29 June 2017


"There is a species of butterfly on the hind wing of which a large eyespot imitates a drop of liquid with such uncanny perfection that a line which crosses the wing is slightly displaced at the exact stretch were it passes through - or better say under - the spot: this part of the line seems shifted by refraction, as it would if a real globular drop had been there and we were looking through it at the pattern of the wing."
                    ----Vladimir Nabokov, from a lecture/essay published in Bulletin of the New England Modern Languages Association, January 1941

The embedded image is not of the butterfly Nabokov is describing (he doesn't cite the species in this essay), but rather a Polyphemus silkmoth, which is of course famous because of the prominent eyespots on its hindwings (from which it derives its name).  This specimen was one I reared back in 2012 and photographed before release.

I found the quotation in Nabokov's Butterflies - an immense (800-page) collection of his scientific and fiction writings.

Related: Raising Giant Silkmoths - one of the many interesting pages at Marcie O'Connor's Prairie Haven website [your humble author is honored to be included in one of the Bench Photos].

You can't argue with this

See here if explanation needed. 

Via the Miss Cellania humor blog.

Image cropped for size and emphasis.

12-year-old in the obstetrics delivery room

"... My doctor, Dr Walter Wolfe then suggested, 'Jacee why don't you suit up and come deliver the baby.' I was in shock lol! I told her as long as zack doesn't care go ahead and he said 'go for it Jacee!' She got suited up for delivery. Although the pain from the contractions and the pushing hurt me so bad... watching Jacee's expressions on her face were like no other. Concentrating on her face while I pushed helped me so much! Dr Wolfe actually put her hands on the inside of his and allowed her to do the entire delivery. We were all very emotional and it was like no feeling I've ever felt. it's not every day your eldest child at 12 years old gets to deliver your last child."
Props to everyone involved - the girl, the parents, and the medical team.  More children need to be exposed to the realities of birth and death (and preparing food) (especially if the Republicans are successful in cutting health care financing). 

Additional details and photos are available at Bored Panda and Neatorama.

A regulator attacks solar energy in Montana

"Montana’s new terms for small solar projects might have been knowingly set to discourage development, based on a conversation caught last week on a hot mic.
Speaking with staff during a mid-session break, Public Service Commissioner Bob Lake acknowledged that cuts made that morning to rates and contracts offered to small renewable energy projects are likely deep enough to kill future development. By federal law, the commission’s actions were supposed to promote renewable energy...

It’s the contract talk that piqued the interest of attorney Jenny Harbine, who represents Vote Solar and the Montana Environmental Information Center. Setting a contract that’s unworkable for the small renewable energy projects violates PURPA, Harbine said on Monday. Harbine plans to file a motion to get the PSC to reconsider."
Details at the Billings Gazette source.  In the discussion thread at the Futurology subreddit, this act is described as "corruption, pure and simple."

28 June 2017


"A red palm weevil appears to strike a pugilistic stance, with its unusual antennae raised on either side of its elongated head." Macro photography specialist Javier Rupérez photographed the weevil in in his hometown of Almáchar, Spain
One of the Pictures of the Day at The Telegraph.

How is this possible?

"The skills prehistoric peoples depended on seem exotic to today’s college students, who Schindler says arrive on campus each year with less and less of the sort of practical experience that he emphasizes in his class. He tells of the time he asked some students to crack eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. He returned to the kitchen 10 minutes later to find that not a single egg had been cracked. “I asked them if the problem was that nobody had ever told them how to separate the yolk from the whites, and received blank stares in return,” he recalled. “After a minute of silence, one of them said, ‘ I’ve never cracked an egg.’ I was floored—how do you even make it to 19 without cracking an egg?”

Trollpikken vandalized

Norway's famous "Trollpikken" (troll's penis) rock formation is no longer upright.  The evidence of vandalism is blatantly obvious:

"By Sunday more than 500 people had donated nearly 90,000 Norwegian kroner (£8,400) to fix the formation which is in Eigersund, south of Stavanger.

Police were looking for tips to find those responsible for the damage. A crime of environmental vandalism, classed as serious, can bring a prison sentence."

"I before E, except..."

"...except in a zeitgeist of feisty counterfeit heifer protein freight heists reining in weird deified beige beings and their veiny and eidetic atheist foreign schlockmeister neighbors, either aweigh with feigned absenteeism, seized by heightened heirloom forfeitures (albeit deigned under a kaleidoscope ceiling weighted by seismic geisha keister sleighs) or leisurely reimbursing sovereign receipt or surveillance of eight veiled and neighing Rottweilers, herein referred to as their caffeinated sheik's Weimaraner poltergeist wieners from the Pleiades."
Further discussion of this only-75%-accurate rule of thumb at the Washington Post.

26 June 2017

Dining set

Awesome design.  This comment from the OddlySatisfying subreddit thread:  "This table and chair set is either an original or a reproduction of a Hans Olsen for Frem Rojile dining set. In Olsen's first iteration of the dining set, the chairs had three legs... the three-legged chairs proved to be too wobbly, so later versions of the set were manufactured with four legs rather than three."

If you are interested, it will set you back a pretty penny.

25 June 2017

Divertimento #130

A young man with Proteus syndrome discovers that his birth defect gives him a biologic advantage as a baseball pitcher.

"The Trust for Public Land named the city’s parks and recreation facilities tops in the nation among 100 large city park systems in rankings released Wednesday. It’s Minneapolis’ fifth year at No. 1."

This video explains the use of a dolly zoom in cinematography.

Urine is NOT efficacious in neutralizing the toxins in a jellyfish sting.

"...a search of available marriage license data by a group called Unchained at Last... turned up cases of 12-year-old girls married in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina, while other states simply had categories of “14 and younger.”.. Among the states with the highest rates of child marriages were Arkansas, Idaho and Kentucky. The number of child marriages has been falling, but every state in America still allows underage girls to marry..."

"Sallekhana is a supplementary vow to the ethical code of conduct of Jainism. It is the religious practice of voluntarily fasting to death by gradually reducing the intake of food and liquids."

"Placing books on shelves with the spines facing outwards is a relatively recent phenomenon, according to Mark Purcell, former libraries curator for the National Trust and now overseeing the research collections at Cambridge University Library.  Until fashions changed in the 18th century, book titles and authors were not printed on the spine but written in ink on the edge of pages."

"What has 4 letters, sometimes 9 letters, but never has 5 letters."

Awesome balloon art.

King John lost the crown jewels:
When the tide turned and the water began pouring back in, they were still navigating the treacherous bogs and sinking sands. The crown jewels—and many of the men and horses—drowned in the flood... It is also believed that this lost treasure included a good amount of gold, precious items like bejeweled utensils and chalices, and a significant amount of the loot that he had acquired over the course of his recent conquests. But, to this day, none of this bounty has been found. It’s a predicament that has puzzled treasure hunters for decades..."
All you need to know More than you need to know about monkey selfies.

The concept of "universal basic income" ("give everyone enough money to live on") will be field-tested ("studying the effects of a 12-year income guarantee delivered by the NGO GiveDirectly to 26,000 individuals in East Africa using random assignment of villages."}

A man died of Vibrio septicemia after he went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after getting a tattoo (but he may have been immunocompromised by alcoholic liver disease).

A Minnesota family is restoring a white pine forest; they've planted 3,500 trees in the past decade ("Ted spends an extraordinary amount of time attempting to protect the trees from deer...")

Here is the box score of a baseball game in which the two pitching staffs combined for 42 strikeouts (16+26) in 12 innings.

Those who enjoy following the activities of the Supreme Court probably already know "Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer God-damn." (answer at the very end of the Radiolab podcast.)

The Guardian explores the rise of neo-Nazis in modern America.  "Neo-Nazi activism in America has been undermined for decades by what both extremist leaders and hate group monitors describe as incredibly childish infighting."  The current political climate has changed that.

When did the United States achieve independence?  We celebrate the Fourth of July, because that is when America declared independence.  Some historians argue that independence isn't achieved until it is recognized by the world community (and that would be the Treaty of Paris in 1783).

You're not the only person who sometimes forgets what they are doing when they enter a room.

"For Christians looking for a way to opt out of an expensive health insurance market that they see as profit-driven, intruding on their personal freedom, and indifferent (at best) to issues of abortion and the sanctity of life, health care sharing ministries may seem like the perfect, providential solution."

Impressive bird wings trapped in amber. "...plumage types associated with modern birds were present within single individuals of Enantiornithes by the Cenomanian (99 million years ago)."  [if you are like me, you have to look up Cenomanian.]

One person's opinion that Bernie Sanders could have won the presidency.

A subreddit dedicated to "Room Porn."  Try browsing some pix of remarkable interior design and decorating.

The most numerous undomesticated bird in the world is the.... what?   I'll give you five guesses and you won't get it.  Ten.  And there are at least a billion of them.  Maybe ten billion.

A map of ships buried beneath San Francisco.

A judge has ruled that a neo-Nazi with explosives and a framed picture of Timothy McVeigh is not a threat.

Filmed on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia.  Discussion thread here.

A poster by PETA.

Condor visits the man who saved his life.  If you've never seen the size of an Andean condor, be prepared to be impressed.

Sports videos:
There is a rule in baseball governing detached equipment.
A compilation of outstanding baseball errors.
Baseball 9-3 putouts.  
Louis Oosthuizen's 500-yard drive.

A list of all 213 Beatles' songs, rated and ranked by someone.

I highly recommend this photoessay about Siberian mammoth tusk hunters.

Why modern planes have ashtrays.

About those big blue exit signs on interstate highways ("who decides which businesses make it on the signs, and how much it all costs.")

This Napoleonic general lost three legs in battle (hat tip to the elves at No Such Things As A Fish).

An argument against Little Free Libraries ("examples of performative community enhancement, driven more so by the desire to showcase one’s passion for books and education than a genuine desire to help the community in a meaningful way.")

Drones used to locate and rescue lost hikers.

Why a car may have three tailpipes (in this case a Honda Civic).

Aussie video dissing anti-vaxxers.

"Whisker fatigue" is one explanation for fussy feline feeders. (Don't put the food in a deep dish)

In 1964 the United States orchestrated a coup that overthrew the democratically-elected leader of Guatemala and installed a military dictatorship there.  Not something that any of us were taught in school.

Interesting sign on a unisex bathroom door.

Is this a real product? (NSFW language).  If so, some Americans would buy it.

Jalopnik explains why you shouldn't run your car low on gas.

"Moth Eyes Inspire Glare-Resistant Coating For Cellphone Screens."

A clever pair of t-shirts.

I think this woman made a mistake.  Just my opinion.

Oops.  Not to be used for navigational purposes

Then years ago when I wrote the home page paragraph that introduces this blog, I stated that "We try to be the cyberequivalent of a Victorian cabinet of curiosities."  The embedded photos today are examples of cabinets of curiosity, via The Appendix and Wikipedia.

23 June 2017

Divertimento #129

And the third "gifdump"...

"Serves her right."

Clever rear window decal.

Sea lions are apex predators.  Don't turn your back on them (the girl was rescued unharmed).

How to make your dog happy in hot weather.

Oil on the racetrack.

Child magician does hidden ball trick badly.

HMB while I scramble down this cliff...

Homemade vortex cannon.

At my high school, a pep rally was just shouting "go team go."  The process has evolved.

Speedy duckling.

Shapeshifting lamp.

Baseball - an incredible way to strike out.

A mortar catapult.

An entire subreddit of chemical reaction gifs.  Put your safety glasses on.

Who ate the tater tots?

I feel sorry for this dog.  Hope he knocked the water bowl over.

Do not store your epinephrine pen in this box.

Oddly satisfying.

I must hide this Cheeto and save it for later.

A blind cat knows how to get down from his condo.

TIL that there is a subreddit for NO NO NO NO..... YES material.

Lady slows speeding residential traffic with a hairdryer.

Not sure how to describe this one.

Golf trick.

InnOcENt CaT gETs drAgGED iNtO HELL bY a DeMOn

Chipmunk escapes from cat.

Let's make a "human wheel."  WCGW?

Do NOT touch my eggs.

Cuttlefish masquerades as a hermit crab.

Cincinnati Reds vs. a pop fly.  Pop fly wins.

Pigeon carousel.

Be careful when you drive a car on a carpeted stage.

Dolphins create a "net" of mud to catch fish.

Justin Thomas makes an incredible putt at the recent U.S. Open.

It must have been fun practicing this routine.

Embedded images from a Guardian photoessay on Nabokov's butterfly art.

22 June 2017

It would be like a "sharknado." With knives.

The photo above shows an area of ground in Chile's Atacama desert "paved" with large gypsum crystals.  Geologists now believe these surface concentrations originate as depositions by "dust devils."
Whirlwinds, dry convective helical vortices, move large gypsum crystals in the Andes Mountains of northern Chile. The crystals are entrained from a saline pan surface, where they grew in shallow surface brines. They are transported as much as 5 km and deposited in large dune-like mounds. The dune gravel is cemented relatively quickly by gypsum cement precipitating from near-surface saline groundwater, resulting in gypsum breccia. This marks the first occurrence of gravel-sized grains moved efficiently in air by suspension, provides a new possible interpretation for some ancient breccias and conglomerates, and improves understanding of limits of extremity of Earth surface environments. 
A hat tip to reader Ruth Beaty for alerting me to this report, which I found particularly fascinating because many years ago I used to dig in the salt plains of Oklahoma for gypsum (selenite) crystals similar to these.

Specimen images from the Online Mineral Museum (cluster) and Amusing Planet (see the latter for a brief photoessay about the digging experience, which is truly memorable).

The surfaces of the Atacama crystals show evidence of trauma such as that which a dust devil would generate:
The flats and dunes of the salar are covered by massive deposits of gypsum crystals of similar size and internal microtexture to those in the pools. However, the surfaces of these crystals are abraded, frosted, and pitted: textures characteristic of sand and silt grains that have experienced aeolian transport in suspension.
So while it would be tempting to walk into a dust devil...

... consider what might be whipping around in that vortex.

These observations also lend theoretical credence to the never-proven hypothesis that waterspouts are responsible for Fortean rains of frogs and fish.

Why are some spam emails "unblockable" ?

I use Earthlink Webmail, which is generally pretty good about filtering spam, and it allows me to block senders that I identify as sources of spam.

Most of the time...

Now I seem to have gotten on the radar of "cron-job.org" which sends me daily junk, and for which Earthlink indicates that "blocked sender" status is inapplicable.  I can understand why such limitations are applied to sources at "hotmail" for example, but why would some entity like this be protected?

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader BJ Nicholls for offering this link in his Comment.  It explains that the legitimate cron-job site has had their address highjacked by spammers.

Since Earthlink wouldn't let me click to add this "contact@cron-job" to my Blocked Sender List, I've now done so manually.  We'll see if that works.

Addendum #2 a week later:  Manually adding the source to the Blocked Sender List seems to have worked - though I don't understand why Earthlink wouldn't let me just click to do it.  

Politicians on television

Via Jobsanger.

How companies harvest your web search info

In the summer of 2015, Alexandra Franco got a letter in the mail from a company she had never heard of called AcurianHealth. The letter, addressed to Franco personally, invited her to participate in a study of people with psoriasis, a condition that causes dry, itchy patches on the skin.

Franco did not have psoriasis. But the year before, she remembered, she had searched for information about it online, when a friend was dealing with the condition. And a few months prior to getting the letter, she had also turned to the internet with a question about a skin fungus. It was the sort of browsing anyone might do, on the assumption it was private and anonymous.

Now there was a letter, with her name and home address on it, targeting her as a potential skin-disease patient. Acurian is in the business of recruiting people to take part in clinical trials for drug companies. How had it identified her? She had done nothing that would publicly associate her with having a skin condition.
The explanation is at Gizmodo.

Modern war

A sniper with Canada’s elite special forces in Iraq has shattered the world record for the longest confirmed kill shot in military history at a staggering distance of 3,450 metres.
Sources say a member of Joint Task Force 2 killed an Islamic State insurgent with a McMillan TAC-50 sniper rifle while firing from a high-rise during an operation that took place within the last month in Iraq.

“Canada has a world-class sniper system. It is not just a sniper. They work in pairs. There is an observer,” a military source said. “This is a skill set that only a very few people have.”

“It is at the distance where you have to account not just for the ballistics of the round, which change over time and distance, you have to adjust for wind, and the wind would be swirling,” said a source with expertise in training Canadian special forces.

“You have to adjust for him firing from a higher location downward and as the round drops you have to account for that. And from that distance you actually have to account for the curvature of the Earth.”
I presume the sniper takes a series of preliminary shots at objects at the same distance, and the observer tells him how much he missed by so that he can compensate.

21 June 2017

The Lobster Coast

I have visited Maine several times and always enjoyed my stay there, but had never read a proper history of the state until a friend recently recommended this book.  Particularly interesting to me was the geologic explanation for the remarkable profusion of marine life in the Gulf of Maine, and the descriptions of the staggering abundance of lobsters and fish harvested from this region in prehistory and the early post-settlement era.
"... Indians depended on the living bounty of the Gulf of Maine...they left staggering shellheaps behind; a single heap of shucked oyster shells in Damariscotta covered an area of more than sixty acres to a depth of nearly thirty feet." (p. 63)

"Lobsters were everywhere.  On their way to the Kennebec, Raleigh Gilbert's men [early 1600s] caught fifty lobsters "of great bignesse" by simply rowing a boat over shallow water and gaffing the unsuspecting lobsters with a boat hook..." (p. 81)

"The cod bit quickly in those days and a good fisherman would catch 350 to 400 in a day... they weighed over one hundred pounds apiece..." (p. 85)

"In colonial days, a small boy could bring home enough [lobsters] to feed several families by siimply wading along the shore at low tide and gaffing the huge five- and ten-pound beasts hiding among the rocks... One group of indentured servants in Massachusetts became so upset with this diet that they took their owners to court winning a judgment that they would not be served lobster more than three times a week.  Lobsters were sometimes taken in great numbers and strewn on the fields as fertilizer..." (p. 170)

"The catch in those days would astound today's lobsterman.  Portland lobstermen in 1855 averaged seven four- to six-pound lobsters in every pot, every day throughout the four-month season.  (By comparison, today's lobstermen often find only one legal-sized lobster per trap, and it typically weighs between a pound and a pound and a half).  (p. 177)

"At the height of summer, hotel owners would pay as much as five cents for a good, two-pound dinner table lobster...  Smaller lobsters were no longer discarded, as the canneries would buy them for $1 per hundredweight..." (p. 186)

"Halibut, a great flatfish that could weigh nine hundred pounds and measure nine feet in length, had once been so numerous they were "looked upon as a nuisance" by cod-seeking fishermen.. On at least one occasion, a vessel using the old hook-over-the-side method caught more than 250 in three hours..." (p. 203)
In this regard the book reminded me of the spectacularly unbelievable accounts of pre-settlement North America described in Paradise Found.

Less pleasant are the accounts in the book of the pillage of these resources (only recently modulated by regulatory restrictions) and the human-human interactions, beginning with the arrival of Europeans and continuing to the modern era as the Boston/New York population "invades" rural coastal Maine.

An interesting summer read.

20 June 2017

Old Harry Rocks

"Old Harry Rocks are three chalk formations, including a stack and a stump, located at Handfast Point, on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, southern England. They mark the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 There are various stories about the naming of the rocks. One legend says that the Devil (traditionally known euphemistically as "Old Harry") had a sleep on the rocks. Another local legend says that the rocks were named after Harry Paye, the infamous Poole pirate, whose ship hid behind the rocks awaiting passing merchantmen.[3] Yet another tale has it that a ninth-century Viking raid was thwarted by a storm, and that one of the drowned, Earl Harold, was turned into a pillar of chalk."
But why is the Devil called "Old Harry"?

Photo credit in the watermark.

A treasure trove of Nazi artifacts

As reported by ABC News:
In a hidden room in a house near Argentina's capital, police believe they have found the biggest collection of Nazi artifacts in the country's history, including a bust relief of Adolf Hitler, magnifying glasses inside elegant boxes with swastikas and even a macabre medical device used to measure head size.

Some 75 objects were found in a collector's home in Beccar, a suburb north of Buenos Aires, and authorities say they suspect they are originals that belonged to high-ranking Nazis in Germany during World War II...

The investigation that culminated in the discovery of the collection began when authorities found artworks of illicit origin in a gallery in north Buenos Aires.

Agents with the international police force Interpol began following the collector and with a judicial order raided the house on June 8. A large bookshelf caught their attention and behind it agents found a hidden passageway to a room filled with Nazi imagery...

The main hypothesis among investigators and member of Argentina's Jewish community is that they were brought to Argentina by a high-ranking Nazi or Nazis after World War II, when the South American country became a refuge for fleeing war criminals, including some of the best known.
Via the WorldNews subreddit.

Iran has attacked ISIS. This is important.

Reported yesterday by U.S. News:
Iran says its ballistic missile strike targeting the Islamic State group in Syria was not only a response to deadly attacks in Tehran, but a powerful message to archrival Saudi Arabia and the United States, one that could add to already soaring regional tensions...

It also raises questions about how U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which had previously put Iran "on notice" for its ballistic missile tests, will respond.
Context via Jobsanger:
Understandably, the Iranians were upset with Trump. His statement infers that Iran supports the group that attacked Tehran (ISIS). It's just a continuation of his claims that Iran supports the terrorists that are attacking Western nations. None of that is true.

Iran does offer support to a couple of groups defined as terrorists -- the Houthi in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon (and Palestine). Those are shiite muslim groups, and Iran is a shiite muslim state. But those are not the groups that attacked Iran, and they are not the groups responsible for attacks in Europe and the United States.

The groups mainly responsible for attacking Europe and the United States are sunni muslim groups -- ISIS and al-Queda. They get no support from Iran. Their support comes mainly from a country that Trump calls a "friend" -- Saudi Arabia...

Trump seems to want to lump all islamic fundamentalists into a single group of terrorists that hate the West. That is far too simple. It shows he is either lying and misleading Americans, or he doesn't understand the truth -- that the trouble in the Middle East is basically a religious civil war being fought between shiite and sunni muslims. He seems to have sided with the sunnis without understanding that they are where ISIS and al-Queda have originated. He also seems not to understand that ISIS was created when an American president (Bush) overthrew the secular government in Iraq and installed a shiite muslim government in its place (which caused sunnis to rebel against that government and the shiite government in Syria by creating ISIS).

Blaming Iran for terrorism in the West is ignoring the reality of what is happening. It would make more sense to blame Saudi Arabia. But Trump doesn't want to do that, because they have too much oil that we want and have plenty of money to spend on U.S. weapons. In effect, Trump has taken the side of the sunnis in the religious civil war -- the same side that is attacking the Western nations.
I'm going to close comments for this post; I just don't have time to moderate/curate them.  Move on.

You can walk around Machu Piccu using Google Streetview

It's no substitute for reality, of course, but it's not bad.

For newbies, start here (or the satellite view), zoom in with the +/- buttons (drag to recenter), then drop the little yellow Streetview man where you want to walk.  Drag your cursor left/right for panorama views, and (especially at Machu Piccu) up and down to look up and down.

Related news today:
This summer, under pressure from Unesco, which has repeatedly threatened to add Machu Picchu to its list of world heritage sites in danger, the Peruvian government has brought in measures to control the flow of tourists.

From 1 July, visitors will only be able to enter the site with an official tour guide, and tickets will grant entry for a specific time period, either a morning (6am-noon) or afternoon (noon-5.30pm). Guides must be licenced and group size will be limited to16 people. Visitors must also follow the defined routes around the site, a change from the present setup where it is possible to explore relatively independently and stay the entire day. 
More at the link.

19 June 2017

Welcome aboard

I'm impressed by the fact that in those days boarding a dirigible may have required considerable aerobic exercise...

Maybe there's an elevator in that mooring tower; otherwise it would be like climbing three ranger towers.

For the word freaks among us, the etymology of "blimp" is controversial.

Images via imgur.

Glymphatic system discovered

That's not a typo.  It's a new anatomical system.
Kari Alitalo had studied lymphatic vessels for more than two decades. So he knew that this network, which carries immune cells throughout the body and removes waste and toxins, didn’t extend into the brain: This had been accepted wisdom for more than 300 years. “Nobody questioned that it stopped at the brain,” says Alitalo, a scientist at the University of Helsinki in Finland...

But when Alitalo and Aspelund repeated the experiment, they got the same result. It seemed that the lymphatic vessels extended to the brain after all. This was surprising, to say the least: In the 21st century, major findings involving basic human anatomy are rare...

Researchers have identified two networks: the vessels that lead into and surround the brain, and those within the brain itself. The first is known as the lymphatic system for the brain, while the latter is called the glymphatic system. The “g” added to “lymphatic” refers to glia, the kind of neuron that makes up the lymphatic vessels in the brain. The glymphatic vessels carry cerebrospinal fluid and immune cells into the brain and remove cellular trash from it. Alitalo, Nedergaard, Kipnis and others have found evidence that when the systems malfunction, the brain can become clogged with toxins and suffused with inflammatory immune cells.

Over decades, this process may play a key role in Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses, research suggests. “This is a revolutionary finding,” Nedergaard says. “This system plays a huge role in the health of the brain.”..

One key to glymphatic performance seems to be sleep. Nedergaard has shown that at least in mice, the system processes twice as much fluid during sleep as it does during wakefulness. She and her colleagues focused on amyloid beta; they found that the lymphatic system removed much more of the protein when the animals were asleep than when they were awake. She suggests that over time, sleep dysfunction may contribute to Alzheimer’s and perhaps other brain illnesses. “You only clean your brain when you’re sleeping,” she says. “This is probably an important reason that we sleep. You need time off from consciousness to do the housekeeping.” 
Further details at The Washington Post.  Absolutely fascinating.

This is a "toddler bike race"

Outside provides the necessary details:
A long row of pre-school-aged kids, aboard low-slung bikes with no brakes or pedals, takes off from a start ramp like a pack of greyhounds. The kids kick their bikes up to speeds that would make most adults uncomfortable, and carve through the course’s maze of sharp corners with tenacity and grace.

A few kids don’t make it. They splay out across the track in a pile of elbow and kneepads and full-face helmets. And then, there’s one kid, coming from behind, who executes a perfect pass on his recently potty-trained competitors and crosses the line first, his chest forward in an elated victory celebration...

Today, anyone who's serious about teaching a kid to ride at an early age will likely eschew training wheels in favor of a balance bike. Dozens of different companies now sell them, including every major bike brand. This transformation in kids' bike technology has led to an entire generation of toddlers who rip on two wheels.
Among my group of dad friends in Austin—roadies and mountain bikers who might pull up their Strava feed over a pint of beer—the kids who start out on balance bikes often master cycling at a mind-bogglingly early age. One buddy’s kid switched to a pedal bike at just two years old, and was churning out 20-mile rides by three.

If this isn't classic Trump, I don't know what is

As reported by the New York Times:
The regal emblem, used at President Trump’s golf courses across the United States, sports three lions and two chevrons on a shield, below a gloved hand gripping an arrow...

The British are known to take matters of heraldry seriously, and Mr. Trump’s American coat of arms belongs to another family. It was granted by British authorities in 1939 to Joseph Edward Davies, the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the socialite who built the Mar-a-Lago resort that is now Mr. Trump’s cherished getaway...

In the United States, the Trump Organization took Mr. Davies’s coat of arms for its own, making one small adjustment — replacing the word “Integritas,” Latin for integrity, with “Trump.”...

“It couldn’t be a clearer-cut case, actually,” said Clive Cheesman, one of the college’s heralds, who oversee coats of arms, their design and their use.

“A coat of arms that was originally granted to Joseph Edward Davies in 1939 by the English heraldic authority ended up being used 10 or 15 years ago by the Trump Organization as part of its branding for its golf clubs,” said Mr. Cheesman, a lawyer by training.
More on the kerfuffle at the link.

With a tip of the blogging hat to the elves at QI for alerting me to this interesting item.

Challenging math puzzles

The Guardian today posted three very difficult math problems selected from the archives of Pythagoras magazine.

One puzzle asks you to divide the shape above into two identical shapes.  I suppose a trivial answer would be to divide it in the plane on which it exists, but there must be a more elegant solution.

Then there is the Dollar Bill problem:
In a bag are 26 bills. If you take out 20 bills from the bag at random, you have at least one 1-dollar bill, two 2-dollar bills, and five 5-dollar bills. How much money was in the bag?
And a Huge Pie problem:
A huge pie is divided among 100 guests. The first guest gets 1% of the pie. The second guest gets 2% of the remaining part. The third guest gets 3% of the rest, etc. The last guest gets 100% of the last part. Who gets the biggest piece?
The last one could be solved by brute force, but a proper answer requires a mathematical explanation.

I don't have answers for you; unless readers post solutions in the Comments, you'll need to go to The Guardian.

17 June 2017


A Baron caterpillar on a leaf.

An article at the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society explains the difference between masquerade, Batesian mimicry, and crypsis.
Masquerade is also thought to differ from crypsis because cryptic individuals are mistaken for the background on which they rest, whereas masquerading individuals are mistaken for specific objects. As a result, crypsis relies on the relationship between the individual and the background, but the benefit of masquerade is thought to be independent of the background against which the masquerading individual is viewed...
Image via.

American aristocracy

“Wherever the appearance of a conventional aristocracy exists in America, it must arise from wealth, as it cannot from birth. An aristocracy of mere wealth is vulgar everywhere. In a republic, it is vulgar in the extreme.”
---  Harriet Martineau
I believe I heard that quote on No Such Thing as a Fish.  I had to look Martineau up:
Harriet Martineau was a British social theorist and Whig writer, often cited as the first female sociologist. Martineau wrote many books and a multitude of essays from a sociological, holistic, religious, domestic, and perhaps most controversially, feminine perspective...  She earned enough to be supported entirely by her writing, a rare feat for a woman in the Victorian era.

 In 1834, after completing the economic series, Harriet Martineau paid a long visit to the United States. During this time, she visited with James Madison, the former US president, at his home at Montpelier. She also met numerous abolitionists in Boston and studied the emerging girls' schools established for their education. Her support of abolitionism, then widely unpopular across the U.S., caused controversy, which her publication, soon after her return, of Society in America (1837) and How to Observe Morals and Manners (1838), only added to. The two books are considered significant contributions to the then-emerging field of sociology.

Animals dug this burrow

Big ones, obviously.  Probably (extinct) giant sloths.
Across northern South America, there are hundreds of colossal tunnels large enough for humans to walk through... Geologists call these tunnels “paleoburrow,” and they are believed to have been dug by an extinct species of giant ground sloth... The largest [paleoburrow] measured 2,000 feet long, six feet tall and three to five feet wide. An estimated 4,000 metric tons of dirt and rock were dug out of the hillside to create the burrow. It was evidently the work of not one or two individuals but several generations.

“There’s no geological process in the world that produces long tunnels with a circular or elliptical cross-section, which branch and rise and fall, with claw marks on the walls,” says Frank. “I’ve [also] seen dozens of caves that have inorganic origins, and in these cases, it’s very clear that digging animals had no role in their creation.”

Frank believes the biggest burrows – measuring up to five feet in diameter – were dug by ground sloths. He and his colleagues consider as possibilities several genera that once lived in South America and whose fossil remains suggest adaptation for serious digging: Catonyx, Glossotherium and the massive, several-ton Lestodon. Others believe that extinct armadillos such as Pampatherium, Holmesina or Propraopus, though smaller than the sloths, were responsible for even the largest burrows.
More at Discover Magazine, via Amusing Planet.  Photo: Heinrich Frank.

Possible email bug on Firefox 54 - updated

Yesterday I suddenly became unable to send email (using Earthlink Webmail on Firefox) from my destop iMac.  I had sent one at 0645, but by that afternoon it was no longer possible.  I could receive emails, and could read them, and I could write a message, but when I clicked the "send" button (or the reply button), the button greyed out without sending the message.  Other times the message was delivered to my "sent spam" (!) box.  I was also unable to save emails as a draft.

Interestingly, when I switched to my laptop (still using Earthlink webmail on Firefox), I could send emails normally.

This morning I found a possible explanation (though not yet a solution.)  This message was on Bugzilla@Mozilla:
Steps to reproduce: 1. Have an EarthLink email account. 2. Log in to (Earthlink Webmail). 3. Start writing a simple e-mail. 4. Either send or save a draft of it.
Actual results: Nothing happens. Webmail's "Send", "Save Draft", and "Cancel" buttons become gr(a/e)yed out.

I tried multiple accounts' addresses from two MacBook Pros (El Capitan v10.11.6 and Sierra v10.12.5) and a 64-bit W7 HPE SP1 machine. No problems in other updated web browsers (Chrome, Safari, and IE11) on the same machines. I downgraded back to Firefox v53.0.3 and retested. No problems!
And then this, also on Bugzilla@Mozilla:
We got a couple of user reports on sumo that sending emails from the earthlink webmail interface stopped working after the firefox 54 update & their support is apparently recommending a firefox downgrade as solution at the moment... They said there's an issue with the script on the submit button and that other buttons are still functioning normally. They suggested something has changed with the release of 54, I'll try to find out what exactly broke their script here. The web developer, who works on this is off but will give me a call back.
The same problem was logged in yesterday on the Firefox subreddit.

In my case, my desktop has been upgraded to Firefox54 (I'm set to upgrade automatically), but my laptop was still on Firefox53.  When I logged on to the laptop this morning, it started to automatically download Firefox 54, so I quickly went to Preferences and changed from "automatic" to "notify me and let me decide."

The solution may be for me uninstall 54 and reinstall 53.

Just FYI in case anyone else out there is using the same combo of Firefox and Earthlink.

Addendum just an hour later:
I tried switching from Firefox to Chrome, and was able to receive and send emails on Earthlink Webmail.  So the problem appears to have been with Firefox, not my computer.

And now the Firefox/Earthlink Webmail system is working again.  Without downloading any patches to anything.  I don't understand.  Maybe something was changed at some central location.  It's like the tide coming in and going out - you can't explain that.  Maybe the internet is no place for an English major...

Stone stairway in the New Hampshire woods

Explanation here.  Photo from a post at the Abandonedporn subreddit.

I agree with Donald Trump

I agree with Donald Trump (sometimes).  There... I've said it.

A couple readers of this blog have castigated me for relentlessly criticizing/mocking Donald Trump, but I don't blindly hate him.  Sometimes I even agree with him, as for example this Tweet he issued in August of 2014. 

Found at the TrumpcriticizesTrump subreddit.

Income distributions in American's pastimes

Via the Data Is Beautiful subreddit. (click image to embiggen)

"Kick (something) into the long grass"

I heard that phrase for the first time this week, spoken by Melvyn Bragg during a discussion of Justinian Law on a podcast of In Our Time (superb podcasts, btw, for the intellectually curious).

I was able to deduce the meaning from the context, but looked it up for confirmation:
"to react to a difficult problem by doing something to make sure that people will forget about it rather than trying to solve it."  The decision to kick the proposals into the long grass could come back to haunt all three party leaders.
Embedded photo:  the (infamous) fescue at Erin Hills, site of this week's U.S. Open.

Photo credit Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

13 June 2017


A chignon is a popular type of hairstyle. The word "chignon" comes from the French phrase "chignon du cou", which means nape of the neck.

The chignon can be traced back to ancient Greece, where Athenian women commonly wore the style with gold or ivory handcrafted hairpins. Athenian men wore the style as well, but they fastened their chignons with a clasp of "golden grasshoppers", according to The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides. The chignon was specific to Athens, as other city states, such as Sparta and Cyprus, had their own style of hairdressing. The chignon was also popular in ancient China, where married women wore the low, knotted hairstyle.
Image cropped for size from the original; credit Jenna Drudi, via the link.

The Dunning-Kruger effect explained

A hat tip to the elves at No Such Thing as a Fish for bringing this to my attention:
In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias, wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence...

Although the Dunning–Kruger effect was formulated in 1999, the cognitive bias of illusory superiority has been known throughout history and identified by intellectuals, such as the philosopher Confucius (551–479 BC), who said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”; by the playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616), who said, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool” (As You Like It, V. i.); by the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882), who said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”; and by the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), who said, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision...
More at the link, and this example cited by David Dunning as the trigger for his initial publication:
Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight.  What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise.  The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest.  There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money.  Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving.  “But I wore the juice,” he said.  Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras...

If Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, perhaps he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber — that is, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.

Gleanings from "The Handmaid's Tale"

When I reviewed Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin nine years (!) ago, I assigned the post to the "recommended books" category.  I can't quite do that for The Handmaid's Tale, so I'll file this post in the English language category, because she does know how to turn a phrase.  Some examples:
"We lived, as usual, by ignoring.  Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it."

"I went to sleep after all, and dreamed I was wearing earrings, and one of them was broken; nothing beyond that, just the brain going through its back files..."

"But there must be something he wants, from me.  To want is to have a weakness.  It's this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me."

"Better never means better for everyone, he says.  It always means worse, for some."
Two new (to me) words:
glister - "to gleam, glisten, or coruscate."  And to show that I misremember my Shakespeare, the correct phrase in The Merchant of Venice is "All that glisters is not gold" - not "glistens."

ancestress - I thought this perhaps a neologism for the context of the story, but it is an accepted term for a female ancestor.
And one etymology:
"It was Lulke who told me about mayday, though.  Mayday, mayday, for pilots whose planes had been hit...  Do you know what it came from? said Luke.  Mayday?... It's Frenchy, he said.  From m'aidez.  Help me."

12 June 2017


A composite of eleven images taken over a period of 27 minutes. (click to supersize)

Credit to Dan Marker-Moore (in the "Time Slice" section), via Reddit.  Explanatory video here.

School's out for summer

Via imgur.

Trump's proposed discretionary budget

This is his proposed distribution for the spending of non-mandated (non-Social Security, non-Medicare etc.) funds.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Commentary at Jobsanger (and many other places).

Subcutaneous emphysema

An impressive xray of an affected hedgehog.
An RSPCA spokesperson said balloon syndrome can be caused by a traumatic event, like an injury, or underlying infection, which releases gas into the cavity under the hedgehog's skin. Treatment requires the skin to be punctured and a course of medication.

The large 1kg (2.2lb) hedgehog has been transferred to the RSPCA's Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre in Nantwich, Cheshire, where he will be thoroughly examined under general anaesthetic and more air released.
In humans a severe case of SQE can lead to ventilatory impairment and even thermal instability because of an inability to dissipate body heat.

Murdered again on the Orient Express

When I heard that this classic novel was being remade into a movie, I thought ?why remake a near-perfect movie (the 1974 version rates 95% on Rotten Tomatoes), especially one with such an unforgettable surprise ending.  But I have to admit the trailer does look tempting...
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