31 July 2017

John Kelly is the new White House Chief of Staff

Divertimento #132

Showerthought: "If you like to drink, you know when the liquor store closes.  If you are an alcoholic, you know when the liquor store opens."

A nice summary of how to prevent tick-borne diseases.  This year a new tick disease has been reported - bourbon virus.  One woman died after developing hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis.

Video from the World Taxidermy Championships (via Neatorama).

"Why do 2,000-year-old Roman piers survive to this day, yet modern concrete seawalls embedded with steel crumble within decades?" (It's because of the pozzolanic reaction).

The latest ransomware epidemic was spread by a software update.

Video explaining sinkholes (quite interesting).

A photo gallery of world parliaments.

Kinder Suprise Eggs cannot be imported into the U.S.

"In July 1975, a 17 year old boy in Bermuda was killed when a taxi struck him, knocking him off his moped. He died exactly a year after his 17 year old brother was killed while riding the same moped, in the same intersection, by the same taxi driver carrying the same passenger."

Girls as young as nine are requesting labiaplasties.

"English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts."

A very negative opinion on Tesla.  And a cautionary view on the overall market.

How to find out what the internet knows about you.

"The frozen bodies of a Swiss couple who went missing 75 years ago in the Alps have been found on a shrinking glacier."

A child's humorous fold-out art.

65,000 people sing Bohemian Rhapsody.

"Seven north Atlantic right whales have been found floating lifelessly in the Gulf of St Lawrence... in what is being described as a “catastrophic” blow to one of the world’s most endangered whales."

Minnesota party politics is a microcosm of the national situation.  "Is Minnesota split into rival regions — a liberal island in the Twin Cities and a vast conservative sea in greater Minnesota?... The big battle not only pits Democrats against Republicans but rages within the parties — especially the DFL."

Undersea rivers are awesome.

The voyages of the Chinese treasure ships.  The fourth voyage was conducted by 63 treasure ships crewed by 28,000 men.

Paths of every solar eclipse that will occur in your lifetime (type in your birth year).

The life and death of Richard Bachman.

Retired greyhounds become professional blood donors.  "Greyhounds represent the bulk of the donors, and with good reason because they typically have a universal blood type that any dog can receive. Greyhounds also have big neck veins that make drawing blood easy."

Summary of the major themes of Blade Runner (including whether Deckard was a replicant).

When you spill a truckload of slime eels on a highway.  "The slime from one hagfish can expand to five gallons when combined with water."

If you are a senior citizen, get your lifetime pass to the national parks soon (the price goes up from $10 to $80 next month).  I got mine years ago.  Haven't used it so far, but I'm not dead yet.

How to unplug a clogged toilet.

London is experiencing a wave of attacks with acid.

Confirmation that false heads do protect butterflies (video at the link).

"22,000 people have now found themselves legally bound to 1000 hours of community service, including, but not limited to, cleaning toilets at festivals, scraping chewing gum off the streets and “manually relieving sewer blockages”. (because they didn't read their wifi terms of service)

Richard Feynman explains how railroad trains stay on the tracks on a curve since their axles don't have differentials.

"... doctors found 27 contact lenses in a 67-year-old patient’s eye..."

"The Brazilian environment ministry is proposing the release of 860,000 acres in the National Forest of Jamanxim for agricultural use, mining and logging."

The robot apocalypse is not due quite yet. (personally I wonder if someone pushed it)

Animal rights activists released tens of thousands of minks from a farm in central Minnesota.

"Up until four years ago, Rio Celeste, a 14-kilometer river in Costa Rica’s Alajuela province, was a complete mystery to scientists, who could not understand why its waters had an unusual turquoise color. And then they realized that it wasn’t turquoise at all." (TL;DR "optical illusion")

The history of the papasan chair.  "U.S. soldiers picked up papasan and mamasan during World War II and spread them throughout the Asia Pacific. Mamasan soon became slang for a madam of a brothel and, come the Vietnam War, papasan was referring to a pimp."

"How I made $290,000 selling books."

The "murderer's thumb" is brachydactyly.  It occurs in about 1% of the world's population.

"Honey, I found the spoon."

The images embedded in today's divertimento are selected from a gallery of images of a home listed for sale in Texas.  Dozens more pix at the realtor's website.  The home is yours for $1,275,000.

29 July 2017

Lewis Carroll describes sleep paralysis

This past week I've been reading The Humorous Verse of Lewis Carroll (Dover, 1933), where I found the following in Canto V of Phantasmagoria:
"Who's the Knight-Mayor?" I cried.  Instead
       of answering my question,
"Well, if you don't know that," he said,
"Either you never go to bed,
Or you've a grand digestion!"
The following verse is above, under the illustration by Arthur B. Frost.  I shouldn't need to point out that "Knight-Mayor" is a pun on "nightmare."

The phenomenon is also alluded to in this early poem by Carroll:
(from The Rectory Magazine, 1850)

Methought I walked a dismal place
Dim horrors all around;
The air was thick with many a face,
And black as night the ground.

I saw a monster come with speed,
Its face of grimmliest green,
On human beings used to feed,
Most dreadful to be seen.

I could not speak, I could not fly,
I fell down in that place,
I saw the monster's horrid eye
Come leering in my face!

Amidst my scarcely-stifled groans,
Amidst my moanings deep,
I heard a voice,"Wake! Mr. Jones,
You're screaming in your sleep!"
I won't review the entire book, which I am not adding to the blog category of recommended books (because it's exhaustively comprehensive rather than selective), but I will excerpt a few tidbits:

An uncommon word:
"That's plain, said I, as Tare and Tret..."

Tare is familiar to anyone who has worked a balance in a chemistry lab.  Tret is related:
Tare and Tret, commercial terms, are deductions usually made from the gross weight of goods. Tare is the weight of the case or covering, box, or such-like, containing the goods; deducting this the net weight is left. Tret is a further allowance (not now so commonly deducted) made at the rate of 4 lb. for every 104 lb. for waste through dust, sand, etc
What looks like an umlaut over an e...
Sadly, sadly he crossed the floor
And tirlëd at the pin:
Sadly went he through the door
Where sadly he cam' in.
... I found explained at Mental Floss:
The mark that prevents two adjacent vowels from combining into one syllable is called a “diaeresis” or “trema.” You see it in French (naïve, Chloë, Noël) and in the pages of the New Yorker (coöperate, reëlection).
Although it doesn't separate two vowels here, I presume it serves the same function for the poet, indicating a pronunciation of two syllables as tirl-led, rather than mashed together as "turld."

And the word "tirl" defined: "To make a rattling or clattering sound by twirling or shaking (to tirl at the pin, or latch, of a door.")

 Apostrophe usage in The Hunting of the Snark perhaps also for indicating a rhythm?:
When the verdict was called for, the Jury declined,
As the word was so puzzling to spell;
But they vetured to hope that the Snark wouldn't mind
Undertaking that duty as we'l.
And finally, what I interpret as a touching allusion to aging and death:
"We are but older children, dear,
Who fret to find our bedtime near."
Related: other TYWKIWDBI posts about sleep paralysis.

Addendum:  More on the use of diacritics (in this case by Tokien) to indicate pronunciation:
English uses the the diaeresis too, but it has mostly been dropped -- I think chiefly because English typewriters didn't have one. If you look in old books, you will occasionally see words like coöperate, skiïng and naïve. As cooperate was at one point a new word... people used the diaeresis to make it clear how it was supposed to be pronounced.
With a hat tip to reader Drabkikker for the link. 

28 July 2017


Michel Jansz van Miereveld - Portrait of a woman (1625)

More about this Dutch artist, and additional examples of his work at his Wikipedia page.   I think I'll write up the ruff as a separate post someday.

From the History of Fashion tumblr, via Alabaster.


(This content was untrue.  Several readers sent me relevant links.  Thanks.)

If you received a check from the "National Cancer Research Center"...

... do some research before deciding how to proceed.

Our check (for $2.50) arrived yesterday inside a fundraising appeal, and I was immediately suspicious.  Unsolicited checks can be used as vehicles for scams in which your endorsement of the check commits you to obligations in the fine print.  That did not appear to be the case with this check.

The accompanying letter from Steven L. Blumenthal states -
"The $2.50 check is real.  You could put this letter aside, cassh the check, and forget all about our important laboratory research and national cancer education programs.  But what I really hope you will do is return the $2.50 check along with your own gift of $10.00 or more to help in our fight against cancer."
My wife immediately logged on to access the Charity Navigator website (I would encourage everyone to bookmark this worthwhile site for future reference).  The "National Cancer Research Institute" is, as indicated on their checks, a project of the Walker Cancer Research Institute, which is rated by Charity Navigator with one star (out of a possible four) for accountability and transparency, and 2/4 for finances.  They note that over 50% of the funds raised are used for additional fundraising.  So if you send them $10, about $5 of that will be used to send mailings to more people.

"Program expenses" receive 47% of the funds.  Regarding that "program," Wikipedia states:
The public education portion of the solicitation consists of an approximately 1/8 page list of "risk factors for breast cancer" on the back side of the solicitation. Overall, 52.11% + 43.14% (95.25%) of all donations go to either direct or indirect fundraising costs. The card states that 3.81% of funds go directly to research program services (38 cents out of a $10.00 donation). Thus, of the $12,568,927 raised by WCRI, $478,876.11 went directly to research. As a comparison, an NIH grant awarded to a single Investigator for a specific research study typically ranges from $25,000 to $250,000.
If you read the comments at Charity Navigator, you will see that some people say they cash the check and donate the money to "real" charities.  Or you can keep the money.  But note this - your name and address are on the check (with a scannable barcode), and...
Numerous complaints have been made by individuals who are receiving dozens of letters soliciting funds and are unable to persuade the charity to remove their names from the mailing list. The Center then sells those names to other charities, and people throughout the country have complained of being inundated by requests for money that they can not stop.
The choice is yours.  My check went into the shredder.

Reposted from 2012, because after five years this organization is still sending out these checks, and the public continues to find this old post (over 10,000 views so far...) via Google.  Perhaps it will be even easier to find if I make the date more recent.

26 July 2017

The "water cycle" explained

Those living in the Upper Midwest and certain other parts of this country will agree that this sums it up.

An awesome puffball

Calvatia sculpta, commonly known as the sculpted puffball, the sculptured puffball, the pyramid puffball, and the Sierran puffball, is a species of puffball fungus in the family Agaricaceae. Attaining dimensions of up to 8 to 15 cm (3.1 to 5.9 in) tall by 8 to 10 cm (3.1 to 3.9 in) wide, the pear- or egg-shaped puffball is readily recognizable because of the large pyramidal or polygonal warts covering its surface.

Originally described from the Sierra Nevada, C. sculpta is found in mountainous areas in western North America, and was found in a Brazilian dune in 2008. 
And it is edible:
Calvatia sculpta is edible, and said to be "choice" by some authors. The taste is described as "mild" and the flesh has no distinguishable odor. Arora recommends eating the puffball only when it is firm and white inside, as older specimens may have a distasteful iodine-like flavor. The puffball may be preserved by freezing fresh or partially cooked slices, but their flavor and texture will deteriorate unless cooked immediately after thawing. Recommended cooking techniques for puffball slices include sautéing and coating in batter before frying. C. sculpta was used as a traditional food of the Plains and Sierra Miwok Indians of North America, who called the fungus potokele or patapsi. Puffballs were prepared by drying them in the sun, grinding them with a mortar, and boiling them before eating with acorn soup.
No thanks.  Please pass the Doritos.

Ultrasonic bird repeller - not

Image cropped for size from the original at Reddit, where this comment by oilbird is relevant:
I study sensory systems (vision, hearing, etc) in birds and all birds studied so far are, with out a doubt, incapable of hearing ultrasound. In fact, the highest frequency at which they can hear is for all birds much lower than humans. Most birds don't hear almost anything above 6 KHz while humans go up to 20 KHz. Ultrasounds is defined as being above the human range, so no birds is ever going to be even remotely bothered by an ultrasound machine. Edit: Holy shit, talking about scams. This shit is almost 600 bucks. Says in their website is tuned to 20 KHz and humans can't hear it. as I said above, if humans can't hear it then it will not affect birds in any way, period.

24 July 2017

Elaborately wrapped Egyptian mummy

Image source.

Potential trouble for Europe

MADRID—The arsenal is a terrorist’s dream: 150 live hand grenades, 44 rocket propelled grenades, 1,450 9mm cartridges, 18 tear gas grenades, scores of triggers and detonators of various kinds, 102 explosive charges, and 264 blocks of plastic explosive. Such is the inventory of deadly materiel that was stolen from a military installation in Portugal on June 28 and is still missing. Then, two days after that robbery, a van loaded with nitroglycerin was robbed in Barcelona, Spain. Those explosives have not been recovered either. European authorities are worried, to say the least. These are not the unstable homemade munitions used in many recent terrorist attacks, they are military-grade. But precisely who took them, and for whom, remains a mystery...

In the June 28 incident, more than a dozen thieves stormed the military armory of Tancos, located about 100 miles from Lisbon...

The controversy in Portugal has caused a political tsunami, because the theft has brought to light the lamentable security measures of the Tancos base: The video surveillance system was damaged five years ago and had not been repaired, the motion sensors do not work, the wire fencing is vulnerable to a good pair of scissors, and the 25 watchtowers are in such bad shape soldiers don’t dare to climb them.
For fox ache.  More details at The Daily Beast.

Respiratory passages in the wings of dragonflies

From a report in Science News:
Rhainer Guillermo Ferreira was so jolted by a scanning electron microscope image showing what looked like skinny, branching tracheal tubes in a morpho wing that he called in another entomologist for a second opinion. Guillermo Ferreira, then at Kiel University in Germany, showed the image to a colleague who also was “shocked,” he remembers. A third entomologist was called in. Shock all around...

In the tough inner layers, male Z. lanei wings form nanoscale spheres sandwiched between blankets of black pigment–filled nanolayers. This setup can enhance reflections of blue light and muddle other wavelengths.
Here's a scanning EM of the wing:

 The article is here.

Dealing with North Korea

The best piece I have ever read about the North Korea situation is an article by Mark Bowden in the most recent edition of The Atlantic.
As tensions flared in recent months, fanned by bluster from both Washington and Pyongyang, I talked with a number of national-security experts and military officers who have wrestled with the problem for years, and who have held responsibility to plan and prepare for real conflict. Among those I spoke with were former officials from the White House, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon; military officers who have commanded forces in the region; and academic experts.
From these conversations, I learned that the U.S. has four broad strategic options for dealing with North Korea and its burgeoning nuclear program.

1. Prevention: A crushing U.S. military strike to eliminate Pyongyang’s arsenals of mass destruction, take out its leadership, and destroy its military. It would end North Korea’s standoff with the United States and South Korea, as well as the Kim dynasty, once and for all.

2. Turning the screws: A limited conventional military attack—or more likely a continuing series of such attacks—using aerial and naval assets, and possibly including narrowly targeted Special Forces operations. These would have to be punishing enough to significantly damage North Korea’s capability—but small enough to avoid being perceived as the beginning of a preventive strike. The goal would be to leave Kim Jong Un in power, but force him to abandon his pursuit of nuclear ICBMs.

3. Decapitation: Removing Kim and his inner circle, most likely by assassination, and replacing the leadership with a more moderate regime willing to open North Korea to the rest of the world.

4. Acceptance: The hardest pill to swallow—acquiescing to Kim’s developing the weapons he wants, while continuing efforts to contain his ambition.

Let’s consider each option. All of them are bad.
If the topic interests you and you would like to be able to discuss/debate the alternatives intelligently with friends, the article is essential background reading.  For starters, pick one of the four options above that you would tentatively favor, then read the pros and cons of that choice.

Stereotypical millennial

Via Neatorama.

22 July 2017

This is a "horse walk door"

"The horse walk door is the brown one to the left at this house at 7 Leroy Street, a Federal-style beauty built in 1831.

Behind this door is the horse walk, a narrow passageway through which a homeowner’s horse was led from the street to a separate carriage house or stable behind the main house."
Photo and text from Ephemeral New York, where it is noted that the carriage house accessible through door 7 1/2 is available for $16,000.  Per month.

Via a Neatorama post listing "Relics From The Horse-Powered City That Are Still Around."

"Bladerunner 2049" - updated

"Stunning visual environments" is an understatement.  I suggest clicking the fullscreen icon for this one.  This is a "making of" video, not a trailer.

Reposted to add the new official trailer for the movie:

Anagrammatic poetry

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
"How cold!" Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!
The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general's action wish'd "Go!"
He saw his ragged continentals row.
Ah, he stands - sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens - winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.
George can't lose war with's hands in;
He's astern - so go alight, crew, and win!
Washington Crossing the Delaware is a sonnet that was written in 1936 by David Shulman. The title and subject of the poem refer to the scene in the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. The poem is noted for being an anagrammatic poem – in this case, a 14-line rhyming sonnet in which every line is an anagram of the title.
David Shulman was a lexicographe and cryptographer.  Please note that these lines are not only anagrams, but also arranged as rhyming couplets.

Via Neatorama, where there are nine other "Ridiculous feats of literature."

Incomprehensiby callous

"Jamel Dunn, 32, drowned on July 9 in Cocoa, Fla., a coastal city east of Orlando. The teenagers, aged 14 to 16, filmed the incident as they laughed and mocked Dunn, then posted the video to social media...

“He started to struggle and scream for help and they just laughed. They didn’t call the police. They just laughed the whole time. He was just screaming … for someone to help him...

The teens were identified and questioned by detectives investigating the case, but they are unlikely to face charges. They were not directly involved in Dunn’s drowning, and good Samaritan laws — which typically involve protections for bystanders helping on the scene of an emergency — don’t apply to the case, police said."
Police said there appeared to be little regret from the teens involved during and after the incident

“There was no remorse, only a smirk.”
Video embedded at the Washington Post does not depict the drowning, but does include an audio of the teens' taunting.

Remembering Sean Spicer (2017-2017)


Via Jobsanger.

19 July 2017

For librarians (and ex-librarians)

When I was in college I earned my spending money working as a librarian (and had a room quite
literally above the library).  So I was delighted to see a review in the Washington Post discussing a new book about... card catalogs.
This book about card catalogues, written and published in cooperation with the Library of Congress, is beautifully produced, intelligently written and lavishly illustrated. It also sent me into a week-long depression. If you are a book lover of a certain age, it might do the same to you.

“The Card Catalog” is many things: a lucid overview of the history of bibliographic practices, a paean to the Library of Congress, a memento of the cherished card catalogues of yore and an illustrated collection of bookish trivia. The text provides a concise history of literary compendiums from the Pinakes of the fabled Library of Alexandria to the advent of computerized book inventory databases, which began to appear as early as 1976. The illustrations are amazing: luscious reproductions of dozens of cards, lists, covers, title pages and other images guaranteed to bring a wistful gleam to the book nerd’s eye.

For someone who grew up in and around libraries, it is also a poignant reminder of a vanished world.

Now, waxing nostalgic about card catalogues or being an advocate for the importance of libraries is a mug’s game. You can practically feel people glancing up from their iPhones to smile tolerantly at your eccentricity. My response to this, after an initial burst of profanity, is to explain (again) why libraries are essential to narrowing the inequality gap, and why the Internet is not an adequate substitute for books or libraries.

“The Card Catalog” is a heady antidote to the technophilia threatening our culture. The book is especially illuminating on the powerful, if overlooked, properties of the humble catalogue card, some 79 million of which were printed annually at the system’s peak in 1969. Each one is a perfect melding of design and utility, a marvel of informational compression and precision.
After college, while I was in graduate school, I started my own "card catalogue," visiting a university library weekly to transcribe references in professional journals onto literally tens of thousands of 3"x5" lined cards, which I filed in cabinets in my office - a handy source for information in the preparation of lectures.  Then the internet arrived...

I'll close this post with a quote from Annie Proulx:
I mourn the loss of the old card catalogs, not because I’m a Luddite, but because the oaken trays of yesteryear offered the researcher an element of random utility and felicitous surprise through encounters with adjacent cards, information by chance that is different in kind from the computer’s ramified but rigid order.
I've requested this new book from our local library (only 4 people ahead of me on the wait list).

Photo (of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library card catalog) via Librarianista.

If you dig a hole through the earth...

...you'll end up in China. I remember hearing that as a child. Ignoring for a moment the problem of the magma and the gravitational conundrums one would encounter at the center, it's still untrue. I remember fiddling with a globe and discovering that I would end up somewhere in the middle of the south Indian Ocean.

As an adult I revisited this question and discovered that for most of the people on earth, the antipodes were in an ocean. It's a curious aspect of world geography - most of the large land masses are in the northern hemisphere, with more oceans in the south. And much of the land masses in the south are opposite northern oceans - Africa corresponds to the northern Pacific, and the Aussies would be in the middle of the Atlantic. It must be pure coincidence, though a nagging thought makes one wonder whether there could be a plate tectonic explanation for this.

Now you can explore this on your own. There's a website called Antipodes Map - draggable and zoomable in true Google Map fashion. Click on your location and it shows you what is on the opposite side of the earth.

The Wikipedia entry on the antipodes provides (as expected) an excellent discussion and some relevant composite maps.

Reposted from 2008 (!) to update the links and add this composite map, via Digg.

Surfing from a floating dock

I've seen docks like these lakeside, but hadn't conceived of them as an accessory for ocean sports.  Wow.

Comparing presidential administrations

I ultimately relied on Wikipedia’s list of federal political scandals in the U.S., but limited it to only the executive branch scandals that actually resulted in a criminal indictment. I also decided to only go back as far as Richard Nixon, whose participation in Watergate ultimately resulted in him being the only sitting president to ever resign. This lets many other scandal-ridden administrations off the hook—notably that of Warren Harding and the Teapot Dome scandal, and of Ulysses S. Grant and the Whiskey Ring and Black Friday scandals—but so be it.

The chart only includes people who served in the administration, and excludes others (like members of Congress and private individuals) who may have also been swept up and indicted for the same scandal. The “Convictions” list includes both those who went to trial and were found guilty as well as those who plea bargained and pleaded guilty. The “Prison Sentences” should be considered a minimum figure, as Wikipedia's list wasn’t always clear on penalties and I wasn’t able to look all of the unclear ones up. 
Full details at The Daily Kos (where you can leave your comments).

"Personal flamethrowers" marketed to the general public

A flame-thrower that can hurl a stream of fire half a metre long is being marketed in China to help women fend off unwanted advances.

The device is being billed on shopping websites as a must-have "anti-pervert weapon" that can be discreetly carried in a ladies’ handbag.

Some are shaped like a cigarette lighter and emit small flames, while others hurl fire for 50cm with temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees Celsius (3,300 Fahrenheit).
Further details at The Telegraph.  I should start a "WCGW" category on TYWKIWDBI (as examples for this device, see the comment thread at Boing Boing).

Cyclists' legs

This "You're so vein" photo is one of eight in an album at The Telegraph (trigger warning for gruesome injuries).

Jazz dance competition

Don't have 8 minutes to spare for a video?  Try this gif featuring Ksenia Parkhatskaya, then decide how to apportion your time.

I could dance like this.  I think I must just have the wrong kind of shoes...

16 July 2017

Divertimento #131

The fourth "gifdump."  Lets start with a funny one:

LoCH NeSs MoNSter drOWNS iNNocENt WoMan

Just a little girl watching TV.  With her 12-foot pet snake.

You do the interview while I get out of this lifejacket.

You can lead a horse to water, but...

Husband wakes wife from nap, instantly regrets it.

Bread slicer.

Flying fish successfully evades underwater predator.

Did she treat him to lunch?  Or not...?

Impressive domino spiral.

Desert camouflage (Eritrea).

How patellas ("kneecaps") work.

Dog startles puppies, instantly regrets it.

Basketball dunk, through the legs - twice.

Alleged to be the world's largest single firework.  And a synchronized firework.

Labeled "feeding time," but may have some other explanation.

Using a drone to replace a lightbulb - a technique recommended by lightbulb manufacturers.

Home-made falafel. (from the GIF recipe subreddit, btw)

Secret drawer.

Handfeeding a nautilus.

Good thing this bicyclist didn't back up.

Impressive scarecrow.

Monitor lizard attacks a "snake."

Remoras on a whale shark.

Milling a sprocket.

Portugal national team heading a soccer ball.

Snake easily climbs a smooth-barked tree.

Extreme scooter sport.  Why am I not surprised to see a spectator in a wheelchair?

Heckler of street performer gets what he deserves.

Bicycle accident.  And preparing for the beach cyclocross.  And awesome balance on a bicycle.

How not to cope with burning alcohol. x3.

Riding a motorbike on a railroad track.  (note there is now a WCGW subreddit)

Do Not STRADDLE the pullback-rope of a rope swing.

Unusual soccer trick.

Just too weird to explain.

Lighting methane on a frozen lake.

How a long dog gets off a narrow ledge.

Base jumping at Kjerag Cliff (Norway).

The start of a homing pigeon race.

HMB while I jump over this massive rolling hay bale.

Reversible sequins.

Surprise present.  Have a hankie or tissue ready...

The embedded images today come from A Selection of the Getty's Open Content Program, in The Public Domain Review.  Details and provenance of the images at the link.

14 July 2017

Sample case for a neon salesman (1935)

Found at the Pics subreddit, where there is some informed commentary, but the best comment was this one:
"Marsellus Wallace was a neon salesman?"

How to store tomatoes

A better way to boil eggs

Poison for the arrows of bushmen

Beetles of the genus Diamphidia lay their eggs on the stems of shrubs from the Commiphora genus – commonly known as frankincense and myrrh. The doting mothers then coat their precious eggs with their own feces (that’s faeces for my UK friends), which harden into a protective armor. As the eggs develop through the instar and grub phases, the larvae will shed their poo protection and burrow up to (down to?) three feet, where they make a cocoon from sand and take a needed break. They may lay dormant for several years before molting into pupae, and continue their life cycle. This long dormancy period means that the Bushmen can find the cocoons and larvae year-round and have a ready supply of poison, especially important since mature beetles are not poisonous.

The Bushmen, also known as the San people, dig beside Commiphora host plants, such as Commiphora angolensis, in search of Diamphidia nigroornata, or Commiphora africana for Diamphidia vittatipennis. Once collected, the Bushmen will squeeze the fluid from the larvae and pupae, otherwise known as hemolymph, onto the shaft of their arrows, but not the tip, to avoid “accidents.” Up to ten larvae could be applied to one arrow, which is then dried over hot coals to bond the poison, which maintains its lethal potential for up to a year.
More info at Nature's Poisons, a quite interesting website.  The toxicity was originally assumed to be neurotoxicity and some cardiotoxicity, but recent studies suggest hemolysis as a primary mechanism.

Trail mix

"In Germany, Poland, Hungary and several other European countries, trail mix is called "student food" or "student snack" in the local languages. In New Zealand, trail mix is known as "scroggin" or "schmogle". The term is also used in some places in Australia but usage has only been traced back to the 1970s. Some claim that the name stands for sultanas, carob, raisins, orange peel, grains, glucose, imagination, and nuts or alternatively sultanas, chocolate, raisins and other goody-goodies including nuts; but this may be a false etymology.

The word gorp, a term for trail mix often used by hikers, is typically said to be an acronym for "good old raisins and peanuts" or its common ingredients "granola, oats, raisins, peanuts." The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1913 reference to the verb gorp, meaning "to eat greedily.""

13 July 2017

Hexagon geometry puzzle

This one you can do in your head.  That's what I did.  Got it wrong, but I was really, really, close...

For the answer, go to Brilliant or to Data Genetics.

A new theory about fluorescent coral

It has been known for some time that some shallow-water corals use fluorescence as a protective mechanism:
...the pink and purple fluorescence in shallow waters act as a kind of sunscreen. The fluorescent pigments absorb damaging wavelengths of light and emit it as pink or purple light, protecting the single-celled organisms called zooxanthellae that live symbiotically inside coral. Zooxanthellae are photosynthetic and they provide the coral with food in exchange for shelter.
But now the phenomenon has been observed in coral at low-light depths:
Coral may be converting blue light into orange-red light that penetrates deeper into the coral tissue, where photosynthetic zooxanthellae live. Fluorescence, by definition, is the absorption of light in one color and the emission in another... Blue light may be good at penetrating water and for photosynthesis, but it doesn’t penetrate the coral’s tissues well. And zooxanthellae can live deep inside coral...

Mikhail Matz, a coral scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, says he’s not yet convinced this completely explains the function of the fluorescent pigment in deep water corals. As humans with eyes, we tend focus on the light coming from these coral. But maybe the glow isn’t the point. “The fluorescence may not be the important aspect. It could be a side effect,” he says. It could be that fluorescent proteins are actually there just to absorb light as the part of some metabolism, and the glow that we see is incidental to its true purpose.
Further discussion at The Atlantic.   The paper is at Proc Roy Soc B.

"Punctuation police"

What's worse than a "grammar Nazi?"  Perhaps a "punctuation policeman."
Teachers have attacked the "punctuation police" who have marked down children's SATs for incorrectly drawn commas and semi-colons. Frustrated staff complained about the new mark scheme on social media after children were penalised for drawing punctuation points at the wrong level or failing to draw apostrophes with sufficient curve. Teachers said that their pupils had been marked down for semi-colons which were too high on the line...
Some comments at the Telegraph article suggest that the problem lies with the teachers failing to instruct the students in the proper manner of denoting punctuation marks.

A question for a philatelist

The stamp is Norway's Scott, Facit, and NK #1.  The margins leave something to be desired (i.e. width), but on the positive side the stamp is graced with a well-centered three-ring numeral cancel.

But... is the cancel "66" from Fikke, or "99" from Hamar?

My 2004 Norgeskatalogen accords a "66" cancel on a #1 a rarity factor of "RR"(+1,500 NOK), while the "99" receives a rarity factor of "b" (+100 NOK).

Is there anything about the typography of the numbers that allows a 66 to be distinguished from a 99 when the stamp is off-cover?

I'd appreciate any insight on this matter.

Puddling - updated

These are Purple Emperor and Lesser Emperor butterflies (Apatura genus) getting nutrients from the body of a dead frog.  Butterflies that "puddle" at muddy spots or on scat or on carrion (as shown here) are seeking sodium, which is rarely found in plants (potassium is the principal cation in vegetation).

Photo source, via Uncertain Times.

Reposted from 2011 to add this relevant photo of Eyed Browns by Douglas Buege, via Wisconsin Butterflies' Recent Sightings webpage:

10 July 2017

When you ask the internet for assistance...

The couple in the photo above asked the internet to photoshop the image to remove the shirtless fellow in the background.  Here are some of the results:

There are about 400 more offerings in the link at Bored Panda.

A card trick anyone can do

Mathematical card tricks are the best ones to learn, because no sleight-of-hand is required.  A hat tip to Mark Frauenfelder for creating this video to illustrate the methodology of a clever trick posted at Greg Ross' Futility Closet.

Readers who are math enthusiasts may be able to explain to the rest of us how/why this trick works.  I'm satisfied to accept it as magic.

Reposted from 2013 so I can relearn this trick before our upcoming family reunion.

The sad decline of "open-pollinated" crops

I spotted the above sign recently at the University of Wisconsin Allen Centennial Gardens, a free educational facility that teaches students and the public about gardening and landscaping.

I'm don't know the context/import of the "kissing" reference (answer in the Comments), but the "open pollinated" comment caught my eye:
"The last open pollinated corn was released in 1902 - 115 years ago!
Here's a concise explanation from Green Haven:
“Open Pollinated” is a horticultural term meaning that the plant will produce seeds naturally. When these seeds are planted they will reliably reproduce the same plant as the parent. On the other hand, hybrid corn is the result of controlled pollination of inbred plants. These seeds are often sterile, and if they do germinate, will not reliably produce the same plant as the parent. This means the farmer has a perpetual reliance on the seed companies.

This dependence on a few seed/chemical giants is becoming more and more uncomfortable for American consumers and farmers. Green Haven Open Pollinated Seed Group is changing that. We are a nationwide organization of seed producers based in western NY that are pooling out efforts to offer the most beneficial varieties of quality open pollinated Seed. By selection, Green Haven focuses on improving open pollinated corn for silage, grain, and wildlife plots.

A turtle with a "Corvette body"

"Several years ago, a client brought me a box turtle that had been hit by a car. I used fiberglass to repair his broken shell and then released him in my woods. Recently, while walking on my hillside, I spotted an odd pattern in the leaves. To my amazement, there was my old patient with the fiberglass still on... years later! Sometimes, being a vet is the best thing there is."
From the Facebook page of the Hocking Hills Animal Center, via Bored Panda.

Addendum: There is relevant information re repairing turtle shells in this discussion thread.

"Dream On" (Aerosmith, 1973)

Sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, if it's just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away...
In a 2011 interview, Steven Tyler reminisced about his father, a Juilliard-trained musician, and recalled "lying beneath his dad's piano as a three-year-old, listening to him play classical music. That's where I got that Dream On chordage," he said.
Reposted from 2011 because the originally embedded video had undergone linkrot.  So I'll use this opportunity to embed the original musci video and append some additional info.

Dream On has been classified as a "power ballad." q.v.:
A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads derive from the medieval French chanson balladée or ballade, which were originally "danced songs''... Sentimental ballads, also known as pop ballads, rock ballads or power ballads, are an emotional style of music that often deal with romantic and intimate relationships, and to a lesser extent, war (protest songs), loneliness, death, drug abuse, politics and religion, usually in a poignant but solemn manner... Aaron argues that the power ballad broke into the mainstream of American consciousness in 1976 as FM radio gave a new lease of life to earlier songs such as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" (1971), Aerosmith's "Dream On" (1973), and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" (1974).
For those who like me have wondered how Steven Tyler's voice held up over the years, here's his performance over 40 years later of a slightly-more concise version:

Pretty damn good.  And so TIL there is a Nobel Peace Prize Concert.

Elevator buttons

There may be a perfectly valid logical reason for the ordering of these elevator buttons; several suggestions are offered in the CrappyDesign subreddit.

Image cropped for size from the original.

"Death and the Civil War"

To paraphrase Will Rogers, I haven't seen an American Experience episode I didn't like.  I have to admit I had low expectations for this one, thinking it would be rehash of the horrors of wartime medicine and the conditions in Andersonville etc., but instead it's a broader view of how a society copes (or doesn't cope) with massive numbers of largely unexpected casualties.

Before the war began neither the Union or the Confederacy had in place any mechanism for dealing with death and injury on the battlefield.  No ambulances, no burial crews (and no designated cemeteries), no dogtags for ID, and not even a perceived responsibility to notify next-of-kin of a death.  Bodies were left unburied and unidentified.  IIRC, fully half of the casualties in the war who were eventually buried were labeled "Unknown."

This is a brief trailer for the 2012 program.  The PBS link for the full-length program shows it to be "unavailable in my area" (I got the DVD from the library).  At 2 hours run-time, it's a bit overlong (I did some fast-forwarding), but overall it was well worth viewing.  
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