31 December 2016

Fidelity (Briton Riviere, 1869)

The fact that the scene depicts a poacher in a prison cell (and note the subtle "hangman" scratched on the wall) is discussed at the Art subreddit.

More about the artist here.  And a gallery of his paintings here.

For those who like to take quizzes...

A challenging one for New Year's Eve.  Answers at The Guardian.

30 December 2016


Image cropped for size from the original at the Mildly Interesting subreddit.

"The promise of quasi-infinite and free energy is here"

"Thierry Lepercq, head of research, technology and innovation at the French energy company Engie SA, said in an interview at Bloomberg that he sees a potential for the cost of solar electricity to fall below $10-megawatt hour (1¢/kWh) in the sunniest climates by 2025. Lepercq believes “solar, battery storage, electrical and hydrogen vehicles, and connected devices are in a ‘J’ curve (of upward growth potential).” One consequence of this new energy economy is that, “the price (of oil) could drop to $10 if markets anticipate a significant fall in demand.” “The promise of quasi-infinite and free energy is here.”..

Other forms of energy are requesting economic support (coal & nuclear) while we transition away from them toward cheaper sources...

There will be real world long-term consequences..."

Global sea ice, 2016

You don't need a p value to see that 2016 is a striking outlier.

Note this is a graph of sea ice, not land ice, and that it includes both arctic and antarctic ice, which is why it doesn't have a unimodal curve.  More info at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

A related story from Wisconsin:
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently scrubbed language from an agency web page on the Great Lakes that said humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

The DNR now says the subject is a matter of scientific debate.

The department made the changes on Dec. 21, striking out whole sentences attributing global warming to human activities and rising levels of carbon dioxide.

It’s the most recent example of the DNR removing information related to climate change. More broadly, the changes reflect how the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker has de-emphasized the subject since he took office in 2011.

In the latest changes, the DNR says of climate change, “as it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Department of Natural Resources.”
Don't blame the staff at the Department of Natural Resources.  This change in language was mandated by Governor Scott Walker.

F*** frequency in 2016

Apparently something happened in early November.

The person who created the chart says "I tracked all mentions of ‘fuck’ on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, blogs, comments, forums and in the news using a tool called Netbase, which is a very powerful tool when it comes to monitoring social media."

The road to Glacier Point. Beautiful. And scary.

Personally I would not enjoy driving my car around that curve - especially in the outer lane.  Particularly without guard rails (unless they have been digitally removed from the photo?)

Addendum:  Guard rails not removed.  Here is the curve on Google Maps.

Via the Pics subreddit.

Warren Buffet describes the "Ovarian Lottery"

From a transcription of Warren Buffet's comments at a meeting with University of Maryland MBA students in 2013:
(5) How has your understanding of markets contributed towards your political views?

WB: I wouldn’t say knowledge of markets has. My political views were formed by this process.  Just imagine that it is 24 hours before you are born. A genie comes and says to you in the womb, “You look like an extraordinarily responsible, intelligent, potential human being. Going to emerge in 24 hours and it is an enormous responsibility I am going to assign to you – determination of the political, economic and social system into which you are going to emerge. You set the rules, any political system, democracy, parliamentary, anything you wish, can set the economic structure, communistic, capitalistic, set anything in motion and I guarantee you that when you emerge this world will exist for you, your children and grandchildren.

What’s the catch? One catch – just before you emerge you have to go through a huge bucket with 7 billion slips, one for each human. Dip your hand in and that is what you get – you could be born intelligent or not intelligent, born healthy or disabled, born black or white, born in the US or in Bangladesh, etc. You have no idea which slip you will get.

Not knowing which slip you are going to get, how would you design the world? Do you want men to push around females? It’s a 50/50 chance you get female. If you think about the political world, you want a system that gets what people want. You want more and more output because you’ll have more wealth to share around. The US is a great system, turns out $50,000 GDP per capita, 6 times the amount when I was born in just one lifetime. But not knowing what slip you get, you want a system that once it produces output, you don’t want anyone to be left behind. You want to incentivize the top performers, don’t want equality in results, but do want something that those who get the bad tickets still have a decent life. You also don’t want fear in people’s minds – fear of lack of money in old age, fear of cost of health care.

I call this the “Ovarian Lottery”. My sisters didn’t get the same ticket. Expectations for them were that they would marry well, or if they work, would work as a nurse, teacher, etc. If you are designing the world knowing 50/50 male or female, you don’t want this type of world for women – you could get female. Design your world this way; this should be your philosophy. I look at Forbes 400, look at their figures and see how it’s gone up in the last 30 years. Americans at the bottom are also improving, and that is great, but we don’t want that degree of inequality. Only governments can correct that.

Right way to look at it is the standpoint of how you would view the world if you didn’t know who you would be. If you’re not willing to gamble with your slip out of 100 random slips, you are lucky! The top 1% of 7 billion people. Everyone is wired differently. You can’t say you do everything yourself. We all have teachers, and people before us who led us to where we are. We can’t let people fall too far behind. You all definitely got good slips. 
Other thoughts from the Sage of Omaha at the link.

BTW, his income this past year was about $32,000,000.

Per day.

Making lime bast rope

"Making a rope from lime bast, the way it's been done for thousands of years in Norway.

Rope maker Ingunn Undrum and boat building apprentice Dennis Bayer head out to harvest the bark of lime trees (linden tree), in the spring when the sap is rising.

The paper thin layers of bast... need to soak for a long time in the sea to separate. The water in the Hardanger fjord is cold even during summer, so the bark is soaking until fall, for 3-4 months.

Rope maker Sarah Sjøgreen lays the bast rope, and makes a traditional carrying rope with three strands, for transporting the cut grass during hay making season. The bast is naturally water proof, and rots very slowly compared to other rope materials. This explains why it has been found intact in viking excavations dating back to the 800s."
Related: How to make rope from grass.

27 December 2016

"No monsters under here"

My favorite cartoon from The New Yorker Cartoons of the Year 2016.

RSS Christmas Quiz, question 10

I'm revisiting the 2016 Christmas Quiz for the Royal Statistical Society, seeking help to the answers for the above question.  I think I have 9 of them, but I give up on the others and would like your input.  (The official answers will be published by the RSS in mid-January).  (Addendum January 2017:  The answers to all the quiz questions are now posted.)

In case you want to try your hand at them first, I'll place my answers below the fold (click on "read more" when you want to see them:

Steganography on a Canadian coin

"Canada’s “victory nickel,” struck from 1943 to 1945, included a special message to stimulate the war effort: Engraved around the rim were the words WE WIN WHEN WE WORK WILLINGLY in Morse Code.  The coin was reissued in 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of V-E Day."
Found in the Futility Closet.
Steganography is the practice of concealing a file, message, image, or video within another file, message, image, or video. The word steganography combines the Greek words steganos (στεγανός), meaning "covered, concealed, or protected", and graphein (γράφειν) meaning "writing".

An Inuit map carved out of wood

"When Danish naval officer Gustav Holm was exploring the eastern coast of Greenland in 1885, an Inuit named Kunit gave him this three-dimensional wooden map.

The two parts form one whole: The bottom carving represents the coast from Sermiligak to Kangerdlugsuatsiak, and the top is an island offshore. The Inuit would carry these maps in their kayaks to navigate the waters between the two landmasses."
Found in the Futility Closet.   Not sure where the Inuit got wood; it must have been a precious resource in the subarctic.

"Honesty and ethical standards" ratings

Results of a recent Gallup poll.

"Neoliberalism" castigated

From an op-ed column in The Guardian:
It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by [neoliberalism]...

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning...

The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism...

The movement’s rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute...

The words used by neoliberalism often conceal more than they elucidate. “The market” sounds like a natural system that might bear upon us equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. What “the market wants” tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. “Investment”, as Sayer notes, means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains. Using the same word for different activities “camouflages the sources of wealth”, leading us to confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation...

Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left.  
Much more at the source, or at the Wikipedia entry:
Neoliberalism (neo-liberalism) refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy...

Amniocele dramatically illustrated

As reported by the New England Journal of Medicine:
A 33-year-old asymptomatic woman (gravida 6, para 5) presented at 22 weeks of gestation with a large herniation of the amniotic sac through the left uterine wall that was detected by routine ultrasonography. She had had five previous cesarean sections through a transverse incision of the lower uterine segment and no previous vaginal deliveries... At 30 weeks of gestation, a healthy male newborn weighing 1385 g was delivered by cesarean section.
The five previous C-sections had resulted in a weakened uterine wall, through which the fetus' legs extended.  Impressive image.

"Suspicious incident"

"Yves Chandelon, the chief auditor of NATO relating to terrorism financing and money laundering, has been found dead in his car in an incident that raises suspicions.

62-year-old Chandelon's death, resembling a suicide with a shot fired to his head, occurred on Dec. 16 and the body was found in his car the same day although the incident was largely kept away from the media...

Despite Chandelon being left-handed, a gun was found in his right hand, and the gun was not one of Chandelon's three registered guns. These details raised suspicions about an assassination rather than a suicide."

Looks like something from another planet...

Because it is:
"... Groups of dark brown streaks have been photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on melting pinkish sand dunes covered with light frost..."

The CIA confirms it overthrew Iran's Prime Minister, Mohammed Mosaddegh

[Reposted from 2013 to serve as a counterpoint to all the recent hullabaloo about the possibility/likelihood that Russia influenced the most recent U.S. presidential election.]

Excerpts from an article at the National Security Archive:
Washington, D.C., August 19, 2013 – Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive is today posting recently declassified CIA documents on the United States' role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq's ouster has long been public knowledge, but today's posting includes what is believed to be the CIA's first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup.

The explicit reference to the CIA's role appears in a copy of an internal history, The Battle for Iran, dating from the mid-1970s. The agency released a heavily excised version of the account in 1981 in response to an ACLU lawsuit, but it blacked out all references to TPAJAX, the code name for the U.S.-led operation. Those references appear in the latest release. Additional CIA materials posted today include working files from Kermit Roosevelt, the senior CIA officer on the ground in Iran during the coup. They provide new specifics as well as insights into the intelligence agency's actions before and after the operation...

The issue is more than academic. Political partisans on all sides, including the Iranian government, regularly invoke the coup to argue whether Iran or foreign powers are primarily responsible for the country's historical trajectory, whether the United States can be trusted to respect Iran's sovereignty, or whether Washington needs to apologize for its prior interference before better relations can occur...

While the National Security Archive applauds the CIA's decision to make these materials available, today's posting shows clearly that these materials could have been safely declassified many years ago without risk of damage to the national security...

But all 21 of the CIA items posted today (in addition to 14 previously unpublished British documents — see Sidebar), reinforce the conclusion that the United States, and the CIA in particular, devoted extensive resources and high-level policy attention toward bringing about Mosaddeq's overthrow, and smoothing over the aftermath.  
The aftermath included the return to power of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ("The Shah of Iran"), and the establishment of the SAVAK (secret police), whose torture methods included "electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails."

One can't emphasize enough that Mosaddeq had been democratically-elected by the people of Iran.  The U.S. and Britain had him overthrown in order to gain access to Iran's oil resources.

Does anyone still wonder why many Iranians distrust and/or dislike the U.S.?

Additional details in the relevant Wikipedia entry.  Via Reddit, where other relevant coups are listed.

Addendum:  An article this week in Salon emphasizes the same point -
None of this gives Vladimir Putin a pass. We don’t see enough reporting on the repression of religion and the media inside Putin’s Russia. But failing to acknowledge our own dark side when it comes to internal and external covert operations to twist political outcomes makes us look hypocritical in a world where so many nations have been victimized by our covert machinations, often with deadly consequences.

Evidently, this is the real-world meaning of “American exceptionalism,” where only we are exempt from the requirement to respect other nations’ sovereignty. There’s no better example of this than the 2014 Edward Snowden revelations that the U.S. had spied on many other countries, even allies like Germany, France, Italy and Japan...

For decades both Democrats and Republicans working for Washington law firms and global crisis management outfits like Hill & Knowlton or Black Manafort & Stone have helped the world’s most brutal and oppressive regimes hang on to power and marginalize their opponents, all while continuing to get U.S. military aid...

The U.S. has manipulated the internal domestic politics of other countries with escapades in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean and even in Europe...

We rarely get a glimpse behind that black curtain unless an Edward Snowden or a Daniel Ellsberg puts everything on the line to pull it back for us. None of that excuses the Russian attempt to meddle in an American election, but we should not feign innocence Trying to shape world events and our own politics through fake news, disinformation, deceit and deception are as American as apple pie.

24 December 2016

The St. Olaf choir in Norway

Beautiful.  Posted in memory of my mother and the multiple generations of my Norwegian family who attended (and loved) St. Olaf.  Filmed in Trondheim in conjunction with the Nidaros Cathedral Girls Choir.

For full appreciation, click the fullscreen icon in the lower right corner of the video

A Christmas message from an unexpected source

I found this [in 2008] at a European website reporting on the "alternative Christmas message" broadcast by Channel 4 that year. I've edited it for length, and trimmed some of the phraseology to disguise the speaker. 

See if you can guess who wrote this and delivered it on television Christmas evening (videos available on YouTube).  The more perspicacious among you may recognize the source or remember the event.  My posting of this message may offend some TYWKIWDBI readers, but I hope it will prompt some deeper reflection in others - especially at this time of year.
"[God] created every human being with the ability to reach the heights of perfection. He called on man to make every effort to live a good life in this world and to work to achieve his everlasting life…

Jesus, the Son of Mary, is the standard-bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings, of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice…

"Now as human society faces a myriad of problems and a succession of complex crises, the root causes can be found in humanity's rejection of that message, in particular the indifference of some governments and powers towards the teachings… of Jesus Christ.

"The crises in society, the family, morality, politics, security and the economy which have made life hard for humanity and continue to put great pressure on all nations have come about because… some leaders are estranged from God…

"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose… terrorists… the world over

"Today, the general will of nations is calling for fundamental change… demands for a return to human values are fast becoming the foremost demands of the nations of the world.

"The response to these demands must be real and true. The prerequisite to this change is a change in goals, intentions and directions…

"We believe Jesus Christ will return… and will lead the world to love, brotherhood and justice.

"The responsibility of all followers of Christ… is to prepare the way for the fulfilment of this divine promise and the arrival of that joyful, shining and wonderful age…

"Once again, I congratulate one and all on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. I pray for the New Year to be a year of happiness, prosperity, peace and brotherhood for humanity. I wish you every success and happiness."

Can you guess who wrote this?  Give up?  The answer is at the Belfast Telegraph.  

The source has undergone linkrot, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's message was also noted at The Guardian.

Reposted again for Christmas 2016.

Christmas past

From the 1916 Sears catalogue, via Ye Olde News.

Divertimento #120

Cuck” is the right’s political epithet du jour for liberals.

"In 1947, when I was just three years old a doctor removed my clitoris. Female genital mutilation is mostly associated with African cultures, and non-Christian religions, but my FGM happened in white, midwest America. It took place in a church clinic that used a scalpel on girls who masturbated.

All Things Medieval is exactly that.  Worth a visit if you have an interest in that era of history.

"The Great Plains lost more grassland to agriculture in 2014 than the Brazilian Amazon lost to deforestation, says a recent report from the World Wide Fund for Nature. And it argues that the continued expansion of cropland in the region may be threatening birds, pollinators and even drinking water, while releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year."

Recaps of season 1 of Westworld - quite useful for those confused by varying timelines and ambiguities of various characters.

If you enjoy video poker, read this.  (If you don't... don't bother)

Christiane Amanpour had some harsh words for journalists regarding "fair and balanced" reporting in her speech to the Committee to Protect Journalists: "...It appeared much of the media got itself into knots trying to differentiate between balance, objectivity, neutrality, and crucially, truth. We cannot continue the old paradigm – let’s say like over global warming, where 99.9% of the empirical scientific evidence is given equal play with the tiny minority of deniers. I learned long ago, covering the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia, never to equate victim with aggressor, never to create a false moral or factual equivalence, because then you are an accomplice to the most unspeakable crimes and consequences.  I believe in being truthful, not neutral."

2016 United States election interference by Russia.

A video of a Hatchimal hatching (for those wondering what the excitement is all about).

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) published a report today in the journal Cell detailing their discovery of a link between intestinal bacteriaand Parkinson’s disease.

"It’s almost impossible to find one of Britain’s secret, underground military bases unless you know what to look for. In the years since they were built, starting in 1940, many of them have collapsed or fallen into disrepair. While the bunkers are no longer camouflaged today, they still guard their secrets. To the untrained eye, their entrances might look like random holes in the ground.

Rats are good jumpers (gif of little girl and her pet).

Hope for the future: "The BBC has confirmed that the first three episodes of Planet Earth II have attracted more viewers in the 16 to 34 age bracket than The X Factor on ITV."

This is the season for the epidemic of porch piracy as people steal packages from front doors.  Some residents are fighting back.

A Minnesota high-school ice hockey goalie made 98 saves in one game (a new national record). "Controlling the puck in the Storm end for 4- and 5-minute stretches at a time, the Dragons unloaded 45 shots on Bruns in the first period, 41 in the second and slowed to a mere 24 in the third."

How to make an edible geode using rock candy.

Kangaroos can disembowel other animals with their kick, or place them in a choke hold and drown them.

Bitumen from Syria has been found inside an Anglo-Saxon gravesite at Sutton Hoo.  "Given the geopolitics in Britain at the time, it was easier for an East Anglian noble to get bitumen from Syria than from the west of England."

"The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget..."

"Guzzlers" are artificial waterholes distributed throughout the American West.  They are important to the survival of a variety of wildlife.

"Portugal kept its lights on with renewable energy alone [solar, wind, and hydro] for four consecutive days..."  And in a related story, coal is never going to recover as a thriving industry: "Coal does not have a regulation problem, as the industry claims. Instead, it has a growing market problem, as other technologies are increasingly able to produce electricity at lower cost. And that trend is unlikely to end."

People are not allowed to pump their own gasoline in New Jersey and Oregon.

Thousands of Montana snow geese die after landing in toxic, acidic mine pit.

Hundreds of fake retail and product apps have popped up in Apple’s App Store in recent weeks.  "Entering credit card information opens a customer to potential financial fraud. Some fake apps contain malware that can steal personal information or even lock the phone until the user pays a ransom."

"In 1942 a British forest guard in Roopkund, India made an alarming discovery. Some 16,000 feet above sea level, at the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. That summer, the ice melting revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake’s edges. Something horrible had happened here."

The 100 movies with the highest ratings at Rotton Tomatoes.

Impressive gif: how orcas team up to dislodge a seal from an ice floe.

The words execute and kill are synonyms.  But they are also antonyms.  (because "execute" is a contranym).

"Six pharmaceutical executives who worked for fentanyl company Insys Therapeutics, including a former CEO, were arrested on Thursday and charged with leading a nationwide conspiracy to defraud insurance companies and bribe doctors to prescribe their powerful and addictive opioid painkiller."

There is a subreddit for thalassophobia.

"A new ransomware variant has been discovered using an innovative system to increase infections: the software turns victims into attackers by offering a pyramid scheme-style discount. Any user who finds themselves infected with the Popcorn Time malware... is offered the ability to unlock their files for a cash payment, usually one bitcoin ($772.67/£613.20). But they also have a second option, described by the developers as “the nasty way”: passing on a link to the malware. “If two or more people install this file and pay, we will decrypt your files for free”.

The most popular baby names in the United States from 1910-2015 (animated, by state).

"For decades, people have puzzled over Racetrack Playa, where hundreds of rocks weighing as much as 700 pounds roam across the surface of the dry lake bed, leaving meandering tracks hundreds of yards long."  Now the process has been captured on video.

Discussion thread about the fact that the average net worth of an American 21-year-old today is -$33,000.

How to make your own vanilla extract.  "All you need are cute glass bottles, fresh vanilla beans, unflavored vodka and a little bit of time."

"Americans built more than one hundred thousand kit houses, sold mostly by Sears, in the first half of last century. These were shipped out on boxcars, complete, with between ten thousand and thirty thousand pieces, braces to brads. Midcentury, Popular Mechanics sold several varieties of home designs—the Modern House, the Family House, the Plywood House. There's no telling how many of those were built. Totman's precut house was sold as a concept listing the materials at three prices: $1,800, $2,800, or $3,800."

A well-done longread on the history of Cahokia.

How to escape from zip ties using your shoelaces.

The Japanese sport of "Boutaoshi" meaning "Bring the pole down."

WWII shipwrecks in the Pacific are being illegally harvested for their metal content.  "...a Dutch expedition preparing a 75th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of the Java Sea found only holes on the seafloor where the ships used to be... While Great Britain and the Netherlands are not to blame for the destruction of the ships in the Java Sea, both countries have repeatedly failed to protect war graves. The Netherlands has a significant illegal salvage industry, notably looting HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue, and HMS Cressy off the Dutch coast. Similarly, UK salvers have exploited historic Dutch shipwrecks.

The extremely sad tale of Mary the elephant, who was executed by hanging (don't read this if you love animals).

Urban football ["soccer"] pitches don't have to be rectangular.

Happy 300th birthday to legendary landscape architect Capability Brown.

Water, water, everywhere.  Now confirmed on the dwarf planet Ceres.

"Two feisty employees of a San Bernardino sex shop fought off an armed robber, yelling at him and throwing sex toys to chase him out of the store with no money." (video at the link.)

Photos from "Blood and beehives: Phyllis Posnick's styling for Vogue."  Re the first image: "‘The model’s eyes were closed for two hours while Penn photographed every possible variation... He had a picture that wasn’t especially exciting or memorable, but there was nothing that he hadn’t already tried... Our model opened her eyes, and I saw that they were completely bloodshot. Penn said, “Don’t move.” He did just two or three more exposures."

The Hundred-foot Journey

Watched this a few nights ago.   The Hundred-Foot Journey is a very pleasant and enjoyable movie.  A predictable plot keeps it from reaching 4+ on my arbitrary scale, but good acting sprinkled with smatterings of food porn and an absence of the killing and explosions so common in Hollywood movies makes it a refreshing change from the usual fare.

There's a reason it's called "coeruleus"

Scarus coeruleus is the blue parrotfish.  Wow. 

Photo via the Pics subreddit.

"Scare quotes" explained

Scare quotes (also known, even more colorfully, as “shudder quotes” and “sneer quotes”) are identical to standard quotation marks, but do precisely the opposite of what quotation marks are supposed to do: They signal irony, and uncertainty. They suggest words that don’t quite mean what they claim to...

That signaling is relatively new, though, and in its own way ironic. Quotation marks, for much of their history, represented precisely the opposite of all that chaos: They suggested, even promised, rationality and objectivity...

Quotation marks vary, in their appearances, across languages. German has „“, and » «, and ‹ › to indicate quotation; it also, along with French, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, and many more languages, uses the « », or guillemets (named after the 16th-century French printer Guillaume Le Bé). Those marks, like their English counterparts, all evolved from a single origin: the ancient Greek mark known as the diple (“double”). It looked like this: >. And it was added to the margins of texts not to suggest quotation, but rather to signal significance—a kind of proto-underlining...

Scare quotes can also, on the other hand—invoking the “sneer” more than the “scare”—suggest partisanship on the part of the scare-quoter. To put terms like “identity politics” or “rape culture” or, yes, “alt-right” in scare quotes is not just to highlight those terms as matters of open debate, and thus to place them within the sphere of legitimate controversy; it is also to make, in that placement, a political declaration.
More on this rather confusing topic at The Atlantic.  Embedded image via Bits and Bobs, with a hat tip to reader Perduedanslecouloir.

See also the link at: Unnecessary quotation marks.

21 December 2016

Here's a good puzzle for you


12. A Matter of Belief

Fold up the string of letters below so it fits in the grid. Squares of the same colour (except white) must not contain contiguous letters in the string.


Who is the indicated person (of particular interest to members of the Royal Statistical Society)?

(4 points for the completed grid: 1 point for identifying the indicated person)
This question is one of thirteen components of the Royal Statistical Society Christmas Quiz for 2016.  Some of them appear to be fiendishly difficult.  This one is solvable with simple logic.  I'll place a clue to the answer in the Comments for this post.

(Please don't post answers to any of the other quiz questions in the comments; I'm still working on them.  Tx.)

Addendum January 2017:  The answers to all the quiz questions are now posted.

20 December 2016

Volcanic "dirty thunderstorm"

Explained at the EarthPorn subreddit.  Photographer's website with other photos here.

How to become a savant

Get mugged.  Other possibilities discussed near the end of the video.
"In 2002, Jason Padgett was the victim of a vicious beating outside a karaoke bar in Tacoma, Washington. Upon regaining consciousness, Padgett’s sight was forever altered by a condition called acquired savant syndrome. The brain trauma opened his eyes to an entirely new world..."

A "double elephant" Audubon book

Last month I posted a link to information on book sizes ranging from "folio" to "sixty-fourmo."  Not included in that list are the formats that are bigger than your average sheep.  Last week the BBC reported that the "world's most expensive book" was to be sold by Sotheby's - referring to a complete edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America.  It contains life-sized illustrations of the birds, and thus is a huge book.

The BBC article showed only a print, but I located a photo of another copy at the website of the Cincinnati Public Library (embedded above).  It apparently is a "double elephant" folio format [the "elephant folio" is up to 23" tall, the "Atlas folio" up to 25" tall, and the double elephant is 50" tall.]

Reposted from 2010 to add this photo "from archives of Prague castle" (photo credit M. Peterka) found at Book Porn:

 Yes, I have seen the comments that it may be a normal book and a very tiny librarian...

Dinosaur feathers in amber

As reported by CNN:
The tail of a 99-million-year-old dinosaur has been found entombed in amber, an unprecedented discovery that has blown away scientists.

Xing Lida, a Chinese paleontologist found the specimen, the size of a dried apricot, at an amber market in northern Myanmar near the Chinese border...
The tail section belongs to a young coelurosaurian -- from the same group of dinosaurs as the predatory velociraptors and the tyrannosaurus
The sparrow-sized creature could have danced in the palm of your hand.

Elaborate braids

A father discovers a way to bond with his young daughter.

19 December 2016

Sunset reflected in a shattered mirror

From a gallery of similar photographs by Bing Wright, posted at This is Colossal.

"Human population through time"

"It took 200,000 years for our human population to reach 1 billion—and only 200 years to reach 7 billion." 

An interesting visualization by the staff at the American Museum of Natural History.

Finland will test giving people a free "basic income"

Jobless people generally cannot earn additional income while collecting unemployment benefits or they risk losing that assistance. For laid-off workers from Nokia, simply collecting a guaranteed unemployment check often presents a better financial proposition than taking a leap with a start-up in Finland, where a shaky technology industry is trying to find its footing again.

Now, the Finnish government is exploring how to change that calculus, initiating an experiment in a form of social welfare: universal basic income. Early next year, the government plans to randomly select roughly 2,000 unemployed people — from white-collar coders to blue-collar construction workers. It will give them benefits automatically, absent bureaucratic hassle and minus penalties for amassing extra income...

The answers — to be determined over a two-year trial — could shape social welfare policy far beyond Nordic terrain. In communities around the world, officials are exploring basic income as a way to lessen the vulnerabilities of working people exposed to the vagaries of global trade and automation. While basic income is still an emerging idea, one far from being deployed on a large scale, the growing experimentation underscores the deep need to find effective means to alleviate the perils of globalization...

Universal basic income is a catchall phrase that describes a range of proposals, but they generally share one feature: All people in society get a regular check from the government — regardless of their income or whether they work. These funds are supposed to guarantee food and shelter, enabling people to pursue their own betterment while contributing to society...

A Silicon Valley start-up incubator, Y Combinator, is preparing a pilot project in Oakland, Calif., in which 100 families will receive unconditional cash grants ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 a month. Voters in Switzerland recently rejected a basic-income scheme, but the French Senate approved a trial. Experiments are being readied in Canada and the Netherlands. The Indian government has been studying basic income as a means of alleviating poverty...

Strikingly, basic income is being championed across the ideological spectrum...

Some people think basic income will solve every problem under the sun, and some people think it’s from the hand of Satan and will destroy our work ethic,” says Olli Kangas, who oversees research at Kela, a Finnish government agency that administers many social welfare programs. “I’m hoping we can create some knowledge on this issue.”
From an interesting long read at The New York Times.  I scanned the article for the use of the word "inflation" and didn't see that aspect discussed.

The Third Man theme. And fake penicillin.

Here played by the composer and original instrumentalist. After the release of The Third Man in 1950, this song was #1 in the United States for three months, until it was displaced by Nat King Cole singing "Mona Lisa." It certainly must be the best-known piece of zither music ever created.

Via UncertainTimesReposted from 2008 (!) to update the video and add this relevant history from the Christmas 2016 issue of the British Medical Journal:
In April 1946, in the bleak aftermath of the second world war, American and British intelligence services arrested seven men and three women in Berlin on charges of manufacture, possession, and sale of fake penicillin. A former German army private was the alleged chief of the fake drug ring that included ‘Two former GIs in love with frauleins and an American doctor with a passion for fine cameras…who got at least $13 000 [about $170 000 (£130 000; €160 000) today] in cash from one Berlin druggist for penicillin."..

Penicillin was scarce but much sought after as an innovative cure of bacterial infections, and it became a currency in post-war Europe. The Times reported from Berlin “There is great illicit demand for penicillin here for the treatment of venereal diseases. Supplies are strictly controlled by the British and American authorities, being reserved for the treatment of their soldiers, and secondarily for the treatment of German women likely to spread disease. Otherwise supplies are not available.”
There is also evidence of illegal penicillin trade in post-war Vienna. Zane Grey Todd was head of criminal investigation in the American sector. His obituary tells us that “His most dangerous case involved two American medical officers who were stealing and selling penicillin on the black market, aided by a former Miss Austria, with whom they were living.” That Todd may have been a key source for Greene is suggested by a tributary clue in the film—Martins gives a cultural talk on the American author Zane Grey.
More at the link.  Quite interesting.

Anna walks out of Holly's life

I saw this image on a Twitter post by Roger Ebert, and it took me a while to recall the name of the movie...

Does anyone know if this is a famous street in Vienna?

The Third Man is perhaps better known for its musical theme than for its plot (note how excited the women are to be listening to the music).

Reposted from 2011 to replace the video, which was taken down.  This one will probably be taken down soon.

Do heads of government age more quickly?

That's the question asked in this Christmas' issue of the British Medical Journal.
We assembled data on elected and runner-up candidates for national elections occurring in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, using online sources including Wikipedia and national lists of leaders..

The sample included 540 candidates: 279 winners and 261 runners-up who never served. A total of 380 candidates were deceased by 9 September 2015. Candidates who served as a head of government lived 4.4 (95% confidence interval 2.1 to 6.6) fewer years after their last election than did candidates who never served (17.8 v 13.4 years after last election; adjusted difference 2.7 (0.6 to 4.8) years). In Cox proportional hazards analysis, which considered all candidates (alive or deceased), the mortality hazard for elected candidates relative to runners-up was 1.23 (1.00 to 1.52).
Details at the link.  Photo source lost.

"Preinstalled ransomware"

That's the term that has been suggested regarding proposed legislation in South Carolina:
People buying computers in South Carolina would be limited in their access to porn online under newly proposed legislation.

A bill pre-filed this month by state Rep. Bill Chumley would require sellers to install digital blocking capabilities on computers and other devices that access the internet to prevent the viewing of obscene content...

Both sellers and buyers could get around the limitation, for a fee. The bill would fine manufacturers that sell a device without the blocking system, but they could opt out by paying $20 per device sold. Buyers could also verify their age and pay $20 to remove the filter...

16 December 2016

Albrecht Dürer's amazing magic square

This "magic square" was incorporated by Dürer in his engraving "Melencolia I" (full image below)
In recreational mathematics, a magic square is a n × n square grid - where n is the number of rows (or columns) - filled with distinct positive integers in the range of [1.. n2] such that the sum of the integers in each row, column or diagonal equals a same value...

The order-4 magic square Albrecht Dürer immortalized in his 1514 engraving Melencolia I, referred to above, is believed to be the first seen in European art. It is very similar to Yang Hui's square, which was created in China about 250 years before Dürer's time. The sum 34 can be found in the rows, columns, diagonals, each of the quadrants, the center four squares, and the corner squares (of the 4×4 as well as the four contained 3×3 grids). This sum can also be found in the four outer numbers clockwise from the corners (3+8+14+9) and likewise the four counter-clockwise (the locations of four queens in the two solutions of the 4 queens puzzle), the two sets of four symmetrical numbers (2+8+9+15 and 3+5+12+14), the sum of the middle two entries of the two outer columns and rows (5+9+8+12 and 3+2+15+14), and in four kite or cross shaped quartets (3+5+11+15, 2+10+8+14, 3+9+7+15, and 2+6+12+14). The two numbers in the middle of the bottom row give the date of the engraving: 1514. The numbers 1 and 4 at either side of the date correspond respectively to the letters "A" and "D," which are the initials of the artist.
Very cool.

41,667% daily value of a vitamin

Part of the label for a bottle of vitamin B12 tablets.

I'm a bit puzzled.  If the once-a-day tablet represents 417 times the recommended dose, does that mean the manufacturer assumes that everyone taking it is deficient in intrinsic factor?  Does the "daily value" only apply to intravenous administration?  If that's the case, shouldn't the 2500 micrograms then become the recommended "daily value" for oral intake?

I suppose I could look this up, but I thought it would be faster to ask here, because some reader will know the answer.  Thanks in advance.

"Person from Porlock" explained

The person from Porlock was an unwelcome visitor to Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his composition of the poem Kubla Khan in 1797. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (possibly an opium-induced haze), but was interrupted by this visitor from Porlock while in the process of writing it. Kubla Khan, only 54 lines long, was never completed. Thus "Person from Porlock", "Man from Porlock", or just "Porlock" are literary allusions to unwanted intruders who disrupt inspired creativity.
Posted because I encountered the term while reading Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in which "the title character saves the world, in part by time-travelling from the present day to distract Coleridge from properly remembering his dream; if Coleridge had completed the poem an alien ghost would have 'encoded' certain information within the completed work that would have allowed him to make repairs to his spaceship in the past at the cost of wiping out all life on Earth."

Trump's election as "the biggest fuck you ever recorded"

The words accompanying this Alex Jones-sponsored video are taken from a speech given back in October by filmmaker Michael Moore, who was born and raised in Flint, Michigan.  Long viewed as a spokesperson for liberal progressive views ("Moore's written and cinematic works criticize topics such as globalization, large corporations, assault weapon ownership, U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, President-elect Donald Trump, the Iraq War, the American health care system, and capitalism...), Moore was roundly panned for his public predictions that Trump would win the election.

Here are some excerpts from the text accompanying this brief (four and a half minute) video:
MICHAEL MOORE: I know a lot of people in Michigan that are planning to vote for Trump and they don't necessarily like him that much, and they don't necessarily agree with him. They're not racist or rednecks, they're actually pretty decent people, and so after talking to a number of them I wanted to write this:

'Donald Trump came to the Detroit Economic Club and stood there in front of Ford Motor executives and said, "if you close these factories as you're planning to do in Detroit and build them in Mexico, I'm going to put a 35% tariff on those cars when you send them back and nobody's going to buy them."

It was an amazing thing to see. No politician, Republican or Democrat, had ever said anything like that to these executives, and it was music to the ears of people in Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- the "Brexit" states.

You live here in Ohio, you know what I'm talking about. Whether Trump means it or not, is kind of irrelevant because he's saying the things to people who are hurting, and that's why every beaten-down, nameless, forgotten working stiff who used to be part of what was called the middle class loves Trump. He is the human Molotov cocktail that they've been waiting for. The human hand grenade that they can legally throw into the system that stole their lives from them...

So on November 8, the dispossessed will walk into the voting booth, be handed a ballot, close the curtain, and take that lever or felt pen or touchscreen and put a big fucking X in the box by the name of the man who has threatened to upend and overturn the very system that has ruined their lives: Donald J. Trump.

They see that the elite who ruined their lives hate Trump. Corporate America hates Trump. Wall Street hates Trump. The career politicians hate Trump. The media hates Trump, after they loved him and created him, and now hate.

Thank you media: the enemy of my enemy is who I'm voting for on November 8.
The fulltext is at the YouTube link.  For liberal Democrats, these are painful words to read or to hear in the video.  Moore does qualify his comments with "whether Trump means it or not," to acknowledge the possibility probability that the entire campaign is a con job, but as an explanation for why the election swung the way it did, this is as good a brief summary as I've found.  If you are a progressive who has put their head in the sand since November, it's time to put on your big boy pants and listed to this short diatribe.

I've closed comments for this post.  Please don't append them to other posts.

Related: Why rural voters no longer vote Democratic in Minnesota, and Trump launches war on unions.

Mirrored bar

Via Replaces and cancels the previous Johnnythehorse.

"Misfortune for Monarchs"

A new scourge is attacking the milkweed plants that are essential to the survival of Monarchs:
But the menaced monarchs have another problem, the destructive oleander aphid (Aphis nerii). This bright, yellow insect, introduced from the Mediterranean area along with the oleander plant, has found milkweed to be an attractive food source. They form large colonies on milkweed stems and leaves that aspirate sap from the plants’ nutrient-transporting phloem, stunting or killing their host before it can provide sustenance for migrating monarchs and their larvae. This photo shows an aggressive colony of oleander aphids feeding on a first-year common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) near the coast of Massachusetts. For cultivators of monarch milkweed gardens, non-toxic insecticidal soaps are effective against the oleander aphid. However, the threatened monarch will likely need more help in order to survive.
Photo credit Rob Sheridan, via the Earth Science Picture of the Day, with a tip of the blogging hat to reader David Laidlaw for bringing this to my attention.

The Smithsonian's "meteor vaults"

14 December 2016

So you think you're pretty smart...

Try answering these questions from the Royal Statistical Society's Christmas Quiz for 2015:

1. Begin (5 points)
What might, in turn, be represented by a Buckeye, a Boxer, a Berkshire, a Brown, a Brahman, a Bengal, a Beveren, a Bearded, a Boa, a Brumby, a Boreray and (in 2016) a Barbary?

5. Out of Place (4 points)
(a) Explain why, compared with ‘sweet milk’, ‘little cut off’, ‘recooked’, ‘beautiful country’ and ‘tired’, ‘slice’ is out of place.
(b) Similarly, which one of ‘iron’, ‘little blackbird’, ‘black pine’, ‘musky’, ‘tears of Christ’ and ‘white savage’ is out of place?

7. www.capitals.table (6 points)
If Brussels=4, Santiago=17, Buenos Aires=18, Ottawa=20 and Brasilia=35, what is Canberra?

9. In the sky, on the lea (8 points)
What might have inspired whom to write the following, and where has a line been omitted?
“Nature, in tooth and claw,
In lands of palm, of blossom
That sparkled on the field
And on a simple village,
And drowned in yonder living
By hooded doctors.”

10. Diagram (6 points)
Explain the diagram, and give appropriate row and column labels.

Solutions (and more questions) at the link.

I'm eagerly awaiting the 2016 King William's College General Knowledge Paper for 2016-17.  It should be published in The Guardian this coming week. (Here's last year's quiz.) (And the answers.)
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