class. That created an opening for demagoguery, in the form of Trump...
Details about the roles of the Republican Party and the media at his webpage.

Millions of donkeys, horses, and mules died in WWI

"650 Officers and Enlisted Men of auxiliary Remount Depot, No 326, Camp Cody, NM Symbol of Head Pose of “The Devil”, Saddle Horse Ridden by Maj. Frank G. Brewer, Remount Commander © Mark Raen."
Via the Pics subreddit.

In Trump's America, it's dangerous to wear a bandanna

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The woman set off for a hike on Monday... When she returned to her car at the California park, however, the woman discovered that the vehicle’s rear window was smashed in and her purse was gone, Jones said.  Additionally, there was a note left behind.
“Hijab wearing bitch,” it read. “This is our nation now get the fuck out.”
The woman, Nicki Pancholy, told the San Francisco Chronicle that she does cover her head with a bandanna — but she is not Muslim. The newspaper reported that the Pancholy, 41, has lupus; KNTV-TV reported that she was trying to protect herself from the sun.

Via The Washington Post.

Switched at birth?

Cropped slightly for size from the original at the Funny subreddit.

Beach sand is not a permanent feature

From an interesting longread at TheVerge:
To the casual observer, the beach may look like the only natural bit of the city, a fringe of shore reaching out from under the glass and pastel skyline. But this would be false: the beach is every bit as artificial as the towers and turquoise pools. For years the sea has been eating away at the shore, and the city has spent millions of dollars pumping up sand from the seafloor to replace it, only to have it wash away again. Every handful of sand on Miami Beach was placed there by someone.

That sand is washing away ever faster. The sea around Miami is rising a third of an inch a year, and it’s accelerating. The region is far from alone in its predicament, or in its response to an eroding coast: it’s becoming hard to find a populated beach in the United States that doesn’t require regular infusions of sand...

"There isn’t a natural grain of sand on the beach in Northern New Jersey; there is no Miami Beach unless we build it," Young says. "The real endangered species on the coast of the US isn’t the piping plover or the loggerhead sea turtle. It’s an unengineered beach."..

On July 31st, 2015, the Army Corps released a plan for patching eroding sections of Miami Beach. Miami-Dade’s sand resources had been exhausted, the Corps wrote, and some of the best alternatives lay to the north, offshore of Martin and St. Lucie counties. Though the shoals were in federal waters and the northern counties had no greater right to them than anyone else, they viewed the sand as theirs, and with the Corps’ announcement began the latest skirmish in what local officials call "the sand wars."..

16 November 2016

Two-headed sharks are now a thing

As reported by National Geographic:
Two-headed sharks may sound like a figment of the big screen, but they exist—and more are turning up worldwide, scientists say... [four examples cited]...

Sans-Coma and colleagues say a genetic disorder seems to be the most plausible cause for the two-headed catshark... But wild sharks' malformations could come from a variety of factors, including viral infections, metabolic disorders, pollution, or a dwindling gene pool due to overfishing, which leads to inbreeding, and thus genetic abnormalities...

Galván-Magaña, who authored the 2011 study, doesn't think two-headed sharks are more common—but rather that there are more scientific journals around to publish accounts.

This modern world

A "pet pooping station" at an airport.  Discussed at the MildlyInteresting subreddit.

Product shrinkage

A rant from The Guardian:
I’m not sure I understand the problem. It looks nothing like a Toblerone any more! It looks like a Toblerone rip-off you might buy from unmarked cardboard boxes in markets!
I see. Why has this happened? Because Toblerone is a penny pincher. A gappy new Toblerone contains less chocolate than before, which makes them less expensive to make.
Surely in the face of rising ingredient prices, this is a sensible way to protect the consumer. Then just have fewer triangles! Make the bars shorter! Don’t turn them into this gappy monstrosity! It simply isn’t British!
You know that Toblerone is Swiss, right? Actually smartypants, I think you’ll find it is owned by Mondelēz, an American multinational company.
Wait a second, did you say Mondelēz? I did.
Isn’t that the company that bought Cadbury in 2009? Now you come to mention it, yes. It’s the company that took Dairy Milk out of Creme Eggs last year. It’s the company that stopped producing Cadbury chocolate coins. The company that rounded the squares in Dairy Milk bars. The company that put Cadbury chocolate in cheese spread, and put Ritz crackers in Cadbury chocolate, and covered Roses in those miserable tear-open wrappers...
Related: Higher prices bite chocolate makers.

How does someone "take ownership" of my needs ?

What does it even mean?  I've been seeing this inquiry on various feedback documents - this one after a successful tech upgrade yesterday.

I understand why this happens.  This company, like every other one, outsources its online "help" service to third-world sites and uses feedback to weed out the unsatisfactory temporary hires.

But "taking ownership of my needs" sounds like I've been interacting with a sin-eater.  And why a 10-point scale, forcryinoutloud?  And get off my lawn; I'm grouchy this morning.

Rifles being fired

"A pile of illegal firearms burns in a field on the outskirts of Nairobi, set alight by government officials as part of a campaign to stem the flow of illicit guns into the country."  Via The Guardian.

"Post-truth" defined

It's the Oxford Dictionaries "Word of the Year" for 2016.
After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’...

The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford Dictionaries has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. It has also become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics. ..

The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’. This nuance seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971).

Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world’.
More at the link.  Post-truth beat out chatbot and coulrophobia, among others. 

15 November 2016

Be careful what you wish for

"Haute couture"

Created by Maya Hansen, who also makes the accessory below (Steampunk?  Goth?  I don't know, and I'm not sure if these two items go together - I got left behind in the cardigan era...).  But they do bring back some memories of my collegiate years as the manager of a JV hockey team.

Via Arsenic in the Shell.

Hepatitis A spread by strawberries in margaritas

Strawberries at three El Paso County restaurants have been connected to a multistate hepatitis A outbreak... strawberries used in margaritas at the restaurants... may have been contaminated with the virus.

Health officials say anyone who ate or drank strawberries at the restaurants should receive hepatitis A vaccinations.

Health officials have connected more than 100 hepatitis A cases to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt since Jan. 1.
Everyone knows to wash commercially-purchased strawberries before eating them, but who would suspect strawberries in margaritas not having been washed.

And it's a strange world we live in where it's cheaper to import strawberries from Egypt than it is to grow them in this country.

The man who could have been president looks forward

Gwen Ifill (1955-2016)

Gwendolyn L. "Gwen" Ifill...  was an American Peabody Award-winning journalist, television newscaster, and author. She was the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and co-anchor and co-managing editor, with Judy Woodruff, of PBS NewsHour, both of which air on PBS. Ifill was a political analyst and moderated the 2004 and 2008 American vice-presidential debates.
Dead way too early at age 61 of endometrial cancer.  She was a brilliant and remarkably well-informed lady who represented the best of broadcast journalism.

From the company that used to offer "the friendly skies"

United Continental Holdings Inc will become the first big U.S. airline to limit low-fare customers to one carry-on bag that fits under a seat... 

United, the No. 3 U.S. airline by passengers carried, said customers who bought its cheapest fares would not be assigned seats until the day of departure, meaning people on the same ticket may be split apart.

United will also prohibit these travelers from carrying on bags that can only fit in overhead bins, and they will not accrue miles toward elite status.

The company expects the moves to add $4.8 billion to its annual operating income by 2020, although the figure does not include rising wages.  Fare initiatives such as "basic economy" will account for $1 billion of this, as more customers pay to check bags or select higher fares that give them two "free" carry-ons.
The classic rolling carry-on, of course, does not fit under a seat.  More at Reuters.

Tropical moth seen in Wisconsin

Just down Bascom Hill from Spalding’s lab, squeezed between Birge Hall and University Avenue, is UW–Madison’s renowned Botanical Garden, a flower-filled teaching and research space where the Wisconsin botanist breaks from the routine of academic research and teaching to engage in his pastime of observing “pretty things with wings.”
On a sojourn to the garden last month, Spalding saw and photographed “a handsome moth” he suspected was rare. What he did not know then was that his sighting was the first recorded observation in Wisconsin of the White-tipped Black moth, a tropical species whose natural range typically does not extend much farther north than Florida and the Texas coast...

Ferge was skeptical of Spalding’s find at first and inquired if anything tropical had been recently transplanted in the garden. But garden Director Mohammad Fayyaz checked the garden records and noted that planting tropical species in Wisconsin in October is, at best, a losing proposition...

This year, there have been sightings of the White-tipped Black moth in Oklahoma, where it made news for being that far north of its host range, and also in Illinois. 
Further details at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  With a tip of the blogging cap to reader The Weaving One, for sending me the link.

14 November 2016

Classic Whiskas commercial

Posted for anyone who has a "cat lady" in their family.

Queen Elizabeth's secret

"The passing of Elizabeth I on March 24, 1603, revealed that the ring she wore most of her adult life opened : inside were the portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn beheaded in 1536 by her father King Henry VIII. Elizabeth had kept the contents of the ring a secret."
Via My Ear Trumpet Has Been Struck By Lightning.

Raymond Chandler cameo

The embedded image is a screencap from Double Indemnity.
"Moving beyond short stories, Chandler began to write novels. His first was The Big Sleep, published by Knopf and establishing detective Phillip Marlowe as a noir figure. Williams says, “[Phillip Marlowe] was a step forward from the characters of the pulp stories – a fully realized man rather than a vehicle for action.” What differentiated Chandler works from his peers James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett was the focus on character and setting and less on mystery and plot. Also Chandler’s narrative was in the first person which would later prove to be a strength for noir. Williams calls these elements “the key to his success.” Chandler wrote several novels, most of them featuring detective Marlowe. The biography goes into detail about The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Long Goodbye and others. Most of his novels were initially flops. His first publisher Knopf neglected to market them well, didn’t see Chandler’s true potential. In the end Chandler’s stories proved to have legs in Hollywood and beyond."
From Out of the Past, which has a review of a biography of Raymond Chandler.

Schoolgirl, 1940

May 1940. Southington, Connecticut. "Schoolgirl studying." Medium format negative by Fenno Jacobs for the Office of War Information.  
Found at Shorpy.

The Armistice Day blizzard

On November 11, some Minnesotans remember the "Armistice Day blizzard."
The fall of 1940 was a warm one. The war in Europe was front-page news. In Minnesota, the Gophers football team was number one in the nation again. With gardens still yielding vegetables well into October, winter seemed far away. By midday November 11, some areas of southeast Minnesota topped 60 degrees, but a huge storm was just to the west...

Thousands of ducks funnelled into the Mississippi River Valley. Something had impelled them to fly, but in their excitement, Roloff and the other hunters missed the clue... One newspaper account called the storm "the winds of hell." Bice faced them alone. His partner took their boat to retrieve some ducks, but was swept helplessly to the next island. As the stranded hunter watched the storm grow more intense over the Mississippi River, the blizzard brought death to central Minnesota...

The central pressure was down around 29 inches of mercury and it doesn't get much stronger than that. It allowed moisture from the south to interact with this fresh Canadian air mass to the north and those two converged to produce this incredible intensification to the point where you really did have what you could call an inland hurricane."  ...The hunter's low-slung ducks boats were no match for 70 mph winds and five-foot waves. But if they stayed put, could they survive subzero wind chills? Hunters abandoned cherished guns and decoys...

On Tuesday, November 12, the "winds of hell" brought a deadly reckoning. The Armistice Day storm cut a 1,000-mile-wide path through the middle of the country. On Lake Michigan three freighters and two smaller boats sank, 66 sailors died. In Minnesota, 27 inches of snow fell at Collegeville, the Twin Cities recorded 16 inches. Twenty-foot snow drifts forced rescuers to use long probes to find missing cars. Passenger trains were snowbound. And along the Mississippi River, the first bodies of duck hunters were brought in...
Further details at the Minnesota Public Radio webpage.

"Coyote tooth dentures"

"Coyote tooth dentures on display at Eastern California Museum. These human dentures were made by melting celluloid toothbrush handles. So the story goes, in the early 1900′s a man who lost his teeth used shaped the melted toothbrushes to his gums, and then pressed the teeth of dead coyote into them." 
Photo credit: Christine A., via The soul is bone.

Trailer for upcoming "Beauty and the Beast"

I recommend clicking the "fullscreen" icon.

11 November 2016


... because I (and probably many readers) need a "little diversion" right now...

The word "mom" is now often "used by young women to express admiration for another woman (who may or may not be an actual mom). It started out on social media, and you'll often find it in the replies or comments on Twitter or Instagram. It's even spread to network television."  The link also touches on the morphing of usage for "dad" and grandparents.

High-speed macro photography shows how a hummingbird's tongue works.  (It's not a simple siphon.)

Scuba-diving an abandoned mining pit in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

"Tussle-mussies" explained.  "“Some have flirting mirrors on them,” Deitsch says, “so a young women carrying a tussie-mussie could see who was behind her.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson tells about his early interaction with Carl Sagan.  "I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl... the kind of person I wanted to become."

How the gear works on a reciprocating water sprinkler.  Amazingly clever and simple.  I never knew this.  And I will echo the top comment: "I can just hear the sound."

How to stop autoplay videos (detailed directions for Chrome, Firefox, and IE).  Ironically (?) there's one on the link.

“Paul clapped his hands close to the spider and the neuron fired, as expected. He then backed up a bit and clapped again, and again the neuron fired. Soon, we were standing outside the recording room, about 3-5 meters from the spider, laughing together, as the neuron continued to respond to our clapping. Based on everything they knew it shouldn't have been possible, but there it was..."

Adding weaponry to drones has major consequences:" Flying IEDs are not a game changer, but they add a level of difficulty to military operations, and they have the potential of making life for deployed troops even more perilous. The rationale of using flying IEDs is similar to using suicide bombers: They can ensure a charge explodes at the most opportune moment to cause the biggest effect. And drones provide non-state groups with airborne capabilities."

Stupid?  Or wanted more exercise?

7-year old: "I called 911, but first I slapped her with a piece of pizza."  Makes sense.  If someone doesn't respond to pizza...

"The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war" - Sidney J. Harris.

And the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath.

A flowchart to help you decide which off Edward deVere's plays to read.

Modern society has now progressed to the point that you can now purchase a motion-activated light in your toilet bowl...

...and Swedish fish flavored Oreo cookies

The people who found and uncovered the Arabia steamboat have a new project: "a four-month excavation of the Malta expected to start about a year from now. The current weather pattern is too wet to attempt a recovery this winter, the best time of year to dig to protect frail artifacts from summer heat and humidity."

The dangerous interaction of hurricanes and factory farms.  "The carcasses of several thousand drowned hogs and several million drowned chickens and turkeys were left behind. An incalculable amount of animal waste was carried toward the ocean. Along the way, it could be contaminating the groundwater for the many people who rely on wells in this part of the state, as well as threatening the delicate ecosystems of tidal estuaries and bays."

"Reykjavik City Council has announced its decision to switch off street lights in selected parts of the Icelandic capital to enable those in the city to enjoy the fantastic Northern Lights display..."

A woman made $20 in one hour by sitting outside and holding up a sign explaining that she needed money to buy make-up.

This man paints the pavement with water.  I thought it was ovaries and a uterus, but it's not.

"In operation from 1854 to 1941, the London Necropolis Railway was the spookiest, strangest train line in British history. It transported London’s dead south-west to Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, in Surrey, a cemetery that was built in tandem with the railway. At its peak, from 1894 to 1903, the train carried more than 2,000 bodies a year."

A long read about radical right-wing extremists in the United States.

A website that helps people turn their pets into "emotional support animals" so they can take them aboard airplanes and public transports.

This five-minute video shows a flash flood.

A "kung fu master" is accidentally debunked on live television when the host accidentally breaks some of the "solid" bricks.

A clever tennis ace (but with a foot fault...)

Monarch butterfly lovers should help eliminate swallow-wort plants.

A video of fossil-hunting in North Dakota.

How college football players use videos to improve their performance. "...there could be 20 plays of what an opponent does on first down, and 15 plays of what they do with one running back, no tight end and four wide receivers... Rallis, an Edina native, said he will watch four to five hours of film on his own time each day."

How to use cardboard to mulch a garden.

Clever url for a honey-wagon company.

How to cut string with your bare hands (or, more precisely, how to use string to cut itself.)

A clever gif illustrates how many years someone your age/sex will live (on average).

A girl and her duck.  Try not to laugh when he asks her "When did you first find out..."

A clever trick.  And another (even better) one.

"When struggling to hang a picture or mirror on a screw on the wall, push the spikes of a fork down over the screw, with the handle pointing up. Then slide the picture string down the fork down onto the screw. Then remove the fork."

Could the corpse of an astronaut generate life on a planet?

Short lifespan: adult mayflies emerge, mate, and die within 30 minutes.

Chicago Cubs' World Series victory predicted in a 1993 high school yearbook.

Magic trick using rubber bands.   Explained in this video.  Not quite the same as this QI rope-escape episode.

Photos from a gallery at the Washington Post of entries in the Nikon Small World photography competition.

07 November 2016

Election day

So you want to write in a name on the ballot...

In most states that is not possible.
There are eight states where ballots won’t even have a space for write-ins. In 32 others, write-in candidates have to file with the state prior to the election to be counted as official candidates.
That means that even if a write-in candidate wins the popular vote — an extremely unlikely scenario — their votes won’t be counted if the candidate hasn’t pre-registered. States often throw these write-in votes for unregistered candidates into an “All others” category and don’t tally them up individually...
But that won’t stop tens of thousands of voters from supporting write-ins in 2016, whether on principle, or as an act of protest of the two major-party candidates. 
More at the Washington Post.


Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia, 1903
Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia... was the elder daughter and fourth child of Emperor Alexander III of Russia and Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (née Princess Dagmar of Denmark) and the sister of Emperor Nicholas II... After the fall of the monarchy in February 1917 she fled Russia, eventually settling in the United Kingdom.
Image via Sloth Unleashed.

Quadriplegic treated with stem cells regains some motor function

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 7, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Keck Medical Center of USC today announced that a team of doctors became the first in California to inject an experimental treatment made from stem cells, AST-OPC1, into the damaged cervical spine of a recently paralyzed 21-year-old man as part of a multi-center clinical trial...

Two weeks after surgery, Kris began to show signs of improvement. Three months later, he's able to feed himself, use his cell phone, write his name, operate a motorized wheelchair and hug his friends and family. Improved sensation and movement in both arms and hands also makes it easier for Kris to care for himself, and to envision a life lived more independently. 

"As of 90 days post-treatment, Kris has gained significant improvement in his motor function, up to two spinal cord levels," said Dr. Liu.  "In Kris' case, two spinal cord levels means the difference between using your hands to brush your teeth, operate a computer or do other things you wouldn't otherwise be able to do, so having this level of functional independence cannot be overstated." 
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