31 August 2017


Via the OddlySatisfying subreddit.

Poignant photo from the "Harvey" disaster - updated

All the residents of this flooded assisted living facility were rescued, but the photo emphasizes to me how many people lost their family photo albums and irreplaceable memorabilia in this catastrophe.

Perhaps this will serve as a reminder to readers to make digital copies of such items and distribute them to other family members.

Image cropped for size from the original.

Addendum: Followup photo the next day at a new location.  The cat was also rescued.

28 August 2017

"Optical sorting" of food

You learn something every day.  I knew that conveyor belts could sort food by size and remove debris using sifting screens, but I didn't know they used optics to sort by color and shape.  Then they can remove unwanteds using little puffs of air.  Amazing.

A quick search yields many other examples.  I saw one machine that sorted brown and white grains of rice.  This one separates white beans from black beans.

I have no doubt my first job (monitoring a line of cans at a Green Giant corn-processing factory for dented ones and throwing them out) is now automated.  Don't know if a machine does my other task of greasing the cooker machines...

Some reasons for the recent naval accidents

Naval ships, designed to avoid detection by enemy fleets and aircraft, are exempt from an international requirement that vessels automatically and continuously broadcast their position, course and speed. They tend to have fewer lights than many commercial vessels, making them harder to pick out. They are painted gray to blend into the sea during wartime but become even more difficult to spot at night. And a growing number of modern naval vessels, including the John S. McCain, are designed to scatter incoming radar signals, so that they are less detectable.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore told The Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper, that the government’s vessel traffic information system did not know the John S. McCain was there until the tanker, the Alnic MC, carrying 12,000 metric tons of fuel oil, delivered a crushing blow to the warship’s left side. Two sailors from the ship, a guided-missile destroyer, are dead, and eight more are listed as missing, as divers have begun discovering human remains inside the vessel’s mangled decks.

The Singaporean agency told The Straits Times that it had not detected the destroyer on radar and that its traffic information system had not picked up data on the ship. In addition to radar, traffic information systems rely on data from the so-called Automatic Identification Systems that all but the smallest commercial vessels are required to use to broadcast information about their whereabouts.

Military vessels typically carry the systems but often turn them off because the captains do not want to reveal so much information.
More information at the New York Times.

Honey display at the Minnesota State Fair

Via the OddlySatisfying subreddit, where the thread includes reminders that beekeepers and vendors at farmers' markets may offer sealed "soda straws" with samples of their honey, since not all honey tastes the same.

See also: Is the honey you are eating "ultrafiltered" ? Is it even honey ??? and this followup.

Socialism vs. capitalism

Via the Latestagecapitalism subreddit.  (yes, I know there's an "of" missing in the text)

25 August 2017

A modern stonecarver

A fascinating presentation by a very well-spoken young woman.  Give it a try for a couple minutes; I think you'll finish it.

Why you can't take mercury on an airplane

That may be the reason, but if aluminum generates protective oxides that quickly and effectively, the risk of significant effects after an airplane hull contacts mercury must be minimal.

But... the visuals here are impressive.  And if you're in a hurry, you can skip to the 6-minute mark to see the second one.

Telling it like it is

From the archives of The New Yorker.

"Fake news" about coal

Here's how a Wall Street Journal article reported the current status of coal:
"...coal is showing signs of a revival and breathing economic life into West Virginia and other coal states. […] Yet the Trump Presidency seems to have lifted animal spirits and coal. Weekly coal production has increased by 14.5% nationwide over last year..."
Here's a resounding rebuttal in the Daily Kos:
In their attempt to support Trump, the Wall Street Journal is distorting the truth about coal and cruelly raising the hopes of people who have bought into a false promise. They’re performing a disservice to their readers and to their nation. That big increase in production they’re talking about? It’s generated by comparing the current weekly production with the same week last year...

[see the chart above]

That single orange bar, the bar that’s actually lower than the quarter before, and the quarter before that? That’s Trump’s “comeback.” 

Yes, the first quarter of 2017 is higher than the first quarter of 2016, but that’s because the first quarter of 2016 represented a record low. The quarter reflected a mild winter in much of the country, a dip in gas prices, large stockpiles on the ground at many power plants, and market disruption following the bankruptcy of the two largest coal companies in the nation.
Much more at the link.

Babylonian trigonometry

At least two articles this week about new insights in the history of mathematics, derived from a cuneiform tablet:
At least 1,000 years before the Greek mathematician Pythagoras looked at a right angled triangle and worked out that the square of the longest side is always equal to the sum of the squares of the other two, an unknown Babylonian genius took a clay tablet and a reed pen and marked out not just the same theorem, but a series of trigonometry tables which scientists claim are more accurate than any available today.

The 3,700-year-old broken clay tablet survives in the collections of Columbia University, and scientists now believe they have cracked its secrets.

The team from the University of New South Wales in Sydney believe that the four columns and 15 rows of cuneiform – wedge shaped indentations made in the wet clay – represent the world’s oldest and most accurate working trigonometric table, a working tool which could have been used in surveying, and in calculating how to construct temples, palaces and pyramids...

As far back as 1945 the Austrian mathematician Otto Neugebauer and his associate Abraham Sachs were the first to note that Plimpton 322 has 15 pairs of numbers forming parts of Pythagorean triples: three whole numbers a, b and c such that a squared plus b squared equal c squared. The integers 3, 4 and 5 are a well-known example of a Pythagorean triple, but the values on Plimpton 322 are often considerably larger with, for example, the first row referencing the triple 119, 120 and 169.
Of added importance is that the Babylonians used a base 60, which gave greater mathematical precision for fractions than our current base 10.

Explanatory video at The Guardian.  See also National Geographic.

In praise of Hmong farmers

Half of my cultural heritage comes from Norwegian farmers, so I suppose I have an inherent interest in, and bias in favor of, farmers.  I'm living in a state the southern half of which is extensively farmed, but that modern farming is of a kind that would puzzle and dismay my grandparents.

If you drive through rural Wisconsin and then into adjacent Minnesota, Iowa, or Illinois what you see are vast acreages devoted to a monoculture of corn - the overwhelming proportion of which is likely produced for ethanol.  Alternating with the cornfields are soybean fields, so what you see is corn, corn, soybeans, corn, soybeans, corn, corn, soybeans..... (see my post in 2010, "Musing about corn.")

By way of contrast there's the scene in the image embedded above.  I took this photo partway between my home and the local Target store.  In the far distance are uniform green fields of corn interrupted only by treelines on the property edges.  Up close you see a field of corn, planted in rows wide apart (in a conventional "factory" cornfield  you can't walk between rows without getting slashed by leaves from both sides).  And the space between the rows of corn is filled with some type of squash or melon.

This technique is essentially similar to the interplanting used by Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans - corn (maize) planted singly in small hills (fertilized with dead fish), with beans or melons between so that the vines could climb the cornstalks.  Legumes sharing the field replace nitrogen that the corn depletes from the soil.   It is a farming technique that had been used probably for millennia.

Next to the corn/squash field is another small one filled with herbs, veggies - and homemade scarecrows.  Ten years ago when I drove this road the field was all corn.  Since then the farmer who owns it appears to have sublet a portion of his property to a group of Asian (probably Hmong) farmers.  It is a large community participating in this venture - I see multiple cars out there on weekday mornings with older ladies and men wielding hoes.

Another feature you won't find in corporate farmfields are chairs.  They are not just for resting, but for working.  The tiny child's chair is there to allow an adult to sit close to the ground in order to weed and to hand-pick pests from the crop.  They may make some use of pesticides, but I like seeing someone shuffling a chair along a row with a glass jar next to them into which Japanese beetles and caterpillars are placed).

These crops will feed many families, and the surplus will be offered at one of the many farmers' markets scattered throughout the city and the suburbs.  Excellent, clean food, pest-free and largely chemical-free, with the fruits polished so they look like a state fair display.

And... I'll bet the farmer who is subletting this portion of his field is coming out ahead financially as well, with the rent for this project probably several multiples above what he would have gotten from 40 acres of factory corn.

Rube Goldberg would be impressed

Some very clever components in this setup. 

It's also instructive in the sense that it will quickly teach you where the "mute" icon is on the video (or the "mute" key on your keyboard).

Maybe it should be called "tempafrost"

Excerpts from an article at the New York Times:
Starting just a few feet below the surface and extending tens or even hundreds of feet down, it contains vast amounts of carbon in organic matter — plants that took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere centuries ago, died and froze before they could decompose. Worldwide, permafrost is thought to contain about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere...

In Alaska, nowhere is permafrost more vulnerable than here, 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle, in a vast, largely treeless landscape formed from sediment brought down by two of the state’s biggest rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim. Temperatures three feet down into the frozen ground are less than half a degree below freezing. This area could lose much of its permafrost by midcentury...

“There’s a massive amount of carbon that’s in the ground, that’s built up slowly over thousands and thousands of years,” he said.

“It’s been in a freezer, and that freezer is now turning into a refrigerator.”
More at the link.

22 August 2017

White nationalists with ancestral surprises

It was a strange moment of triumph against racism: The gun-slinging white supremacist Craig Cobb, dressed up for daytime TV in a dark suit and red tie, hearing that his DNA testing revealed his ancestry to be only “86 percent European, and … 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.” The studio audience whooped and laughed and cheered. And Cobb — who was, in 2013, charged with terrorizing people while trying to create an all-white enclave in North Dakota — reacted like a sore loser in the schoolyard.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on, just wait a minute,” he said, trying to put on an all-knowing smile. “This is called statistical noise.”

Then, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he took to the white nationalist website Stormfront to dispute those results. That’s not uncommon: With the rise of spit-in-a-cup genetic testing, there’s a trend of white nationalists using these services to prove their racial identity, and then using online forums to discuss the results.

But like Cobb, many are disappointed to find out that their ancestry is not as “white” as they’d hoped... About a third of the people posting their results were pleased with what they found. “Pretty damn pure blood,” said a user with the username Sloth. But the majority didn’t find themselves in that situation. Instead, the community often helped them reject the test, or argue with its results...

For the study authors, what was most interesting was to watch this online community negotiating its own boundaries, rethinking who counts as “white.” That involved plenty of contradictions. They saw people excluded for their genetic test results, often in very nasty (and unquotable) ways, but that tended to happen for newer members of the anonymous online community, Panofsky said, and not so much for longtime, trusted members. Others were told that they could remain part of white nationalist groups, in spite of the ancestry they revealed, as long as they didn’t “mate,” or only had children with certain ethnic groups. Still others used these test results to put forth a twisted notion of diversity, one “that allows them to say, ‘No, we’re really diverse and we don’t need non-white people to have a diverse society,'” said Panofsky.
More at the link.

Gus and Ethel

From the archives of The New Yorker.

Philippine prisoners sleeping in a stairwell

Res ipsa loquitur.

Photo credit Noel Celis/AFP, via The Washington Post.

Episiotomies and "husband stitches"

The "husband stitch" is a legendary extra suture placed post-partum:
In the dark corners of the mommy blogosphere, the “husband stitch” has become a sort of maternity ward Slender Man. The much-feared extra suture, supposedly used to tighten the vagina after childbirth, has long been the rumored result of handshake deals done between husbands and doctors–presumably behind the backs of sedated new mothers...
Known as the “daddy stitch” or “husband’s knot,” the “husband stitch” was given its stickiest name by Sheila Kitzinger in her 1994 book The Year After Childbirth: Surviving and Enjoying the First Year of Motherhood. What was she describing? A procedure to “preserve the size and shape of the vagina, either to enhance a man’s pleasure in intercourse, or to increase the frequency of female orgasm.”..

A 2005 systematic review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that episiotomies did not help with incontinence or pelvic floor relaxation, and women had more painful sex as a result of the procedure. Finally, a 2012 randomized control trial of more than 5,541 women, showed that those who did not have episiotomies experienced fewer cases of perineal trauma, needed less suturing, and had a lower incidence of complications overall.

While episiotomies can be necessary and life-saving in rare instances, the research was clear—as a routine procedure, it made no sense to cut the perineum prophylactically...

Medically speaking, an extra stitch just doesn’t make any sense. The vaginal opening, or the introitus, has little impact on a woman’s (or man’s sexual) experience. Sexual pleasure depends more on the pelvic floor muscles—something that can be addressed through other interventions including surgery, but not a simple stitch...

In the end, the husband stitch is neither a myth, a joke, nor a procedure—but a strange three-headed monster involving all three.
Further details and discussion at Fatherly.

20 August 2017

18 August 2017

Late summer

After putting together a mega-post on Donald Trump, I needed a mental health break.  A walk on our front sidewalk did the trick.  Purple coneflowers are magnets for butterflies and bees.  The brown-eyed susans (Rudbeckia) provide a pleasantly contrasting background.

Trump clump #1

Earlier this summer I received a series of comments and emails from readers asking that I stop writing anti-Trump posts.  Surprisingly, those comments came not from pro-Trump supporters, but from progressives and non-residents who indicated they were getting enough Trump news from other sources and were seeking a little "fresh air" at TYWKIWDBI.  (the sentiment reflected in this comic):

FWIW, here are the political metrics for readers of TYWKIWDBI, as monitored by Quantcast:

(I'm not sure how Quantcast determines these affiliations; I suspect part of the large proportion of "independents" comes from readers in other countries.)

I've been holding back on writing posts about Trump, but I've continued to bookmark the material, and some of it is definitely worth sharing, especially for those readers who don't range as widely on the internet.  I've decided the best compromise is to cluster all the Trump material in a series of "Trump clumps" - basically one-topic linkdumps.  That makes the material available for those interested in it, while allowing the pro-Trump readers, the news-weary, the callous, and disinterested foreigners to zoom past all of it with a quick flick on the mouse.  Here we go...

There is now a Donald Trump "presidential commemorative coin" (image embedded at top).  It's not issued by the U.S. Mint.  It's gold-plated, with an "authentic look, weight, and feel" in a "plastic collector case."

Greenpeace devised a clever way to put graffiti on the U.S. embassy in Berlin without touching the building.

International tourism to the United States has been falling ever since the election of Donald Trump.

J.K. Rowling tweeted"Very much enjoying the German press at the moment. "Earth to Trump..." (explanatory image at the link).

Crawler on CNN: "President's spokesman says he can't speak for the President."

Canadian supporters of Donald Trump tried to organize a "Million Deplorables March."  Right-wing media claimed thousands attended.  The local police said the number was in the hundreds.  Photos show more participants in a morning yoga class held at the same location.

Donald Trump's ancestors changed their surname from "Drumpf" to "Trump."

Video of that iconic incident when Trump's cabinet members were  invited to praise him.

"While President Trump berates Qatar for sponsoring terrorism at the highest levels, he is simultaneously authorizing the country to purchase over $21 billion of U.S. weapons."

Michael Gerson, top aide to President Bush, describes Donald Trump.

There seem to be an endless number of tweets of "Trump criticizing Trump."  Also this one.

"The Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, are tracking more than 500 key executive branch nominations through the confirmation process. These positions include Cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions."  As of August 17, 364 of those positions don't even have nominees yet.

"President Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida has asked permission to hire 70 foreign workers this fall, attesting — in the middle of the White House's “Made in America Week” — that it cannot find qualified Americans to serve as cooks, waiters and housekeepers."

Scaramucci is already gone.  One of his tweets was interesting.  Also his mimicry of the president.

Ivanka Trump tweeted a quote "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts," attributing the quote to Albert Einstein.  Here's the perfect rejoinder.

A thoughtful essay by George Will posits that "Trump is something the nation did not know it needed: a feeble president whose manner can cure the nation’s excessive fixation with the presidency. Executive power expanded, with only occasional pauses (thank you, Presidents Taft and Coolidge, of blessed memory), throughout the 20th century and has surged in the 21st... Fortunately, today’s president is so innocent of information that Congress cannot continue deferring to executive policymaking... Furthermore, today’s president is doing invaluable damage to Americans’ infantilizing assumption that the presidency magically envelops its occupant with a nimbus of seriousness..."

"Cohen, who is also a top Democratic ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, announced on Thursday that he would be filing Articles of Impeachment against Trump."

"Ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, who spent over a year with Trump and was the co-author of the memoir, Art of the Deal, has predicted that Trump will resign, maybe as early as by the end of summer."

Tina Fey demonstrates "sheetcaking" as a response to the events in Charlottesville.  She suggests that all sane people deal with the upcoming white power rallies by not showing up because the counterprotest gives them a sense of legitimacy.

This is the "anti-45" symbol (Trump being the 45th president):

"Mitchell explained that he realized the number, when presented in a block-type font, looks eerily similar to a swastika. So, the artist moved the numbers closer together and tilted them by 45 degrees [and overlaid the numbers with the international symbol for "no"], creating a symbol that would be shared thousands of times on social media following the Charlottesville riots."
I'll close with some excerpts from an op-ed piece in The Guardian:
Like some kind of Shakespearean villain-clown, Trump plays not to the gallery but to the pit. He is a Falstaff without the humour or the self-awareness, a cowardly, bullying Richard III without a clue. Late-night US satirists find in this an unending source of high comedy. If they did not laugh, they would cry. The world is witnessing the dramatic unfolding of a tragedy whose main victims are a seemingly helpless American audience, America’s system of balanced governance and its global reputation as a leading democratic light.

As his partisan, demeaning and self-admiring speech to the Boy Scouts of America illustrated, Trump endlessly reruns last year’s presidential election campaign, rails against the “fake news” media and appeals to the lowest common denominator in public debate. Not a word about duty, service, shared purpose or high ideals was to be found in his gutter-level discourse before a youthful gathering of 30,000 in West Virginia. Instead, he served up a sad cocktail of paranoia and narcissism. It was all about him and what he has supposedly achieved against the odds.

Which, for the record, is almost precisely nothing. After more than six months in office, and despite full Republican control of Congress, Trump cannot point to a single substantial legislative achievement. The bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which finally went down in flames in the Senate last week, was the most spectacular and telling of Trump’s failures. His executive orders, such as the racist ban on Muslim travellers and last week’s bigoted attack on transgender people in the military, have mostly run foul of the courts or been pre-emptively ignored by those charged with implementing them...

The common factor in all these situations is Trump’s self-induced powerlessness and ignorance, his chronic lack of credibility and presidential authority and consequent perceptions of US and western weakness. And in the case of all three actual or potential adversaries – North Korea, Iran and Russia – these perceptions are highly dangerous. Precisely because US responses, actions and reactions can no longer be relied upon or predicted, by friends and enemies alike, the potential for calamitous miscalculation is growing. This uncertainty, like the chaos in the White House and the extraordinary disarray of the American body politic, stems from Trump’s glaring unfitness for the highest office. As is now becoming ever plainer, this threatens us all.
More at the link.

17 August 2017

Gravity waves + airglow

An Astronomy Photo of the Day from NASA.  The source link has details on how the colors form.

Did a "false flag" draw the U.S. into WWII ?

A "false flag" is one type of "black ops":
The contemporary term false flag describes covert operations that are designed to deceive in such a way that activities appear as though they are being carried out by entities, groups, or nations other than those who actually planned and executed them.
A recent article at the Daily Beast asks whether a terror attack at the World's Fair in 1940 was designed to get the United States involved in WWII.
On June 4, 1940, Nazi Germany shoved the last British troop off the Continent at Dunkirk. Adolf Hitler moved his forces into position for a final cross-Channel invasion and occupation of England. That same month the new British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, dispatched a shadowy figure, Sir William Stephenson—later most famous as the original of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Agent 007—to set up a spy shop for Britain’s MI6 in Midtown Manhattan. A hero of World War One and self-made multi-millionaire, Stephenson was on neutral ground in America, but he and Churchill shared the conviction that nothing was more important to their nation’s chances for survival than winning American support for the war against Hitler. Then, on July 4, 1940, with throngs of holiday visitors at the New York World’s Fair, a time bomb planted in the British Pavilion exploded, instantly killing two New York City policemen and badly mauling five others. Was Stephenson behind the blast in an attempt to frame Nazis and their American sympathizers? Were these officers sacrificed to win American sympathy and draw a reluctant United States into the Second World War?
The article is inconclusive and presents no new evidence.  Posted because we are again in an era where everyone needs to be aware of the possibility of false flags with regard to both international and domestic terrorism.

"Eat! Eat! Eat! & Always Stay Thin"

Photographed during a visit to The House On The Rock.

There is one report of intentional tapeworm ingestion occurring in modern times:
The woman went to her doctor and admitted she’d bought a tapeworm off the Internet and swallowed it, says Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health...

Quinlisk says that the capsules sold in the past by snake oil hucksters, and online today, likely contain the microscopic head of a Taenia saginata.

“When people would order from snake oil medicine kinds of people a weight loss pill, it would be the head of a Taenia saginata … and it would develop into a 30-foot-long tapeworm in your body,” Quinlisk says. “The worm would get into your gut – it’s got little hooks on the head – and it would grab onto your intestine and start growing.”

And, technically, this parasitic infection, called taeniasis, does cause weight loss. 
More at the link.   Sadly, I need to block comments on this post because it will be a magnet for spam.

Also: CDC webpage on cysticercosis.

"Crowdcasting" explained

Pretend for a moment that you’re walking through your neighborhood and notice a line of people wrapped around the block outside a newly opened restaurant. Local food bloggers haven’t written about the venue, so you assume the trendy-looking crowd must be the result of contagious, word-of-mouth buzz.

There was a time when that may have been undoubtedly true — when you could trust that a crowd of people was, in fact, a naturally occurring mass of individuals.

But that time may be passing thanks to Surkus, an emerging app that allowed the restaurant to quickly manufacture its ideal crowd and pay the people to stand in place like extras on a movie set. They’ve even been hand-picked by a casting agent of sorts, an algorithmic one that selects each person according to age, location, style and Facebook “likes.”..
Welcome to the new world of “crowdcasting.” ...
The company’s tagline: “Go out. Have fun. Get paid.”

George said the company has amassed 150,000 members in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco. Anyone can download the app. The members are of all ages and backgrounds, George said, noting that people are drawn by the chance to be social and get paid.

After quietly launching two years ago, Surkus members have attended 4,200 events for 750 clients, including big-name brands, hospitality groups, live-ticketed shows, movie castings and everyday people who want to throw a party. George said users can be paid as little as $5 and as much as $100, though the average for most events is between $25 and $40. Prolific users, he said, can earn as much as $4,000 a year.
More about the other uses of the app at The Washington Post.

Percentage eclipse

We're looking forward to an 85% eclipse.  We won't get to experience the rush Annie Dillard describes, but it still should be awesome.

Image via.

Buying apartments "en viager"

A story from back in 1995, which I just encountered:
Andre-Francois Raffray thought he had a great deal 30 years ago: He would pay a 90-year-old woman 2,500 francs (about $500) a month until she died, then move into her grand apartment in a town Vincent van Gogh once roamed.

But this Christmas, Mr. Raffray died at age 77, having laid out the equivalent of more than $184,000 for an apartment he never got to live in

On the same day, Jeanne Calment, now listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest person at 120, dined on foie gras, duck thighs, cheese and chocolate cake at her nursing home near the sought-after apartment in Arles, northwest of Marseilles in the south of France...

Buying apartments "en viager," or "for life," is common in France. The elderly owner gets to enjoy a monthly income from the buyer, who gambles on getting a real estate bargain -- provided the owner dies in due time...
Further details at The New York Times.

Republicans should listen to Ronald Reagan

Via Boing Boing, where there is a brief excerpt of the salient points for those in a hurry.

09 August 2017


Back in about a week.


From a letter written to a newspaper by a death-row inmate:
I wonder if the public is aware that the cost of my first trial was half a million dollars. Are they aware that the state has in place a system that automatically delays my lawful murder for years, so that pieces of the money pie can continue to be passed around? Is the public aware that the chances of my lawful murder taking place in the next twenty years, if ever, are very slim? Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the AC, reading, taking naps at will, eating three well-balanced, hot meals a day? I’m housed in a building that connects to the new $155 million hospital, with round-the-clock free medical care.

There are a lot of good citizens who blogged on various websites, stating their opinions about me and the punishment I deserve. I laugh at you self-righteous clowns, and I spit in the face of your so-called justice system. Kill me if you can, suckers! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Further details at Harper's, which had a better title for this item: "Fulsome Prison."

Definition of fulsome, and basis for the pun.

Tropea, Calabria, Italy

Photo via the Europe subreddit.

Crewless electric cargo ships

Everyone is familiar with driverless cars and driverless long-distance trucks.  Next come crewless ships:
Two Norwegian companies are teaming together to construct a short-range, all-electric coastal container ship that will eventually operate autonomously—eliminating up to 40,000 diesel truck trips per year. The ship, the Yara Birkeland, will begin operations in 2018 with a crew, but it's expected to operate largely autonomously (and crewless) by 2020...

Birkeland will be a relatively small "feeder" cargo ship; its journeys will be short jaunts down a fjord on Norway's Baltic Sea coast from Yara's factory to a larger port. There, containers of fertilizer will be loaded onto larger seagoing ships for international transport. Currently, Yara ships these containers over land.

"Every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from Yara's Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik," Yara's president and CEO, Svein Tore Holsether, said in a statement issued by the two companies. "With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce nitrous oxide and CO2 emissions."
Naysayers will note that this development also eliminates jobs. 

I read recently (??where???) an interesting commentary on our new robotic world.  The writer noted that we are now reaching the future that was predicted (and lavishly praised) in our childhood - a world where drones and robots do the drudge-jobs, freeing humans from mindless labor and allowing us to redirect our time and energy to more rewarding tasks.  But now, as this future arrives, it seems to be hurting the common man rather than being a benefit. 

I believe the author postulated that the reason for the lack of improvement for ordinary people is that because of the structure of current economic systems, the benefits of automation only accrue to owners and management, not to employees. 

I would like to find that essay, but I may have read it in a paper magazine (Atlantic, Harpers etc) rather than online.

08 August 2017

An excerpt from The Epic of Gilgamesh

"What I had loaded thereon, the whole harvest of life
I caused to embark upon the vessel; all my family and all my relations,
The beasts of the field, the cattle of the field,
   the craftsmen, I made them all embark.
I entered the vessel and closed the door...

When the young dawn gleamed forth,
From the foundations of heaven a black cloud arose...
All that is bright is turned into darkness, The brother seeth his brother no more,
The folk of the skies can no longer recognise each other
The gods feared the flood, They fled, they climbed into the heaven of Anu,
The gods crouched like a dog on the wall, they lay down...

For six days and nights
Wind and flood marched on, the hurricane subdued the land.
When the seventh day dawned, the hurricane was abated, the flood
Which had waged war like an army;
the sea was stilled, the ill wind was calmed, the flood ceased.
I beheld the sea, its voice was silent, And all mankind was turned into mud!
As high as the roofs reached the swamp;...

I beheld the world, the horizon of sea; Twelve measures away an island emerged;
Unto Mount Nitsir came the vessal, Mount Nitsir held the vessal and let it not budge...
When the seventh day came, I sent forth a dove, I released it;
It went the dove, it came back,
As there was no place, it came back.
I sent forth a swallow, I released it;
It went the swallow, it came back,
As there was no place, it came back.
I sent forth a crow, I released it;
It went the crow, and beheld the subsidence of the waters;
It eats, it splashes about, it caws, it comes not back."
Translated by George Smith in 1872.  Via.

Cited in The Aztec Treasure House, where it is noted that the tablets (found in Ninevah) were "from the library of King Ashurbanipal, circa 650 B.C.

The embedded image is the Deluge tablet, via Wikipedia.

Cut paper

Art by Kiri Ken, via Colossal (more examples at the link).

"Total Eclipse" (Annie Dillard, 1982)

Brief excerpts from Annie Dillard's essay "Total Eclipse" -
"You may read that the moon has something to do with eclipses. I have never seen the moon yet. You do not see the moon. So near the sun, it is as completely invisible as the stars are by day. What you see before your eyes is the sun going through phases...

Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was a saturated, deep indigo, up in the air... The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on Earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte...

From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world.

It did not look like a dragon, although it looked more like a dragon than the moon. It looked like a lens cover, or the lid of a pot. It materialized out of thin air—black, and flat, and sliding, outlined in flame... You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse. The corona fills the print. All of those photographs were taken through telescopes. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience... But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky... It is one-360th part of the visible sky. The sun we see is less than half the diameter of a dime held at arm’s length...

I have said that I heard screams. (I have since read that screaming, with hysteria, is a common reaction even to expected total eclipses.) People on all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun. But something else was happening at that same instant, and it was this, I believe, which made us scream.

The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed—1,800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight—you saw only the edge. It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it. Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthetic shoot up your arm. If you think very fast, you may have time to think, “Soon it will hit my brain.” You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit."
Annie Dillard's essay was originally published in 1982.  It will be available online at The Atlantic from now until August 21.  I encourage you to read it there in toto.  The essay makes me want to drive 5-6 hours to experience the totality in person.

Image credit

Recreating a 70-year-old photo

Very nicely done.  Not just the same pose, but the same brooch (Prince Albert's sapphire), same necklace...

Nice work if you can get it

I found this in a 2012 Atlantic article about our "price-tag society":
Stand in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a congressional hearing: $15–$20 an hour. Lobbyists pay line-standing companies, who hire homeless people and others to queue up.
The cynic in me thinks that the lobbyists pay the line-standing companies $15-20 an hour, but the line-standing companies hire the homeless at $2 an hour plus a free meal.

04 August 2017

"Accidental impressionism"

A photograph of oranges inside a greenhouse.

Nocturnal light pollution hinders pollination

"Eva Knop’s team from the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Bern, shows for the first time, that nocturnal pollinators can be affected by artificial light leading to a disruption of the pollination service they provide. “So far, nocturnal pollinators have been largely neglected in the discussion of the worldwide known pollinator crisis”... The study has now been published in the magazine “Nature”...

The team investigated a total of 100 cabbage thistles, which were growing on five meadows experimentally illuminated with LED street lamps, and five meadows without artificial light. The illuminated plants were visited much more rarely by pollinating insects at night, than the unlit plants. The decline in pollinators had a significant influence on the reproduction of the cabbage thistles: at the end of the test phase, the average number of fruits per plants was around 13% lower. “The pollination during the day obviously cannot compensate for the losses in the night”, says Knop."
Additional information here.  The Nature abstract is here.

"Structural color" in butterfly wings

Scientists study the process in vitro in order to document the development of nanostructures that give the appearance of color without having pigment themselves.  Interesting.

Addendum:  A tip of the butterfly-chasing hat to reader Drabkikker, who offered a link to an article at Atmospheric Optics in his comment.  Everyone who enjoys the video should also read that link.

Reposted from a couple months ago because the information in the link mentioned above has now been incorporated into a video:

Problems from breeding "fashionable" German Shepherds

From The Telegraph:
A survey of data collected from 430 clinics across the UK reveals arthritis, cancer, aggression and sloping backs are afflicting the breed at higher rates than others due to aggressive selection. Nearly one in two German Shepherds is being put down because they are unable to walk, experts said...

The report follows an outcry at Crufts last year after a German Shepherd with an abnormally sloped back and painful looking gait won a “best in breed” prize...

Dr Dan O’Neill, who led the research, which is published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, said a sloped back with shorter rear legs had become a fashionable look for show dogs, and that this was influencing breeding more widely.

A detailed discussion of p values

An article in Vox will be of interest primarily to readers who have had a manuscript rejected (or have reviewed and rejected one) because a crucial p value was >0.05
Most casual readers of scientific research know that for results to be declared “statistically significant,” they need to pass a simple test. The answer to this test is called a p-value. And if your p-value is less than .05 — bingo, you got yourself a statistically significant result. 

Now a group of 72 prominent statisticians, psychologists, economists, sociologists, political scientists, biomedical researchers, and others want to disrupt the status quo. A forthcoming paper in the journal Nature Human Behavior argues that results should only be deemed “statistically significant” if they pass a higher threshold. 

We propose a change to P< 0.005,” the authors write. “This simple step would immediately improve the reproducibility of scientific research in many fields.”...

The proposal has critics. One of them is Daniel Lakens, a psychologist at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who is currently organizing a rebuttal paper with dozens of authors.  Mainly, he says the significance proposal might work to stifle scientific progress.
Addendum: see also this article in FiveThirtyEight: "Statisticians Found One Thing They Can Agree On: It’s Time To Stop Misusing P-Values."
How many statisticians does it take to ensure at least a 50 percent chance of a disagreement about p-values? According to a tongue-in-cheek assessment by statistician George Cobb of Mount Holyoke College, the answer is two … or one. So it’s no surprise that when the American Statistical Association gathered 26 experts to develop a consensus statement on statistical significance and p-values, the discussion quickly became heated.

It may sound crazy to get indignant over a scientific term that few lay people have even heard of, but the consequences matter. The misuse of the p-value can drive bad science (there was no disagreement over that), and the consensus project was spurred by a growing worry that in some scientific fields, p-values have become a litmus test for deciding which studies are worthy of publication. As a result, research that produces p-values that surpass an arbitrary threshold are more likely to be published, while studies with greater or equal scientific importance may remain in the file drawer, unseen by the scientific community.

The results can be devastating...
Continued at the link.

There is more than one way to map an eclipse

Instead of using conventional astronomical data, this map depicts Google search interest.

A remarkable 9th-century swan

This is a special book from the early Middle Ages (France, 9th century). Not only does it contain a high volume of very attractive images, but these images are also not what you would expect: they are drawn, as it were, with words. They illustrate Cicero’s Aratea, a work of astronomy. Each animal represents a constellation and the written words in them are taken from an explanatory text by Hyginus (his Astronomica). His words are crucial for these images because the drawings would not exist without them. It is not often in medieval books that image and text have such a symbiotic relationship, each depending on the other for its very existence.
Image and text from Erik Kwakkel's excellent blog.  At the link you will find five additional images of similarly-illustrated animals, and links to the digitized primary source and related materials.

Reposted from 2013 to note that the Public Domain Review has posted a gallery of sixteen of these "calligrams."

Basic color categories

Quite interesting.

Via Sentence First.

03 August 2017

"It Walks By Night"

With this post I'm inaugurating a new category in TYWKIWDBI - the locked-room mysteries of John Dickson Carr.   I've been an avid reader of detective stories ever since my childhood discovery of Sherlock Holmes.  College and graduate training consumed my time for a decade, but once I achieved gainful employment and a modicum of free time I resumed reading mysteries and science fiction.  I believe it was in the 1980s when I lived in Kentucky that I read my first John Dickson Carr novel with an "impossible" murder.  Over the next ten years I scoured the used bookstores of Lexington and Indianapolis to locate some of the more elusive titles.   Finally, with the assistance of my wife and the internet I was able to acquire (and read) the corpus of about 70 titles.

Then I put them away.  I had enjoyed them so much that I wanted to read them again, and I hoped that if enough time passed I would forget the clever plot devices that characterize this remarkable series.  I carried the books with me to St. Louis and finally to Madison.  Last week I decided that I'd better not wait too long to get started with the re-reading.

I decided to start with one of Carr's first works - It Walks By Night (1930).  It features Inspector Bencolin - not as well known as Carr's more famous detectives Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale.  It also features an element familiar to readers of detective fiction of this era - a floor plan (embedded above).  That diagram is essential to understanding and explaining the central mystery: a man was seen walking from the salon into the card room and moments later when Bencolin enters the room he finds a beheaded corpse.  Nobody saw the murderer enter or leave that room.  (In retrospect as I look at that floor plan the murderer's elusiveness is readily explicable...)

A pencilled note inside the cover of my well-worn copy indicates that I read it for the second time in 1983 and solved the "masquerade" - but not the identity of the murderer. 

I've just finished re-rereading the book - and for the third time I was not able to predict the identity of the murderer.  I consider this a good prognostic sign to indicate that I can now proceed to re-read the entire series with as much surprise and enjoyment as I garnered on previous occasions.

I originally rated the book 2+ (on my arbitrary scale of 0-4+), and I'll reaffirm that rating, while acknowledging that this was Carr's first novel.

For this series of posts I don't plan to offer any textual criticism, and certainly no spoilers.  My intent is not to review the books so much as to write notes to myself regarding which ones to re-re-reread after another 30 years have passed...

As I usually do when I blog books, I'll excerpt a few interesting items:
"I expect the man at about eleven thirty o'clock."   An uncommon usage (?antiquated, ?regional) which is probably not grammatically incorrect.  It makes me wonder why we say "o'clock" at all if a statement clearly relates to time.  "I'll be home at eleven (o'clock)."

It's not necessary for a mystery writer to be an accomplished wordsmith if they can spin a good story, but I do enjoy encountering a good turn of phrase, such as these-
"He pronounced the word "tourists" with all the fervid sadness and loathing with which Job must have said "boils."

"His face had the terrible triumph of Satan beholding at last the weakness in the armour of Michael..."

"I had a crazy impulse to laugh; he bore such a weird resemblance to William Jennings Bryan reading Darwin."
I was disappointed that Carr had Bencolin offering an unscientific appraisal of the evils of cannabinoids: "You note those brown dried leaves inside the tobacco?  Marihuana or hashish, I think; I can't tell until our chemists analyse it.  They eat green hashish leaves in Egypt; this is a deadlier variety from Mexico... It kills, you know, within five years.  Somebody is most earnestly trying to do away with her."

Carr uses the word "tensity" (rather than "intensity") on several occasions ("a sense of rushing force and tensity, as though a car were hurtling to crash against a tree...)

"When we were returning along the road, he threw the light on his watch and whistled softly.  'Name of a name! it's half past one.  I had no idea the hour was so late...'"   That appears to be a mild curse, or an expletive.  I don't know that I've seen it elsewhere, and a Google search yields nothing.  Perhaps some reader can offer insight on the phrase. [addendum: answered in a reader comment]

02 August 2017

Confronting one's fears

"In this documentary short titled Ten Meter Tower, Swedish filmmakers Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson paid 67 people $30 to climb to the top of a ten meter (33 foot) high dive for the very first time all while being filmed. Would they decide to jump? Would they be too scared? The resulting footage is surprisingly riveting as people slowly come to terms with their fears and make a decision. It’s one thing to admit defeat in private, but adding the cameras must add a near insurmountable amount of pressure."
With a very nice conclusion.

Via Drabkikker.

Apparently there is "bird-friendly coffee"

As described at Smithsonian Insider:
Rice: As with a lot of things in science, we stumbled upon this notion of Bird Friendly coffee. In the early 1990s, the then-director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center was conducting ornithological research in Mexico when he saw a distant “forest” across a valley that ended up actually being coffee grown beneath a diverse canopy cover of native trees. This “agroforest” was serving as viable habitat for birds, while still successfully growing coffee.

 Marra: Coffee can be grown in sun or shade. It used to be grown in forests, where people would grow food and maintain a healthy habitat for wildlife at the same time. Coffee is a huge crop in terms of the amount of habitat it requires—not to mention it’s easier to harvest without trees around—so growers cut down the forests that many animals depend on. But it is possible to grow coffee in forests, with many benefits to animals, birds, and growers.
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